Isaiah 40: 21-31
Mark 1: 29-39
I want you to imagine a pendulum. Swinging, slowly, to & fro. Not so I can lull you to sleep, I hope, but to help us to explore our readings this morning and think about what they mean for us.
Whenever people think about God, they tend to set up ideas which seem to be opposite, and the pendulum starts to swing.
Surely God is high above everything we know, the maker of all things, the creator of everything from atoms to planets. God is vast, immense, unknowable. One end of the pendulum has people describing God in this lofty, magnificent, splendid way.
Isaiah paints a picture of a God who sits so far from us that we look like grasshoppers in his sight “great in strength, mighty in power”.
But then the gospels paint a picture of Jesus who is ‘God with us’ – down to earth, living a human life, concerned for Simon’s mother-in-law. The pendulum swings the other way as we see God right here with us, in Jesus.
The wonder is that God is all of these things, and more.
The God who created the universe and is worthy of all our praise is also the God who cares for a sick woman, lying in bed with a fever.
And of course in Jesus we see not just God’s care for us, but God’s ability to heal and to save. This would not be news to Isaiah, either, who spoke of the God who “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless”. God with us empowers us to “run and not be weary, walk and not faint”.
This pendulum idea also applies to our thinking about church. Is church about what we do when we worship – or the service we offer God in our lives? Should we put more effort into the words we use to speak about God… or the actions we do to show people God’s love?
Is prayer more important in life? Or is it more important to share our faith with others?
These are not simple questions – and the answer is never one thing and not the other.
The Council for World Mission – which started life as the London Missionary Society – has produced a book of daily devotions to mark its 40th anniversary as the Council for World Mission. On Friday (February 2nd) the daily devotion was written by Rev Goodwin Zainga of the Churches of Christ in Malawi. He wrote this:
“Evangelism without prayer is powerless evangelism…disciples pray but forget to evangelise”.
We need to remember the whole movement of the pendulum.
And what about discipleship – what should that be about ?
The United Reformed Church has just begun a new focus on discipleship – all sorts of resources are being suggested to help us think about what it means to follow Jesus. You might have seen an introductory leaflet with orange footprints on it – the title is “Walking the Way – living the life of Jesus today”. It might not be a very snappy title but I think it’s a helpful one.
Being a disciple of Jesus means walking the way of Jesus – and that means thinking about how we live the life of Jesus in our lives.
So is discipleship about listening to what Jesus said..
or doing what Jesus did?
Let’s remember how Jesus ‘walks’, so we can walk the way of Jesus.
After the healing of Simon’s mother in law, Jesus cures many who are sick – in body and in mind. The next morning, Jesus goes out to a deserted place to pray, and Simon and his companions go hunting for Jesus because everyone is asking for him. Jesus says “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also.”.
Jesus resists the temptation to only be seen as a healer – to let the pendulum swing in the direction of healing, and away from teaching. Jesus is here to proclaim the kingdom of God through his healing and his teaching, and the power for this comes from prayer.
This doesn’t sound like a bad model for discipleship: we should pray – as Jesus did, heal – as Jesus did, teach – as Jesus did.
But I think the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law points us to something else which is vital.
Simon’s mother-in-law is sick – she has a fever. Perhaps this year’s flu epidemic has given us a new respect for what it means to be in bed with a fever: I seem to know a lot of people who “missed” Christmas, or have had a lousy start to the new year, because they spent a number of days in bed, with a fever.
Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up and heals her – the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them.
Before she can serve her son-in-law Simon and his friends, before she can do anything for Jesus, she has to be healed herself.
Whatever sort of disciples we are, we must not lose sight of the fact that in order to serve Jesus, we first need to be touched and healed by Jesus.
Isaiah knew of our reliance on God’s touch “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles..”.
So before we go out into the world to serve Jesus – and to heal, teach, or feed others – we first come to this table.
To be fed.
To pray for healing.
To receive God’s touch on the broken places in our lives.
The Jesus who healed Simon’s mother-in-law welcomes us all to his table to be healed – and send us all out to serve.
To God’s praise & glory.