Isaiah 40:21-31 • Psalm 147:1-11, 20c • 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 • Mark 1:29-39
With Rev. Tom Cook, Pam Kidd and Riley Jensen
Good morning. May the peace of Christ be with you. I want to thank Reverend Tom Cook and Martha for their amazing hospitality and for Riley and Pamela Kidd for their generous company and wisdom. I also want to thank rev Tom and the session of the church for the invitation and for trusting me to preach here. What a joy to be here, what a joy! Your support to Louisville seminary is very important. I thank God for the wonderful work you all do here. May God continue to bless you richly!
Today is the 5th Sunday of the Epiphany, and we are still celebrating Emanuel: God with us. It is among other things, a season of wonder! God’s manifestation to us makes us walk in awe and keep asking: how come God has come live under our tent? How amazing is it that God made Godself human, flesh and bones, like us, and decided to come live in our neighborhood. We are still in awe in wonder.
Our Bible readings for today are witnessing this wonder of God. The Bible writers are reminding us that the God we serve is is a God of wonders, fascinating, beyond reach, and our lives of discipleship are deeply ingrained into this unending act of glorification to God. As the Westminster Catechism says in its first question: “What is the chief and highest end of humankind? And the answer is: Humankind chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy God forever.”
Our lives are lived daily with thanksgiving and praises. We cannot not share this good news, we cannot stay put for too long, we cannot keep our mouths shut. Instead, the praising and enjoying God compels us to tell about this wondrous God and go tell it on the mountains, over the hills, across the cities, in each house and everywhere. Our texts also assume that our knowledge/remembrance of God will give us a perspective in life that will necessarily be translated into praise, trust and service. Praise to God, trust in God and service to God, as we live and love each other.
Let us look at our texts: Psalm 147 is a prayer of thanksgiving. It starts saying, “Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.” The Psalms give us good reasons to praise God. He says: “God gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God determines the number of the stars; and gives to all of them their names. Great is our God! God’s understanding is beyond measure.” It is no wonder that the Psalmist says: “Sing to God with thanksgiving; make melody to our God.”
The reasons to praise God are such that our lips would be wrapped up in praised all the time. These reasons go beyond proper mediums of praise. Here he mentions the Lyre but on Psalm 150 the Psalmist will say: anything that breaths are welcomed. We shouldn’t have worship wars or fights over bagpipe organs or electric guitars. That is too little before God’s wonder! Because nothing really does proper worship to God but everything can try to do it!
There is this one video on the internet that shows a man singing amazing grace at his church. His singing is so horrific that it is hard to follow. Moreover, he does not know the lyrics and keeps making noises. His congregation, instead of stopping him from singing, joins him in the singing. Instead of shutting him up, the congregation embraces him and joining him, everybody who breathes in that place makes a new melody to God.
For our praises are not first in the instruments we use. Our worship is first and foremost in our bodies, in our minds and hearts, in our mouths. For Jesus said that our mouth say what our heart is full. And as Charlie Parker would say: “If you don’t live it, it will not come out of your horn.”
I also wonder about praises and prayers. I wonder how much our hearts are ready to praise God during the day through our prayers. Christians, throughout history, have established a rhythm of prayers throughout the day to worship God. In some prayer practices, you do it 3 times a day, and in some others practices, you have to do it even 7 times a day. Not even to name what the epistle says: “Pray without ceasing.” When I think about praying 7 times a day, would you have something to thank God 7 times a day? We do right? Why is it that some of us don’t do it?
Muslims praise God 5 times a day and they are very serious about it! No matter what they are doing, either driving a car, talking on the phone or doing something very important. They stop everything, kneel and pray. Every morning they wash their mouths before they say the name of Allah. I must confess that sometimes I am ashamed of my own prayer practices when I look to our brothers and sisters Muslims.
In our Isaiah text, we see the prophet asking people what seem to be pretty stupid questions. He even asks with a certain kind of disdain: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Come on, are you serious you don’t know that? Well in that case let me tell you again:
“It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.” Then we hear his admonition: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? Not long ago my 55 years old brother told me a story. Back in Brazil, for almost 4 years he couldn’t find a job and his situation was getting worse and worse.
