The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, 4 February 2017

February 4, 2018 | by Bruce G. Epperly

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Isaiah 40:21-21 Psalm 147:1-1l, 20c 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39

“Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”  God is infinite, dynamic, and moving through all things. Divine energy flows through all creation, giving life and healing. Human life, including the lives of bloviating political leaders, is important, but at best temporary, dwarfed by the majestic infinity of God.  In the grandeur of the universe, we appear not to matter. The president struts and frets, but his days are numbered; his time, like ours, is short.  But, an omnipresent, omni-active God is everywhere, caring for people as well as sparrows.  In the interplay of finitude and infinity, today’s scriptures join action and contemplation in the quest for a perspective on life that enables us to become God’s companions in creative transformation.  

Mark 1 describes a day in the life of Jesus.  The healer from Nazareth is certainly busy that day: he heals the sick, preaches, teaches, and casts out demons.  His calendar is full and yet he has time for encounters large and small.  But, he also has time for stillness, perhaps, to gain perspective. As embodiment of the all-present God, Jesus reveals God’s vision and power in every encounter.  God wants us mount up with wings of eagles, to experience abundant life and share that life with others.

The universe is saved one moment at a time.  Accordingly, no healing is too small for Jesus.  No problem is too small for God’s concern. We might think that the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is even too small to record in scripture. Still, we can all relate to her need for healing, despite its apparent unimportance in the overall scheme of things. After all, it isn’t cancer, heart disease, or ALS.

Remember how you last felt when you came down with the flu or laryngitis on the verge of a speaking engagement or as you prepared for Sunday’s sermon.  Everything comes to a halt.  We can barely get out of bed or stammer out a word and may have to cancel our appointments.  There is no small illness when it involves our well-being or the well-being of someone upon which we depend, and in this case, Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness rendered her incapable of fulfilling her vocation as the “alpha” woman of the household, whose pride and joy was hospitality, especially to her son-in-law’s teacher.  

We don’t know the mechanics of Jesus’ healing, but holistic and complementary medicine reveal to us the power of touch to transform body, mind, and spirit.  Jesus may have infused her with the same energy that a woman with a flow of blood accessed to cure her ailment. (Mark 5;24-34)

Quantum physics tells us that the universe is energetic. For over thirty years I have been a reiki healing touch practitioner, and for more than twenty years, I have been a reiki teacher/master with a special commitment to sharing reiki in the Christian context.  I have witnessed the power of healing touch to transform cells and souls, relieve pain, reduce fevers, and provide comfort to the dying, whether by reiki healing touch, laying on of hands, or the power of prayer.  While there is no evidence that Jesus practiced reiki, the same energy of love found in healing touch also animated Jesus’ healing ministry.  In an interdependent world in which spirit is embodied and the body inspired, we can’t limit the power of healing touch to change our minds and bodies for the good.   Mind and body are connected and in fact can’t be separated, so that changes in our bodies bring about changes in our minds. Healing is at the heart of the church’s ministry, and the healings described in Mark 1 can be embodied in today’s congregational ministries. (For more on healing touch and the healings of Jesus, see Bruce Epperly, The Energy of Love: Reiki and Christian Healing; Reiki Healing Touch and the Way of Jesus; and Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel).

Mark’s description of a day in the life of Jesus ends with the Healer spending a time in prayer.  Action is balanced by contemplation.  Healing power and social activism burst forth from stillness.  Pastors and congregants alike need to spend time in silence to gain energy and direction in their lives.

In his words from I Corinthians, Paul describes his own approach to ministry.  Paul speaks of finding his theological and missional flexibility through his sense of God’s providence in his life. There are many forms and styles of ministry, appropriate our particular context. Paul’s embodiment of the Gospel and his sense of calling enable him to be flexible in presenting God’s good news.  He discovers that there are many “right” ways to share the good news.  What some would see as incompatible practices or methodologies, Paul sees as complementary for the sake of sharing God’s good news to humanity in its diversity.  The good news is multi-faceted.  God is revealed in many ways and this inspires our own diverse approaches to healing, wholeness, and justice-seeking.

Isaiah speaks of the grandeur of God in contrast to human finitude.  Ironically, we gain a sense of stature (what Bernard Loomer describes as “s-i-z-e”) by our affirmation and embrace of the grandeur of the universe and its creator.  We are infinitesimal and hardly noticeable in a universe of 125 billion galaxies, and yet our actions can radiate across the universe and our planet, becoming a tipping point from death to life, ugliness to beauty, and alienation to reconciliation.  The intimate and infinite are connected, giving us perspective and the inspiration to become God’s companions in healing the Earth.

Isaiah also notes that “God’s understanding is unsearchable.”  The apophatic, without images (negative theology) and the kataphatic, with images (incarnational theology), require one another.  The beauty and the wonder of the universe proclaim the glory of God. God’s handiwork is present everywhere.  Yet, none of our concepts can contain the Living God; God is always more than we can intellectually fathom. That’s why we need poets as well as scientists and theologians. Historically, the kataphatic has been identified with becoming and movement, while the apophatic has been described in terms of unchanging being; but perhaps what is beyond comprehension is also living, moving, and creating.  We need to get beyond the dualism of being and becoming and like the yin-yang symbol see both as necessitated in God and in human life.  Out of silence comes action, and action leads to rest.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor and Teacher at South Congregational Church, UCC, Centerville, on Cape Cod, MA, and professor in the D.Min. program at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is the author of over 40 books, including Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure with God, and The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh.