Everywhere Jesus goes, many people expect him to set them free from oppression. Everywhere he goes, he heals them and sets them free. Disease, devils, and death are running for their lives. The forces that diminish human life are rendered powerless by Jesus.
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
It seems that in just about every book, story, and story line in sports, there seems to be an undercurrent of sorts. In almost all of these, there seems to be this idea of epiphany or revelation of someone’s true character. Whether you’re reading about someone recovering from a lost love, fighting to achieve a dream, or struggling to overcome an illness or injury, toward the end, there is a revealing. The characters in the story almost always come to a turning point. They reach the end of what they believe are their own abilities and, by some act of courage, strength, or will, manage to push forward to finish their goal. Upon finishing, a new version of themselves is revealed, a triumphant self that they never knew existed. In the end, the achievement, prize, or destination was not nearly as important as finding out something about themselves that they never knew before. The personal epiphany is just as important the prize itself. In this vein of thought, we can begin to see this time of the year as something more than just the months between Advent and Lent or Christmas and Easter.
Throughout this season of Epiphany in the church year, we’ve been watching Jesus being revealed. We’ve watched as the Magi came to the Little Town of Bethlehem. We’ve read of Jesus calling the disciples, using their talents and gifts to become “fishers of men”. We’ve experienced the authority and power of Jesus as he drives out demons and teaches with authority. It seems Jesus is continuing to surprise us. Coming from an unlikely region of the world from unlikely parents, Jesus is now using unlikely people and unlikely circumstances in unlikely places to reveal himself in different ways. He is beckoning, and people will leave everything to follow him. He is speaking simple words, but in those simple words, he has the power to talk about God in new ways and drive out unclean spirits.
And today, we get to have another glimpse into what Jesus sees as important. He’s revealing more of his power, love, and mission. In his healing of anyone who was brought to him, he showed the vastness of his love. He heals everybody who was brought to him. It first starts with his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and moves to healing the whole city. The passage says that the whole city of Capernaum was gathered around the door of Simon’s house! The whole city had heard of his healing of the man with the unclean spirit (which was heard about last week) and I’m assuming word of his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law also spread quickly. It seems that the proverbial floodgates had opened and everybody was gathering to be healed and to watch as lives were transformed. These people, who were left without hope, found it in Jesus Christ and he didn’t turn anyone away. If the whole city was gathered, then there were old and young, rich and poor, clean and unclean, the abused and the abuser. All of them, together, gathered around and witnessing Jesus changing the world, or at least, changing their world. How could you ever see Jesus doing these things and not have your life changed from it?
So we know that all people are important to Jesus, but this passage also shows that Jesus thought it was important to get away and find God in solitude, as well. Can you see the paradox, there? Can you see how those are a little opposite of each other? This man, with a magnetic, loving personality, whom people were flocking to come see, also knew that he needed time away, to pray and center himself on God. The Son of God, the one who we proclaim to be fully God and fully man, knew that he needed to make sure spent time alone with God. In the midst of a city, which loved him for what he had done, he went to deserted place to pray. He could build these incredibly strong connections with people but he knew that he needed to have quiet time, too. And, in that same vein, he also knew his mission to proclaim the good news or God’s love and healing to the neighboring towns. He isn’t simply the healer or savior of Capernaum, but of the world!
Now, that’s great news for us, isn’t it? That means that there isn’t one person here who is outside the love and healing of God. That means that, no matter where you go, what you do, how you look, and what mess you’ve come out of or created, you are never outside the mission of Christ. You are never without reason for hope, because you are never without the love and power of God. As vast and varied as we are, as different as we are from each other, we are all welcomed. We are all loved. We are all cared for. We are all the body of Christ, across borders and boundaries, we have one thing that unifies us. We have God as our Creator, Christ as our Savior, and the Holy Spirit as our Inspiration.
Now, this is certainly an impossible task for people. Despite our best efforts, there is no way we can successfully unify ourselves. Even in this country, we have massive differences of opinion and, honestly, we spend more time arguing over those differences that we spend celebrating our commonality. But, in Jesus, we find someone who can identify and call to everybody. That’s what Paul was grasping for in our New Testament reading for today (1 Corinthians 9.16-23). Jesus has authority to teach leaders, but meekness to interact with outcasts. Jesus has the boldness to call people out of their old patterns into something different, but the humility to set up his own patterns of devotion and prayer. Jesus has the power to cast out demons, but the love to spare us in our uncleanness. Jesus had every right to deliver himself from the cross, but he had every intention to deliver us from our sin.
People of God, we have seen who Jesus is. The very word “epiphany” is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as a “Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ” and “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” I think it’s great that the lectionary readings for this time after Epiphany are dedicated to expanding our ideas of who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. He started as an infant, but now, in these readings, we quickly see that his role is not simply a passive role, but an active one. He is calling people to himself. He is teaching and proclaiming the good news. He is healing all who come to him.
So, what does that mean for us? What does this revelation, this epiphany mean for us, here, at St. James in Mason City, IA? What does it mean for us as we begin moving into Lent? As we begin a new chapter with new leadership in our boards, council, and senior pastor? In a time when nothing seems good enough, we realize that we don’t need to be good enough, because our God is. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by anxiety and fear, this good news gives us reason for hope. We have this hope because we understand that God has welcomed and calls us. We have this hope because we have seen how God uses all people and all circumstances, not just the perfect people with all their stuff together, to do God’s work. We have seen God healing the sick, driving away darkness, and showing tenderness to all people. We have hope in God and God’s work, not simply optimism in our own efforts.
As we move forward with newly installed leaders into a still very young year, let’s remember that. Let’s remember how Jesus not just taught, but acted. Let’s remember that we are all pursued by God’s love and grace and we are called to participate in it. We are recipients of a radical, overwhelming welcome by the Holy Spirit into the continued creation of God. We are invited to take part in God’s work, being firsthand witnesses to God’s redeeming power, and to listen to where God is still working in the needs of our community and our world.
We have seen the Epiphany of God, and we continue to see it, in every situation we face. Whether in the eyes of a stranger, the kind deeds of a neighbor, or the beautiful nature of the Creator, we have a first row seat to the production of a lifetime. We see as the kingdom of God marches nearer, and we begin to see more clearly, that good news is at hand. Amen.