He lost a very good job he had, then he lost his car, his house had several payments late, his wife got sick, his daughter had to stop going to school and in spite of it all he went to the streets of São Paulo every day looking for any job he could find. His shoes had holes in it… One day, he went to my mother’s house for lunch and there is this long corridor from the street to the door of the house. He rang the bell and entered. As he walked towards her with his head down, my mother went to meet him and as soon as she saw him she cried out loud.
“Son, look up! Look up right now! I ain’t gonna let you look down this way…” He was felling torn, bitten up, lonely, with no strength to continue anymore… She the approached him, hold his head up and said: “Look up son! For your help will come from the Lord…” He started to cry and could barely stay standing. My 80 year old mother had to hold his body and crying with him she said: “Look up and say with me: ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” He couldn’t say a word but my mother said: “I am going to continue to say it until you say it with me: come on…”I lift up my eyes to the hills… say it… I lift up my eyes to the hills —from where will my help come?” With me now: ”My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” In the midst of tears of exhaustion, with his head still held up by my mother’s hands he started to whisper with her: ”I lift up my eyes… I lift up my eyes to the hills…. I lift up my eyes to the hills —from where will my help come?” With me now son: ”My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
And she continued the Psalm for him that she knew by heart: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.” Look up.
Thus, If the Psalmist is giving us reasons to praise God and the Prophet is challenging us to remember things in order to trust God, the apostle Paul frames the wonder of God as a commitment, an obligation: He says: “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” The story of Jesus Christ in our midst is not a choice for us to tell. This powerful piece of history has changed and shaped our lives forever, the lives of many of our families and the life of the world. We can see Paul singing “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere…” “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
The same way that Paul did, we share the wonders of God in Jesus Christ everywhere Because we cannot not do it! This is bigger than us. When we see, “ooops, it is out of our mouths.” When we see it again, “oopps, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ to!” “Jesus is love and salvation and forgiveness.” “I cannot live without Jesus!”
And we do that like Paul did: “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” So many blessings brothers and sisters, so many blessings we share in this gospel. Can you count every blessing? Everyday God pours out blessings on you and your family, every day God is near you and your family!
That is why the African Americans would sing this song and praise God all the time. Sunday worship services were not a choice or a social event. NO! Sunday worship services were a matter of survival! Praise a way of overcoming the tremendous difficulties of life. Meager money, tribulations, persecution, no rights, no social possibilities for change, this community learned to use their longs and souls into the singing and sharing of this gospel.
Praising was a way of life, not a choice or a nice thing to do. Even the 7 times prayer structure would be foreign for those who praise and prayed for God throughout the day. They knew what the sharing of the blessings of this gospel meant. They knew what the prophet was saying when he said:
“God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 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.”
Our last text comes from the gospel and it is about Jesus healing people and going places. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and a joke in Brazil says that it was because Jesus healed his mother in law that Peter denied Jesus 3 times! In this text we see Jesus going and telling it on the mountains, over the hills and houses, and synagogues and everywhere that the Kingdom of God had arrived. His good news was transforming news, changing people’s lives.
The gospel says that from morning to sundown, “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” And even after that, Simon came to him and said: “Everyone is searching for you.” And Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Jesus also went out telling on the mountains over the hills and everywhere that the kin-don of God had arrived.
Today we have communion. You know what this table does to us: It makes us be thankful. Sometimes I have a hard time participating in it because in my stupidity, sometimes I feel I have nothing to thank God. As I approach it, this table breaks me down, makes me remember, makes me praise God, it will turn my mind around, twist my mood, and give me a new life to live. This sacrament will make me “look up!”
“Give thanks,” “remember,” “share the blessings” and “proclaim the coming of the realm of God in our midst” is what our texts for today are saying. Sometimes I don’t know why, sometime I will forget, sometimes I will think I know things better… But when I approach this table, every time I come near to this food, everything comes crumbling down and new life starts to be built again. And here, at this table, I will remember, I will learn again, and then, I will not be able to not give thanks. I will not be able to prevent myself from “go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and everywhere, that Jesus Christ is born…” that a new world has arrived, that new hopes and joys and strengths are at our disposal as the church of Christ, and new life is springing everywhere.
“Go tell it on the mountains, over the hills and everywhere…”