Saturday, February 06, 2021

Epiphany 5B

Praises from Psalm 147

Sing praise to our God!

God's the one who rebuilds cities,
who brings us home.
God counts the stars
and gives each star a name.

Sing to God a thanksgiving song,
play music to this God—
Who fills the sky with clouds,
preparing rain for the earth;
Then turning mountains green with grass,
feeds both cattle and crows.

Jerusalem, worship God!
Zion, praise your God!
God makes cities secure, and blesses our young.
God keeps peace at the borders,
and puts the best bread on our tables.

God spreads snow and scatters frost.
Then at God's command it all melts;
God breathes on winter—suddenly it's spring!

The Message (MSG), alt. | Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


The church's year of grace still is in the fairly short ordinary time season of Epiphany. Epiphany means revelation or manifestation; it emphasizes the universalism of Jesus as redeemer, savior, sovereign for all people and all creation everywhere. Light is THE Epiphany symbol; we know how far into the dark a tiny candle shines. Scripture readings for epiphany also include stories of God's call to people who lived long before us; these accounts relate directly to places and ministries God calls us to so our light can shine. Not surprisingly, evangelism – reaching out to those around us with the Good News of Jesus Christ – is another focus of the epiphany season.


Today's gospel reading brings us a pair of Mark's ongoing emphases: resurrection and service. In 13 verses we get a tremendous amount of action, several changes of scene. Mark uses the word for "raised up" we find in 1:31 sixteen times in his gospel; it actually means resurrection to new life. In fact, the theme of resurrection from death pervades both Old and New Testaments.


As we've noticed from reading the gospels, Jesus' followers, whose tradition believed God would send a Messiah, assumed God's chosen anointed (Christ and Messiah both mean "anointed") would be a military leader who'd violently zap all of Israel's enemies and restore the Davidic reign.

Partly a human doing, marginally a divine initiative, the people's pleadings for "A King Like the Other Nations" had been answered with the both-kingdoms (northern Israel and southern Judah) United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon. Despite their conviction a Ruler like David eventually would come onto the scene, by Jesus' day they wanted and expected an updated, better, more effective version. On some level many were primed and ready to do military battle alongside the anticipated new monarch; even after Jesus called the first disciples with, "Follow me," they never expected to be asked to follow a servant God. The outrageous idea of a ruler who would wash the feet of his followers was way beyond their comprehension. They could not have imagined a divinity who would allow himself to be put to death without resistance. Their default image of salvation and sovereignty was a king who would fight with all his might—surrounded by fully armed troops, of course.


Service is the second prominent biblical current in this passage. Diakonia/deacon with related nouns and verbs weaves a path through the New Testament; this includes Jesus' declaration he is with us as "one who serves."

In today's text, Jesus resurrects Simon Peter's MIL to new life so she'll be able to serve again. In the Acts of the Apostles, we discover the nascent church didn't first ordain the Ministers of Word and Sacrament that people tend to think of as the church's primary "ministers"; in the power of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, the church first ordained the servant class of deacons. Early Christian communities followed Old Testament patterns of laying hands on and praying over a person to authorize them for a particular ministry.

Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7

1Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word."

5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.


Deacons replicate Jesus's act of foot washing – towel and basin ministry – that many churches demonstrate during Maundy Thursday worship. As with all humanity, God first creates those individuals in the divine image; later God specifically calls them to neighbor-oriented caring love. Deacons – ministers of word and service – draw on Jesus' model to reflect God's own servant nature. Historically, the class or group or tribe of deacons has been world-facing: to the world the church is supposed to look like people who serve! Of course, that includes Ministers of Word and Sacrament/pastors when they're out in the world, although the Minister of Word and Sacrament's primary stance is facing the church.

As you've learned, all this is somewhat generic, because God's calls usually aren't so clearly demarcated. God baptizes all of us into lives of direct and indirect service; God calls all of us to spread the Word in a wide range of ways; God calls everyone to celebrate and share the sacramental holy ordinariness of creation.

Next Sunday

For Western Protestant churches, the Epiphany season concludes next Sunday with the Feast of the Transfiguration. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some churches in the Anglican tradition celebrate Transfiguration on August 6th, often for an octave of eight days. Lent, the season of lengthening, longer days that initiates spring in the northern hemisphere begins in ten days with Ash Wednesday on February 17th.

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