DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
A sermon for 1 February 2015 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany
Click here to read scripture first: Mark 1:21-39 (NRS)
I grew up in a pretty small town so I can imagine the talk about Jesus going on back home. As the ladies of Nazareth gathered each day to go fetch water from the local well, can’t you just hear them cackling away: “And what in the world has gotten into Joseph and Mary’s boy? Thirty years old and he still hasn’t settled down. Is that boy ever going to commit? Out at the Jordan River near Jerusalem. Did you hear he went missing for something like 40 days? Who knows what in the world he was off doing!” Another one pipes in: “I hear he’s been hanging around the sea. Over near Capernaum at the northeastern corner of the district.” And another: “Well, what’s he going to do there on the edge of nowhere – or to everywhere beyond Israel, if he dared venture out of our land. I knew Mary wouldn’t make a proper Jewish mother what with her being pregnant during their betrothal and all.” Another woman jumps in: “If he was my son there’d be none of this racing all over Galilee stirring up the people. We need him back home tending his daily chores.” And another: “Some say he’s busting into synagogues everywhere talking about some sort of good news he’s heard from God. And my cousin in Capernaum claims he’s been healing on the Sabbath – breaking all the rules just so some woman could get up and feed him and his friends. After that, so many sick folks were brought to him, he had to get out of town fast.” Then back to the one who brought up Jesus in the first place: “O poor Mary. She deserves a grandson from that firstborn of hers but with the way he’s parading from town to town, I’m afraid she’d never meet him anyway.”
At least that’s pretty much how I imagine it’d go – you may imagine it differently.
Things are changing, but for most of human history, a whole lot of people believed we were supposed to be born. Grow up in our parents’ home. Get a job and settle down somewhere next door to your family to perpetuate the cycle. It’s the safe route to take. The secure one. Until interstates in America, we didn’t need government welfare programs because families took care of one another. They had to – they couldn’t easily get anywhere else. . . . It was how it was supposed to be in Jesus day too. Typical for multiple generations to live together under one roof. It’s not that a son and his wife and kids had no private space to themselves. When a boy got married, they just could have another room tacked on the sprawling village home that typically had a common courtyard with various rooms off it for things like the family’s animals, a kitchen, and spots for daily tasks. There likely would be a large room for eating and separate sleeping quarters – one for each family within the larger, extended family. Pretty much, sons stayed with their parents and daughters went to live with their husband’s family. Each person pitched in to take care of daily things like patching clay roofs, raising crops, grinding wheat, weaving cloth, and tending children and animals. A household was much more independent as a unit than we, individualized Americans are today. Together they settled in to take care of the necessary tasks of life. (See details in Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh, pp. 40-45.)
You weren’t supposed to go off on your own – not just to one other village but to them all, as Jesus proposes to Peter after his first few days in Capernaum. No sooner does he call his first disciples, than he shows up in the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath. A man with an unclean spirit – we’re not really sure what medical diagnosis. Perhaps something like a modern-day paranoid schizophrenic, he’s shouting at Jesus to stay away. Jesus is going to catch a lot of flack for it, because he ends up doing it so often; nonetheless, Jesus heals the man. Going about twenty paces from the synagogue into Peter’s large home, Jesus finds the bedroom of Peter’s mother-in-law to lift her up out of her fever. Again on the Sabbath. Even if some think he’s breaking rules, Jesus knows that Sabbath was made for restoration. And so he’s doing exactly that. One author writes: “Jesus’ favorite day to heal and restore was the Sabbath. He deemed that day most appropriate. . . . He’s liberating. . . . What Jesus does has nothing to do with work as it’s commonly conceived” (The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan, IBooks, pp. 188-189). He explains: “These are men and women, real people, with stories and histories, with hopes and sorrows. Jesus sees them, and in that moment of seeing, the other issues at hand dissolve. Jesus becomes single-minded in his purpose: he means to restore” (Ibid., p. 182).
It’s why he won’t stay in one place. Though the ladies back home might want him to settle down, though Peter and Andrew, and James and John too, might want to remain in their comfy homes; Jesus intends to be on the go. “Let us go on,” he says after a time of discernment in a few stolen moments alone in prayer. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:38). The word he has, the healing in his touch, is much bigger than one village can contain. All over the world, hurting people need him. In every corner of every town, he knows there are others who long too to hear the good news of God’s love for all. Before it’s said and done, his instructions will be to go and do likewise. From Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Acts of the Apostles records (Acts 1:8). He expects his followers not to settle in in one place for one exclusive group of people. It’s out he sends us. To be as on the go as he was.
Somewhere along the way, we as the church in America overlooked that message. Remember the good ole’ days when we could just give money to brave souls who would travel to exotic lands to be disciples of Christ as those who told the good news to people there who we assumed had never heard? Well, today in the United States of America, it’s entirely possible that your neighbor across the street has never heard of the unconditional love of God – even if they call themselves Christians. Never experienced the good gift of community that supports you when you’re down, and lovingly challenges you when you’re stuck in your own ways, and spurs you on to be as kind and gracious to everyone else you meet as God has been to us. All the statistics say that they out there are longing to belong, but they’re not about to come in here. They’ve heard too many horror stories, or have experienced them themselves, of finding something other than grace among the church of Jesus Christ. We’ve got too much of a history of sticking to ourselves and tending to our own – settling in with each other in our predictable daily routines. Not that there’s anything wrong with sticking together and taking care of one another. That’s pretty much the kind of covenantal love God’s always been about. It’s just that Jesus knows too many beyond our little circles are dying inside. They’re trapped in lives stuck on themselves instead of finding the deep meaning of life that comes when freely, like Christ, we give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Like a little child tugging on your arm when they’re ready to move on, Jesus persistently tugs us along to be as on the go as him. To look for those out there who need the words of life: that to God, they are precious and chosen and created for great thanksgiving! Forgiven and freed to jump out of their misery as fast as Peter’s mother-in-law does to serve the One who came to serve.
The on the go Christ is calling us all to be as on the go as him. Wherever we are, whoever crosses our path, to be God’s gracious gift to them that gives witness to the new life already begun in Christ.
May it be so . . . each of us always for Christ, on the go.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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