The Adventurous Lectionary – The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 8, 2015
Psalm 147:1-1l, 20c
I Corinthians 9:16-23
Today’s readings invite us to look at life from a wider perspective. Our individual lives are part of a greater story, the universe and God’s story, adding by our decisions beauty or ugliness to our communities and implicitly to the whole.
Psalm 147 connects social justice, the sustaining of the people, and the healing of the broken-hearted with God’s grandeur. The microcosm is sustained and guided by the energy and wisdom of the macrocosm. The force that guides the heavens also insures justice and well-being in human life. Embracing God’s energy of love energizes our lives and transforms the world.
Mark 1:29-39 describes a “day in the life” of Jesus. Jesus teaches, heals, and exorcises the demonic. Jesus is going from dusk to dawn. No healing is too large or too small for his attention. The story concludes with Jesus going to a deserted place for prayer. His time of prayer connects him with God and gives him a clear sense of mission.
Many progressive and mainline Christians polarize action and contemplation. They see the mission of the church as either political or spiritual or activist or contemplative. In contrast, throughout Mark’s Gospel, action and contemplation are seen as interdependent. Jesus is always on the move, constantly responding to human need. Yet, Jesus regularly retreats for prayer and reflection. Moments of quiet, such as the one described in Mark 1:35-39, enable Jesus to connect with his Spiritual GPS. In the case of today’s reading, Jesus’ quiet time fortifies his sense of calling to all Israel and implicitly the world and not merely the village of Capernuam. (For more on preaching Mark’s Gospel, see Bruce Epperly, Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel for Year B.)
The reading from Isaiah 40 echoes the wisdom of Psalm 8. The universe is vast and its creator is infinite. In relationship to God, we are like grasshoppers. This could lead to a sense of despair, but in the case of Isaiah, the infinity of God is a source of confidence and hope. The God of the universe directs the galaxies and also inspires our own lives. God gives humankind strength, energy, and wisdom. In today’s parlance, we are connected to the energy of the big bang; God’s lively energy flows in and through us, providing us with all the resources we need to faithfully flourish in our time and place.
The contrast between divine infinity and human finitude enables us to take our tasks seriously, but not too seriously. Our work is important, but not all important. We leave are mark, are remembered by God, and shape the future, but we gain solace by being partners with the cosmic God who sustains and guides us. We can work hard, knowing that we are part of a much larger story. Much depends on our agency, but not everything. God is the beginning and end of all things; therefore we can work hard and also rest in God’s abiding care.
Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9 also invite us to larger perspective. The gospel of salvation and wholeness relativizes every theological and ideological position. The grandeur of God’s good news inspires flexibility in our presentation of the gospel and our relationships with others. Paul can with integrity identify with Jews, Greeks, law abiding and lawless, weak, and strong, because Christ, in the spirit of John Cobb’s vision of creative transformation, is the way that excludes no authentic way. What matters is not our parochial viewpoint but God’s vision of healing and wholeness which embraces all the diversities of life.
Recognizing the grandeur and intimacy of God inspires patience with tasks undone and gives us faith that the moral arc of history aims at goodness, despite many setbacks on the way.