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They Shall Run and Not be Weary

February 8, 2015 Sermon
“They Shall Run and Not be Weary”

 Old Testament Reading – Isaiah 40:21-31

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Gospel Reading – Mark 1:29-39

29 As soon as they[n] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

“They Shall Run and Not be Weary”

There’s a book I picked up as a result of attending “The Future of the Church Summit” last year in Fort Collins. Author Leonard Sweet was offering one of the summit’s talks, and he mentioned a book that described 96 images of the Church in the New Testament. The book is called “Images of the Church in the New Testament”, and, while I don’t recommend it for most people (it’s a very difficult read and its structure is rather complex, maybe even disorganized), I do hope to share insights from it this year in my sermons.

The book is structured to provide 32 minor images for the church and then 4 major images, with each major image being comprised of a number of supporting images.   (Like I said, its structure is complex and maybe even disorganized.)

But the whole thing is leading toward one image, one image that could be construed as a culmination of all the others. And this image of the Church is one you’ve heard me use before; it’s one you’ve read about from the Apostle Paul in scripture. The image is this: the Church as “the Body of Christ.”

Does that sound like a good image for the Church to you? If I asked: could you adequately describe the Church as “the body of Christ”, could everyone here agree with that?

I want you to hold that image in your mind, and I’ll get back to it at the end of the sermon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We find ourselves in the season of Epiphany, the season during which we remember the ways in which Jesus’ identity was made known. Jesus’ identity was made known in the visit of the magi; Jesus’ identity was made known in the call stories of Mark 1; Jesus’ identity was made known at Jesus’ baptism by the opening of the heavens and a voice proclaiming Him to be God’s son; and Jesus’ identity was made known by the authority Jesus demonstrated while teaching and even by an unclean spirit, a being from the realm whose inhabitants all knew Jesus’ true identity. Jesus’ identity was made known in all of these ways. AND, Jesus’ identity was made known by his ministry of healing and giving strength.

Let’s take a look at some things revealed about Jesus in our gospel reading this morning:

First, Jesus’ identity was made known as the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah 40. What prophecy, you might ask?

29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

You could say these words from Isaiah are not a foretelling of the future but are rather a statement about who God IS, a statement about what God is LIKE. And I wouldn’t argue with you. I would simply say that Mark is describing Jesus’ ministry as the fulfillment of what God is like…therefore, Jesus is somehow, in some way God.

“God gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless.” Take a look at Jesus’ ministry, y’all. He heals a sick woman. I don’t know if you know it or not, but women were pretty darn powerless in that society. I’ve spent the week reading article after article trying to that ALL try to explain what is meant by the words “and she began to serve them.” So many scholars are appalled that Peter’s mother-in-law, upon being healed by Jesus, immediately began serving the MEN who were guests. No time for a little rest or to recuperate; she just starts serving. And there are some good explanations, but these words are also a reminder that women did NOT hold a place of power in that society – their role was to serve men…yet Jesus gave this woman strength and healing.

“That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. “ Much like Peter’s mother-in-law, the sick and demon-possessed would have been the least in that society. Unable to work and contribute, these would have been likely homeless people, they would have been people dependent on others for their care and for the means of survival, they would have been in EVERY sense of the word “powerless”, “weak,” and “weary.” But after an encounter with Jesus?

 “they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.”

 I hope you see what’s going on here. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s words through Isaiah, the fulfillment of one of the most amazing and beautiful passages of hope in all the scriptures. And as the fulfillment of these words about God, the almighty Creator of everything, Jesus is identified as the SAME being as God.

I don’t know if this is particularly meaningful for we Trinitarians. I mean, we’ve spent our lives equating Jesus and God. But can you imagine living not long after Jesus, and hearing this gospel of Mark as it is read, and realizing exactly WHAT the gospel writer is trying to tell you. THIS…MAN…IS…GOD!!!! Think about it another way. If a man walked in here right now and told you that he had had an encounter with a man who did things that only God could do…that this man he encountered, this man who walks and breathes right NOW is God, wouldn’t that be amazing? How would YOU respond?

So…that’s the first thing that is revealed about Jesus’ identity in this passage. Somehow, some way, unfathomable though it may have been and really still is today – lots of people call us Christians crazy for believing it to be true – JESUS…IS…GOD.

