Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
TEXTS: Isaiah 40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

In today’s passage from Mark, we catch up with Jesus on the Sabbath day. And we find him busy. Doing many things. He has already attended worship at the synagogue. There, during worship, he cast an unclean spirit out of a man and restored him to health.

Now—on the same Sabbath day—he goes with his disciples to Peter and Andrew’s home, where he brings healing to Peter’s mother-in-law, who was gravely ill with a fever.

Later that day—in the evening—a huge crowd gathers in the front yard, bringing with them many who were sick or afflicted; and Jesus heals them, too.

So much for the Sabbath being a day of rest! It’s been a full day—very full! Very busy.

Early the next morning, Jesus leaves the house and goes to a “deserted” place—a quiet place, a secluded place—and there he prays.

He must have remained there for quite a long time, because Simon Peter and his friends go searching for him. And when they find him, they say that everyone back in Capernaum is looking for him—people with needs, people who want healing, his touch, his word, his hope.

Guess what? There’s more work to do!

That sounds just like church life, doesn’t it?

Anyway … faced with this news … Jesus decides it’s time to … leave! And our passage concludes with him telling his disciples, “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (v. 38)

From there, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, preaching and healing and driving out demons, spreading by word and deed the good news of God’s Kingdom. And always—as we find if we read the Gospel accounts—always, we find Jesus drawing aside from the crowds in order to pray. Always we find Jesus leaving his disciples and going to a quiet place by himself for a talk with God—for a time of developing and maintaining his relationship with his Father.

He thought that was important.

How about us?

Do we take time to develop our relationship with God? Do we remember why we are here in the first place? Or the simplicity of God’s call to us? Or the glory of God’s promises to us? Do we recall how God has helped us in the past?

Do we remember where we may obtain fuel for our tanks, food for our journey, tools for our labours, recovery for our souls, hope for our hearts, and direction for our days?

Do we turn aside from the hustle and bustle of each day, and allow God to fill us? To restore us? To guide us, so that we can accomplish what God wants us to accomplish? So that we can be what God wants us to be? What God has made us to be?

The Word of God in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah is a message of reassurance for God’s people. It is a call to us—a call to remember who God is, and how God has helped us in the past. It is a call to us to come to God so that everything can be put into perspective. It asks us to wait upon God—to listen to God, as well as to speak to God. It is a call for us to pay attention, so that God can raise us up, and restore us to health, and unfold his plan for us.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these?
Remember that God brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Remember that, because of God’s power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Not one of them is missing!

God knows each star by name. He knows each one of us by name!
Isaiah urges us to remember who God is:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:27-28)

Remember who God is—and what he wants to do for us.

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD
shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)

Why did Jesus go the synagogue on each Sabbath Day?
Why did he worship at the temple with God’s people?
Why did he keep the Law of Moses?
Why did he continually turn aside, and find a quiet place to pray?
Why did he withdraw from his disciples and from the crowds to go up on the mountainsides, or into garden groves, to wait upon God?

I believe he did these things because they helped him to stay on track. He did this because it was the secret to his power. He did this, I think, because without doing it, he could not have accomplished much of anything.

So it is with you and me. God has a purpose for each one of us—and when the time is right, he will reveal it. God will raise us up and give us power.

When we dare to believe that … When we hope in that … When we feed ourselves with God’s Word … When we allow God to speak to us … Then God moves in us to do for us what we cannot do on our own.

When we spend time with God—intentionally deepening our relationship with him—God moves in us to give us strength and peace—peace that lasts. Peace that endures even through the most turbulent times.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to know a few people who were filled with that kind of peace, and that kind of quiet strength. Peace that endured to give quiet strength, even in the face of a terminal diagnosis. Even in the face of death.

Yes. Even in the face of death. But also peace and strength … even in the face of job loss and lasting unemployment.

Peace and strength … even in the midst of shattered dreams and ruined plans.

Peace and strength … even when a business partner cheats you … or a friend fails you … or a spouse betrays you. Or even when you are the one who must admit a mistake and make amends.

Jesus is alive and well. He still reaches out his hand to heal and to lift up. He still enters our cities, our homes, and our hearts. He still shows up in our lives—in your life and in mine—to cast out our demons and proclaim his message of hope … for that is what he came out to do.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Eternal, the Everlasting God,
The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.
His wisdom is beyond understanding.
God strengthens the weary
and gives vitality to those worn down
by age and care.
Young people will get tired;
strapping young men will stumble and fall.
But those who trust in the Eternal One
will regain their strength.
They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
They will walk—never tired, never faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31*)

They will. And so can we. We “can do all things through him who strengthens [us].” (Philippians 4:13)

Thanks be to God. Amen.
*The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

Except where noted, Scripture quotations herein are from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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