Sermon for Epiphany 5, Year B, February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-12, 21c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

          Jesus leaves the synagogue where people are not only amazed that he has commanded an unclean spirit to leave a man and it does – they are also amazed by his teaching.  Mark does not tell us what he is teaching; only that people say it is “a new teaching – with authority.”  Mark goes on to say, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” 

          Then, in today’s reading we learn that after he leaves the synagogue, he enters into the house of Simon and Andrew and heals Simon’s mother-in-law.  That evening, people begin to bring the sick and those possessed with demons to Jesus that he might heal them as well.  The whole city gathers outside the door and watches as Jesus cures many of them. 

          There is lot to be learned from the next verse in this story, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  This one passage is sandwiched between Jesus healing people in Capernaum and taking his message into neighboring towns.  Yet, telling us that Jesus made time for prayer speaks volumes. 

          Prayer enables us to live in the presence of God. It enables us to overcome that which tends to separate our hearts from God.  Feelings of loneliness and isolation can prevent us from experiencing God’s presence and seeing all the ways that God seeks to comfort and strengthen us.  

Right now many of us have more time on our hands than ever before.  Days and evenings are spent in relative isolation from others – if not complete isolation.  We find ways to occupy our time, to distract ourselves, and yet we often forget the importance of setting aside time for prayer.   Prayer can revive our spirit.  If we do and do, if we give and give, as Jesus does in this story, we need to turn to God for strength to continue. 

          God is always present and available to us.  When the “cares and occupations of our life” seem to demand all our attention, we tend to forget God is with us.  When we do what we need – to do our jobs, to care for our families, or to simply occupy our time, we may find we are emotionally and physically spent.  Jesus, in this passage heals one person after another, then gets up before anyone else and goes to spend time with the one who created us and offers us strength and comfort to continue a life of service.

          I think most of us can relate to today’s story where Jesus is bombarded by people who want and need his help. When they realized he is a healer, they do not wait until morning – they come to his door that evening.  People who need something from us don’t tend to wait for a time that is convenient for us.  As disciples of Christ we respond by sharing God’s love to people in need.   Caring for others is rewarding and satisfying, but it also takes a great deal of energy – energy which needs to be replenished. 

          Prayer is spending time in God’s presence and we can do this in many, many ways.  In whatever form we use to pray, prayer can renew our spirit and restore us.  Honesty is important in prayer.  We need to acknowledge our burdens and ask for help.  Yes, it is important to offer prayers of thanksgiving, but it is difficult to see all that we have to be thankful for when our energy is depleted and we feel giving of ourselves to others is a burden.  When this is true for us, we need to begin our prayers by sharing our frustration and grief.  We need to acknowledge our weakness and ask for help. 

          In the Gospel of Luke, there is another important passage where Jesus prays.  He withdraws from his disciples and kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane and prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”  He offers this prayer shortly before he is arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified.  He asks for what he wants, and then submits to God’s will.  In some translations the next verse is, “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” 

          Asking for help is not only okay, it is important.  Once we ask; however, we then need to seek God’s will as Jesus does.  The answer to our prayers may be that we receive the strength we need to continue.  If we are to live in God’s presence and receive strength and comfort, we must accept, as the song from the Rolling Stones says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find your get what you need.”  Mick Jagger wasn’t talking about prayer – but I think it applies. 

In prayer we need to speak our minds, ask for what we want, and then open ourselves to receive what God has to offer.  God’s love is transforming and can help us see beyond the cares and occupations of our life and then be grateful for the blessings of this life. 

I will close this morning with a prayer from Morning Prayer.  It is the collect for guidance.

Let us pray. 

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.