By the way, there are many options for finding reliable health related information. The National Institute of Health has a page which lists the questions to ask before trusting a health-related website. In addition to the NIH, and CDC, I find the Harvard Health Newsletters and anything that comes from the Mayo Clinic to be very useful and trustworthy. (I’m a bit biased about the Mayo Clinic because I happen to be in an exciting research study there for a particular kind of heart condition.)
Most medical practices, health insurers and clinics have help lines where you can speak with a clinician. Telehealth and telemedicine are new ways to visit your provider, and for many questions and conditions this can be very useful.
So now, back to today’s lessons, and the Bible as a source of reliable information. Isn’t it spectacular that this old document, over and over again, speaks to us thru the ages and generations? I love the signs you sometimes see on United Church of Christ lawns, “God is still speaking….” and when life is complicated and advice is all too available, what a comfort it is to turn to scripture for some sound, straightforward advice.
It is important to know a bit about when it was written, who it was written for, and what the audience’ culture and ideas were. Although knowledge and science changes, the human condition, in many ways stays the same. David, the great musician and psalmist knew this, as did the writers of the canticles, they knew that every human emotion: joy, gratitude, fear, sorrow discouragement, and hope would need expression forever. I think the Bible was written for regular folk like you and me. I have found that if I don’t work so hard at understanding, my understanding increases. As Canon Rich Simpson suggests, hit your mute button and just listen!
From Isaiah, beautiful Isaiah, the musical prophet….is it no wonder that Handel loved him so? Isaiah gives us poetry that is lyrical and singable: “Have you not known, have you not heard, has it not been told you from the beginning, have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
Isaiah 40 gives us a picture of the earth as teacher: if you have questions, big questions, look at God’s creation, look at the grasshoppers, the roots of plants, the tempest winds and soaring eagles. Isaiah gives 2 pieces of simple advice. He says “Lift up your eyes on high and see”, and then “wait for the Lord and your strength will be renewed”. So much of life is hard work, but this is not…look and wait. Keep your eyes, ears and all your senses open and ready.
David the psalmist, says “Sing and make music, praise God. Praise God as star-counter, rain-bringer, grass- grower, and then wait for God’s gracious favor. Praise and wait. One of the saddest realities of this viral pandemic is that singing together is a great viral particle spreader. I’ve spoken before about the health benefits of singing: singing relieves stress, stimulates the immune response, increases the pain threshold, improves lung function, enhances memory and improves mood and mental health. Musicians persist, and thanks to the persistence and talent of music teachers and choir directors like Joe, many of us are singing and recording at home, then our voices are put together in some magical way which I cannot explain! So good medical advice says sing on, on the trail, or in the shower or in the car, sing praise!
The beautiful Song of Hannah is a triumphant thank-you to God and it has many parallels to Mary’s Magnificat in Luke. The birth of Hannah’s child Samuel was an answer to her prayers late in life, and as she understood he was given to her by God, she vowed to offer him to the service of the temple when he was weaned, giving him to Eli to assist in the care of the temple and in worship. Quite a sacrifice of love. I believe that Mary understood her mothering sacrifice also. If you read a bit further on in 1st Samuel, you learn that Hannah and Samuel’s father Elkhana visit the boy-priest each year, and bring their yearly temple sacrifice and a new, hand-made linen tunic for Samuel. Gift and sacrifice, received and given. (As a stitcher and a lover of hand-made gifts, I’m touched by this simple story.) Hannah (and Mary) teach us that in spite of the sacrificial nature of giving, or because of it, we should also sing a most triumphant song of praise to God. A God who is the giver of all good gifts, and a God who will raise the poor, lift the needy and sit them with rulers in a place of honor. Hannah says, simply, give thanks and praise for what is given to you and give back, extravagantly.
In the Gospel today, Mark tells us another story about Jesus ministry, some good advice about the often-overwhelming amount of need in the world. Jesus spent another busy day healing the sick. First Simon’s mother-law, and then it sounds like the whole city lined up at his door, all of them ill and possessed with demons. Can you picture the vaccine lines? He got a little sleep and then he woke and went to a deserted place to pray. The disciples hunted him down, wanting him to start another day of healing. This, after all, was a very extravagant and amazing aspect of his ministry. Who doesn’t like a good miracle? But Jesus says no, “today we will go on to the neighboring town to proclaim God’s message”. Time for healing, time for prayer, time for proclaiming God’s message of love! He hits the pause button on the healing, and he refuses to be compartmentalized. He knows that one should not separate the physical, social, spiritual and political aspects of life. He sees the big picture, for himself and for others. His ministry was holistic, and part of that ministry was to proclaim God’s vision of a Beloved Community for everyone, no exceptions.
And so, I ponder this. As we seek to understand our mission in the beloved community, where will we hear God speaking? Where do we go to get the reliable advice we need? These ancient stories seem a good place to start: today’s readings tell us to look around at all God has given, sing God’s praise, give back extravagantly, and remember the biggest most inclusive picture of love you can imagine.
From Isaiah to today: may our eyes and ears be open to what has been told to us from the foundations of the earth. Amen
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