Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 5th Epiphany

God is Big and Small
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

It is my usual practice to preach on the Gospel lesson for the day, but this weekend I want to look at both our Gospel text from St. Mark and the first lesson from Isaiah, because I think that, together, they teach us something about the nature of God, how God is big and how God is also small. God is big enough to rule the universe, the cosmos, and small enough to care for each of us.

 


The passage from Isaiah offers something of a litany of the wondrous attributes of God. It is cosmic in scope and universal in significance. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is bigger, and stronger, and more impossible to comprehend than you can possibly imagine! The God described here seems to embody absolute power. This is the way most of us probably think of God - BIG.

 


By contrast, Mark’s focus seems nearly miniscule. If Isaiah paints the story of God’s nature and work on the largest of canvases, Mark instead focuses on a simple, single detail. Still very early in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry, Mark tells the story of the healing of a woman, unnamed except that she is identified as Peter’s mother-in-law. The story is intimate, almost private, and you may even wonder why Mark tells it. But though it is brief, it is far from simple. Indeed, Mark’s construction of the scene – and particularly the detail that, once recovered, the woman serves the male disciples – has been a source of frustration to many of us at it has functioned across the centuries to reinforce the notion that the woman’s role is not to lead but to serve. More on that in a moment.
I find in Mark’s intimate portrait two elements that are immensely helpful as I try to understand the nature of God’s work in the world and our lives and, perhaps more importantly, to see and participate in it.

 


First, the VERY LARGE God Isaiah describes is not above caring for us as individuals, as Jesus does not only announce the coming kingdom, call together his disciples, and cast out demons – and all of this in the first chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel – but Jesus also slows down to care for a woman suffering a fever and then to tend, one by one, all those in the region who were ill or possessed and came for his help. Our relatively small problems are not insignificant to the God who tends the cosmos.

 


Second, the MIGHTY God whose praises Isaiah sings is indeed at work, unrelentingly, to sustain the cosmos, strengthen the weak, and restoring those who have fallen. And the most frequent way God does this is by working through those all around us. When the woman in Mark’s Gospel serves after she is healed, she is neither being dismissed as somehow inferior to those she serves nor constrained to a lesser role. (I told you I would get back to this long-misinterpreted and misused part of this text). My point is that Jesus has not only healed her but given her back her vocation which is, ultimately, a picture of discipleship. Indeed, the picture of discipleship: service.

 


Consider: a little later in the story, after James and John have asked Jesus to put them in places of honor and authority (and after the other disciples get pretty angry because of their arrogance), Jesus offers his disciples a lesson in greatness that aligns quite closely with the actions of this woman:

From Mark chapter 10: So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be servant of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

 

So where do we look to trace the actions of the God who, as Isaiah tells us, “sits above the circles of the earth…and stretches out the heavens like a curtain”? I believe we see these great actions (think Isaiah) in simple, everyday acts of service, care, and sacrifice, ones we see all around us and take part in ourselves (think Mark).

 


Which means that our seemingly ordinary lives can become at any given moment the arena for the activity of the Holy One of Israel as God continues to love and bless the world through us!
We, you and I, have the opportunity this week to see, hear, and believe this as we perform simple acts of kindness to and for others.

 


Simple acts of kindness to and for others – today’s texts tell us that these capture both the big and small nature of God.

 


To paraphrase Isaiah, “Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord God almighty is at work in you, with you, and through you to care for the people and world God loves so much.”


Here is God’s promise: God is and will continue to work through us – all of us, women and men, young and old, of sound mind and body as well as those who struggle with illness or disability, all of us – and that, indeed, God will do marvelous things through us. This means that each of us has the opportunity to feel the creative, healing, and restoring hand of God and, just as did the early if also unnamed disciple in Mark’s Gospel today, and then to respond in service.


God is still at work in us all.


Thanks be to God.

 


Amen.

 


(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose whose work is used extensively in this sermon).

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Feb 3&4, 2018


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