Epiphany 5 Isaiah 40-21-31 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39
Let us pray: Gentle and gracious God, calm our minds where they are troubled, ease our bodies where they are weary, soothe our spirits where they are in turmoil. Teach us to find our strength in the love of Christ so we may know that when we are serving others we are serving Him. Amen.
Some time ago, a commercial for the drug Prozac was "singing the praises" so to speak, of this wonder drug for human emotions. A cheerful, vivacious woman in her mid-life years was telling how she had never felt better since she started taking Prozac. Life was now full of happiness and she didn't worry about the "little things" any more.
It was a kind of a pharmaceutical Isaiah 40:31, "They that take their Prozac shall renew their strength!" One doctor said he received a flood of calls when the ad first aired. "Some of my patients actually demanded that I put them on the drug,"he said. Personally, the ad seemed like something that would be televised on behalf of marijuana if the drug were legalized.
There is even a web site -- prozac.com that gives information on the benefits of the drug 17 million Americans are now taking.
I want to be careful to say that this drug, manufactured by the Eli Lilly company is indeed the treatment of choice for some people who struggle with depression.
There is, however, a very strong spiritual prescription that relates to the joy of life in today's text from Isaiah. Millions of people are missing out on this prescription. It can help in the recovery of joy for living.
"They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength."
Our readings for today and particularly the Gospel of Mark point to two central issues for our lives today. I would like for us to think about these issues in the form of two questions which we can only begin to answer in the short time we have. Fully answering these questions in a way that will impact our lives will require some reflection in each of our lives. "Where do we get our strength for living?" "What are we to do with this strength when we receive it?"
Another way to put this is, where do you personally get your energy or vitality for life and living?Do you have times when you seem to run out of energy or simply find yourself exhausted with everything? Those who remember the "energy crisis" of the seventies will remember the long lines waiting for gasoline and the scare that there would not be enough energy. You can almost translate that image directly into what it means to say there is a kind of stress induced emotional energy crisis being experienced by many people today.
The second major issue the gospel reading lifts up has to do with meaning and purpose in our living. "Why do you want energy?" There is a wonderful line in the classic movie, "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy says to the straw man, "What would you do with a brain if you had one?" It is in Dorothy's innocent and honest spirit that I ask of you, "What would you do with energy if you had some?"
The good news is that God's desire is for us to rise up from the lethargy that has stolen our vitality. That's why Jesus said,"I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." [John 10:10] There is an inherent recognition here that life is not what it was designed to be, so Jesus adds the "more abundantly"to the idea of having life.
Now to the question, "Why do you want vitality?" Most of us would answer along the line of wanting more energy for living because we are tired... worn out... stressed out.
The short answer to the question is, "I want energy so that I can live the life God intended for me to live."
Listen to these words from our lectionary readings: "The Lord lifts up the downtrodden..." Ps. 147:6 "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength... they shall mount up with wings like eagles." Is. 40:31 "He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless." Is. 40:29 "He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up." Mk. 1:31
The simple story of Jesus coming to the home of Simon points to the heart of what it means to be "picked up -- or lifted up." Jesus restores the vitality of Simon's mother-in-law so that she can live a life of fellowship with and service to the Lord. Note, "Then the fever left her and she began to serve them."
(This is not to say Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law so she could become a waitress! Rather, the natural response of being with Christ is a desire to serve.)
Here is the central message of the scriptures. God is the Creator, the One who gave us life and in whose hands the gift of life is intended to remain. We receive the gift of life and then the gift of new life from the hand of God and -- we are designed to live in fellowship withand service to the Lord.
Our reading from Mark demonstrates what it means to receive strength from Christ and how that strength is used to serve him. No one can deny that we live in troubled and stressful times.
And so -- there is an urgent message to take to our world. When Jesus is out praying before the sun comes up, his disciples awaken to find him gone. They go searching for him to tell him that everyone is looking for him. His healing ministry brought the crowds who wanted their vitality restored. But Jesus says they have to stay on the move, "Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do."
The message is urgent! It was then and it is today.
In the Epistle reading, Paul says that he is under divine obligation to preach the gospel. He goes so far as to say, "woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!"says he has been entrusted with a commission and that he will do everything possible to reach people with the good news of God's divine intent for our lives.
You and I are under that same obligation and entrusted with that same good news. What kind of friend would I be if someone I called friend was suffering from an illness and I withheld information about a possible cure?
We cannot imagine such a thing.
Here is a cure for much that robs people today of quality of life: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength... they shall mount up with wings like eagles."
Let us pray: Gracious God, help us to see with your eyes, to reach out with your touch, to love with your heart, and to respond always in your gentleness, all in the name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen.