Sermon: Hungering for Hope

Sunday, February 7, 2021
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
watch this service online (readings start around 19:01; sermon starts around 26:35)
image source

Our gospel reading for today picks up right on the heels of last week’s gospel reading – we’ve spent four Sundays just in the first chapter of Mark because so much happens in it!  Last week, we read about how Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue; and this week we read that, “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.”  Jesus is not wasting any time on this important mission of preaching and healing; as we see in this reading, he’s getting right down to business.

The one line of this passage that grabs me the most is verse 33.  Word has gotten around that Jesus is at Simon and Andrew’s house, doing some healing, and Mark writes that “The whole city was gathered around the door.”  Now, I have no idea how big a city it was – whether they were still in Capernaum or if they’d gone somewhere else – but even in a small city, that’s at least a few hundred people gathered around this one door, if not a few thousand. 

It’s a striking image.  This verse makes me think of some of the images I’ve seen lately – like photos that I’ve seen of the vaccine rollout – photos in some places of hundreds of people, waiting in line for hours and hours, for that one small prick of a needle.  Or I think of all the people I see waiting in line at the food pantry every week – and the long line of cars that snakes through the parking lot down at the Oak Ballroom when we do the mobile food bank each month.  

This verse is just one short sentence: “And the whole city was gathered around the door.”  But in that verse, what I hear is a deep sense of need, a sense of desperation and hunger and longing that is deeply relatable.  

Especially after almost a year of this neverending pandemic, those feelings of desperation and hunger and longing are ones that I know all too well.  I’m betting you do too.  I’ve been struggling with loneliness, with depression and anxiety – and I’ve been having a terrible time most days keeping myself focused on work.  And I can imagine that many of you have been struggling as well.  Maybe you are also struggling with loneliness and depression, or struggling to stay focused on work or school.  It’s been hard not being able to go some of the places we like to go or do some of the things we enjoy – and it’s been really hard not getting to see some of the people that we love, especially if they’re older or live in senior care facilities.  And putting on that mask every time we leave the house just reminds us of all the things that we are missing – and all of that is beside the fear of actually getting sick!  And even if you’re someone who refuses to wear a mask or to take this pandemic seriously, there is just no escaping the signs everywhere you go that we are living in times of crisis.  And that alone is exhausting.

I wonder, reading this gospel text, if the people of the city who gathered around that door were struggling too.  They weren’t all necessarily suffering from illness or possessed by demons.  And even for those who were, they already had doctors and healers who had treatments and cures for most, if not all, of the ailments they were dealing with.  Yet these people are so desperate for what Jesus is offering that they show up at this house in droves, just trying to get close to him.  And when he wanders off in the morning to pray, they go searching for him – Mark writes that the disciples “hunted” for him – because the people are so desperate to find him and bring him back into the city. 

It’s because Jesus is doing more for them than just curing their illnesses or casting out their demons or feeding them bread.  He’s fulfilling a need that goes much, much deeper than these physical needs.  Jesus gives them what they are truly hungering for the most – and that is hope

Jesus gives them hope.  Along with his acts of healing, Jesus preaches to the people the good news of God’s love and life.  And he does more than just preach it – he lives it!  In him, the people see the image of God, like the image we see portrayed in our psalm for this morning:  God is mighty and has power over all creation – even creating and naming the stars.  Yet this great and cosmic deity also has this tender and intimate love for the lowliest parts of creation: gently binding up the brokenhearted, gathering up the outcasts, lifting up the downtrodden, and raising all up to new life.  

Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s immense, immeasurable love for all the world.  He is the living promise of God’s salvation and new life.  He gives the people hope just by being with them.  And hope enables them to have a strength and resilience that goes far beyond just having their physical needs met.  Jesus is living out what Isaiah wrote in our first reading:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary …
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 40:28b-31

Just like the people of the city who gathered around the door, we all have basic needs that we carry with us.  We have needs for food and shelter, for healthcare, for connection and community, in order that we may survive.  And in times of crisis like these, we also have to draw on whatever reserves we have of resilience and patience and persistence to help see us through.

But there is only so far we will ever be able to go on our own steam.  Because – like these people – we also have needs and hunger and longing that go much deeper than just the basic needs of daily life.  We need the true strength and life that only God can give us.  And the good news is that God is more than willing to give it!  In our gospel reading, the only reason Jesus even leaves the people of the city is first to rest and replenish himself, and then to go and continue to spread hope and healing and love to as many people as he possibly can.  In Isaiah and in Psalm 147, God richly provides for all those who slow down and wait, who put their trust in God’s love.  

Our true strength comes from God.  God gives us the strength to carry on when it feels like we can’t, and continually raises us to new life.  And our true hope rests in Jesus Christ: God’s steadfast and unending love made flesh.  He walks with us, lifting us up, binding up our broken hearts, and filling us with love.

No matter the size of the crowd that gathers, with Christ, the door is always open.  With Christ, there is always hope.

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