Isaiah 40.21-31 – Mark 1.29-39
Another week when we have received unwelcome yet not unanticipated news, and as we have to contend with constraints on our life which seem interminable. Thankfully we had some good blue sky and sun as well as plenty of snow in order to distract ourselves in the midst of the doom and gloom. And, after three years here, I have now finally managed to try cross country skiing and enjoyed it.
I have a fairly ordered life, but from time to time, I can fall prone to mini-obsessions, and this week has been a case in point. Early in the week, as I was listening to the radio, I heard that sales of indoor gardens have rocketed since the shutdown. Many Quebecers have apparently turned to these small hydroponics kits in order to bring some life and joy into their apartments in the depth of winter.
For those not familiar with these systems, I can tell you a good deal about them, as the story pricked up my ear and I scanned the internet for information. After all, what is not to like about having all sorts of greens growing on your kitchen top even in the winter, and with the promise of no mess.
The combination of nutrients mixed in water into which the growing plants are placed and a small array of low energy LED lights imitating the cycle of the summer sun evidently produces fresh herbs, salads, veg and flowers without much effort, right there in your very own apartment.
If anyone has personal experience, I would be glad to hear it.
As I was preparing for my sermon this morning, it occurred to me that a system like this is not unlike a simile for the earth and the story of creation, where in a quasi sterile environment we place all that is needed for life and growth. In one sense, perhaps it makes us like mini-Gods, controlling the elements, fostering new life. It made me wonder whether the mind of God works in the way that our mind works, in this instance creating a world for our benefit, or whether when God willed the world as we know it into existence, it was simply for the sheer delight of creation.
You might like to think about that in all your creative activities in the coming weeks, when you bring beauty and life and goodness to be at a time that may seem rather frightening, shapeless and bordering on chaos.
The God we hear about today in our rousing passage from Isaiah is a God who claims ownership of all creation, a God who is proud of all that God has made and who knows and names each and every component of the divine order, each and everyone of us.
It is a God of justice who does not stand those who usurp power for their own purposes, or those who would believe in their own earth bound self-importance, subverting God’s creation to their own benefit.
Like the indoor gardener, God will pluck them out of their elements so that they will whither and die.
This God is the tireless God of all times and places who ministers to fainting creation, who restores life, who reverses our human order and gives power to the powerless – to those who are struggling, to those who are weary, to those who are in exile, to those who have lost hope.
This God – the God who followed Israel in exile and helped them towards the promised land – this God asks us to wait and keep hope – something which may feel quite counter-intuitive to a congregation of activists such as ours. For it is this God who, if we are faithful in our hope, will take the initiative and who will transform our lives in the way that God transformed lives for the exiles, bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
The poetic and stirring language of Isaiah is in sharp contrast to the account from our passage from the Gospel of Mark highlighting a day in Jesus’s ministry.
Despite it being the Sabbath, Jesus finds Simon’s mother sick in bed. There is no nonsense, no hand wringing about whether to do it or not on a holy day. He heals her and – to show that she is really well again – we are told that she resumes her task of serving them. There is no fuss, no crowd, it is a private event.
Our initial reservation at the idea that her first task after being healed might be to resume serving may be tempered by what Jesus says in another encounter with James and John that ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10.44-45)
Inevitably of course, the story of this private healing leaks, and the house is soon besieged by people from the small town of Capernaum who bring the sick and those possessed with demons. Jesus’ notoriety as a healer is growing, but as yet people do not recognise him for who he is, because he forbids the demons – who do know who he really is – to speak. So people flock that he may cure their sickness in body, mind and spirit, but they are not there for his teaching.
One aspect of the life and ministry of Jesus is that he models a way of life which blends contemplation with action, making sure that in the quiet of the morning he actively maintains his relationship with his father in the silence of prayer. This is especially true after events when he has been overwhelmed by the demands from the crowds, and so it is true on this day too.
For Jesus, this time of intimacy with God is when he is able to refocus on what is essential in his mission, as opposed to simply what is pressing or urgent. And so, despite another long line of people waiting to be cured, Jesus comes out of his prayer time ready to move on to focus on the next step of his mission, rather than what people want of him.
He needs to move on to continue proclaiming the awesome God of whom we heard in our passage from Isaiah – a God of love, peace and justice, who transforms lives. But while a healing ministry may be useful to Jesus in his work, it is not his main vocation.
The question of balance between activity and vocation is of course one that is crucial for Christ Church Cathedral Montreal as it is for all churches. Activities and ministries, all very worthwhile, are developed over time and can occasionally feel as if they become a raison d’être of themselves as opposed to an outcome of our core vocation.
This past week, we had our regular meeting of Episkope – the gathered group of licensed leaders of the cathedral lay and ordained, we were privileged to have our Bishop in our midst, and we had an opportunity to discuss the question of faithfulness to God.
How does faithfulness to God look like for each and everyone of us, as we connect deeply with God in the quiet of the morning and listen to discern God’s voice in our prayer time? What does faithfulness look like when the needs around us are so many, and our resources limited.
The same question is true for us as a Cathedral community: what does faithfulness look like for the Cathedral at a time when it is hard to plan ahead, when many of the things we took for granted are currently on hold, when we have had to re-invent ourselves in a different way for a different time.
There is no doubt that faithfulness to God for us as the body of Christ is grounded in our faith that the God of Isaiah and Jesus is at work among us in downtown Montreal, willing us forward in the tasks that are before us to love the world in the way that God loves the world, and to care for the world and the creation for which we have been given special responsibility around our Cathedral on St Catherine Street.
Our faithfulness is of course most chiefly evidenced through our open communal worship, in our sharing of the Eucharist when we can, in a way that is attractive and hospitable, inviting in and engaging the stranger who knows nothing about the God we know so well to seek to learn more and follow in the footpath of Jesus. Our faithfulness is also evidenced in our willingness to step out and witness in the world of the God we seek to follow in Jesus.
Like Jesus, we are not called to keep the secret among us, behind a closed door or an invisible Zoom link. But we are called, again and again, to move on from our comfort zome, challenge ourselves and be challenged by others, and find new ways to touch the hearts of all.