Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
February 7, 2021
Lessons: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people do everything for the sake of the gospel and in gratitude for the boundless love, mercy, and grace of God.
Key Scripture: I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:23
Why are you a Christ follower? Seriously, if you and I met on a train, bus, or plane and struck up a conversation, would you be able to tell me why? Would you be able to share the Good News with me in a way that I could receive it, or at least be open to the possibility? This is a tall order for most Christians, even for those of us who have benefit of a seminary education and a call to vocational church work.
This week’s lessons invite us to ponder vocation, call, commitment, and boundaries. Whether we find something that resonates in us from the Isaiah “eagle’s wings” passage, or from Paul’s explanation of his approach to ministry and evangelism to the folks at Corinth, or in the gospel account of how Jesus does ministry and life, I can assure you that something will speak to you if you ponder and pray with these lessons. For example, if you look through our archives for this week’s lessons, you’ll see three distinct approaches taken from these rich passages.
This year I was particularly drawn to the concept of identity in Christ and the role of the priesthood of all believers on which Martin Luther was so passionate. Just what, then, is our role, as bearers of the Good News to a hurting world. Every one of us is gifted for ministry: God equips us, Jesus leads us, and the Holy Spirit works in us so that we can share the Good News of a different way of living and being. Whether your vocation is minister, teacher, accountant, retail sales associate, or front-line healthcare worker, let these lessons marinate you and nudge you into deeper discipleship. Check out these possible entry points for each lesson:
Isaiah 40:21-31: Burnout is real, friends. Many of us are probably reeling from burnout or are dangerously close to it, thanks to altered lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The prophet reminds us of exactly who God is and why we are not God. The point is that we’re all going to fall prey to exhaustion and overwork. The solution is to keep our focus on the Creator of the Cosmos through whom we will soar like eagles, run without exhaustion, and keep on walking. Yes, our proper response to God’s goodness is to wait for the LORD, to remain in Christ, and to trust that in doing so we will find refreshment and renewal when we need it the most.
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c: Here the poet reminds us to praise God for who God is—the source, the love, the power, and the dispenser of mercy and grace. We learn, too, that God isn’t interested in a lot of flash and bling. God desires us to worship, praise, and hope in the Divine One’s steadfast love. Psalms such as this one help us reorient from a focus on the self to a singular devotion to the LORD.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23: In this portion of his letter, Paul reminds the church at Corinth that he has a right to expect fair compensation for his work as a minister of the gospel. He also notes that he waives that right in order to reach more people with the Good News. Yes, as with the priests and the synagogue’s other religious workers, Paul deserves provision, but he also sees the value in waiving it in order to relate more closely to a wider population of folks. It’s not that he’s watering down the gospel in order to be all things to all people; it’s more that he understands how and where to reach people. He can speak the language of freedom to those who are slaves because he knows what it’s like to lose one’s freedom. He can speak to his fellow Jews because of his Pharisee pedigree. He can speak to Roman citizens because he is one. In short, Paul has figured out how to meet people where they are, adapting his own presentation and style accordingly. He does it out of love for God and neighbor, saying “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (9:23). Why do we, you and I, do it today? Are we willing to take the “all things to all people” approach, or are we more likely to choose some of the people under certain circumstances?
Mark 1:29-39: We might rename this passage “How to do ministry, Jesus style.” Look at what we learn about effective ministry in just 10 short verses:
- Do your best to restore people’s agency and encourage others to use their gifts and talents. Jesus restores Simon’s mother-in-law to her proper role as host and household manager.
- Do your best work, but do set boundaries for your own good. Jesus heals a whole lot of people in Capernaum, but he won’t let the cast-out demons to speak or hold sway.
- Take time for your own spiritual nourishment and time to be with God. Jesus gets up early in the morning and finds a quiet place to pray.
- Don’t fall for the tyranny of the urgent. The disciples search for Jesus to tell him that everyone is looking for him. Jesus remains focused. He knows the work to which he has been called and that he needs to proclaim the message to a wider audience in other towns.
- Know your purpose and be clear about it. Jesus is quite clear about what he has come to do, and he avoids being sidetracked or dragged into other endeavors.
Back to the original question: Why are you a Christ follower? Do you have a clear, concise answer that you can adapt to share, to meet folks where they are? If not, may this week’s lessons give you some ideas, some courage, and some confidence that you can share the Good News at any age and stage of life. Blessings as you go forth and share the gospel! Remember that you’re in good company because God goes with you, too.
