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? It is he 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. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He 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.
Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
1 Corinthians 9.16-23
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! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. 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. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Mark 1 29-39
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at 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. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighbouring 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.
The readings this morning talk to us about the importance of not doing things in our own strength and of our need to turn to God for our strength so that we might serve God and each other.
Isaiah reminds us of God’s greatness in comparison with our weakness.
“He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
“Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;”
To say that God is the great almighty and that in comparison we are like grasshoppers can sometimes make us feel that we can give up all responsibility for the world. Likewise we can sometimes think that doing things only in God’s strength not in our own, means we need to do nothing.
This is far from the case. Yet though we do things in God’s strength we do must avoid feeling of arrogance and pride in what God achieves through us.
Paul tells us that when he preaches he is not setting himself above people but humbling himself before his task.
“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!”And we have another example again of service in our gospel reading.
Paul like many others before and many more after him, preached the Gospel because God had called him to that service and given him the strength to serve.
The gospel reading is one which can often be taken as rather mysogenistic passage, reflecting the lower status of women in Jesus’ time. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was ill, Jesus cures her and so she starts serving everyone.
Yet the surface of that story reflects a far greater depth. First of all, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was ill and THEY TOLD HIM ABOUT HER AT ONCE. This was an important person in the household. Jesus cures her and so enables her to serve. It is Jesus who gives her the strength to do that to which she was called. I don’t think that is so wrong; to be given God’s strength and then to go straight from there to serve others. For what else is God’s strength for, if not for us to go out and serve.
In all things we need God’s guidance and strength not because it makes us feel better or because it makes us “happy” or “good” but because it gives us the chance to serve. And how can we serve?
Well, in the Gospel passage we heard today, from Mark very URGENT gospel, in which everything happens one thing immediately after another we have a microcosm of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus spends time in community, he heals, he goes away for some quiet time and reflection and then he calls others out to join him as he preaches the good news.
What better model of service can we have than Jesus’ own ministry? Yet even Jesus, in all his very active ministry, Jesus still took time out to reflect and to pray. For though he was the Son of God, as well as being divine he was also human, like each of us and in need of a relationship with God. As Isaiah says:
“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.”This doesn’t mean that we all turn into amazing robot-like gospel preaching machines, it does not mean that we are given endless strength and no longer need rest or sleep. No it means that even when times are difficult, or worse still when times are far too easy, even when we are weak, then too we have God’s strength.
So often it is in our weakness and in our brokenness that we truly connect with God that we acknowledge our need for him. We can all be caught up in our incredible busy-ness and rush without the time to pause and reflect on what call God is really placing on our lives, where he really gives us strength to serve.
It should not be embarrassing to admit our need for God yet somehow our modern world makes us all want to demonstrate how CAPABLE we are. How much we do not need help from each other or from God.
This week I have had an all too painful reminder of not relying on my own strength. Some of you may know that I’ve been without the use of my right hand for much of the week and being someone who likes to be ever so capable, I have found it very difficult to find myself needing to rely on the kind help of others.
Yet God’s message to us is that we do need God’s strength, we do need each other for our own wholeness and for the wholeness of the community, for the church. Because the need for healing is not always personal sometimes it is the Church that body of Christ, which needs healing; the Church that needs God’s strength and I know that there are many things which see the church divided today. Indeed this coming week is one in which the Church is going to need a lot of God’s strength to support it through difficult discussions.
This week the General Synod will be debating the consecration of women as bishops. Now I am sure that, as a woman in ministry here at All Saints you will have no doubts about my view on whether or not women should be able to serve God as they feel God has called them to serve, as priests and indeed as bishops.
And though for many this is something which seems long overdue, for others it is something which they view as deeply wounding to the church.
I don’t know how much all of you will have followed this story but I felt it was something worth setting before you.
A group headed by the bishop of Guildford will present its explorations and its conclusions about how the church might proceed towards the consecration of women as bishops.
There were three options for them:
The first was a Single Clause measure in other words – a new church law stating that women could be made bishops – together with a list of guidelines.
This option obviously pleases those in favour of women bishops but not those who oppose it.
The second option was the establishment of a Third Province separate from the provinces of Canterbury and York where there were no women bishops, no women priests and no male priests ordained by women bishops.
This option pleased some of those who opposed women bishops but not others as it represents a major schism in the church
The third option, the option which is proposed by the Guildford group is known as TEA - Transferred Episcopal Arrangements.
This involves parishes opting out of a diocese that accepts women as bishops for all Episcopal related issues such as ordinations, confirmations etc but the parish remains within the area of the geographical diocese in all other senses.
This middle way avoids schism and yet satisfies those opposed to women being bishops
I don’t know how the discussions will go this week. I know that there will be hurt on many sides and whatever the result some members of our church, the Church of England, and indeed of this our parish here at All Saints might well be upset. Yet in this weakness, in what might be called the brokenness of the church, God’s strength will be there for all who call on it.
So this week, in your prayers, I hope you will pray for God’s strength for the members of the General Synod and for God’s strength for the church. Yet, although it is God’s strength which enables us, it is still WE who must ACT. It is we who must, like Peter’s mother-in-law, get up and immediately start serving others, it is us who like Paul must proclaim the Gospel without boasting, it is us who must take that time out to hear God’s call on our lives, to ask for God’s strength and then SERVE.