Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Lifted Life - Sermon Feb. 5

Scripture:  Mark 1:29-39
                  Isaiah 40: 21-31
Need a lift?  I don’t mean a ride to the post office, but a lift for your spirits?  A little wind beneath your wings?  During these mostly grey, often damp and cold days of winter, I’ll admit that sometimes my spirits lag just a bit.  So the words that shone out at me from the scripture lessons for this week were those beautiful words of promise - Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall rise up with wings like eagles.  They shall walk and not be weary, they shall run and not faint. 
And then the Gospel story of Jesus coming right into the humble house of Peter’s mother in law, who had been laid low by a fever.  Immediately.  Mark’s favorite transition - IMMEDiately - they told Jesus about her and he went to her, took her hand and lifted her up. 
What a great story for us to hold in our hearts as we walk through these mid-winter days. 

Jesus took her by the hand and LIFTED HER UP!  It’s better than that - this is the same word that is used by this Gospel writer about Jesus himself on Easter morning.  He has been raised - lifted up.  So Jesus is raising up this weary and fever worn person and lifting her into New Life!

How do we get lifted up? How does Jesus take our hands and raise our spirits - raise our lives to that next level?  Well, the Spirit that lifts us and makes us soar is renewed in three different ways:

The first way of renewal is service to others -
    This isn’t “passed around the sandwiches and beers”.  This is the same word Jesus uses to describe His own life’s purpose - “I have come not to be served, but to serve”.  This is the measure of greatness Jesus holds out for his followers of every age - “The greatest of you must become the servant of all.”  This is the challenge and the hope Martin Luther King captured when he said, “Any body can be great.  Because any body can serve.” 
    How do you serve?  It can be huge - giving up her job and possessions to help homeless people find homes.  Or it can seem small - giving a few hours to cut homeless men’s hair.  But it cannot BE small - because it is doing what we have been raised up by God to do.   And at every stage of the Christian life, it is vital that we recognize and embrace the service we do.  Hazel Mumm died this week.  She was 104 years old and about as big as my right arm.  She used to live across the street, but for the last 10 years or so she’s lived in the nursing home.  By the time she got to 100, she was beginning to wonder about how long this show was going to go on.  But she’d say, “As long as God gives me, I’m going to do what I can to help out.”  She brought her bedridden hall mates water.  She prayed - out loud- for the sick.  She told the dying that there was nothing to fear, that God would take them home.  And she just kept breathing.  The last time I saw her was at the Philo Tavern.  Her children were taking her out for lunch and she was drinking a beer.  And she told me I should have one, too.  That woman knew how to serve.  
    To be Lifted Up by Jesus is to be lifted up to a lifetime of service - whether that lifetime is 104 years or considerably less than that.  One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of our lives can be recognizing and fulfilling our call to service.

Two _ Lifted up for prayer. 
    Jesus was serving - healing diseases, casting out demons - and he slipped away.  To pray.  He raised himself up out of bed and headed out to some where where he could be alone with God.  A life that soars like an eagle has to be balanced.  It can’t be constant activity.  There has to be time spent in quiet with God.  Watch the soaring birds - they aren’t flapping flapping flapping all the time.   The “eagles” of Isaiah’s poetry were big birds that perched on the edge of the rocky cliffs overlooking valleys, spread their wings and waited for the warm air to lift them and carry them aloft.  Think of prayer as spreading your wings and waiting on the Lord.
    And prayer is one of those things, those habits of the heart, that need renewal at times.  Lent is an opportunity that the community of faith gives to each other to attend to this important element of our spiritual lives.
    This Lent you are invited to undertake 40 days of renewal in prayer.  I ordered a few copies of a book I think we’ll find encouraging - called “Praying with my Pen”.  If you would like one, please let me know. 
    For Jesus, communion with God in prayer refocussed and renewed his spirit.  It does the same for us.  This week a friend shared a meditation by Mary Oliver that captures the experience of prayer in a somewhat unexpected way:

    The Summer Day
Mary Oliver
Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down

into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

The third way of renewal and lifting up that the Gospel writer points us toward is to seek out new places and new people and new ways to share the message of Christ. 
The disciples come to find Jesus, and they want to take him back to the scene of his recent triumph, and, incidentally, their home and the place they are most comfortable.  One way that God renews his people is by taking us beyond our comfort zone and out into the wider world.  That is certainly true for churches.  We tend to think of this group and this place as our church home.  And it is wonderful to share Christ here.  But we are also called to go OUT and share God’s message of grace and love more widely.  Jesus doesn’t suggest it.  Jesus commands it. 
    Yesterday the Outreach Committee of this congregation met to outline plans for reaching out for the year ahead.  They planned three events to reach new people with Christ’s love.  And one continuing emphasis - for each one of us to invite one new person to participate in our life in the coming year.  I’m going to be asking you this year - who have YOU told about what God is doing here? Who have you included in the Kingdom Life of this congregation? 
    Renewal and lifting up of the church happens when we have the courage to step out of our routine and into the outward and upward call of Christ. 

The Good News of Jesus Christ is moving and active in this world. 
The Spirit is still lifting up those who are weary and burdened by living.  God is still strengthening us, individually and as a church body to walk and not be weary, to run and not faint.  
Jesus is still taking us by the hand and lifting us up - in service, in prayer and in outreach. 
As we come to the Table this morning, as we lift our hearts to God, the question we might ask ourselves is, this week -
How will we live the lifted life? 

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