How long, O Lord, must we worship via Zoom, Facebook, or in parking lots? More and more of us are asking and wondering and hoping to resume congregational worship in the building as soon as it’s safe. We face a dilemma that even when we do resume our usual patterns, so much about life will have changed. Our worshiping communities will have changed, as well. Addressing these hopes, laments, and frustrations in worship may help folks cope a little better with uncomfortable change. Why not use this week’s psalm as a call and response praise and lament? Alternate each verse with a lament that grows fainter and ends with praise. Here’s an example (feel free to adapt to your context):
1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
How long, O Lord,
until we can sing together again?
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
How long, O Lord,
before you build up our cities and restore our people?
3 He heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
Lord, hear our
prayers for all who are suffering, sick, and need your help.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Lord, you have
always known us. Help us to trust you in this difficult time.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
Lord, give us wisdom
and courage to proclaim your good news. Equip and empower us, Lord.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
How long, O Lord, will the wicked win, and when will they cease to trample others?
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
Lord, my lips give
you thanks and my heart’s melody praises you.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
Lord, make us better
caretakers of your good creation.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
How long, O Lord,
will so many people lack access to clean water and healthy food? Help us end
hunger and address the lack of safe water.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
Lord, you are beyond
the wiles of this world. Help us to keep our eyes and hearts turned toward you.
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Oh, Lord, we do hope
in your steadfast love, and we look to you for all good orderly direction.
20cPraise the Lord!
Let us worship and praise the Lord! Amen!
This week’s gospel lesson tells us a lot about Jesus’ style of ministry. He was a healer and wanted people to be restored to community and wholeness. Jesus worked long and hard, but he also set boundaries to protect and care for himself and others. Jesus stayed true to his purpose and goals. He would not be distracted when conflicting voices and competing claims rushed in. Jesus had singular focus on his mission to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God coming near. Finally, and most importantly, Jesus stayed connected to God, his Father. He spent regular time in prayer and contemplation.
While our primary goals and objectives may have to do with school, sports, the arts, work, and family, we can all learn and apply these four practices of Jesus. (Spend some time talking with youth about how these four practices can be beneficial to them in their context and to you in your stage of life. Jesus has so much to teach us so that we can be the best person and Christian possible.)
This week’s focus verse is Isaiah 40:30: Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.
Do you ever get really tired? (Affirm all answers.) I know I sure do! When I was your age, I did not like naps; now I look forward to them. Yet, here’s the thing. I can take a nap this afternoon, and I will be refreshed and ready to go for a walk. By 10:00 tonight I’ll be tired all over again and will need a good night’s rest. We all get tired and need rest, and if we don’t get enough rest there will be some health consequences to pay.
Listen to this next verse from Isaiah, chapter 40: “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.”
Does this mean that if we wait for God we won’t ever need sleep or a nap again? Absolutely not! God gives us the gift of sleep to renew our bodies and help them grow. What this verse does tell us is that if we spend time with God, if we pay attention and listen for God’s direction, we will find strength and will not grow weary and faint. God will give us strength enough to meet the challenges and opportunities of each day. God goes with you to school, for example. You are never alone. Stay close to God, and you will grow strong in faith, which in turn will help you in every part of your life.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Help us to wait for you (Help us to wait for you). Help us to pay attention to you (Help us to pay attention to you), and trust that you (and trust that you) will strengthen us (will strengthen us) so we do not grow weary (so we do not grow weary) of following you (of following you).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Thank you for being a good and generous steward, especially during these difficult times of pandemic and loss. Your generosity fuels important ministries both within our congregation, the wider community, and the world. Thank you!
Stewardship at Home
February is African American History month. This is a good time to study the deep and abiding spirituality of our Black and brown neighbors who have long been oppressed and marginalized. What you will find is a beautiful and even mystical approach to faith, stewardship, and everyday life. Consider learning about the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman this week. Click here to watch a short video, “The Legacy of Howard Thurman: Mystic and Theologian,” from the PBS show Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. If possible, read Thurman’s book Meditations of the Heart. Go deeper with his classic work Jesus and the Disinherited. Both books are timely for today. Here’s a downloadable PDF excerpt from Meditations of the Heart, called “Struggle is an Aspect of Life.”
Have children at home? Consider checking out the book Howard Thurman’s Great Hope written by Kai Jackson Issa and beautifully illustrated by Arthur Dawson. This book is geared for ages eight through 10. Click here for a helpful teacher’s guide from Lee and Low Books.
2015 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/02/vocational-stewardship/
2012 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/02/what-we-come-to-do/
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2021, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.