Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
Have You Not Known, Is 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39, 2/4/18, NM
The text we heard from Isaiah is flat out one of my five favorite Bible passages of all time. I love this. Because it’s so true - we do know - we have been told. God is God and there is not now, nor will there ever be any other. Everything we know, everything we see, everything we do, say, love, hate, worship and believe in - is God. To the outermost limits of the Universe - the seen and the unseen - all of it - has been created and is sustained by God’s Intention. No human mind, no human imagination, can understand or appreciate what that means. No human mind can understand or appreciate the responsibility that entails or the toll it takes.
I am put in mind of The Book of Job, when at the end of the tale, Job’s four friends gather to try and talk him out of his bitterness. As the story goes, Satan manipulated God into punishing Job mercilessly because God had named Job as a man who was truly faithful. Satan countered that it was a faith born of good fortune, Job was the man who had everything - family, fortune, friends and health. That gauntlet thrown down by Satan was taken up by God and poor Job began to lose his blessings, one by one. His wife and children died. His herds died. His property was stolen. His health was forfeit. Yet, in spite of everything, Job held fast to his faith.
At the very end of the story, Job vents all his anger and frustration, accusing God of acting against him for no reason. That prompted an extended response by God, who said, in essence, what we have said - God is unknowable. The creative work of God is never ending and God alone is capable of sustaining the cost of that effort. Here’s the text.
Job 38:1-13 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'? "Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
The miracle of faith is that we can have a relationship with God. For while we can never truly understand God, we can understand what God wants of us. Moreover, in Christ we have a champion, who - seated at the right hand of God - is constantly interceding on our behalf if we should flounder - is comforting us when we are lost and suffering - is showing us the way to live by faith alone.
We have heard. We have been told. We have been shown. Why then is it so hard for us to follow God’s Injunctions and do what is right in God’s Eyes?
The NT reading from The Gospel According to Mark continues our reading from last week. In fact, what we are given in the two selections - last week’s and this - Mark 1:21-39 - is a typical day in the life of Christ. What comes through more than anything else is his tireless energy, his dedication and his unending work on behalf of those in need. In the morning he was at worship, preaching in public [for the first time] - with authority - preaching from the heart of his own knowledge of God’s Great Purpose. By mid-day he was at the home of his first two disciples, the brothers Andrew and Simon. Finding their mother afflicted with an indeterminate illness, Jesus healed her forthwith - and when - after their meal they found half the town lined up outside the door waiting to be seen by him - he attended to them all - healing them and casting out demons.
But as was so typical of Jesus - he didn’t wait around for kudos, but escaped out the back of the house and went to a quiet place to pray and meditate. When the disciples found him they said, What are you doing way out here? Come back, a lot of people want to thank you! But he said, No, our work here is done. Let’s go to the next town, and do what we can for them.
All of it was dedicated to service. Selfless compassion is the first and arguably the first, most central instruction of The Holy Covenant - or maybe it’s the 1.5th - the life of faith is the life of service to others.
When we live for ourselves, we lose. We get wrapped up in success and failure, wealth and poverty, gains and losses we are walking toward the outer darkness. When we live in service to others we are modeling the life of Christ - but also we are modeling Godself.
Isa 40:10-11 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
When we read this text the other day I was reminded of the words that God spoke through Moses - which we read a few weeks ago.
I will raise up a prophet from among their own people…
The words of Isaiah are arguably the words of the first and greatest of Israel’s Prophets. God’s mind, God’s spirit, God’s work and God’s life are all beyond human comprehension. A being who lives we know not precisely where, and sustains itself we know not how. Yet we believe. Nor is that belief a vain belief. True, for it is based on the truth of our experience of God and of Christ. In doing this spiritual work we can have no better guide than the Gospels themselves. It’s not easy work, nor is faith in God easy to hold onto. Even Jesus’ disciples were constantly struggling with his teachings, his actions and the depth of his faith. For example, once he asked them who they thought he was, and they all gave different answers! According to his own gospel, only Thomas the Doubter gave an answer that pleased Jesus. Thomas said, Master I am completely unable to say what you are! In return for that answer, Jesus was said to have told Thomas three secrets. And when the others asked him, What did The Master tell you? Thomas replied, If I were to tell you even one of the things he told me, you would stone me to death as a heretic!
The point is that we are embarked upon a lifetime quest. A set of interlocking challenges that will shape everything we do and everything we say. On one hand, the most important part of it is how we live, who we help, what we value and how we achieve our goals. At the same time, as we move through our lives, we gather knowledge and gain depth of understanding. Some of it we can articulate and some of it we can’t, but it seems to me that aside from the results of our lives, what matters most is what we stand for and how we pass it on.
It seems to me that humanity is just like those disciples. We all serve someone or something, but very few of us are able say just what that something might be. Nevertheless, I believe that most of us know the difference between right and wrong, and further that most of us try to do what is right in a world where goodness seems to be in short supply. Yet...I’m not so sure. I think perhaps we never have the opportunity to test one another up close.
Many years ago in my second semester of college, at the advanced age of eighteen years, I spent several months living in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The original idea was to study Spanish and Political Science at The CIDOC Institute, but that broke down pretty quickly. One day word reached me that a total solar eclipse was coming up very soon and the best place in the world from which to view it was the Mexican Pacific Coast. Naturally I decided I had to be there, anticipating a festal event a lot like a Mexican version of Woodstock.
As luck would have it, I was short of funds. But that didn’t stop me. I set off hitchhiking. A distance of roughly a thousand miles. It took two days. The thing is I had a ball, but I’d never have made it home had it not been for the kindness of the people I met along the way. There were hundreds of Mexican kids heading to the beach for the eclipse and they all helped me get there in time for what was a life-special event. It was going back home where the rubber really met the road.
First, it took forever to get a ride out of town. I split off from the group I was with and got a ride all by myself on a flatbed truck. Speeding along, filled with life, watching the country unfold was one of the ten all-time best moments of my life. It lasted until the truck dropped me off at a half-built gas station in the middle of nowhere. A couple of hours later, along came the rest of the group I’d been with. From that point on they carried me. We finally got a ride to a nearby town and they parked themselves on the outskirts of the local market. And proceeded to panhandle the market ladies, who clucked and said, Boys, boys, where are your parents? Here take these few pesetas. Pretty soon we had enough for tamales all around and railroad tickets to the City of Puebla. Fairly close to Mexico City. From from Mexico it is a bare hour’s drive to Cuernavaca. It was perfect for me, I was along for the ride.
The final act of the adventure took place in yet another gas station at the outskirts of the city. Every time a truck came through we tried to wheedle a ride. There were like six or seven of us. Finally, we got desperate. Puebla sits at five thousand feet and it was cold! One of the guys got a ride and as he climbed into the cab the others signaled me and ran to the back of the truck as it pulled away from the pumps. It was a flatbed with walls made of wooden slats, and we could see it was filled with burlap bags of something. They grabbed those slats and
hauled themselves over the top. I was a little slow, threw my knapsack over the top running and grabbed on, the truck was pulling onto the highway and I was still struggling to get my feet up, until someone reached down and yanked me over. We were on top of a load of chili peppers. We covered ourselves with empty sacks and huddled together shivering that whole night. In the morning when the truck pulled up at a street in the Capital, the driver finally saw all of us getting down. Know what? He just clucked his tongue and drove away. The kindness of strangers.
And all God’s People said...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed