Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fifth after the Epiphany, Septuagesima, 2009

February 8, 2009 V Epiphany
(RCL B)Mark 1: 29-39

These scenes from the opening moments of the ministry of Jesus in the first chapter of Mark are alive and almost electric with the sense of this new power loose in the world. Last Sunday and just a few verses before this morning’s reading it was the dramatic exorcism in the synagogue at Capernaum. And now this morning in this passage Jesus begins by healing Peter’s mother, and then before you know it the whole village is at the door, and even more healings are happening in this outburst of miraculous experience.

And then there is along with the sudden expression of this power a sense also of urgency. Jesus up before dawn—and then, when his disciples find him, his statement that there would be no going back, no pause button, no reverse gear. He has places to go, things to do, the Kingdom to proclaim, demons to be confronted and defeated, encountering the evil one on his own turf--and there’s not much time. “Let’s get going,” he tells the disciples. There is so much to do, and so little time.

Urgency. The sudden, unexpected intervention of God’s power. Healing. Cleansing. The very beginning of the story, chapter one, and already we’re out of breath, wondering how long it can last, how long he can keep this up.

And this Sunday on the old Church calendars: Septuagesima. Just from the word in Greek, “70.” Ash Wednesday on the 25th of this month will be the first day of Lent and the Great 40 Days that carry us all the way to Good Friday and Easter, and here, “pre-Lent.” Seventy days away, the last three Sundays before Lent begins. As I said last Sunday, Christmas still in our rear-view mirror, the pine needles from our trees and wreaths still being swept up by the vacuum cleaner. But out in front, on the distant horizon, now just coming into view, the outline of the Cross. So much to do, and so little time.

It seems to me there is something in this interval of Pre-Lent that is challenging and exciting and right at the heart of who we are and who we are called to be as Christian people. Lifting up for us as a compelling reminder the images of the power he has left to us, the power of the Spirit. You will heal. You will forgive. You will cast out demons. This power to cleanse. To be a part of his life, his redeeming power. To repair the broken heart and broken life. To bless. To convey in the mystery of the water and the miracle of the altar the sacramental and living presence of Christ himself. The means of grace and the hope of glory.

And to lift up for us this reminder of his urgency. So much to do. Not as an invitation to unhealthy workaholic agitation and anxiety, but with a sense of purpose and direction. This is the day that the Lord has made. This is the day. Again, all about who we are and who we are called to be, as Christian people.

With the gifts we are given to share, it is such a loss, really a tragedy, when we lose our sense of focus, identity, forget who we are. As we settle into carelessness, or distraction. Which is so easy to do, in the worlds we live in.

We might say, if we knew that we had just one more three-minute conversation, forever, with the person whom we love, the dearest to our heart, just one more three-minute space, forever, what would we say? What would we tell them?

I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of having the phone ring and hearing the news, and suddenly having it crash down on you, the awareness that there was something that needed to be said, that truly needed to be said, for the first time, or for one more time, but that now would never be able to be said. A word of love. Of confession. Of forgiveness. And you think, oh, if I could just have a half an hour more, turn the clock back, have one three-minute call, to say what needs to be said. But that door is closed. The train has pulled out of the station. I know I’ve been there. One of the most painful places of all to be. Maybe you’ve had that experience. Regret so deep you can almost taste it.

And it’s “Pre-Lent.” And something in this as we would look into the mirror, as we would think about our lives, about the ministry that we have here n this parish, in the neighborhood and world around us. All together for us: power, blessing, healing. Think what we can do! And this urgency. Because we don’t have all day.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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