We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Lectionary, Epiphany 5, Feb. 4, 2024

I.Theme – Committed Christian Ministry

 "Jesus the Healer"- Daniel Bonnell

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm – Psalm 147:1-12, 21c Page 804, BCP
Epistle –1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Gospel – Mark 1:29-39 

Mark – Jesus demonstrates both personal ministry to individual (fever) and group (demons). The passage revolves healing and preaching, solitude and prayer.

Isaiah describes God’s majesty, power and compassion

Corinthians – Paul explains how he willinglty lays down his privileges as Christian to reach people with God’s message of Good news

Commentary by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell:

The prophet Isaiah, speaking to a people in exile about the promise of return, reminds the people that their God is the Creator of the earth, the same God who has been with them since the beginning of time, and God will never abandon them. The refrain, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” is repeated in this passage rhetorically to remind the people that this is what their Scriptures have told them, what the songs they sing are all about, what the stories they tell their children all mean: God is the Creator, and that those who wait upon God, who don’t give up, will be renewed and restored by God: “They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vs 31).

Psalm 147 echoes this call found in Isaiah to remember that God is always with us. It is God who carries us in our darkest hour and difficult trials; it is God who is the Creator of heaven and earth. We must remember, rely, and trust in God to be there when we face challenges and struggles, for God’s steadfast love remains forever for those who have hope in God.

The passage from Mark’s Gospel continues to share the details of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus visits Peter’s mother-in-law, and after taking her by the hand, her fever leaves her and she begins to serve him. Then afterwards, many people are brought to him who are sick and who have demons. Jesus gets up the next morning while it is still dark and goes off to a deserted place to pray. And when the disciples find him and tell him, “Everyone is searching for you,” Jesus tells them it is time to go off to other neighboring towns. And that is how Jesus’ message is spread throughout Galilee. Jesus doesn’t stay just in one place, but goes out to the people. Jesus brings healing and hope, but Jesus, fully human and fully divine, also takes time away from others to pray. Even Jesus needed time and space for renewal.

Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 that his role is to proclaim the Gospel for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for his own gain. Paul works for God, not for any earthly boss. Paul by his example shows that humility is the way to leading others to Christ, not one’s own personal gain–Paul becomes more Jewish to those who are Jewish, to the weak he becomes weak–he becomes all things to all people, as Christ laid down his life for us, so Paul shows by example how we ought to live and lay down our ego, lay down our very lives, so that others might hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the business of the world we live in it is easy to just go, go, go. We fill up our lives with day-to-day tasks and duties; we fill up our time with Facebook and internet shopping and other things. At times we feel overwhelmed and our lives feel like they are out of control, and we may wonder where is God? Where is God when our boss tells us we need to pull more hours this week. Where is God when our children are failing a class and we don’t have enough time to work with them on their homework? Where is God when a loved one becomes ill and there are mountains of paperwork to fill out and insurance forms to navigate? 

Have you not known? Have you not heard? God is always with you. Sometimes, we need to remember to slow down and find that quiet space to feel God’s presence again. Jesus certainly knew this by leaving in the early morning before the sun was up, and sought God’s presence in prayer.

Paul also lived a busy life, but Paul remembers that his boss ultimately is Jesus. Paul devotes his life to live for others so that they might come to know Christ. Paul declares that he does not do this for his own gain, but for Christ–so there is no earthly reward to be concerned about, but instead Paul lives his life to share the Good News.

In the busy world we live in today, we need to remember both that God is always with us, and sometimes we need to slow down and wait for God’s presence; and we also need to focus our lives on living for Christ rather than living for earthly rewards and success.

II. Summary

Old Testament –  Isaiah 40:21-31  

The book spans the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the exile of the Israelites to Babylon (609-538 BC; chs. 40-55). These chapters in the scroll of Isaiah appear to address a situation later in the exile (circa 540 BCE) when the prophet proclaims that God wants them to return to Jerusalem. Most of the older generation would have died, those who remained would have heard the stories of Jerusalem, but this generation would be very comfortable, settled, well off, living in a fertile and cultured country. They were safe, had freedom and many obtained wealth. 

