The Metropolitan Congregation

- serving and celebrating the LGBT communities of Manchester and the North West

Sermon - 8th February 2015

Memory and Gratitude

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

Revd Andy Braunston

[An audio version of this sermon is available in mp3 format via the link on our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.] 


One of the things that has struck me, with some alarm, is that the older I get the more I find my memory isn’t as reliable as it once was.  I used to pride myself on the way I could remember names and faces and something about another person.  In my ministry so far I have found that many people may pop in for a time to my church, wander off and come back some months – or even years later – (which is quite infuriating when you’re hoping to help God build up the Kingdom in my little bit of the church!) – but I used to be really good at remembering their names, now it’s all a bit of a blur.  JK Rowling in her Harry Potter books has the older characters emptying their memories into a Pensieve in order to make more room as their heads get full the older they get; so that’s my excuse!  This capacity to forget, however, isn’t just a facet of creeping middle age – it’s something all too human.  We find it very easy to forget and this capacity is seen in both our readings today.


We listen to the passage from Isaiah and are struck by its poetry and its beauty.  We realise it reflects much of what we believe and know about God – it’s an easy passage to read if all is going well with us and the world.  It’s easy to applaud God when our lives are going well, when we have what we need and when we don’t have any worries. 

Yet this passage wasn’t written for a comfortable successful group of people.  It was written in the bitterness of Exile.  The Jewish leaders and most of the middle classes had been carted off to Babylon following Israel’s disastrous involvement in foreign affairs.  Now Israel was laid waste and the elite living in Exile so they wouldn’t be a threat to Babylon again.   The people had been forced from their homes, scatted as the Temple was laid waste and become refugees living as strangers in a strange land.  They were living with all the depression and hopelessness that comes from living as a refugee {which many in this congregation know too well}.

As the people try to make sense of their predicament they conclude that God has forgotten them.  This week Stephen Fry gave his views about God in an interview with veteran Irish TV host, Gaye Byrne.  Byrne is a committed Roman Catholic, Fry is a Jew who has given up the practice of his faith.  Stephen Fry looks at the evil in the world, the reality of sickness and concludes that God cannot be there – he’s also not impressed by what he’s read of God in the Bible and, no doubt by the attitudes of many who do believe in God.  He’s not so far from those people living in Exile long ago that concluded that God had lost interest in them. 

Yet the Biblical view of God is that He is close at hand – immanent to use the theological term.  To hold that God has sat back and not got involved with humanity is a pagan idea that is far removed from the Biblical view of a God who is intimately bound up in creation and with our loves and lives.  As Isaiah proclaims in today’s passage God both sits above the earth and, at the same time, is the shepherd who gently claims, gathers and carries us.  God is both “up there” and “in here”.  God is both close at hand and supreme over creation.  God is concerned with the heavens, and the deepest aspects of our lives. 

In the midst of captivity, depression and exile the Jewish people needed to be reminded of God’s care and concern for them even in the midst of disaster.  They needed to be reminded of what they knew to be true – just as sometimes I need to be reminded of the name of a long lost parishioner.  Isaiah’s point is that even in our darkest hour we cannot, or at least should not, forget who God is.  Even when we’re totally self-absorbed in our own problems, we need to be reminded that God is God.

The Jews must have been tempted to see their captors as the ones with the power, the ones who were in charge, the ones who were sovereign.  They were wrong, God is God; God is sovereign.  When we are depressed, self-absorbed, focused on our own problems we are tempted to forget God’s sovereignty and think our problems are what reigns supreme, that our problems are what demands our attention.  In those situations we, also, are wrong.  God is God.  God is sovereign. 

St Mark

The sovereignty of God – and in particular God working through Jesus Christ is seen in our Gospel reading which follows on immediately from the reading set for last week.  We’re still in the first chapter of St Mark’s fast paced Gospel and Mark shows God’s power at work in Jesus in the way that he exorcises and heals.  These happen so fast and so often in Mark that we almost miss them.  Today’s episode happens as Jesus leaves the Synagogue – where he has just exorcised a man and as he enters Simon’s home. 

We read this passage now and get a bit bothered by the apparent sexism of the text.  Not only does Simon’s mother-in-law respond to her healing by getting on making dinner but we don’t even know her name.  Maybe Mark didn’t know it, maybe he didn’t think it was important to include, but to us it looks rather odd and we’re tempted to react rather strongly to the passage.  However, in our understandable reaction to this poor woman getting up and having to look after the men we miss something deeper going on – she makes no demands of Jesus unlike Simon.

The unnamed mother-in-law has been restored to health and, as a good Jewish woman, she remembers her obligation to be hospitable.  In Jesus’ time, as in many cultures around the world, there is an obligation to provide hospitality.  She does this without fuss.  Maybe it’s her way of thanking God for all that has been done for her.  Maybe she realises that she has been blessed so that she can become a blessing to others.

Simon, on the other hand isn’t recorded as going to help his mother-in-law or, presumably, his wife.  Instead he accepts the hospitality as his right.  Later in the passage he will see it as Jesus' job to serve up some more healing to an anxious crowd rather than to serve them himself.  If only he had learned from the example of his mother-in-law. This is no woman bowing to cultural convention and keeping in her restricted place as a servant; this is a disciple who quietly demonstrates the high honour of service for those who follow Jesus.

We can read this as another example of women being put down by men or we can read it as the woman knowing what’s really going on.  She remembers the obligations of her faith.  She remembers what God requires.  Simon, the one whom Jesus will call the rock on whom the Church is to be founded, doesn’t get it and sees his role as nagging Jesus and making demands on him. 

And so?

We look at the Isaiah passage and marvel at how Isaiah dared to remind the people of the duty they owed God even in the midst of their despair.  We read the Mark passage and marvel at how Simon’s unnamed mother-in-law remembers her duty, as a faithful disciple, to serve even if her son doesn’t.  We read and we wonder what we need to remember.

When we are feeling low and overwhelmed with our problems, do we stop and praise God?  It sounds odd but if we do that and lift our focus from ourselves to God our problems are put into perspective.

When we are feeling like we need to tell others what to do, do we stop and remember to serve like Jesus who came not to be served but to serve?

We know we need to do these things but we may need to remind ourselves of this more often – just as the Jewish people of old needed Isaiah to remind them.


(Andy Braunston)

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