Monday, February 09, 2009

Audio from Sunday, Feb. 8

Jim Brior reads the Scripture.

Sermon from Sunday, Feb. 8

Based on Mark 1:29-39.

This text starts off as a continuation of last week’s text where Jesus was healing in the context of a regular synagogue service. If you remember, Jesus started the service in the usual way, by teaching, but his listeners realized that he spoke in an uncommon way, with uncommon power and authority. And then there was a man with an evil spirit who tried to disrupt the service, but Jesus cast out the evil spirit and it further demonstrated Jesus’ authority. People began to realize that Jesus really did possess some sort of special connection with God because the healing made it quite obvious. Now the service is over and immediately they go to Simon’s house for an excellent post-church meal. We know that all food tastes better right after church, right? You’re all hungry and in the right frame of mind. Simon’s mother-in-law has been working on a feast for them there but when they arrive home, they find to their shock that she has gotten sick, in bed with a fever.

Jesus sees this and decides he can also heal this woman, and so we read that he takes her by the hand and he lifts her up and heals her. And by this time the secret is out about Jesus, at least in this little town it is, and so the town has all gathered around. They’re lined up outside Simon’s door 5 and 6 deep. Verse 33 says, “The whole city gathered outside his door.” And this was probably not literally true, but I’m sure it felt that way. And I’m sure they sat in that house and thought, “Okay, today’s been interesting. We started today anonymous, a young teacher and four followers, and now we’ve got the whole city outside our door, everybody wants a piece of us, everybody knows we’ve got the keys to something special.” And there’s something exciting about that.

So Jesus and the disciples go outside and greeted their public. We read that he cured many people who were sick, and that he also cast out many more demons. And not only did he cast the demons out, he also made ‘em shut up when he did. And Jesus and his friends—man, they were rock stars right then. And his four disciples—remember, he hasn’t called the other 8 yet, so it’s Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John—are thinking, man, we did the right thing when we left those fishing boats behind. If we hadn’t gone with this guy, we’d be back on our stupid boats spending the cold mornings mending nets and gutting fish. But this, man, we could get used to this life. They are loving the attention and the affection of the crowd. After everybody gets healed and the crowds dispersed, I just imagine the five men going in the house, sitting around with a few beverages and just chilling. I imagine Simon and Andrew patting Jesus on the back saying, “you were great man! How did you do that stuff?” I imagine James and John rubbing his head like young men do with each other and saying, “How’d you do that stuff? Tell me your secret. I wanna know what you know.”

I also imagine Jesus not being real interested in the conversation, being slightly uncomfortable with all the attention, and eventually just saying, “You know what guys? I need to get some shuteye,” and going to bed. The day was just as much a whirlwind for him, but I don’t imagine it energizing him as much as it seemed to energize the other guys; this wasn’t just a show for Jesus, but it was a difficult encounter with actual needy and oppressed people. These weren’t just nameless faces out there to Jesus, but people afflicted with real illnesses, with real demons, demons that wished him ill. These people weren’t just a chance for him to do some neat tricks, but real people, people who all of the sudden, because he has taken on flesh, he can only help one at a time. It’s one thing to watch the guy with all the power and think, “that would be so cool…” and it’s another thing to be the guy with all the power who has so much responsibility, so much authority…

I’ve come to understand this a little bit as a pastor, this sense of being overwhelmed with people’s needs. A pastor’s job description is varied enough that there is no person in the world who can be good at all of it—a good pastor is adept at consoling the sick, giving counsel to the dying, an excellent and dynamic preacher, an effective teacher, a swell organizer, a charismatic vision-caster and a pretty good cook for those church dinners. And sometimes you look at that and you think, “Wow, that’s so many needs, so many expectations.”

