Praise the Holy One, my soul; all my inmost being, praise God’s holy name.
Praise the Holy One, my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits—who forgives all your errors, heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Jesus and the disciples went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead the one who was healed went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, you open the doors of this new year for us; give us the wisdom and grace to accept this gift, and to be open to your presence in our lives. Bless us that we may perceive and appreciate your love in our lives. In all your names, amen.
Jesus begins his ministry by selecting his first followers, the first disciples. He doesn't offer them miracles or angels. He simply says, to Peter and John and James, "come with me." And, amazingly, they do just that-- they drop their nets to go with him. He doesn't perform miracles for them, he doesn't give them promises of riches or power--he just says, "Come."
We hear this story so often that I think we have become a bit numb to how amazing this really is. Would you follow someone who simply looked at you and smiled and said, "Come with me, and I will have you fishing for people?" Would you get up and walk away from your desk, put down your tools--whether they are wrenches or computers, chalk or a book--and go off with him, leaving your family behind, all that you knew--to go with this odd man who made no promises and yet had so much to give; this man who could cast out demons and evil spirits, comfort and heal--even leprosy--one of the hardest diseases to treat without antibiotics, and an illness to be feared in Jesus' day. And still is today in many parts of the world.
This is the man you are following--this carpenter (probably) from the medium sized and unremarkable town of Nazareth, who has wisdom and knowledge beyond his upbringing and environment.
As we move through Epiphany, this season between Christmas and Lent, we come to the realization--which is what an epiphany is, a sudden realization of a truth--that this Jesus person was unlike any other person who ever lived. We will hear about the cures he effected, the people he fed, his wise words--the doing of his ministry.
You know, the liturgical colour for the season of Ordinary Time, as the Sundays between Epiphany and Lent are called, is green--for growth, against what we see in the natural world this time of year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's colder, we usually have a lot of that stuff we won't name, but which starts with an s and ends with a w; this is not the time of year we associate with growth and development.
But it certainly can be. I tend to think of this time as the reflective, contemplative time of year--a time to sit with a mug of tea and think about the year just past and the year to come; what to change and what to keep; what to add and what to pare away.
I have been thinking and reading a lot recently about New Year's resolutions. They are rarely kept, unless you make one like a friend does, who every year declares she resolves not to become a neurosurgeon... Many people are suggesting that rather than resolutions, we look at our life as a whole, and decide what we want to maintain in our lives and what needs to be cleared out. New Year's resolutions tend to be about specific behaviours we want to change--exercise more, quit smoking, call your mom more often--but psychologists will tell you that it is very difficult to simply change behaviour. The better course is to look at the underlying causes and reasons, and work on those instead, as addiction counsellors can attest. Why don't I exercise more? I can come up with a lot of excuses--the gym is too expensive, the weather's bad, I feel awkward in exercise clothes, I don't have time--but the reality is that I see exercise as wasted time--whether it is or not is another question--and that keeps me from a regular exercise program. But if I can change the way I think about exercise--as a time for thought and contemplation, keeping my body working while my mind is free to wander--then I am more likely to exercise, especially if I am walking or doing yoga rather than weight-lifting in the gym.
We aren't told about what happened to the people Jesus healed. We don't know if they became followers or not. We don't know if they stayed healed or not.
But we do know that Jesus was present for them in a way that healed them--that gave them the opportunity for a new life.
So as we stand at the threshold of a new year, I urge you to review 2015--your 2015. What worked? What didn't? What things are you regretting or finding a burden instead of a joy, and why? What was wonderful, and why? Instead of a list of behaviours, create a description of your ideal life--and the whys of it--and use that as a guide in the coming year. When you are offered an opportunity--for a new job, or a social event--measure it against that ideal life. What do you need to add or take away to have your ideal life? Maybe a reconciliation with someone, or maybe letting go of trying when the other person doesn't want to; maybe it is finding time and space for creativity--remodeling your home, writing a blog, painting, gardening.
These are things we can change. We are unlikely to have Jesus come to town and heal us, or stand before us and say, "Come with me." But we can recognize the healing, the changes we want in our lives, and make them happen. That is far better than easily ignored resolutions about smoking and exercise--because we will be examining who we really are and who we want to be. You can find lots of resources online--google "Rule of Life."
When we do this, we are on the path to healing; Jesus is with us on the path, encouraging us as we make the changes.
2016 can be a year of profound growth and change for us--if we are willing to be healed. In all God's names, amen.