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Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

Today’s readings are filled with dramatic calls to turn to God, to follow the Son of God.  For us, focusing on the drama of these calls might cause us to miss our everyday calls to serve God, to do justice, to bring in God’s kingdom.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, year B; texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Sometimes we don’t know what we really need, only what we really want.  But there’s a big difference.  Good parents know the distinction and don’t give their children everything they want.  That would spoil them, and sometimes hurt them, as children often want things that aren’t good for them.  A good parent is measured rather by their ability to meet their children’s needs, real needs, such as love, shelter, clothing, food.

I’ve found that in my life if I can distinguish between what I really need and what I only want, I can find peace and contentment a lot more easily.

Isaiah makes promises today, promises to those who “wait for the LORD.”  Those who wait for the LORD will receive amazing things.  Jesus’ ministry of healing looks a great deal like a fulfillment of such promises.  But Jesus does healings in our reading today, and then disappears to another town when people start looking for him.  So some who waited for him received healing, many did not.  And surely this happened all the time.
But it makes me wonder: what are we waiting for from God?  Are we waiting for something we really need, or something we really want?  Do we know the difference?  And if we do, are we satisfied with what we receive when God does answer us, does provide for us?

There’s an awful lot of waiting and searching going on surrounding Jesus as he begins his ministry, teaching, calling, and probably most importantly to the people, healing.

I find myself wondering about the people that were searching for Jesus.  Most who sought him out were waiting for healing.  As we join the story today, Jesus does a lot of healing in Capernaum, and then it was night.  He went off to a lonely, quiet place, to pray.  The next morning a big crowd is looking for him. They’d seen healings the day before and run home to get Aunt Betty who was paralyzed, or Cousin Larry who was blind – but Jesus was gone.  The disciples seem to want him to go back to town, to the crowds – but Jesus says they have to go on, to the next village, so that he can “proclaim the message” there as well.
But what about the people waiting for him at Capernaum?  Were they disappointed that he’d gone?  They must have been.  Had they missed their chance for healing?  Why would he leave when there was more to do?  Was he worth following, worth believing, if they or their loved ones didn’t receive healing like the others?

The people wanted more from Jesus in that town – but maybe it wasn’t the reason he came.  I’ve talked about this before, that Jesus couldn’t walk past a sick person and not do anything, but that his mission was far more important than simply miracle-working.  So today physical healings are clearly what the people want from Jesus, but they aren’t necessarily what they really need.

What is clear is that Jesus had and has more healing to offer than physical healing, much more.  “The message” he says he needs to proclaim to the next town is what he began saying a few verses earlier in Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Repent – turn to God – and believe in the good news, the good news that the time is fulfilled, God’s time is now, the time of waiting is over, and God’s kingdom has come near.  As marvelous as it was for him to heal the sick and cast out demons, it’s rather this fulfillment he came to do.  To fulfill God’s promises of life and bring God’s reign back to this earth.  To call people to live in the rule and reign of God, to repent and love God and neighbor as we were made to do.

Those who were waiting for Jesus to heal their lameness, their blindness, their possessions – some received it, some did not.  Just like us today.  But all who wanted it, all, received the good news, the message that the God of the universe loves them and has come to be with them and give them life.  All who wanted it, all, received the call to turn to God in love and to their neighbor in love and to find real life.

And that message was enough.  In fact, for 2,000 years even if the physical difficulties are not removed, this promise, this good news, has been enough to satisfy and bring joy to believers.  Because this presence of God is exactly what Isaiah promises – Jesus delivers on Isaiah’s promise.

Isaiah promises a powerful gift – power to the faint, strength to the powerless.  But not necessarily healing, at least not physical healing.  What seems to be promised here is simply what Isaiah says – strength to overcome difficulties, renewal of the spirit.  “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.”

My sisters and brothers, this is what Jesus came to offer.  Not removal of all difficulties, but strength to endure, and even to thrive and be joyful.  That doesn’t mean we should never pray for healing, or for pains or suffering to be taken from us.  God loves us and we’re to ask for what we want.

But we never want to mistake the fact that the immediate relief we want is not necessarily what we need.  If we get that immediate relief, that particular healing we’ve prayed for, we can rejoice.  But even then, we have not received what we ultimately need.

What we need is for God to destroy death, to make the reality that all of us face not be a reality anymore.  That’s the healing we really need.  That is exactly what God does.  In effect, what God says to us in Jesus is this: “Whether or not I cure you physically or solve your difficulty or take away your suffering, do you see that it’s enough for you that I love you with a love beyond death, a love that will carry you through death into life, a love that makes your life worthwhile now and always?”

This is the promise of Isaiah.  This is the reason Jesus went on to the next town – to continue to carry the message of God’s love and to call people to return to God and God’s love.

But there’s more, isn’t there?  Jesus goes on to the next town because that message needs telling.

And now you and I are called to tell.  So the question must be asked again: what are we waiting for?  Not “what are we waiting for from God?” this time.  No, “what are we waiting for?”  The urgency of Jesus is this: the whole world needs to know this good news, that the time is fulfilled, that God’s rule has come to the world.  And we who have received this healing are the ones called to carry the message.  And if the world is to be saved, all are needed to live in love toward God and love toward neighbor.

Maybe Peter’s mother-in-law should be our model.  It bothers some people that immediately after being healed by Jesus she gets up and serves them.  I don’t know why it should surprise or bother anyone.  It’s not like Jesus healed her and sat back and said “where’s dinner?”  She’s just acting like lots of women I know and some I’ve been related to (like my grandmother), who would serve coffee and lunch no matter how they felt, and who would be distraught if they weren’t permitted to do it.  I’m sure as soon as she felt better she said, “now go sit down and I’ll find some cookies and get the coffee pot going.  And after that we’ll have some dinner.”  Or words to that effect.

But more to the point, having been healed, she began to serve.  And I think we would do well to emulate that giving.  And that begs the question: What are you waiting for?  Think about it:

You and I have been given gifts beyond telling, gifts unique to you, gifts unique to me, as well as gifts we all have received of wealth and possessions.  We know the truth about God: that God loved the world so much that God became one of us, and died and rose to give us eternal life, life that begins now richly and fully, and will continue for eternity.  And Jesus has said our only job is to use the gifts we have to tell others about it.  To serve God by serving others with this good news.

If you and I don’t think about this every day and pray that God open our eyes to our mission field and get us into it, then I ask you again, What are we waiting for?

And this is where we stop for now, with questions.

What will you do with the healing you’ve received, the gifts you’ve been given, the Good News you hold in your heart?  Have you found ministries that use your gifts, for the good of the Lord’s ministry here at Mount Olive, or in other places in your world and life?  Or is that only for other people?  Have you committed to growing your giving of money into a tithe, or more, since you are blessed with overwhelming wealth in a world filled with poverty and despair?  Or is that only something others need to do?  Have you shared God’s love with others in your actions, like Peter’s mother-in-law, or in your words, like Jesus?  Or is that only someone else’s job?

Far too often we Christians live as if our faith is only for our own benefit, and we let others do the serving, the loving, the giving.  But the ministry of Christ Jesus only works when the people of Christ Jesus work.  When the death-defeating love which we have from God inspires us to love of God and neighbor in such a way that in our own ways we become part of God’s changing and healing of the world.

When God renews our strength and lifts us up on eagle’s wings, as God does every day, what will we do with that strength, that energy?  That’s our question today.

Waiting for the Lord is a rich thing, which leads to life and joy and satisfaction of our deepest needs, even in the midst of affliction.  But our Lord is also waiting for you, for me, to go and share this joy.  God give us the courage and the will to do this.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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