5th Sunday after Epiphany

February 5, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 40:21-31
Reading 2: 
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:29-39
By Rick Marshall

Discussion of the Texts:

The Psalm and Isaiah texts are similar in how they express praise in the Creator God. Psalm 147 uses strong verbs to describe God’s actions toward creation: “builds up,” “gathers,” “heals,” “binds up,” “determines,” “gives,” “lifts up.” We are called to sing praises to the Creator God who is deeply involved in the welfare of all creation.

The Isaiah text begins and ends with pointed questions: “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” The reality that God is the Creator should be obvious to all of creation. The questions seem to be a verbal wake-up-call. Hey! Think about it! Notice! The Creator God is the One who has created everything and provides life-giving sustenance for all creatures and is the true source of well-being. This is a reminder that we did not create our own lives, and it is a fiction that we can provide for our own well-being on our own terms. Those who truly recognize God as the source of well-being will not make the mistake of putting their trust in any creature, be it in their own powers, the promises of well-being made by leaders, or trusting in economic or military might. Establishing well-being apart from the power of God is a dangerous illusion. Misplaced trust will lead to disappointment, disease, and death.

The closing words of the text of Isaiah, verses 28-31, are majestic in their powerful poetic call to trust this God. Mounting up with wings like eagles is an inspiring vision of strength, moving upward, soaring over, lifting. It’s an image that captures the verbal strength of the Psalm text. This text is often read at both funerals and weddings, calling us to hope in the life-giving power of God as central to our lives. The image of the eagle is meant literally to lift us up.

Both texts call us to the simple priority between Creator and creatures. Creatures come from God and depend upon God for their very existence and well-being. The texts are meant to be used in worship. Worship is, after all, a dramatic enactment, through word, movement and song, recognizing God as Creator. Worship sets our compass to true north, true life.

In the Mark and 1 Corinthians texts, the attributes of the Creator God of the Jewish scriptures is assumed and exhibited in both Jesus’ and Paul’s ministries, though in different ways. Mark has Jesus embodying the creating, transforming, healing power of God. Jesus’ power works against unclean spirits, disease, even death. Jesus’ first action in the gospel of Mark is to cast out unclean spirits in the synagogue. He then goes to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house and heals her. He then goes on to heal others of various diseases and casts out unclean spirits. He then goes out to pray alone; this power is not his own, but comes from his connection to God. He goes about the country side, healing and preaching in the name of the creating, transforming God, which again, is the true source of healing and well-being.

Paul is completely dedicated to this same power, though he does not embody it in the same way as Jesus. He too sees this creating, transforming power of God as the key to life, even in the face of disease, unclean spirits, other powers that destroy, even death. He is confident that the power of God is life overcoming death. Or life emerging out of death. Or death being transformed into new life. The power of life is affirmed by both Jesus and Paul.

Process Theology and the Texts:

All these text explicitly point to the nature of God’s power, which is a central theme in process thought. God’s power is persuasive, not coercive or manipulative. The creating, transforming God is the God process theology affirms. Preaching this power is central to the Christian task.

Preaching the Texts:

Since we are all called  to be Christian and to communicate the gospel message, preaching could be the central theme of a sermon. What are we to communicate to the world? How are we to communicate it? The 1 Corinthian text could be used to make the point of how central preaching is to the church. Currently, there is a gap between preachers and worshippers. The preacher speaks the word and the congregation receives it. Could we broaden the task of preaching to include everyone, in different ways of communicating the gospel message to the world? What would it look like if each one of use clearly understood and was dedicated to the creating, transforming God? If it was a central theme for our lives, how would be speak it through the way we live? We preach through the way we live in our individual lives, in the way we live together as a worshipping community.

Another way to approach the texts is to talk about healing. Where does healing come from? There is a difference between Eastern and Western medicine for example. Western medicine tends to treat symptoms, whereas Eastern medicine tends to treat the cause as part of the whole person. Yet, the healing power that Jesus used was different from both. Questions need to be asked: What needs to be healed? What is the disease? Is it physical, mental, spiritual? How does our understanding of sin play into the problem? Does sin ultimately cause disease? If sin is understood as worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, and if it results in life out of balance, then we could discuss healing as bringing life back into balance by worshipping the true God. Is righteousness healing? Does worship heal? Does justice heal? Does treating others with respect heal? What is the unclean spirit that Jesus confronted? What power does it represent? How does Jesus counter the unclean power? The preacher could push the congregation into deeper thought about God’s power of healing. The texts from the Psalms and Isaiah could be used as liturgical focal points on the healing power of the creating transforming power of God.

Another sermon could focus on God as Creator and how God’s purpose for creation might be balance, harmony, beauty and life. Maybe God’s desire is for everything to be in balance, which encourages life.

Children and the Texts:

I would use the theme of balance to play with the children. Fairness is something they understand very well, fairness as balance, fairness as everyone getting a share of life. It means everyone getting treated the same in terms of all of us being children of God. When I would do my Christmas shopping for my two daughters when they were young, I would make sure that the dollar value of their gifts amounted to the same, even though I got them different gifts. One’s share of gifts balanced with the other’s share of gifts. I treated them fairly. Doesn’t God want to treat God’s children fairly? Doesn’t God want to treat all of creation fairly? That’s what justice is all about. The preacher could point out that the world is an unfair place, that some have more than others and that we take from the earth without giving back. Is that what God wants? The point could be that how we treat others and how we treat the earth matters to us and to God.

May the creative, transforming power of God be with you in your preaching.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.