It is good to be back with you this morning. It was also good to be away last week. I spent the week with 42 other clergy women from many different denominations and from all over the US, Canada, and Scotland. We supported each other in our ministries. We worked through the gospel texts that will appear on the worship calendar from June until November. So you will benefit from my time away when we reach those texts.
I also had time this past week to just sit and be. To look out over the ocean and watch an endless horizon, which called me to consider the vastness of the God who created such a horizon.
As Isaiah said, “it is God who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in.”
While I can appreciate those who see God in the majesty of mountains, when I think of God, I see the ocean. In addition to the vast horizon, the ocean presents you with a roiling surface of water, but you know there is life teeming underneath that surface. Floating on a boat on the ocean, even a large ship, reminds you of how small humans are on the face of creation.
Isaiah addresses this dichotomy. God is powerful, vast, and able to be concerned about the smallest detail.
We, on the other hand, are like grasshoppers. God goes on forever. We come to an end.
In this beautiful poem, Isaiah reminds us that even the mightiest kings and princes of humanity are but grass to God.
“It is God who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.”
On the one hand, that doesn’t bring me comfort. Being faced with my own rather flimsy mortality does not make me want to cheer. But being reminded that kings and princes are mortal, that we are mortal, does call us to remember where our trust should reside. Our trust should not reside in the winner of a political race, no matter how great their concern for the common welfare.
We should not be waiting for salvation from ourselves, from each other, or from the leaders of our governments. Because, no matter how much money, or power, or wisdom any other human being has, they are still human.
And so we wait on the Lord.
Isaiah was, as you’ll recall, writing to people who probably didn’t need the reminder that they were mortal, that they were small pieces of creation. They were in exile. They had already been blown about by the winds of political upheaval and knew what it meant to be carried off as stubble by the tempests of Babylon. They knew how kings and princes could affect their lives in horrible ways.
And, depending on where you are in your life’s journey, you might also relate easily to Isaiah’s words. You may not be under Babylonian exile, but you may feel the tempests of disease, or face anxiety about many things over which you feel you have not control.
But whether you find yourself in exile or not, these words are for you.
Because we all need the reminder of who this God is whom we serve, whom we follow, and from whom we have life.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
So, here’s the reminder we need when our own mortality is limiting us. When our waiting doesn’t seem to be paying off. The strength and power we need will come from God.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but 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 wonder if Peter’s Mother in Law understood Isaiah’s words a little differently after she met Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us her name, so let’s give her one. Let’s call her Ruby.
And Ruby knew what it was to wait for the Lord. Her daughter had married well. Simon Peter was a good man—a bit of a hot head, but a good man. And, as a woman in first century Palestine—as an older woman in first century Palestine—she knew about waiting. She was dependent on others for many things. She was not always in the driver’s seat of her life. Even before she fell ill, her arthritis would get in the way. She couldn’t see as well as she used to, so the family took away her driver’s license and sold her camel.
So she rubs the knuckles of her arthritic hands and waits for Jesus.
And Jesus comes to her. And he heals her.
And she gets up from her bed, with her strength renewed, with shiny new eagle wings, and she runs without getting weary and she walks without getting faint.
Okay, it actually just says that he lifted her up and the fever left her and she began to serve them.
I don’t know about you, but the first time I read through this text I thought, “Ruby! Don’t get up and serve them! You’ve been sick. They can make their own coffee! And Peter, if you brought Jesus to your house to heal your mother in law just so she can make you dinner, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”
But I don’t think this is about Peter needing someone to iron his laundry. I think that once Jesus holds out his hand to Ruby, offering her a return to wholeness, a healing, and a chance to return to her life, then serving them becomes her spontaneous response of gratitude.
Whether it is God restoring the strength to Israel, or Jesus restoring health to Ruby, the response from the healed and restored people is the same. They walk, they run, they get up and move because they have work to do.
God doesn’t restore people and heal people so they can sit around and talk about how awesome it is to be healed. God heals us, God restores us, so that we can join in the work of the kingdom.
If you noticed, after Jesus healed Ruby, he healed many other people. The entire town of Capernaum was standing outside their door. There is much healing to be done.
But after a long day’s work, Jesus doesn’t just get a good night’s sleep and get ready to do it again tomorrow. He gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray.
But the crowd and the disciples, when they hear that news, “hunt for him”. They had other options. They could have waited for the Lord, as Isaiah describes. They could have, like Ruby, taken their own newfound health and wholeness and got to work serving people.
But they didn’t. They hunted for Jesus. “Everyone is searching for you!”, they tell him.
They want Jesus to keep doing all of the work himself.
Jesus had some options too, once he was found. He could have said, “Oh gee, if everyone is searching for me, then I better go back and do what they want me to do.”
Instead, he says, “ ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
While on study leave, we talked about this text as well as the ones that come up later in the year. And one of my new friends pointed out that Jesus is like Mary Poppins in this text. Mary Poppins, if you’ll recall, goes to a place where she is needed, but once the people learn what they need to learn from her, she opens her magic umbrella and leaves, going on to the family who needs her next.
Jesus doesn’t use his magic umbrella in this scene, but he does say that moving on was what he came to do.
So, we wait for the Lord. Patiently or impatiently. Either grouchy or with grace, we wait for the Lord.
But the story doesn’t end after the healing happens. That’s when we get to join in the work of the Kingdom.
In a little while, we will come to the Table. Where we will be fed. We will be renewed and given new strength.
And then we will move on, will go out into the world, and back to work, and to school, and all through the community, and we will do the work for which God has equipped us. Thanks be to God. Amen.