Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
By James Richardson
“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.”
I like to think that those words of the prophet Isaiah lift up Jesus on wings like eagles as he goes about the tasks before him today:
He is at the home of Simon and Andrew, and he heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. Then more and more people show up who are sick and possessed of demons. Jesus heals them and casts out the demons. Then after a very long night of this hard work, Jesus gets a little sleep, and then he is up early to pray.
There are a few of things I’d like you notice here besides the part about Simon’s mother-in-law rising up from her fever to cook dinner for the men.
First, notice the demons. Certainly the people who wrote the Bible knew nothing of bacteria and viruses as a reason for disease. They saw demons behind everything. In our scientific frame of mind we rightfully discount demons and demonology as an explanation for disease and malady.
Yet we ignore at our peril that just as there are forces for good in this world, there are forces of evil. Not everything yields to rational explanation. Call it demons, call it evil, the forces of wickedness are all around us.
And if we are to live a life as followers to Jesus, we are called to stand up to evil when and where we find it, both big and small. It is one of the reasons we are in this faith community so that we can have the strength together to fight evil.
The Church, at its holiest through the ages, is at its best when it takes a prophetic stand against evil, whether it is against the Nazi ovens or racial segregation or the evils of greed, hatred and violence in our own age.
The Church is at its worst when it condones or even creates evil whether through persecution, or exclusion, or apathy.
Next, please notice something curious about the gospel lesson: the demons know who Jesus is. Merely knowing Jesus is nothing special, even the demons know him.
Jesus doesn’t need the demons or their chaos to proclaim anything about him. He tells them to be quiet.
In our world, we live amidst much religious noise and chaos, done in the name of Jesus, with religious charlatans of all manner telling us to live a certain way, or exclude certain people, in the name of Jesus.
We even have a brand of extreme Christianity that would have us ignite the final war in the Middle East so as to bring about the Second Coming. I believe Jesus is telling them to be quiet.
Finally there is this: Notice what Jesus does after a long night of healing work? He goes to a deserted place, a quiet place, and he prays. He withdraws, he finds a way to rest – not just sleep. But to rest and renew.
When you read the New Testament stories about Jesus, there is always this pattern: Jesus teaches, Jesus heals, Jesus casts out demons, and then he withdraws, and prays and renews. The cycle of work and renewal repeats over and over, even into the tomb and beyond to the Resurrection.
For us to truly live the way of Jesus is to live in that cycle: it is to do our reconciling work, whatever that may be, and then find our rest and renewal and prayer.
It is my hope and prayer this Sunday for each of us that we will find the work that fulfills us, and also find those places of rest and renewal and prayer that feeds us.
This coming Lent, soon to be with us, will be a good time for each of us to discover anew what makes us whole. Our own David McIlhiney will be teaching a course on living simply, and that may be a good place to begin again, to find our balance and to still the chaos around us.
So I return where we began: After Jesus’ early morning prayer, the disciples find Jesus and tell him everyone is searching for him. He is renewed, ready, and Jesus tells them, let’s get going, off to the next town. There is work to be done.
And so it is with us. There is work to be done, but first prayer, and renewal. And then, let’s get going. Amen.