After the prologue in Isa 40:1-11 the remainder of the chapter extols the abilities of God as Creator of the world. It finishes with a rhetorical question to the people asking them, "how could they have not known the ways of God?
 Verses 21-24 begin with another series of rhetorical questions. Do the people not know that it is Yahweh who sits above earth? The creation language carries with it implications of kingship, sovereignty and might. The last verse in this section (v. 24) comes back to a series of ‘negative statements’ comparing the rulers of the nations to plants which have scarcely taken root before Yahweh blows and they wither. 

The comparisons between God and other deities continue in verses 25-26, using the same rhetorical question as verse 18. While verse 18 invites a look at physical objects, verse 25 turns the focus to heavenly objects, most likely stars, sun, and moon. The claims here undercut those of the astral cults of Babylon that place these heavenly objects as divine beings. 

The people are then asked in v26 to lift their eyes to the heavens and observe their completeness. In the ancient world the host of heaven were considered deities and heavenly creatures. Yahweh does not let one go. This is a point about power, but also it should be one of comfort for Yahweh’s people. 

Finally, verses 27-31 address Jacob/Israel who are asked why they think their way is hidden from Yahweh. Israel thought that God did not see their predicament and disregarded them, but Isaiah assures them that this is not so.
The people’s lack of knowledge of Yahweh arises from their insecurity and lack of willingness to enter into faith, not from their willful rejection. But the people need to grasp that Yahweh’s understanding is unsearchable and that he grants his power to the weak (vv. 28-29). In spite of the people’s inability to comprehend the way of Yahweh or to see any confidence in the future, Yahweh moves to deliver them. They will find both new energy and hope in waiting for Yahweh (v. 31)

There are 3 main points in the reading: 

First, the prophet wants us to know that God is merciful enough to give power to fainting men and women. In fact, the second thing Isaiah reveals is that even the strongest among us will fall down due to life’s struggles. “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted” (v.30). Even when choice young people grow weary, God makes a mercy-filled promise: “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (v. 31). 

The third main point which the prophet stresses is that those who wait in quiet confidence and daily trust will draw their confidence and strength from the Lord—these are Jehovah’s waiters. Isaiah tells Israel that they can exchange their weakness for God’s strength. 

Psalm – Psalm 147:1-12, 21c Page 804, BCP  

This psalm is part of the praise quintet that concludes the entire Book of Psalms, each one beginning and ending with "Hallelujah" (Psalm 146-150). Psalm 147 divides nicely into three sections, where each resembles the elements of a hymn, with a call to praise followed by reasons for praising. Our readings omit the third section. 

In summary, the psalm in its three sections focuses on Jerusalem in terms of the Lord building up the city concentrating on the themes of healing and restoration. The middle section focuses on thanksgiving and speaks about sustenance. Finally, the psalm returns to the topic of Jerusalem but with an emphasis on the divine word spoken to Jacob. Praise of Yahweh is at the heart of the psalm. Praise is the fitting response for such a God. Praise is worthy of the God present with us in Jesus Christ. 

Praise God who works in history and in nature! (1-6) 

The first (147:1-6) praised God for comforting the poor and needy in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile. God was the one who rebuilt Jerusalem; those who returned were his instruments in the construction. God would also return those left in alien environs to the Promised Land. The God of the cosmos cared for the least significant, so great was his power. 

God works in history, engineering the rebuilding of Jerusalem and acting to bring the exiles home, lifts up the lowly. 

Verses 2-3 show a God full of compassion toward those who have endured much pain and humiliation. Thus, the promises of Isaiah chapters 40-55 are being fulfilled. 

The imagery is that of a new exodus, gathering the exiles from afar, healing their hurts, and settling them in a land marked by shalom (v. 14, translated "peace," or "prosperity"). 

