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Worship and Sermons
February 7, 2021

“Need a Lift?” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, February 7, 2021, Year B / Epiphany 5 –  Isaiah 40:21-31  •  Psalm 147:1-11, 20c  •  1 Corinthians 9:16-23  •  Mark 1:29-39

The big idea:  Jesus’ healing activity on the Sabbath points to the ultimate Sabbath when God’s dominion will relieve creation of all our struggles. 

Application:  God is at work through Jesus to raise us up to new life so we can follow him in lifting others up as well.


          By now, I suspect we have all heard the big news.  On Tuesday of this week, reports from Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney told us that Punxsutawney Phil, the famous weather prognosticator extraordinaire, emerged from his den, saw his shadow and retreated back inside.

          We all know that means:  6 more weeks of winter.  I almost missed this breaking news because I had forgotten that Tuesday was Ground Hog Day.  That spurred me to do a little digging on the Internet.  I happened upon a website called


          It turns out that there is more history to Ground Hog Day than I ever thought.  I was surprised to learn that it’s based on a Christian celebration that originated in the early church.  It’s called Candlemas Day. 


          Candlemas Day is February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas.  It marks the end of the Christmas-Epiphany season. 


It also marks the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple.  Christians observed this celebration by bringing their candles to worship for a blessing.  The blessing on these candles was thought to extend the light of Christ into their homes throughout the year. 


          In Europe, a tradition developed that the weather on Candlemas Day was a prediction indicating either that winter would continue, or it would give way to an early Spring.  An English Folk song went something like this:


If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.


          In Germany, another tradition developed.  On the day of Candlemas, a hedgehog, awakened from hibernation, was thought to predict the end of winter, depending on whether it returned to its burrow or not.


German immigrants brought this tradition with them here to Pennsylvania.  So began our tradition of Ground Hog day.  Each year, regardless of whether Phil sees his shadow or not, it’s a moment of levity in the depth of winter when we need it most.


          It occurred to me that this is the connection between Candlemas and Ground Hog day.  Both are a source of light and hope, a lifting of the spirit in the midst of a cold, dark season. 


That uplifting message of hope and light is what God conveys to his people through both Isaiah and Jesus.


Isaiah is speaking on God’s behalf to the exiles in Babylon.  He brings good news.  Their penalty has been paid.  Their punishment is over.  God is calling them to return home to Judah. 

But even just listening to Isaiah’s words makes the people tired.  God is asking them to travel 1,700 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem.  That’s the equivalent of walking from New York City to Denver.


Then, once they’ve arrived, they’ll have to rebuild the decimated city.  They’ll have to rebuild their homes.  They’ll have to rebuild their institutions, and they’ll have to rebuild their lives.


They are filled with doubt.  They doubt themselves and they doubt God.  They don’t think they have the energy to do what God is asking.  They aren’t so sure God can do it, either.


So, Isaiah reminds them that, unlike the Babylonian gods,  Yahweh created the heavens and the earth.  The same power he used at creation will now be focused on liberating them from bondage and forming them into a new creation.  


The weak and the faint, those who despair and those who doubt, will all be energized and transformed by God’s power to generate life.  They are not stuck in the darkness of exile.  God has come to lead them home and restore their lives.

Jesus also wields this power to regenerate life.  He uses it to restore the lives of those in need of healing and those dogged by demons.


He is coming straight from Sabbath worship, as we read last week.  It’s hard to say what impressed the people in the synagogue more:  the power of his teaching or the power of his exorcism.  The word about him spreads throughout the town.  Meanwhile, Jesus goes directly to Peter’s house.


There he heals Peter’s mother-in-law.  He literally “raises her up” so she can resume her role of serving. 


If we did not catch this before, we certainly know it now:  Jesus clearly has no compunction about violating the Jewish law.  Healing was considered work, and work was forbidden on the Sabbath.


Touching someone who is sick was also forbidden, as was touching an unrelated woman.  Doing all this on the Sabbath only compounded the offense.


This is exactly the sort of law-breaking behavior that sets Jesus at odds with the Pharisees.  He obviously understands the Sabbath very differently than they do!


To understand how he sees the Sabbath, we have to view this not from the perspective of the Pharisees, but from the perspective of those whom Jesus heals. 


To be ill in that culture carried a heavy personal and social cost.  Not only would a person be unable to earn a living and support a household, but their ability to fulfil their proper role in the community at large was also jeopardized.

In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus restored her to her role within the household.  Her role was honored by others and valued by her family.  It was a source of great pride for her.

So, not only did Jesus restore her to her family, he restored her to her life and her calling.  He did the same for all those who gathered at Peter’s door later in the day.  Jesus heals them all.  He casts out their demons as well.  And, in so doing, he restores them to their lives, to their calling and to their community.

You and I know what that must have felt like.  This past year, we have all been largely cut off from our community.  Some of us have lost jobs and loved ones as well. 


As a result, we have been deprived of the joy of participating in the day-to-day events and personal interactions that constitute our community life.  So, we can appreciate how good it felt to those whom Jesus restored.


Their experience suggests that Jesus saw the Sabbath as a reminder of the ultimate Sabbath, the day when he will return and raise us up.  On that day, he will restore us to our proper place in the community of the Kingdom of God, which is our true home.


There we can finally rest.  Our daily struggles against the difficulties of this life will cease.  We will no longer suffer decay, disease or even death.  We will be at home.  We will be at peace.


Until then, each and every Sabbath is a mini-Easter, a signpost pointing to the day of our resurrection, a celebration of God’s power to restore our lives and our place in God’s community.


Many of you have told me how much you miss being together, especially on Sundays.  I feel exactly the same way. 


I can’t think of a better reminder of what the Kingdom of God will be like than all of us being together in worship and then afterward for fellowship.  And if you’re used to the Gathering, then you know fellowship happens during worship, as well.


Sundays are a reminder that we, like Peter’s mother-in-law, have been raised up to new life and restored to our calling.  The form of that calling differs for each of us, but the nature of our calling is the same:  to serve others and restore them to life, just as Jesus has done for us.


The British New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright had exactly this thought in mind when he said:  “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”


Friends, we are a people on a mission.  Our mission is Christ’s mission.  Our calling is to make this world whole, and to make it more like the world to come.


But, like the exiles, we doubt our ability to do that, and, too often, we doubt God’s ability to do it, too.


That’s why we need regular reminders of hope, especially now in the midst of this awful pandemic.  Just like the Candlemas blessing creates hope by reminding us of Christ’s light shining in the darkness, so does our Sunday worship give us hope that we can shine with his light, too.  That we can tap into his power to restore our lives and the lives of those lost in the darkness of despair.


Nowhere is that light of hope more visible than in what we do right here at this table.


Eucharist is the very definition of Christian community. It joins us together with Christ and with all those who serve him. 


But the celebration of communion does not end at this table.  Christ’s body and blood give us strength.  And then Christ propels us out into the world to lift up those whom life has laid low.


We do that by caring for one another, listening to one another, showing compassion.  Often, all it takes is simply reaching out with a kind word and a listening ear.  Just knowing that we do not suffer alone is a real gift.


Do you know someone who needs that?  Someone who’s going through a dark time?   Somebody who could use a lift?


Just as you and I have been raised up to new life in Christ, so we can help lift them up, too. 


And then, together, we can make the journey to our ultimate home:  the Kingdom of God.


May it be so.




Last Published: February 9, 2021 2:41 PM
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