Monday, February 2, 2015

God’s Vast and Intimate Power – 8 February 2015 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Here on the last Sunday before the Transfiguration, the lectionary gives us evocative images of divine power. Perhaps it is a way for us to move toward that coming moment when the very human Jesus appears glowing white on the mountain, when the identity of God-with-us takes on a mysterious reality.

The writers for Homily Service in 2009 who focused on these texts urge us toward both awe at God’s vast power and intimate care, so that we may find in these images a source of hope.

Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah points to the whole universe where God “sits above the circle of the earth” spreading out “the heavens like a curtain” in order to turn the people’s attention to the Lord who stoops to give “power to the faint.” For the very reason that God’s power is gigantic, we must  know that our close, personal lives are also God’s concern.

Here is how Pastor Aaron Couch preached the enormity of the heavens from his place in Oregon using information from astrophysicist William P. Blair of John Hopkins University (see 
If our sun were the size of a baseball, right here at the front of the sanctuary, then the planet Mercury would be a grain of sand out here about the second row. Then Venus would be a slightly larger grain of sand out around the fifth row. And Earth would be a still slightly larger grain of sand in about the fifth row . . . And finally, although Pluto isn’t regarded as a planet any longer, it would still be there, a big speck of dust almost two more blocks away. . . 
And that’s just our cozy little solar system. The next closest star would be Alpha Centauri, about 1,400 miles away, just this side of Kansas City. And after that, the universe really does get unimaginably huge. Our sun is part of the Milky Way, a galaxy with more than 100 billion stars, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. In such an unimaginably vast expanse of space, it is possible to begin to feel lost and alone.
That was how the people of Israel were feeling when our Old Testament reading was written. They were living in exile in Babylon—prisoners in a place that could never be home. Some of them were thinking that their troubles were bigger than they could ever manage. Maybe they were even bigger than anything God could manage.
To people who are discouraged and overwhelmed, the prophet says, ‘‘Your god is too small.’’ Do you think that the world is too big, that God has somehow lost track of you? Look out your window on a dark, clear night. See the stars spread across the sky. Our Creator God called each of them into being. He knows all their names. He never loses any of them.
– Aaron Couch
Another commentator notes that the import in this passage from Isaiah is highlighted by the fact that verses 21 and 28 are the same questions: “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
[This emphasis] is a reminder about who God is, whom God chose, and how God has already been at work in the world. It is a reminder to have hope, because God does not desert God’s people; indeed, God renews their strength and soul. Earlier writings in Isaiah hint to a cultural and religious amnesia, and this passage attempts to re-ground a weary and tired people back into the faith.
– Sky Lowe-McCracken
Mark 1:29-39

Punctuating God’s attentiveness to what is both large and small, Mark shows us Jesus in very personal settings: healing a disciple’s mother-in-law, ordering demons not to reveal his identity, and praying alone. 

The power of God that called the world into being was present right there, in Jesus. And Jesus raised her up. It’s no coincidence that our Gospel writer uses the same word that he’ll use later to describe how God raised up Jesus from the dead. This is what the power of God’s love looks like. This is the kind of work that God does. God’s powerful love brings life from death; it creates hope out of despair; it brings home those who are lost; it creates a circle of love and belonging for those who are alone. It overcomes resentment, guilt, and alienation with forgiveness.
– Aaron Couch

Aaron Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon. 

Sky McCracken, OSL, is a Methodist pastor serving as District Superintendent of the Paducah District, Memphis Conference, of the United Methodist Church in Kentucky.

Homily Service 42, no. 1 (2009): 126-135.

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