Regarding the cosmos (verses 4-5), which exiles no doubt learned much about in Babylon from its astrologers and astronomers, they are considered the arena of Yahweh’s activity, not of the gods of Babylon. No one could count them, though Yahweh, who created them, could call them forth each evening by name. If God has such power and knowledge, surely he can handle Israel’s problems on earth. Indeed, God’s power and wisdom are much greater than the people could imagine. 

Verse 6 returns to the theme of verses 1-3: God’s compassion for the least fortunate of society. But here is added God’s justice, which will punish those who have brought misfortune on "the downtrodden" for whom he has special concern. God is not only wise and powerful; He is also just and compassionate. 

Sing to the God who is at work in nature! (7-11). 

The second song of praise (147:7-11) thanked God for his power, primarily shown in the rainy season. Through his gift, produce and livestock flourished. In the greater view, all (even the king) should remember that they rely on God for all good things (like the rain), not on national strength or the size of an army. 

Reasons for praise involve the astounding range of God’s work in nature, from preparing and providing rain to caring for the tiny ravens in their nest (8-9). The rainy seasons are Yahweh’s special gift. One must put this in context and see the centuries-long competition between Baal, the storm god of the Canaanites, and Yahweh, who was the God of Israel’s long history. The temptation was to worship the chief gods of the land as well as the God of the Exodus and Sinai. But this poet rules this tendency out.

Not only the people and the domestic livestock are cared for by Yahweh, but also the wild animals that need grass and even the young ravens in the nest. Ravens were noted for their craftiness, but their food is a gift from God. God not only hears with joy Israel’s songs, he also heeds the nestlings’ call for food. 

Lastly, the psalmist observes that this God, known from cosmos to countryside, appreciates the trust and hope residing in God’s people! (10-11). 

Finally (verses 10-11) we learn what is and is not pleasing to God. War horses were impressive since they were owned by kings and warriors, in contrast to the donkeys used in agriculture. Even today, we are impressed with athletes’ prowess. However, God apparently looks inward and weighs people’s hearts. Those who fear Yahweh and hope in Him are the ones who impress Him. It hearkens back to the first law of Sinai and the deepest expectations of Israel. Who is ultimately reliable? Self? Neighbor? The King? The Psalmist knows and confesses it. This world knows only one security: God.

Epistle – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 

Corinth, while not an Athens, was a center of philosophical and religious ferment; new and bizarre ideas were constantly in the air. Christianity seemed to be at least an ambitious development of old Judaism, if not an entirely new religion, with plenty of yet unanswered questions. In this atmosphere, Paul had to make sure his credentials were convincing. So he spends all of chapter 9 defending his rights as an apostle.

 Paul always makes it clear that, of himself, he does not deserve the job. There is no "reason for me to boast." The gospel is greater than the messenger. Both because of this humility, and to make sure that his behavior gives no reason to doubt his message, he tried to exercise his authority modestly, making himself "a slave to all." He offers the gospel "free of charge," that is, without asking for the support he could justly request. 

Corinthians 9:16-23 presents a model image of discipleship for preachers and for lay leaders, and indeed for all people. What is begged of us is, perhaps, not to answer the question "Preach or be damned?" Rather, we are asked what motivates us for the work that we share as co-workers with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel. Let it be the joy that is Paul’s, for the sake of the gospel, so that we may share all its blessings with all people.

One of Paul’s most oft-quoted phrases is found here, that he will be "all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9:22). Among the Jews, Paul is a committed and observant Jew, as he proudly declares elsewhere (Philippians 3:4-6).

1. To those under the law, Paul will conduct himself as one also under the law, even though he is not subject to that law (1 Corinthians 9:20).

2. To those outside the law, he will appear and present himself as one also outside of the law, even though, in a potentially confusing turn-around, he is "not free from God’s law" (verse 21).

