We Have Good News, February 7

We Have Good News

Isaiah 40:29-40; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-36

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville UMCs; February 7, 2021, online

 

Have you not known?  Have you not heard? …

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the creator of the ends of the earth.

He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.

 

I don’t know where you are in the process of getting vaccinated against the corona virus.  Maybe you’ve received both shots. Maybe you’ve got an appointment to get a shot.  Or maybe you’re like me and still waiting to be eligible.  The prophet Isaiah’s got a shot in the arm for you, nonetheless. The Lord is the everlasting God, creator of the ends of the earth, who gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will grow weary, but those who wait upon the Lord, those who put their trust in the God who made all things, they will mount up on wings like eagles, soaring through the sky.  They will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint. 

 

This is news I need to hear, because, let me tell you, I am inclined toward weariness these days.  I am challenged to find hope and energy in the midst of the loneliness and dreariness and cold of this particular winter.   We’ve been in this odd world of staying apart and yet still having to work hard, blurring lines between work and home, and coming up against new stresses and new obstructions week after week.  A friend talked about hitting a pandemic wall.  She said she wasn’t sure whether she should try to go around the wall, dig under it, or simply stare at it for a while.  Experts say we shouldn’t be surprised to feel overwhelmed.  As Isaiah said, Even youths will grow weary and the young will fall exhausted.  The exile of Isaiah’s time and the pandemic of our own time aren’t all that different. They affect our lives similarly.  Lots of constant differences and newness in our day-to-day lives. In that exhaustion, Isaiah offers hope.

 

Those that wait upon the Lord will rise up on wings like eagles.  Right now, in February of 2021, rising on wings like an eagle sounds heavenly.  This is our good news, friends.  This is what we get to claim as our anchor.  That we can trust in the God of all things; we can wait upon the Lord; we can count on the God made known in Jesus Christ, and we will be filled with power to make it – not just power to survive, but to thrive. 

 

The story we heard from Mark also offers hope – Jesus, son of God, Emmanuel, God in person with us, has the power to heal our diseases and cast out evil from our midst.  We are promised the presence and power of the Spirit of the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world. 

 

In the midst of the bad news we’ve been living with for the past long time, we have good news to share, a story to tell to the nations, and a testimony of hope to offer to a despairing world.  Still, the task before us isn’t easy. 

 

First off, we have to hear it and believe it.  Waiting upon the Lord often means just that – waiting for the good to come through in bad times.  Trusting that God will see us through when things are difficult.  We just sang that wonderful hymn: 

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,

the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow!  And then the promise comes:

For I will be with you, your troubles to bless

and sanctify to you your deepest distress. 

We’ve come this far by faith; we’ve made it through the last almost year; and I’m going to tell you what you probably already know.  We’re going to make it to the end of this.  We’re going to get to a time when we can be together again.  It won’t be easy getting there, and it may not be exactly as it was before.  But we will come through this and be together again.  And we will have grown together.  When we first shut our doors, I thought it would be short-lived, maybe just a few months.  I was wrong.  It will have been a long time when we gather again.  We had a few months in the middle of last year when some of us were here in the sanctuary together, but many didn’t feel safe coming, and we couldn’t sing.  When we are all together here again, it will have been quite a long time since last March.  We have changed and grown, learned and prayed more deeply than perhaps we did before.  We have found out we can be church in new ways, across phone lines, Zoom screens, and Facebook pages.  We’ve learned that the Spirit of God does not leave us even when we are apart from one another.  Claim this good news as your own, friends.  God is indeed the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth.  We who dare to trust in God’s love will indeed not grow weary; we will walk into tomorrow and not faint, for God goes with us and stands by our side.

 

Once we know this good news, we then can share it.  And as charming as Isaiah’s embrace of the obvious is – don’t you know?  Of course, you know! – I haven’t personally found that approach to be the best communication method to the world.  That’s where Paul’s wisdom comes in.

