“Have You Not Heard?”
A Sermon on Mark 1:29-39 and Isaiah 40:21-31 for the 5th Sun. in Ord. Time, Year B; preached February 8, 2015, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister
Our weather patterns these past few weeks, I imagine you’ll agree, have wreaked havoc with all sorts of life realities. A couple of days ago, I was hearing on the radio about how many millions of dollars the City of Boston, as an example, has already spent from their snow removal budget for the year. And even with all those efforts on streets and sidewalks and parking lots, most of know plenty of places where conditions are less-than-perfect, and times when we’ve been less than stable on our feet or behind the wheel. The Daily Campus this Friday highlighted the ways in which students with physical mobility differences—those who use wheelchairs, for example—are still finding campus very difficult to get around.
At my house, not only has the weather diminished our ability to get the puppy outside for exercise and play, but this week we seem to have started stockpiling recyclables inside because neither of us wants to trudge through the massive amounts of snow between us and where the recycling bin currently sits, the blue plastic waiting to be unburied and unbound from its cold white imprisonment.
More on my mind, though, than the physical impediments—and I haven’t even touched on the matter of the temperatures—but more than these physical things, these past few weeks have been pretty disruptive to time and schedules. School delays and cancellations have been stacking up, with add-on days for E.O. Smith High School here in Storrs getting dangerously close to graduation, according to an article in The [Willimantic] Chronicle earlier this week. My neighbors, with their school-age daughter, have spoken of ‘cabin fever’, and I’m guessing you who are parents (or who know any parents) have been seeing it too.
And for some of us, all these storms and travel problems and snow days, it’s disrupted our weekly rhythm. Now, not everybody has a life or a job that falls into a weekly rhythm, but in many ways, mine tends to. There are certain days on which I tend to schedule pastoral visits, for example, and I almost always do the worship order in the Sunday bulletin on Tuesdays. And in jobs like these, each member of a team depends on others to follow their rhythm, too. Here at the church, for example, Trisha knows she can put the choir selections and other music info into the bulletin on Wednesday, because I got the worship order set up on Tuesday; likewise, I’m able to do follow-up with newcomers on Wednesday because I know Deborah or a work-study student processes the info on our welcome pads at the beginning of the week. It would be the same sort of thing, I imagine, for someone who worked for a weekly television show or any other number of jobs with the relentless return of a deadline or event. After all, as they say in church work, “Sunday comes around every week.”
Indeed, Sunday does come around every week. This winter, so far at least, the weather has not disrupted worship services or other Sunday morning activities here at Storrs Congregational. For many of you, coming to worship here is a part of your weekly routine, just as much as preparing for worship is a part of mine. Others of you strive to make it a part of your weekly routine, but it doesn’t always quite happen. And still others of you have Sunday worship as a part of your routine on a less frequent basis, and that simply is what it is… part of the changing landscape in our times of what ‘active’ participation in a religious community means to people.
Whatever your own particular practice is, though, the reality is that this weekly practice of gathering on Sunday for worship is a part of our routine together as a community. It is a part—a significant part, in fact—of what makes us who we are as a corporate body. But have you ever thought much about why? What is it that we do here together in this time we call worship, and why is it important? Why is it important to us, together, and why is it important for each one of us as individuals?
With thanks to a Lutheran pastor out in Washington State for the insight, I want to suggest that our weekly pattern of life together, our weekly routine as Christian community together and as individual members of it, is much the same as Jesus’s pattern of life that we see in today’s story from the gospel of Mark. “The pattern of life of Jesus in [our story this morning] is to be in the middle of the suffering people of the community and then to take time away.” He’s called over to Simon Peter’s house, is present first to his mother-in-law, and then to the further crowds that gather. In the morning, though, he withdraws, he takes time away to pray, to come before God, bearing all that he has witnessed.
Is it not the same for us? “During the week,” that pastor points out, “we gather up the suffering of the people we know and of the world around us. We draw them into ourselves, like breathing. We inhale the suffering and concerns and fevers of a world oppressed with fear.” And then we, having spent the week as the body of Christ out in the midst of the world, then we take our time away. We come together in this time, a time apart, to come before God. “On the Lord’s day, we gather to bring these concerns to the foot of the cross. With every ‘Lord have mercy,’ we exhale the fever we ourselves have carried on behalf of others. We know where to go for the healing a feverish world needs.”
You know, I think sometimes people approach church, approach worship, as simply passive consumers and spectators, customers looking for the minister(s) of the church to dispense a little religious commodity to us each week with the hope it will make us better somehow. And I think it’s when we approach it that way that we can be really at risk for seeing and feeling a huge disconnect between what we do here and what we do in the rest of our day-to-day and week-to-week lives. Indeed, it isn’t always the easiest for us to make the connection between our lives and our weekly worship. Perhaps then, that connection will seem more obvious when we recognize our role and our calling, not simply as religious consumers, but as, ourselves, the ministers, the people embodying Christ’s body out in the world. Just as Jesus’s body way back then standing in the midst of the suffering world and then carrying it off in time away to present it before God, so too do we as Christ’s body today. Some of you are teachers, I know, and you day-in-and-day-out carry the hardships of the children and youth and young adults that you teach. Some of you work in medical professions of one kind or another, and you care for the infirm, holding them in your hearts all along the way. I could go on, I know, because there are so many ways each one of you stand in the midst of the world each week, taking in the suffering and sorrow, the fevers and the fears.
But you see, that’s why we come here, why we come together. It’s our time away, our moment apart, to stand before God as priests in the temple—each one of us, each one of you—called and privileged to lift it all up in prayer that rises like incense before the Lord. “You are what you eat,” the old quip goes, and here in this place we gather around a feast table where we receive the very thing we are called to be: Christ’s body, broken and offered up for the world. And we come here to hear the word and promise like that spoken by the prophet in our reading from Isaiah today, the word that “reassures us that there is no oppressor, no power, and no illness that [ultimately] can stand in the presence of the God of all creation.”
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?” the prophet asks. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, [who] does not faint or grow weary … [who] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” Have you not known? Have you not heard? Indeed, so many in the world have not heard or known this.
But you have.
And you know where to come when the noise of the world crowds out that promise, when you need reminding, when you need that moment apart to exhale the fevers of the world and inhale the goodness of the Lord and come away ready to go on to the next place crying out to receive that which only you can offer.
And that’s quite a great weekly routine, isn’t it?
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God, now and forever. Amen.
 The insight and the exploration of it following is indebted to: Paul Palumbo, “From a Preacher” commentary on the texts for 8 February 2015, in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching, 2015 – Year B (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2014), 79-80. Palumbo draws upon additional commentary on the texts offered by Gordon W. Lathrop in his “From a Scholar” commentary in the same.
 Palumbo, ibid., 79.