3. To the weak, Paul will give himself as one who is weak, though he has reason to boast (verse 22).

With Jewish believers (legalistic law-bound believers rather than unbelieving Jews) Paul affirms his Jewishness, his submission to the Mosaic law. He does this, even though he now knows that law-obedience is not the way a child of God gains God’s good pleasure, his approval, and thus his blessings. Of course, the law was never designed to facilitate the promised blessings of the covenant, but it was commonly believed that it did serve this end. There is no gain for Paul in his submission to Mosaic law, but there is gain for a weaker brother or sister, someone, for example, who still has a deep-seated belief in the existence of pagan gods and of the sin of idolatry.

Those "not under the law" are probably Gentile believers. Paul probably includes in this group the Corinthian libertines, those believers who have found freedom in Christ, but who have forgotten to nurture the fruit of responsibility. Although Paul may, at times, live like a person who has no interest in the law of Moses, that doesn’t mean he lives in sin.

To the weak, Paul will give himself as one who is weak, though he has reason to boast. There is no gain for Paul in his submission to Mosaic law, but there is gain for a weaker brother or sister, someone, for example, who still has a deep-seated belief in the existence of pagan gods and of the sin of idolatry.

Becoming "all things to all people" does not require losing one’s self. Instead, he describes a radical way of life in which he walks alongside all kinds of people in order to draw them to God. The weak do not yet understand that idols are powerless, that meat sacrificed to them ought not affect the believer. But Paul does not lord this knowledge over them but walks with them in their weakness "that I might by all means save some" (verse 22).

 Paul is arguing for flexibility. Notice that the underlying motivation is love. Paul puts it in terms of preaching the gospel and gaining people. His evangelism is not a numbers game, but one of drawing people into a relationship with this God who loves, and produces in people the fruit of the Spirit, which is love. 

He is driven by the need to deliver the gospel to all people, not just the chosen people or the insiders. His reward is the work itself – paradoxically, it is in preaching the gospel for no reward. It is really important to understand that love is a way of being which is its own reward

Gospel –  Mark 1:29-39 

The Gospel reading is a day in the life of Jesus which illustrates key themes: 

– Healer and sustainer for one

– Free a community from demons

– Preacher – proclaim the good news

More than any other Gospel, Mark emphasizes the healing miracles of Jesus. The point of these stories seems to be that Jesus heals all sorts of maladies in all kinds of environments for all sorts of people. Jesus proclaims and embodies the presence of the Kingdom of God not only through his words but by his acts of compassion and his inclusive care for all people in all walks of life.” These healings were signs that the reign of God was present.

 His word had the power to make people whole, return them to their place in family and society, and reconcile them to God. Spreading his word became the reason for his ministry.

Illness presents us with a choice. To reject God and the hope he brings. Or, to believe. Illness can provoke us to follow the path to spiritual death. Or, it can lead us to forgiveness, healing, and inspiration for others. In other words, illness can bring us and others to God. Illness can evangelize. 

There are 3 separate paragraphs in this “day”

A. The entire Gospel of Mark is oriented towards the “immediate” and “urgent” actions of Jesus. Mark sustains the sense of drive in Jesus’ mission by telling us that he "immediately" moves from the synagogue to Simon and Andrew’s home. Mark notes that the four newly called disciples are still with Jesus. Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever is obviously serious as she is unable to wait on her guests.

In a male-dominated society of Jesus’ time, the place of the woman was that of a servant. Before the time of Jesus, women, like lepers, were relegated to the outer courts of the Temple, and women received social status only through their relationship to males — usually their fathers or husbands; for a woman to be known through her son-in-law is so extreme as to suggest that Mark is making a special point of her social anonymity.

In addition, Mark implied Simon’s mother-in-law was a widow without other family support, so her place in the family was tenuous. (Remember that a widow without family would be homeless.) This poor woman did not live with her husband’s family or her immediate family, but with her son-in-law’s family. Her place in the family was at the bottom of the pecking order. Without health, she could be seen as a burden on the family. And the family could easily dispose of such a "forgettable" person.

