February 7, 2021


Isaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39

“Take My Hand”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a reflection for The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website that was inspired by today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah. Some of you may have read that reflection or watched the video.

I talked about feeling tired lately. Not tired in a physical sense, as I’m still getting enough sleep and exercise, and I’m eating well. But I’m tired of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I miss seeing all of you, and sharing hugs and potluck meals. I miss hearing all your voices when we’re singing together, and breaking bread together at the Table of the Lord.

And I’m tired of worrying – about those of you who are sick, and those who are grieving, and those who are working on the front lines, and those that don’t seem to be staying as connected to the church community – the ones who likely aren’t watching this service today or reading this sermon.

I know that many of you are feeling tired too. Tired of trying to worship in your living room. Tired of balancing work and family life in a pandemic. Tired of being alone. Tired of being scared. Tired of waiting and hoping and longing to be able to make plans again.

My reflection noted that the arrival of the vaccines has given us some hope, but it hasn’t been the quick fix we may have been looking for. We still need to keep up our new practices of distancing and masking and washing, and we still need to wait through the slow process of getting everyone vaccinated before this terrible plague will come to an end.

It made me think of the Judean exiles in Babylon. Towards the end of nearly 60 years in captivity, in 539 BCE Cyrus captures the Babylonian Empire and suddenly the hope of return to Judea is real. Cyrus would allow the captives to return to their original homelands, and for the Judeans this was nothing less than a miracle from God.

But even as they receive this good news, it becomes clear that the people have doubts and concerns. There is a long way to go to make that journey home again. And what will they find when they get there? What new challenges will they face?

Undoubtedly, things won’t just be the way they once were. Second Isaiah discerns that the people doubt whether God is still with them. And even if God is there, they wonder if God has any more plans for them.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but the people are tired of walking, and they’re just not sure that they have the energy to keep on going. Can you relate to that feeling at this point in the pandemic?

If you’re feeling tired right now, you’re certainly not alone. They’ve even given this kind of weariness a name – Covid Fatigue. But as Christians, we know the ultimate source of our strength, our hope, and our power to endure. It is God alone who will raise us up to continue this journey.

Isaiah encouraged the weary exiles by reminding them that they were not alone:

“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.
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.”

Our story from the Gospel of Mark shows us what it looks like when God lives in the world with that never-ending source of energy, strength, and power to heal. Jesus, God’s presence in the flesh, goes from one person to the next – healing, helping, curing, proclaiming, and loving – hour after hour, and day after day.

Even after this particular day on which Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, followed by ALL who were sick or possessed with demons, and after that MANY who were sick with various diseases, he does not get a day off. Before long, they’re searching for him again, and he goes out preaching and casting out demons, encountering more individuals who reach out to him for help, and responding to their needs.

But even Jesus did take a break to think, to breathe, and to prepare. After a full day and a busy evening of ministry, he slept. And “in the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” It’s just one example of the many times in the Gospels that we see Jesus withdrawing from the crowds, and sometimes even from his friends, to seemingly centre himself in God and his identity and purpose as God’s son.

The break doesn’t seem to last long. In the very next sentence, Simon and his companions are hunting for Jesus and calling him back to the work. But at least Jesus gets a moment to breathe.

Over the last few days, I’ve taken a little time to breathe also – together with over a thousand Presbyterian Church educators and ministry folk from across the United States and Canada. We’ve been participating in the first ever online version of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators conference. We’ve been soaking up inspiration, getting new ideas and resources, and taking a break from our usual work to learn from others.

Now, I have to admit that it was more difficult to withdraw from daily work while attending a conference online. When you actually fly away in a plane to another city, stay in a hotel, and immerse yourself in an in-person conference, it kind of forces you to remove yourself from at least some of the demands of daily life. Attending from my own home meant that I did more multi-tasking and filling the break times with other work.

But in one of the plenary sessions, a variety of Christian leaders shared about how they are seeking out and receiving God’s sustaining presence and help in the midst of these difficult months – how they are taking time away from the demands of their vocations to breathe and pray and be strengthened for the work.

They talked about walking, resting, enjoying music, doing yoga, and spending time with God in prayer. They talked about asking for help, relying on others, and remembering that they are not alone in their particular role and work.

And in the middle of that final session, the plenary speaker, Amy Kim, invited us all to get up off our couches, and to dance. She played two lively songs, one after another, and for several minutes we just danced. Over a thousand Christian leaders across North America, taking several minutes to move, to breathe, and to dance together across the internet!

Amy then spoke about the need to get in touch with our bodies and take time to breathe, because, she said, the next thing we’re going to do is PUSH. Yes, she used the example of a woman who is about to give birth. She can’t just do it automatically. She needs to breathe. And ideally, she’s got others with her – a partner, a coach, a midwife – someone who holds her hand and breathes with her, and encourages her as she does the hard work of pushing that is needed.

You see, the message of this sermon is not simply that the pandemic has been hard, and you should be good to yourself and not feel guilty or bad about yourself for resting and taking a break. The message is not only that God never grows weary in comforting and healing you. But the message is that in Jesus Christ, God comes to take you by the hand and lift you up.

Did you notice what happened in the Gospel story when Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever and the disciples told Jesus about her. Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Yes, the healing and the help and the lifting up was for a purpose. She was strengthened so that she could do the work for which she was gifted and called. Jesus took her by the hand, not just to console her in her distress, but to lift her up and enable her to be a blessing in the world, to participate in God’s work of ministry.

When we’re feeling tired, sometimes we do need to rest. But if the pandemic and its impacts have caused us so much discouragement that we have just laid down with no plans for getting up again, then we need to call out for help. Call out to our family members, to our friends, to our church. Ask for the help we need, and reach out for the hand that is coming to lift us up again.

Because God does not grow weary. Jesus is near, and he is reaching out a hand to each of us when we can’t find the strength within ourselves. That hand might look like mine some days, or the hand of a church friend, a neighbour, or a family member. We need each other in these days, helping us to breathe, encouraging us to push, and lifting each other up so that we can do our part in Jesus’ ministry in the world.

May Jesus come to you today, taking you by the hand. And may the fever of these days leave you, so that you may serve with energy and courage.