But of course it is not only pastors who occasionally feel overwhelmed—it is all Christians who feel overwhelmed at our calling. Look at the world—turn on the TV if you want a start—and see all of the needs! There are fires in Coatesville and starving children in Africa and broken families and racism all over our nation and hunger in our nation’s cities and rural areas and suburbs, and in the midst of all these needs there are all these subtle reminders that we, Christians, are the ones who are supposed to be doing something about it. “You are the light of the world,” said our savior himself, Jesus, just as he had once said that he was the light of the world, now we are the light of the world. We hear the modern writers: “you are the only Jesus that most people will ever meet.” “Your life is the only Bible most people will ever read.” “Jesus has no hands but our hands.” And with each phrase like that our frustration mounts: so many issues to address, all of them valuable, all of them reasonable, all of them worthwhile but we simply cannot do all of these things. Like Jesus looking out at the crowd 5 and 6 deep, we wonder whose needs we can meet and whose needs we cannot meet simply because we can’t do everything. We know what Jesus was feeling because we feel it too—so many needs, and our humanness keeps us from meeting them all.

So they all go to sleep and all the disciples are buzzing. They can’t sleep so well but eventually they fall asleep—and like most young men, they sleep late. But when they wake up the next morning, they see a bunch of other people outside just waiting to be healed. And they think, “Oh yeah, it’s happening again. Let’s get Jesus up and let’s get started healing and casting out demons,” and they go into Jesus’ room to wake him up so they can go re-start the party.

But there’s a problem—Jesus isn’t there. Apparently Jesus had gone off by himself to pray. He went to a deserted place, a place alone, while it was still dark, where he could be by himself, and he just wanted to talk to God. Who knows why exactly? Who knows what he said exactly? Scripture tells us what he prayed toward the end of his earthly life, in the Garden of Gethsemane. But we don’t know at all what he prayed here, at the beginning of his earthly ministry. Odds are Scripture doesn’t tell us because it’s really not the words he said which were so important—it was the time and the place, which suggested withdrawing from society even if that meant getting up at the crack of dawn to do so. And Simon and the three other disciples went out to find him, to track him down and they find him, and they say, “Everybody is looking for you.” “Susie’s sick, Donnie’s got a demon, so aren’t we going to go back and do the whole rock-star-magical-healing thing we did yesterday?” Aren’t we going to go back and save the world and do that whole thing we did? Ummm….Jesus? Aren’t you gonna come back now?

And Jesus’ response is sort of yes, sort of no—yes, we’re going to go and do some more healing but we’re not going to go do that back in Capernaum, but we’re going to take this on the road a little bit, we’re going to go to other towns in Galilee to spread this word wider because this is what I came to do.

I think Jesus’ actions and response here are very interesting. When he is confronted with all this human need, he recognizes that to sort all of this out he needs to be alone with God. This is important, and all too often it’s something we forget about when we are pressed with human needs. It is tempting to all of us to be activists, but if we are activists without knowing what we should be activists about, we will not be most useful to what God is doing in the world. We’ll be working hard but not truly useful.

But Jesus also recognizes that his desire to go off and be by himself with God is not the final stage. Prayer is good and we must pray—but we must pray so that we may be changed to go out and serve the world. Immediately after prayer, do you see how Jesus was again confronted with the immediate problems of the world? Simon comes in and says, “Everybody’s looking for you.” Is this true? Not exactly. Not everyone is looking for him. But Simon is reflecting here his own anxiety—it seems like everyone to Simon because the need is so urgent, so pressing. And he passes that anxiety on to Jesus—come on! You gotta do something! Everyone is out there waiting for you. He desperately wants Jesus to come back, to relieve the tension.

You have to be brave to stand up to the anxiety of that. And you have to have your wits about you—if you don’t want to do what hundreds of anxious people want you to do, you have to have a sense of composure that can only come from a firm knowledge of what God wants you to do. And this is what Jesus has. After he has spent this time with God in prayer, he sees clearly what he has been called to do. And he says, “we’re not going back, but we’re going to go to the neighboring towns”—why?—because that is what I came out to do. Prayer, re-connecting with His Father, deepening that level of intimacy: this gives him the strength and the wisdom to do what is right, to follow his calling even in the midst of all this anxiety, all this hubbub.

