5 Epiphany B—2/8/15
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Pr. Scott Kramer
So, how are you doing today, Seahawks fans? Sorry to bring that up!—but I’m guessing you’re feeling a little better than when you woke up last Monday!
The headline in Monday’s Seattle Times read, “DEFLATED.” Football fans recognize that as a reference to the underinflated football scandal leading up to the Super Bowl, but it was also an accurate description of how Seahawks fans felt after a stunning loss.
Sports columnist Larry Stone put it this way: I can imagine every Seahawks fan woke up with a boulder in the pit of their stomach and anguish in their heart. It’s only a game, as one emailer reminded me. True, but that doesn’t stop people from investing every fiber of their emotion in it.
“Investing every fiber of their emotion.” Why do we get so worked up about sports teams? We can say it’s “just a game” but is that really true? That’s our pride, our power, our glory—even our sense of self-worth that’s on the line out there on the playing field! When our team wins we feel great. When it loses we feel bad, as if we were the ones out there on the playing field. Our emotions are jerked back and forth by circumstances outside of us and beyond our control.
The Seahawks are unique in that they have a loud and loyal fan base: the Twelfth Man—or, the “12s,” who claim a share of credit for the success of their team. But the fact is, the fans are not the team. No fan will ever be called out of the stands to coach or to play in the game. We are, forever, spectators.
Where do we invest “every fiber of our emotion”–in a sports team, a political party, a company, a national identity, a church or a religious denomination? What happens when these things disappoint us? If these things count for so much, what happens when they finally get stripped away?
In last Sunday’s reading from Mark we met a man who felt anxious and afraid. There was much to be afraid of in Jesus’ day, and no doubt a lot of people felt helpless in the face of circumstances and forces that were outside them and beyond their control. Jesus confronted the man and was able to restore a sense of peace, a peace that is only possible when a person knows they’re more than just a spectator in the stands.
In today’s reading Jesus moves beyond that place of worship and into a home. It’s the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, who’s in bed with a fever. Her health is restored and immediately she sets about serving her guests.
We long for physical and mental healing for ourselves or those we know and love. We long for such miracles. But in the Bible, the miracles themselves are almost beside the point. The point of Jesus’ work, both in the synagogue and in the home, is to restore confidence in individuals and in the community that no one is a spectator in the stands. Every one of us is on the playing field!
Sometimes people say to their pastor, “I feel so useless …worthless …helpless.” Translation: “I’m just a spectator. I’m not on the playing field where the real action is.” How easy it is to allow the world’s definition of worth and value to define who we are!
Everything you’ve been taught outside the teachings of Jesus convinces you that you are of value because of…physical health and strength, knowledge or brainpower, financial resources or material possessions, paid employment or vocational achievement, personal choices or political freedom.
All of these things can be used to the glory of God, of course, but they can also become what define us. What happens when all of these things are stripped away? When age, or illness, or retirement, or other circumstances of life peel away those indicators of value, we may well wonder if we have any worth, any value.
It’s not just older folks, either. It is hard work at any age to live a life on the world’s terms. It is hard work to convince ourselves and others that we have value because of our possessions or achievements or status in society. It is exhausting work, as the prophet Isaiah says: Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
We proclaim Christ, who turns the world’s values on their head, and it begins here, at worship. For example, when you attend worship you may get the impression that Sunday morning is a “spectator sport.” The gathered assembly sits in traditional pews facing forward and looks on as paid staff and a few volunteers are up front on the “playing field.” But our tradition teaches that at worship there are no spectators. All of us are on the playing field. The word we use is “liturgy.” Liturgy is the familiar order of worship we follow week after week, and the word liturgy means, literally, the “work of the people.” You don’t have to impress anyone or earn your way. Just showing up on Sunday morning puts you on the playing field!
Another way to put it: Sunday morning worship is good practice for feeling “worthless”—at least, according to how our society defines worth. We come and we sit, we listen, we sing, we pray. Society offers few rewards for this kind of work. Society would call us spectators more than players.
But gathered at worship, we hear again the assurance of God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness. We remember that our value is not defined by our affiliation with a particular team or race or nation–or any group. Here we are offered healing from the exhausting burden of protecting or justifying or proving ourselves by what we have or what we achieve or what we believe or who we associate with.
Freed from the need to convince ourselves that we are worthy of playing on the team, we spend less time in demonstrating how we and our group are different or better. In fact, we discover that Christian faith leads us to build bridges and to find what we have in common with others. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: To the Jews I became as a Jew, 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.
Whether or not you’re a football fan, it does matter where you invest “every fiber of your emotion.” You are a beloved child of God, no longer proving your value as a spectator but freed to play your part on the team with passion and energy through a life of love and service!