Sermon for February 7, 2021 Fifth after Epiphany “Work and Prayer”
In the Hymn ‘Worship the Lord’ 401 in Voices United the second verse says: “Praying and training that we be a blessing, and by our handiwork daily confessing: we are committed to serving humanity, worship and work must be one!” Worship and work must be one. In the scope of the teachings of Jesus this very concept is revealed over and over again. For Jesus in particular and the disciples generally, this essential shift from work to prayer to work is critical.
For a more complete view of this way of life you would need to read and understand the entirety of scripture, more than I can do in an acceptable amount of sermon time. The pairing of the Mark and Isaiah 40 text is delightful. For in Isaiah we are given one view of what it means to be attentive to God; ‘but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength’. At a first reading, I expect we have an understanding of what is being asked. The people of Israel are in exile, they do not know it yet but they are about to be freed and begin preparations for a 1200km journey back to Jerusalem.
The text on waiting is about preparation, for in waiting you will run and not be weary, walk and not faint and be raised up as on eagle’s wings. For the people it would be a harbinger of good news. The delight is in the word ‘wait’ or in Hebrew ‘quvah’ which has a literal and figurative meaning.
The literal meaning of the word is “to bind together like a cord.” or, “the twisting or winding of a strand of cord or rope.”Picture in your mind the process of making a rope by twisting or weaving (binding) thin threads together to form the rope. The more strands that are twisted or woven together in a rope, the greater is its strength.
So too with peoples, communities and nations. No one individual does all the work. A rope like a community, finds strength from all the strands/people working together.
The literal definition of “quvah” implies strength through numbers. The more strands in your rope, the greater is its strength. Just as a rope’s strength comes from being made of many strands, so our strength comes through being united in the common mission of Jesus.
The figurative definition of the word “quvah” is “to wait (as we would normally understand), to look for with eager expectation.”The figurative meaning of “quvah” conveys eager anticipation and expectation. It is the same type of waiting that children do on Christmas morning while waiting for mom and dad to get out of bed so they can open their presents.
These images are also seen in the Gospel text. Jesus cannot succeed without being intimately bound to God. To wait on God or to have their lives wound together and be stronger and that happens in prayer. Jesus’ mission would not take hold unless he surrounded himself with a community of disciples and friends. We see this interplay throughout scripture as Jesus works and then finds solitude to pray. And as Jesus teaches, sends the disciples to work and binds the community in common prayer.
As we survey our current context we discover that the same sway between worship/prayer and work/mission are intimately linked. All work and no pray makes us dull and lackluster, all pray and no work renders us essentially invisible.
As we ‘wait’ on God we learn the valuable lesson that each of us is essential. We may have ego-held views of who is and who is not important, Jesus will help with that. We are all vital. I think that is why, in the teaching today, Jesus chose to heal Peter’s mother in law. One who would have been viewed as least, received the gift of healing (watch episode 8 of The Chosen to see a beautiful visual of this scene).
We also wait with expectation that there is newness emerging each day, not only for each one but also for the community, the church and the world. The key I believe is to Wait on God, with both figurative and literal meanings dancing together in beautiful rhythm. And so I end where I started, “Praying and training that we be a blessing, and by our handiwork daily confessing: we are committed to serving humanity, worship and work must be one!”