A second thing revealed about Jesus’ identity has to do with how Jesus gets his power. I know, I just said that Jesus is God…so Jesus shouldn’t have to get his power ANYWHERE. I mean, he’s GOD, right? So power just comes as part of the God-package. But, actually, it doesn’t work like that. Because Jesus is Emmanuel, God WITH us, God AND human. I know, it’s difficult to understand. And people who are much better versed in these things than me have tried to explain it…and I STILL can’t comprehend quite how it works, so I won’t even try to explain it to you. But the point is, and the second thing revealed about Jesus’ identity is: yes, Jesus IS God, AND Jesus is also human.

We know this because Jesus seems to recharge his power by going off to pray. Look at verse 35: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  He’s God but because he’s also human, he DOES need to re-connect with the REST of the God-head from time to time. I think of it as a way for Jesus to re-charge to perform his ministry. Look at how it works in this passage: Jesus heals and casts out demons. Jesus re-charges by going off alone to pray. And from the passages, like ours today, in which Jesus goes off to pray, we learn that Jesus returns from prayer with the power to CONTINUE to do amazing miracles for an ever-increasing number of people.

So…we learn that Jesus is God. And…we learn that Jesus is a human who recharges in prayer.

The third thing we learn about Jesus’ identity has to do with the mission and scope of his ministry. Hear again verses 38 and 39: He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’  And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

Jesus’ identity – not just what kind of being he is, God or human – Jesus’ identity is truly found in the mission and scope of his ministry. And the mission and scope of his ministry is not tied to one place. Jesus came to do MORE than simply heal and drive out demons in the little lakeside village of Capernaum, where his ministry has taken place so far in Mark’s gospel.

When his disciples find Jesus and tell him that “everyone” is searching for him, Jesus EXPANDS their understanding of that word: “everyone”. Jesus truly came for EVERYONE, and that means an awful lot more than just the people of Capernaum.

SO, what do today’s revelations about Jesus’ identity say to US, in Grand Junction in the 21st century?

Before you try to form an answer, I want to take you back to that image of the Church I talked about when I began my sermon. If the Church (with a big “C”), truly is “the body of Christ”, if we are Jesus’ ongoing body in the world today, if that’s a good image for us… what does it mean that Jesus gave power and encouragement to the weak and powerless; what does it mean that Jesus took some time with God to get strength for his mission; what does it mean that Jesus expanded the disciples’ understanding of the definition of “everyone.”

Well, if Jesus’ spent his time giving strength and encouragement to the weak and powerless, if that was his PRIMARY action, then I think it means we need to reevaluate OUR primary action. I mean, do we spend more time and energy getting together as a church family to enjoy each other’s company OR strengthening and encouraging the weak and powerless in our society? Do we spend more time taking care of our building or uplifting the powerless? Do we spend more time energy meeting and administering and serving the congregation’s by-laws or serving PEOPLE who are in need? I’m not here to answer these questions…I’m here to ASK them. I’ll let you decide. Are…we…acting…like…the…body…of…Christ?

Ok – on to the second revelation about Jesus. He spent INTENTIONAL time with God to re-charge for his mission. As the body of Christ today, how are we doing on that? I know some parts of our body are doing a GREAT job. We’ve got people coming up here to study and pray and get closer to God most days of the week. But is that true for EVERY member of the body? And if it’s not true for EVERY member of the body, what does that say about the body? How is it functioning? Folks, I think it’s time we talked to our friends in the congregation and encouraged them in the development of their spiritual practices – things like prayer, scripture reading, daily devotional time – you know, stuff that develops and strengthens your relationship with God. If Jesus, who WAS God, STILL needed to spend time nurturing a relationship with God to have the strength and power to fulfill his purpose, his ministry, how much more do WE need to spend time intentionally building our relationships with God in order to do what God made us to do?

And a third thing these revelations can offer us concerns the need for us to expand our ministries beyond the comfort zones of our little circle of friends, especially our little circle of church friends, to expand the meaning of “everyone.” For most of us, like Jesus’ disciples, “everyone” means “everyone we know”, “everyone we’re comfortable with”, “everyone we encounter on a daily basis”. But in walks Jesus, telling us that when it comes to HIS mission, which our job is to continue, “everyone” means something BIGGER. Everyone means getting out to the metaphorical outlying towns of your life, including people you don’t yet know, and proclaiming Jesus’ message there, as well. If it’s what JESUS came to do, then it’s what we were MADE to do.

Folks, the reality is, we ARE the body of Christ in this time and this place. Our job is to BE Jesus, here, now…to do the kinds of things he did so that the world might draw closer to God and God’s kingdom might increasingly break into this world. How are we doing? Can we do better? Will we?