Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
I was thinking how cynical we have become in this world. Between news stories and family drama, political speeches and outrageous tweets, the levels of cynicism are depressingly high. It is a vicious trap that many people are caught up in, and I hear it often in the lives of people around me who have given up in despair because they can’t see a way out.
But there is a strong message that was intended for people in that situation.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
These urgent questions are passionately spoken to an audience who has forgotten their story. And our gospel today also has a feel of urgency. Today’s translation starts with ‘as soon as they left the synagogue’, but a better translation is ‘immediately they left’, and that word is used repetitively throughout the first chapter of Mark. Immediately they left the synagogue, where he had just cast out a demon (who had immediately left the interrupting man, by the way), he goes to a house where he then quickly heals a sick woman and she immediately gets up and becomes the first deacon of this new church. And right after that the house is surrounded with folks wanting to be cured of all their problems. That’s a hectic schedule for one day’s work, and we haven’t even finished Chapter One!
One common thread in these readings is the number of lost and hurting people who do not know who they are and who created them.
Isaiah is writing to exiled Jews in slavery in Babylon to remind them of who they are.
Come on, he seems to be saying, you don’t remember that your family ancestors were enslaved once before in Egypt? God was with our ancestors back then and God is with us right now here in Babylon. Remember who God is, so that you can turn to God when we are living through tough times. But you have forgotten your stories of who God is.
I think Isaiah realized that when we forget our stories, we lose a piece of hope for the future and we get bogged down in soul-crushing demons.
Demons such as depression, anxiety, narcissism and addiction. Demons who live off cynicism, resentment, apathy, racism, entitlement and pity parties. Demons that want us to believe we are slaves with no hope of rescue. No wonder people flocked to Jesus to be cured of all that. No wonder Jesus needed to get away from it all and wander off into the desert.
Can you picture it, a starry black night with the Milky Way painted overhead like a tiara of diamonds too numerous to count? The flashing streak of a meteor or two. The deep stillness with maybe a wolf howling in the far distance, and crickets and frogs the only other sound. The stillness that filled his soul as he waited, remembering the words of Isaiah ‘those who wait for God 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.”
Contrast that with Simon, filled with excitement who wants to have Jesus in his house first. He wants Jesus to fix his mother in law, his neighbors, his relatives and even his whole town. Does he want to be able to say, “look at how significant I am, I brought Jesus to you all, and if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be fixed.” Jesus has a bigger vision. He’s not willing to become the neighborhood guru setting up a shop of miracles and healing potions. His vision is bigger than just one family, one town.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Do you not remember the story? Often we don’t remember, we don’t know who we are. Simon doesn’t know he is Peter yet, the rock on whom the new church will be built. The slaves in Babylon don’t know they will return, rebuild their culture and renew their faith in ways that will endure for centuries. They don’t know that their story will survive kings, wars, and genocides, or provide hope to many who follow after. We too lose track of who God is calling us to be. But ours is a powerful, transforming story.
If you think about it, this story speaks to each generation in surprising new ways that outlast many stories. My grandmother was a Fraser, but I never had a haggis until I was 18. I never went to a Robbie Burns dinner until I was in my late forties. My grandmother did not pass on that part of her story, because her family had been in Canada for four generations and intermingled with a lot of other ethnic groups along the way. They lost the story of their culture and customs, they lost their scots accents, but they kept their faith in God and in the church community, their new clan and culture. That gave them faith to weather the storms of world wars, revolutions, economic depressions and personal tragedies. It gave my grandmother a passionate commitment to the Women’s Vote as well as the temperance movement that strived to free people from the slavery of abusive relationships, family violence and addictions. It helped her have the courage and strength to cope with her British husband’s loss of sight and career. Her faith story is one that inspires and encourages me to this day.
Life can be a chaotic series of challenging circumstances. We may feel like a pebble tossed into Niagra Falls, wondering if we’ll ever surface again. When life is like that, we need to remember our stories of Jesus, Isaiah, and the exiles in Babylon, to do as they did and remember the stories of God’s love so that God may renew our strength once again. May it be so for us all!