Whether this sermon gets preached depends on the weather - more snow here than we're used to - I feel that church members may prefer to stay at home!
(Isaiah 40: 21-31, Mark 1 : 29-39)
Brrr! Those who know me well know I am no lover of Winter: I was really rather relieved to see the back of January and as far as I’m concerned the best thing about February is that it’s shorter, if only by 2 days this year. I am obviously not alone in finding this time of year difficult, though, at least three different dates in January were declared to be the ‘most depressing day of the year’ – thanks to a combination of short days, cold weather, and the after-effects of Christmas.
So I’m glad that we’ve heard Isaiah’s vision of a wider perspective, to lift our eyes and spirits to something higher.
I love the Isaiah reading for its grandeur of vision about the greatness of God.
“It is God 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;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing”.
When our minds are filled with the many worries of life, it is good sometimes to remember that we are really very small in the great scheme of things – and that God is over all and above all things that concern us.
But Isaiah also gives us a sense that this God, incredibly great and powerful though God is, cares for us and will use his greatness to lift us up when we most need it. So we have those wonderful words:
‘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.”
These are words to encourage and amaze us. God is great and rules over all, but God is concerned for us – none of our burdens are insignificant to God, and God promises us strength when we most need it.
When in Mark's gospel Jesus comes to declare God’s coming kingdom, we find him assailed by the many concerns of the people around him, but determined to show that God’s care and God’s power to heal extends to everyone.
Mark tells us of a day in the life of Jesus – and it’s a Sabbath day, too! Having healed a man in the synagogue described as possessed by a devil, Jesus seeks rest in the house of Peter and Andrew. But immediately he arrives he is told that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick – and so Jesus goes and heals her, so completely that she is able to wait on them at table.
Then there seems to be a respite, until the sun sets, the sabbath is over, and then more and more people are brought to Jesus for healing. Finally Jesus goes off to pray alone, but then early the next morning Peter & the other disciples hunt him down, to tell him that more people are looking for him.
Maybe this sense of being surrounded by demands is familiar to us. Yet in all the demands, Jesus is clear 'this is what I came out to do - to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to cast out demons'.
The healings Jesus carries out by ‘casting out demons’ are the hardest for our modern minds to cope with. We might understand these stories as being about mental illness, and so see them as healing stories.
But it is interesting that Mark tells that Jesus does many of these sorts of healing in his ministry, and that Jesus himself points to the importance of this.
Now, I am not about to suggest that our world is full of demons which we do not recognise. But I think our world is full of ‘possession’.
On Friday last week I had cause to travel to King’s Cross on the train – I saw people possessed by selfishness, rushing past someone struggling with a push-chair; I heard a conversation between two people possessed by envy, discussing bankers’ bonuses; and as I passed through Tottenham I thought about the greed which had possessed those caught up in the looting last summer.
As Jesus begins his ministry, he starts by clearing the decks – removing those things which possess people, so that they can receive the good news of God’s kingdom and the gift of God’s love.
What is most impressive to those of us who feel overwhelmed is that Jesus is happy to turn back to the crowds, again and again. Jesus’ work of healing is not the only reason he has come to live among us, and yet he knows that if we are to listen to the message he brings of God’s kingdom of love and if we are to begin a new relationship with God through him then we must first be healed of what ails us and made free from all that possesses us.
Jesus has come to bring life in all its fullness. To those who wonder if life has any meaning or purpose; to those who feel completely overwhelmed by worry or sickness or just too many demands in life; to those who long to be lifted up in the strength of God.
Jesus brings us new life – his life – in this bread and this wine. And he invites us to share his life and know its power. Thanks be to God. Amen.