 

Paul of Tarsus was no shrinking violet.  We have two primary sources of information about him – his own letters and Luke's stories of him in Acts – and both of them portray him as bold, self-confident, and a man in no danger of being anyone but Paul himself.  He boasts of his strict adherence to the law of God and his lineage in the line of Benjamin.  Luke tells of numerous encounters with listeners in which Paul impresses the crowds, and many become followers of Jesus because of his preaching.  Paul himself refers to his prowess and his sincerity and his own wisdom and piety in his letters to churches throughout the Mediterranean region.  Paul did not suffer from low self-esteem.  Listen, then, to his words here in the first letter to the church at Corinth in that light:  For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. ... 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul lets go of the wisdom of his ego and instead actively chooses to take on the manner and concerns of others.  Why?  Is he conforming to peer pressure?  Is he giving up on his deepest ideals or dreams?  No.  He lets go of himself, and of the insistence on being only for himself, for the sake of the gospel.  For the sake of the love he has known in Jesus Christ, and in the church, the body of Christ. 

 

He's right, of course.  Love does that to us. It pulls us beyond ourselves into the lives and concerns of others.  Loving someone means letting their life intrude into ours and caring about their needs as if they were our own.  We talk about the love of God as made manifest in Jesus because in the incarnation, God enters our world, lives our life in order to make it abundantly clear that God knows our pain and understands the strange mix of joy and suffering, of routine and excitement that make up the experience of being human.  That love of God is at the heart of the gospel that Paul proclaims.  It’s the good news we know in our own hearts.

 

So Paul, brimming with self-esteem, is willing to go beyond himself and become all things to all people for the sake of this gospel, this good news of love as the source and power of the universe.  The gospel he shares is the same news Isaiah shares those years before.  You can count on God to see you through; the love that made the universe is offered to you as your rock and foundation.

 

Paul can't be anyone but Paul, but he can, and does, from all accounts, let go of his insistence on being Paul, front and center, in order to attempt to see the world as others do.  One of the primary points of Paul's genius in the history of Christianity is that he, a devout, proud, and pious Jew, managed to grasp the universality of God's love for the world.  He managed to set aside his own particularity and grasp that Gentiles, too, would benefit from the power and depth of God's love in Jesus Christ.  Paul went beyond himself to enter into love for others by seeing the world as they saw it.  The only way to see the world as others do is to love them and listen to them. 

 

This is our task. Sharing the gospel, offering love to the world, begins with paying attention to where people are. If they are discouraged, you needn’t be discouraged, but you do need to understand and empathize with their discouragement.  If those you’re speaking with are worried, you can listen to their concerns and seek to grasp where they’re coming from.  Paul’s insight into good communication skills isn’t exclusive to Christian evangelism.  Empathy is how we reach others, no matter what we’ve got to share.  When love is our message and hope is our song, empathy is even more basic to our narrative.  Without them, the message is without a core. 

 

These are tough days, friends.  Don’t get down on yourself for feeling the sorrow and the exhaustion – they are real.  And then keep your heart open for the power of God to fill it. Wait upon the Lord and renew your strength, rest on God’s love and trust in the Spirit’s presence.  And when you talk with friends about their own pain and sorrow, listen, remember, empathize.  Tell them about how you’re getting through.  Dare to mention the love of the Lord that buoys you up when you’re low. 

 

The Lord heals the broken-hearted, says the Psalm we read together.  Count on that healing; and share it with the world.  We’ll make it, friends.  We’ll make it. And God will go with us, every step of the way.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 40:21-31

21Have 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? 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24Scarcely 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. 25To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

27Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28Have you not known? Have you not heard? 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. 29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31but 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.

 

 

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

Praise the Lord!  How good it is to sing praises to our God;

for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars;

     he gives to all of them their names.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;

     his understanding is beyond measure.

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.

He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth,

      makes grass grow on the hills.

He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,

     nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,

     in those who hope in his steadfast love. 

Praise the Lord!

 

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

 

Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

 

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “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.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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