When Jesus sat the woman up, he did not merely heal her of a fever. He restored her function and place in the family. So he restored her self-esteem. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is raised up by Jesus, a word that takes on powerful meaning in Mark’s gospel and in subsequent Christian communities

B. The "day in the life of Jesus" continues after sunset (after the Sabbath) with a descriptive episode of healings.

Observance of sabbath law rather than climate is reflected in the fact that people waited till the evening to bring their sick and deranged to Jesus. The sabbath ended at sunset, so such work was acceptable in the evening.
Here’s another great trait of Mark’s writing; when people respond to Jesus it is never just some of the people, it is ALL of the people. It is never just a neighborhood; it is the “whole city.” Are we this enthusiastic in our evangelism (which literally translates into “an angel on the street”)? Is that how others describe us; an enthusiastic “angel on the streets?” Does my sharing of the Gospel brim over with “an urgent immediacy for all people?”

There seems to be a distinction between people who were “sick” and people who were “demon possessed.” .” Demon possession was a form of mental illness during Biblical times. Demon possession and fear of demons was part of the ancient Biblical world e.g. there was a blindness demon, a leprosy demon, a lameness demon, etc. The people of the ancient Biblical era lived in a world permeated with demons and evil spirits. In this course, “demon possession” will be treated as a form of mental illness/emotional disturbance.

The episode illustrates Jesus’ power and authority. As for the demons, they knew who Jesus was and in accord with ancient belief, would have used Jesus’ name to gain control over him, but Jesus has control of them and does not even let them speak. The demons knew the true identity of Jesus in a way that mere human beings did not. It seems as if Jesus did not want his true and full identity revealed yet. Perhaps human beings would then follow Jesus for the wrong reasons e.g. they would follow Jesus to obtain healings, bread, or political freedom.

Jesus’ ministry involves restoration of those cut off from community to a full role in the community. Those who have been seriously ill in our own time will understand the joy of simply being back as a participant in the "ordinary" processes of community life. Truly, there is nothing ordinary about life in community. Jesus wields the power of God Almighty to bring about participation: it is God’s will for creation to be serving in community with others.

C. The ‘hangover’ of yesterday evening’s work sends Jesus back where he started: the wilderness and prayer.

He is also looking for direction – next step. Is his mission as a healer or more ? What is the good news.

It is also one of those small hints about Jesus’ need to care for himself and regain strength and energy. How could Jesus do this, when there were so many people in need!

The healings and exorcisms reveal the effects of Jesus identity and divine power, but the good news is not reducible to them. Jesus’ immediate withdrawal in verse 35 early in the morning while was still very dark to a deserted place to pray emphasizes that the power and authority of his exorcisms and healings came from God – motivates, drives and blesses effort

However, Jesus is Jesus – not just a wonder-worker. Any power He has comes being who He is – the Son of God and an essential part of this is the time spent in communion with the Father. So, after the excitement and bustle of the evening’s events at Simon’s house, Jesus leaves the house long before dawn to find a place of solitude where He can pray and be still with God.

 He knows the needs of those who are sick and disturbed – but He also knows the absolute necessity of silence and communion with God. 

Verses 38 and 39 are an excellent snapshot of leadership. 

->Staying with the mission;

->Not getting distracted by worthy, but not mission-related needs;

->Paying the price of disappointing some (and their subsequent gossip and criticisms) in order to serve your mission.

Disciples humanness could not possibly let them understand that despite “everyone seeking him” Jesus would not stay in Galilee. Yet, the entire ministry of Jesus was not focused on “come to me,” but instead, “go to them.” That is what he came for! 

Remember that the kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus’ ministry in the first three gospels. Jesus is bringing the good news that God can and will rule individual lives, rule communities, rule demons, and even rule nature itself. What people want (but may not know that is what they want) is for God to rule their/our lives.

The phrase, “kingdom of God,” does not appear once in the Old Testament but is on the lips of Jesus 82 times in the four gospels.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

Old TestamentIsaiah 40:21-31

PsalmPsalm 147:1-11, 20c  

Epistle  – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 

Gospel  – Mark 1:29-39