Epiphany 5 Isaiah-40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39 God4me
I have on me, a good pair of walking shoes, a hat, a walking stick, a back pack with food and water. Also, if I am really going to get up close and personal with nature, I am going to need these; binoculars. Most people love to go bushwalking and get close to nature; to get away from it all and find rest and even themselves, in the beauty and grandeur of creation.
When I picked up my Subaru in Wollongong, I got talking with the previous owner about my job and how my role is to bring God’s word and grace to people; I work to bring people closer to God. The young man replied saying ‘When I surf, I am close to God; the beach is my church and while I am riding the waves, I am closest to God; in nature and in the waves is where I find peace for my soul.’
When we go sight seeing, it is so easy to lose ourselves to its beauty and wonder. The next slides explain what I mean (slides of nature). The beauty of creation relates to us in some spiritual way and makes us feel close to God, or for many, like the surfer, closer to some spiritual force. This is not uncommon and even biblical. St Paul says ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’
St Paul is right, for Christians, a walk through nature can make us feel closer to God and as we look through the binoculars at the view, or look through them into the heavens, and we try to grasp the awesomeness and glory of God, we might want to recite the words of Isaiah ‘God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.’
Perhaps we may even begin to sing the words of popular Christian songs which focus on God’s power and glory ‘Our God is an awesome God, he reigns on heaven and earth, yes, God is an awesome God.’ Or ‘Proclaim your awesome power, declare your mighty deeds and my eyes always look to you and I am captured by your majesty’.
Yes, God is indeed awesome as he says ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Yet, is this how God wants us to know him, in his power and majesty, and is this the way God assures us that he loves us. Perhaps the surfboarder is right? Perhaps creation is the church of God; nature is where we are closest to God and in his glory and majesty is where can come to know him best?” Perhaps our focus on sin and the cross, suffering and servant hood, word and sacrament is not authentic Christianity; its not how God would want to be known?
If the surfboarder is right, and God is to be known best by his power and glory in nature, what sort of God would we have when we see this (pictures of destruction). When we try and come close to God only in his majesty and power, only in his creation, we are going to get burnt like a moth to a flame. One moment the flame of creation and God’s majesty is beautiful, the next, it can destroy us and our faith that God is love. One moment we can be praising God as awesome, the next moment, we can hate him because he destroyed all we have, like Job experienced.
God is indeed awesome and glorious, as shown by his creation, but to only know God in his glory is to have an uncertain God; a God of contradictions. A God who is two faced; a God of beauty and destruction, of glory and anguish, of life and death, of love and hate. We don’t know for sure if God loves us or hates us. To trust God because he is an awesome God, will only leave us uncertain and in doubt when suffering or when we fall into sin and constant temptation. The unanswerable and age old question stunts our faith ‘how can a loving God allow suffering?’
Yes, we believe God is awesome, as we say in our, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”. But the true awesomeness and wonder of God is not that he is sovereign over us, not that he created heaven and earth, not that we cannot compare him? Or that no one is his equal? For us, the real miracle of God is that he came to us in his Son Jesus. He made his heart and love known to us in Jesus, ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’
The uncertainty and contradictions we have of God are totally dismissed when we place our trust in Jesus. In him we truly know God and his will for us sinners. In today’s gospel Jesus clearly demonstrates God’s love and his willingness to heal and restore human life, even in the midst of suffering.
Simon’s mother-in law was suffering a bad fever when Jesus healed her, clearly demonstration God’s love. Yet he didn’t stop there, Jesus, as a way of showing the will of God towards us, heals many with sicknesses and demons, as Mark records ‘the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.’
Jesus showed the love God has for us throughout his whole earthly ministry, not in glory and signs and wonders, but by healing, cleansing and restoring people caught in suffering; people like you and I. (slide) Yet even more than this, we have a graphic and compelling demonstration of God’s love for us, when Jesus suffered and died for our sins on the cross. At this point, with his hands and feet pierced, his blood that run down the cross, cleansed and healed us from all guilt and sin. Hidden under suffering and death, Jesus brings healing and shows the Father’s love.
For St Paul, the cross was central to faith and the only way we have certainty of salvation, as he says in Romans 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Knowing God in suffering is to have certainty of faith that he loves us and forgives us, even in the midst of our sinfulness and messed up lives. Luther called this sort of faith a ‘theology of the cross’.
A theology of the cross is for us, better understood as a ‘faith of the cross’. A faith of the cross does not try and know God in his glory and majesty. A faith of the cross does not look for signs and miracles in our life. A faith of the cross looks for God hidden in suffering and ordinary things.
That same healing power of God and the same love for us that Jesus demonstrated is to be found for us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus is hidden, present and available for us in the bread and wine to give us the forgiveness and healing he won for us on the cross. A faith of the cross, your faith, believes this is true because it does not attempt to find God in his glory, but where he has promised to be found; in his word the bible and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We really are in the true church of God; this is authentic Christianity. So instead of wearing all this sight seeing gear and walking around to find God in his glory and power, we who have a faith of the cross carry around with us the bible, and look, not into binoculars, but into the waters of our baptism to find God. And we, who have a faith of the cross, don’t drink and eat plain food and water on our journey with God, we have stomachs filled with Jesus body and lips moistened by his blood. These are the things of God we wear on our earthy journey and wear to give us certainty of salvation. Amen