Who Is Like God?

February 8, 2015, Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39

We had an unusually fruitful conversation at Brown Bag Bible Exploration on Tuesday. I often talk about the insights I get around the lunch table. We’ve been having BBBE as we call it for nearly seven years, but there are enough new members that this might be a good time to explain what happens. Everyone is invited to come. We meet downstairs in Magnolia Hall two Tuesdays a month. All we ask is that people bring their Bibles, lunches and curiosity. We eat lunch as we have a brief time to talk about what we’ve been up to recently. Then someone reads the passage for an upcoming sermon out loud. Then we react to what we’ve heard. No Bible knowledge is expected or required. Every time we meet I am amazed at what other people see and hear in the Bible, what they notice that I miss. It’s like having seven sets of eyes and ears instead of one. Presbyterians believe that the Bible is always interpreted with the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not merely a printed word to us, but a living word. And the more people who are reacting to it, the more life experiences that gather around the table, the more fully we understand the Bible. Sometimes just hearing a passage read out loud helps us see something new and unexpected. The next time we meet will be Tuesday, February 17. Fearless honesty and deep curiosity are great gifts to everyone who wants to understand what the Bible says.

So there we were talking about what God said to the prophet Isaiah. The Hebrew question, “Who is like God?” is the name Michael. Did you know that? And God is speaking in a rhetorical question. God is incomparable. There is no god like God. One translation had it, “Haven’t you been paying attention?” Who made the stars? The Lord made everything, and the Lord never gets tired. The Lord’s power cannot be exhausted. Those who wait for the Lord are renewed.

This got us talking about being patient. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. And how do these words bring us comfort when we are discouraged? At this point, the conversation took a really helpful, to me, turn. Instead of talking about the power that the words on the page conveyed, people started talking about what it feels like to be patient, and what it feels like to rest in the confidence that God’s love is real and powerful. What it feels like to surrender to God’s power after working so hard to make things better by ourselves. The words pointed us to feelings, and the feelings pointed us to the relationship God invites each person into. Many of us tried to describe how we struggle to get our feelings and thinking aligned. Presbyterians are good with words, but our faith in God isn’t just words, it’s a living relationship. Words help. Faith isn’t easy, but it’s good. And it’s always dynamic, always on the move, always elusive and indescribable. I watched the faces as people shared their experiences of feeling, trusting and trying to know our incomparable God. Hold onto that idea. Faith is a relationship that we live and feel.

Last week I mentioned that Mark’s gospel is really, really fast-paced. Mark isn’t an especially skilled writer, the Greek he uses isn’t of high literary quality, but his gospel, more than the other three, is breathless, it’s a page-turner. It starts with John the Baptizer, out in the wilderness, at the Jordan, about 21 miles east of Jerusalem. [here I want the image projected] It says, “the whole Judean countryside, and all the people of Jerusalem were going to him.” It’s a pretty long trip, 21 miles on foot, to receive a baptism of repentance. Jesus gets baptized and immediately is driven into the wilderness and tempted 40 days and 40 nights. Then he went to Galilee, his home province, a distance of about 75 miles. He walks along the Sea of Galilee, which anyone today would call a lake. He tells two sets of brothers to follow him, and immediately they do. Last week we heard about how he went into the synagogue in Capernaum and taught with authority and drove the demon out of possessed man.

Here’s where this morning’s lesson picks up. When they left the synagogue they went to Simon and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus took her hand, the fever left her and she began to serve them. Now to our modern eyes that looks a little selfish, doesn’t it? “Simon what do you got to eat around here?” “Well, Jesus, I’m really sorry, but with my mother-in-law down with this fever…and we didn’t know you were going to drop in…” “I’m hungry. I guess I’ll heal her, so she can put some food on the table!” Actually, the oldest woman in the household would be expected to offer hospitality to any guest. It would be deeply embarrassing not to be able to offer food to a guest in her home, even though she was ill. Jesus did not only make her physically well, he also restored her to her rightful, honored place as hostess.

Then when the Sabbath ended, “the whole city gathered around” Simon’s house. Jesus cured those who were sick and cast demons out of others, but he wouldn’t let the demons speak. What’s up with that? Why wouldn’t Jesus let the demons speak? There are a couple possible reasons: First, when Jesus cast the demon out earlier in the day at the synagogue—last week’s lesson—it identified him as “the Holy one of God.” The scribes were impressed with Jesus’ authority, but the demon identified him. Some people believe that Jesus didn’t want demons being the ones who identified him. Another reason could be that later on in the gospels Jesus was accused of being a magician, that is someone with wicked powers, and having a bunch of demons shouting, “Jesus, the son of the Living God, cast me out!” probably would bring a lot of attention and what we would today call “bad press.” Jesus healed everyone who was brought to him and cast out uncounted demons.

The next day Jesus gets up early to pray. When the four disciples find him, he tells them he’s go to keep going throughout Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. He’s always in a hurry. And he’s always in a crowd. People struggle to get close to him. His fame and notoriety surround him. Who is like him?

No one. He teaches as though his words are God’s own. That’s the authority that so impressed the ones who heard him at the synagogue last week. He makes people healthy again. And in making them healthy they are not just free of pain, but they are also able to come back home. They are physically better, but also socially better. The very next thing that happens after this morning’s lesson is Jesus cures a leper. Lepers had to keep a big distance between themselves and everyone else. They were considered “unclean.” Having physical contact with a leper made that person unclean as a leper himself. They were outcasts. They couldn’t hold jobs. Their disease was disfiguring. When leprosy went away; they could come home. When the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law, she could hold the honorable position of hostess. When the demons left those who had been possessed, they got their lives back. And their families got their sons and daughters and fathers and mothers back. Health is so much more than being free of pain. Jesus gave people their lives back and restored families!

And he in a hurry to preach and heal throughout Galilee, way up north, far from Jerusalem. But his fame and notoriety got attention of those in charge. Who is like God? No one. Who is like Jesus? No one. Who calls us into a relationship of trust and faith and healing and renewal? The Living God, the Risen Christ. Amen.