More than Survival

EPIPHANY 5B February 5, 2006 More than Survival by Linda Kraft
Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147:1-12 Mark 1:29-39 Every now and then, I have to admit, the weight of the world seems to be pushing me down to my knees. Now, I know the Bible says we should lay our worries on Jesus and he will care for us, but even *I* sometimes forget that, at least for a time. I know I'm not alone. Let me tell you about some times the Lord seemed far away. There was the time, when I was really still a toddler, when lots was happening in my life -- lots of tragedy. Before I was 6 1/2 I lost my father, my grandfather and my brother, who was just a year younger than me. In that same span of time, my brother had contracted polio and needed daily and then weekly therapy. My mother was widowed, moved in with her parents, had breast cancer, remarried and had a baby. Now, some say that kids are resilient, they can survive anything. And, to some extent I agree that's true. But, surviving and thriving are two different things. What makes the positive outcome happen? I know of another family where the parents of a son were overjoyed that their only child had found the life partner of his dreams and they traveled miles and miles to help celebrate the big day. The groom and his bride were showered with love and good wishes and the entire community sent them off into the future to live long and happy lives. But, that wasn't to be. Just a few miles from the reception hall, the couple's car was rammed by a drunk driver whose pickup truck had become airborne. The truck landed on top of their Chevy Malibu and crushed the passenger side, killing the bride and permanently brain injuring the groom. The truck driver and the groom survived, and after several years of therapy he was able to manage some of his daily care routines, but he never remembered his bride's name or even that he'd ever been any different than he was now. You know of people right here in this church whose sons and daughters served in the military in World War II, Korea or Viet Nam, Desert Storm or the Afghani or Iraqi wars. We include military personnel in our prayers every week asking God to protect them and help wars end, to give comfort to the loved ones at home and lead all of us according to God's will. But, some of those loved ones paid the ultimate price, as the bronze plaque in the narthex shows. Some of them were only sons, only brothers, the love of someone's life. How does one recover from such a loss? And, then there's the profoundly tragic unfairness of miscarriage, stillbirth, developmental delays or childhood illness. Couples plan and hope and dream of a future raising a child who will run and play, laugh and sing, get into mischief and win awards. They are certain THEIRS will be the most perfect child in the world, a respected leader and a kind and compassionate friend. But, the word comes that there's no fetal heartbeat or the labor came too soon or a chromosome too many is present in the DNA that decides who will have Downs Syndrome and who will not. There's cerebral palsy cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy and meningitis and cancer for this little one to battle. How do plans and hopes and dreams survive? Our gospel lesson for today tells us Jesus was pursued by so many people. They all wanted the same thing: to be healed of their infirmities. Jesus was at Peter's mother-in-law's house and healed her and helped her to rise to renewed life. The whole city, it says, was gathered around that door, and Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. Wherever he went, the people brought their loved ones to him, or touched the hem of his garment, or simply trusted that someone special to them would be healed and it happened. The people knew Jesus to be a miracle worker, a kind and generous man. But, if that was all they wanted of him, they were to be pitied. Here was Jesus, the flesh and blood son of God walking among them and they couldn't see past his humanity to grasp the full extent of his existence. Part of this may have been because Jesus TOLD people who saw his true self NOT to tell anyone else, but part of it was the people's own unwillingness to imagine anything greater than they could see with their own two eyes. Who was this miracle worker, this healer, this compassionate companion and wise story teller? You and I see him from a perspective of two thousand years in the future. And, yet, even WE don't comprehend the magnitude of his true self. This Jesus is the one who existed before time began, through whom all was created, for whom the world waited, with whom the disciples ministered, after whom the believers rejoiced in their salvation. This Jesus is the one described in Isaiah and our Psalm for today. The prophet tells us, "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." (Isaiah 40:28b-29NRSV) Jesus, the one Mary called her son, the one the disciples called Rabbi, the one the high priest called a blasphemer is the same one of whom the Psalmist unwittingly sang: "...he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. ...his understanding is beyond measure." (Psalm 147:2b-3,5b) Jesus was the son of God. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit of God remains with us, was infused into our beings on the day of our baptism. We can have the faith and the trust and the hope to survive the traumas and tragedies of life. The possibility is there for us to connect to. Jesus, himself, connected to the power that was his own. Our gospel lesson tells us that when Jesus was pushed to the limit, when the people were hounding him, knocking on the door, following him from shore to shore, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35) Jesus reconnected with his source of power and strength through prayer. And, when he was refreshed by this communion with the Almighty presence of God, he was able to go on and do what he was sent to do on this earth. What is it that makes the difference between surviving and thriving? What is it that helps us recover from tragic loss? What is it that carries us through trauma and grief? It is the never-failing love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. "For even the youths will faint and be weary," the prophet writes, "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." This is the hope that is ours through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. This is the message we have to proclaim to the world. This is our reason for being and reaching out in love to friends, neighbors, enemies and unknown people everywhere. You and I can not only survive but thrive. The Bible says it. I believe it. Thanks be to God. Amen Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, for all people according to their needs: Gracious Lord God, you gather outcasts, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. We ask your presence in places where violence threatens: in homes, in the streets, in our nation and around the world. You are great and abundant in power; your understanding is beyond measure. Help us to understand ourselves and our neighbors worldwide so that we may work together to bring about your peace in all lands. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Psalm 147:1-12) Good Lord, you have called us to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth. Remove our prejudice and fear, so that we might see in the face of each one we meet a fellow child of God. Send us out from this place so excited by your grace and mercy that we break down all barriers in order to tell others of your never-ending love. Call us like you called Paul, to preach the good news with both our words and our actions everywhere we go. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (1Cor 9:16-23) Listening Lord, you walked among us to proclaim your message, that the kingdom of God has come near. Yet, today, 2000 years later, “Everyone is searching for you” is not the reality we see. Many do not know they need you. Open their eyes, bring them your peace, so that the hope they search vainly for may be focused through you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Mark 1:29-39) Strong and Mighty Lord, you call us all by name and you do not faint or grow weary. You strengthen the powerless. You lift the weak as on wings like eagles. We ask your healing presence with these children of God, who need your promised care: Are there others we should include in our prayers? Everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth, we bring them all to you for strength. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Isaiah 40:21-31) Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Linda Kraft, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Trumbull, CT