Remember that we are in the season of Epiphany in the church, and that we are talking about different ways Jesus was revealed to us. In this text, Jesus is revealed to be a man of deep intimacy with His Father, a man whose heart beat with the pulse of God, a man who knew His father and his father knew him. When you read of this kind of intimacy with God, it is impossible not to want it for yourself. Don’t you wish you had this same kind of intimacy with God that Jesus had?

Consider this: the Bible says it is possible. Consider that the language used for Jesus, “the Son of God,” is also used for us: “Look how much God loves us,” reads 1 John 3:1, “that we could be called the children of God—and this is what we are!” Look at the Lord’s Prayer and consider that we are to call God not “Great Lord, creator and master of the universe,” but simply, “Daddy.” Abba. As open and vulnerable to us as he could be. A daddy is ready for a relationship with the children he loves—trust me on this, I’ll tell you about it sometime—and God is that kind of available to us. Jesus reveals that kind of relationship made flesh, that kind of intimacy made tangible so that we can see it and have a model to shoot for.
We too can experience that sense of peace and that bold sense of calling.

And in Jesus, we get a picture of what that looks like. For one, it means not being overwhelmed at the amount of need out there. There are a lot of genuine needs—no one knew it better than Jesus. But he also knew that being overwhelmed by it was not helpful either; certainly he had a grasp of real deep pains that people felt but that the pains of the world would best be addressed by him living out his calling. This is an important point for us to grasp; often when we are confronted by needs, we run around like a chicken with our head cut off trying to meet all the needs, or at least going crazy that we can’t. But Jesus does not do this. He goes to another town, knowing full well that he is leaving behind people who are sick, people who need healing, people who have demons that he just can’t help now. Why? It’s simply not what he’s called to do. Just so—you can only address the problems in life that God has given you gifts to address. My good friend Pastor Tim just moved from Pughtown to Galveston, TX, to do full-time hurricane Ike relief. I have no idea how he does it. I couldn’t do it. I told him that. I felt stupid, like a fake Christian, like a cold-hearted Christian, around him and do you know what he said to me? I’ve told you this before. He said, “I couldn’t read books like you do and study worship like you do, and go to class like you do or write papers like you do.” Then I realized that I was using my gifts to the best of my ability for God’s good purposes and he was doing the same thing. And you know what? I feel less stupid. I feel less cold-hearted. Because he has his calling and I have mine; and the world’s a lot better off if he throws himself into his calling with his whole heart and I throw myself into mine with my whole heart than if we both tried to do everything. Now do I still have a lot to learn and does he still have a lot to learn? You bet. But we’re on the right track. Like Jesus, I’m learning to feel peace when I’m confronted with troubles that are simply not my calling to address. Do I feel for those issues? Yes, and I pray that God will raise up people to address them or help me to see some new way that I can address them. But I am learning that what God has given me is mine; and what God has given you is yours.

The other side of what I’m learning, though, is a boldness about what is my calling. Jesus discovered what his calling was and he followed it boldly. Even though as we shall see it was not an easy road, he had this unshakeable sense of what he was called to do. And so prayer is not only a time to sort out what we are not to do, but what we must do. Despite the fact that our callings are not always easy, there comes an unshakeable satisfaction when we know we are doing what we must do. And this is the kind of thing we can only know when we make an encounter with God a priority in our lives. Just like Jesus, it may mean getting up early in the morning, it may mean finding a place alone, it may mean doing what needs to be done to pursue this relationship with God. In your life, it may mean a step like making worship a priority, it may mean finding a way either in our church or outside our church to serve the community, to touch people with the love of Christ; it may mean rekindling your prayer life; it may mean an emotional turning-around, a simple saying, “This is enough, I’m tired of half-pursuing this Christian life, I want to pursue it with all my heart, all my mind and all my strength.” If you do this, you too will be better able to sort out the things you shouldn’t do from the things you must do.