postmodern preaching

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany Year B

  • Isaiah 40: 21-31

This stirring passage from Isaiah makes a sweeping claim: the Holy One created all that exists, remains deeply engaged and will guarantee not only creation’s survival, but its flourishing.  This ‘knowledge’ or testimony reinvigorates all who admit it– “those who wait upon the Lord.”  Even those who are world-weary will rediscover enthusiasm for life.  Singing this ‘hymn’ reminds those who sing it that God’s investment in creation is inexhaustible and renews the dis-spirited.

  • Psalm 147: 1-12, 21

“It is good to sing hymns to our God,” the psalmist begins.  The stanzas of the hymn he composes recall God as builder, as healer, as the One who maintains creation, and, just as vitally, the One who brings justice.  Those who sing this hymn “long for God’s kindness.”

  • I Corinthians 9: 16-23

Paul forgoes any privileges that might accrue to him because of his work and status in the early church.  He also explains how he used his unique status as a scholar trained in Torah and a Roman citizen to appeal to diverse constituencies.  He has made choices in his life so that he can freely share the goods news with anyone, at anyplace, at any time.

  • Mark 1: 29-39

Mark offers a narrative that shows exactly how Jesus’ influence/impact spread.  He heals one person, the mother-in-law of Simon Peter.  Word spreads and the neighbors show up at the front door with their needs.  Jesus heals and performs exorcisms freely, to “many.”  The next day, before everyone else is up, Jesus goes alone to pray.  The first four followers go looking for him to tell him even more people have shown up.  But Jesus says they must move on to more towns and villages so he can benefit even more people.

Generosity, inexhaustible generosity; a frenetic eagerness to share and benefit others; rushing from person to person and town to town; meeting the needs of people even before they are expressed; giving with no preconditions, indiscriminately; giving to others out of compulsion, rather than any strategy– these are the traits of Jesus that Mark’s narrative emphasizes.  If Jesus is the mirror of God, as his followers find, then everything Jesus said and did is totally consistent with all that was known about God.  The God of creation, the God of the psalmists and the prophets, is known by certain, unique traits: as the originator and consistent nurturer of creation and the guarantor of justice; the one who relentlessly and doggedly is accessible to anyone in need,  at any time, in any place; the God whose modus operandi is generosity.  Jesus strews “miracles” wherever he goes, in Mark’s narrative. 

Given the thrust of Jean-Luc Marion’s work, his regard for “miracle” should not come as a surprise. In the ‘economy’ of “giftedness” Marion identifies each person as “gifted.”  If we accept that identity and we see others as “gifted,” then we also ‘know’ that indeed all creation is “gifted.”  When an awareness of our “gifted” status as individuals and indeed all creation is so keen, the only word that fits is “miracle.”   Responding to Marion’s work, Emmanuel Falque quotes Marion–“…'[T]he miracle will no longer bare on a physical event, but on my consciousness itself.’   [“A Diue, rien d’impossible,” p. 49]– and continues: “The true miracle, according to Marion, is in this way a miracle of my consciousness, a lived experience in the conversion of my way of looking at things rather than in the things themselves.”  (Counter-Experience: Reading Jean-Luc Marion, p. 192)  As the text of Isaiah discovers: it is the ‘knowledge’ we choose to ‘know’ or the testimony we choose to make or the ‘song’ we choose to sing  that can renew, reinvigorate, re-invest in life.  Just as the text of Isaiah testifies that God, who is “unsearchable,” can be known as “creator,” “healer,” and the One who “sustains,” and, as the psalmist adds, the One who brings justice, so Mark’s text introduces Jesus as a “healer” and one who has power over all other powers.  Awareness/acceptance of relentless goodness and generosity, which places me and everyone in the position of unexpected beneficiary, feels truly ‘miraculous’.  If we choose to ‘sing’ this song, to make this testimony, we discover that the miracle is not so much something that happens to us, but in us– “on my consciousness itself.”


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