A sermon for Annual Meeting Sunday at the Church of the Epiphany, and the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
The good news of the gospel is bursting out of today’s readings. Isaiah, the prophet, has been through some rough times, with international affairs and foreign powers providing plenty of hardship for his people. But now, the prophet is ready to proclaim some gospel hope.
“Have 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.
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.
They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
For Paul, the good news is what drives him forward, across land and sea, through shipwrecks, arrests, all sorts of unwelcome adventures. He is unable to resist the siren call of the gospel to preach the good news to all who haven’t yet heard it:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the people are spilling out of Saturday synagogue after the Sabbath service. They are buzzing with excitement, as well they might be. They just heard Jesus preach! They saw him command an evil spirit to leave their community, and it obeyed him! They hurry home. “Have you not heard?”
At Simon Peter’s wife’s parents’ house, the news of a healer is welcome. His mother in law is burning up with a fever. “Have you not heard?” they ask her. “This one has the power to raise you up!”
Such great excitement, and the news spread like wildfire. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
A couple of weeks ago, our Senior Warden asked the Vestry, “What is it that we want to be known for?” What do we want people to hear about us, to say about the Church of the Epiphany?
My suggestion is that it is this: that we should be known for good news. That we should be heard proclaiming the gospel of Christ: that those who wait on the Lord shall have their strength renewed. That those burning up will be rescued from the fire. That even those who sit in the ashes will be lifted up. That there is solidarity for the sorrowful, and release of the imprisoned and possessed, and celebration of all of the blessings of this life with which God has endowed us. That is what I would like our neighbours to find here. That is the buzz that should be about this place. And perhaps it is. I hope it is, at least, a little buzzing!
A lot has been made of the fact that, according to Mark’s account, as soon as Peter’s mother in law was restored to health, she hurried to serve her special guest. Some people have found this to be a sign of the lingering problems of a woman’s place in the church, in the home, in our society, as though Jesus soothed her fevered brow and then said, “Woman, now get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!”
I understand how this might rub some of us the wrong way.
[Just in the past week, a serious contender for public office asserted that his support for women’s rights came at the price of his fiancee’s agreement to have dinner on the table for him by six every evening. I also read about a teenaged explorer who got so many “make me a sandwich” messages after her successful trip to the north pole that when she skied to the south pole, she took a sandwich with her for the photo shoot, to offer her critics.]
Fortunately, there is another way of reading Peter’s mother in law’s return to full strength, full health, full authority, and it is good news.
There are those who point out that the word used to describe her service to Jesus and her son in law’s other guests is the same word as we use for deacons. They wonder if this was, in fact, the first example of Christ ordaining a deacon for the embryonic church.
That’s one way of reading it; another argues that, ordained or not, it is in restoring her to herself, to her own authority in her own household, to her own strength and freedom that Jesus made this woman a model for all of us who are called into Christian service.
Once our own needs are met: when we have been fed, forgiven, embraced by the love of God; only then are we able to notice the needs of others, and to have the love left over to serve them. Once we are restored to our own dignity, by the radical and absolute acceptance of Christ, then it comes naturally to respect the dignity, to demand the dignity of others. Once we are healed of our burning fevers, of conflict and covetousness, then we have the calm collection in which to notice the way in which God has infected all that we have, and do, and are, and to respond in wonder, love, and praise.
It is by the grace given to us in the gospel that we are able to reach out in love to serve those whom Christ has brought to us, has sent into our house; and we are called to serve them in love and humility, with dignity and with honour.
Whether we are known for our dramatically delicious community meals, or for our involvement in the affairs of the city of Euclid, for our pancakes or our peacemaking, for the colour of our doors or the colours of our faces, for our open hearts, our open minds; however we are called to serve our community, we are able to do it first and only because of the good news that we have heard and known. We do it because Jesus has raised us up to do it, has healed us of our fever and our fear, has restored us to our whole selves.
We live in a world that is fevered and fearful, angry and tired, and more than a little anxious. But we have known, we have heard that Jesus has the authority to cast out demons by his word. We have known, we have heard that the gospel is on the move, and in our midst. We have known, we have heard that those who wait upon the Lord shall mount up on their wings like eagles.
Those who are raised up to wait upon him who comes into the house for the meal at the time of the Sabbath service, all who celebrate this Eucharist, all who share this Communion, may they all find their strength renewed.