Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Not Stay Put?

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

In the days and weeks following Epiphany, we go back to the beginning and hear about how Jesus got his start in public ministry. On Sunday, it began with the baptism, and, in today's gospel lesson in the Two-Year Eucharistic Lectionary (Mark 1:29-39), we read about some of Jesus' early healings. The only miracle before this passage was the healing of a man with an unclean spirit, which, to the horror of the religious authorities, Jesus performed on the sabbath. As soon as they left the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples came to Simon's house, where Jesus performed his second miracle by raising Simon's mother-in-law from illness so that she could serve the guests in her house. Today, however, I want to focus on what happened next.

That evening, at sunset, when the sabbath was over, a great crowd gathered at the door of Simon's house in search of Jesus. "The whole city," Mark tells us, came with their sick and demon-possessed, looking for healing and exorcism. Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they recognized who he really was.

Jesus, it seems, was a family practice doctor with some psychiatric training as well. Imagine being able to go to one physician for all of your needs. Can you imagine having an internist, dermatologist, gastroenterologist, orthopedist, obstetrician, gynecologist, urologist, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, psychologist, and psychiatrist all rolled into one? It today's medical culture, we bounce from one to another to another, getting each little part of us examined and treated. Perhaps in rural areas, there are still generalists who do a little bit of everything, but, even in the remotest parts of our country, individuals are sent driving to see a specialist when something serious crops up. Not with Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus "cured many who were sick with various diseases" as well as "cast out many demons."

Naturally, the practice of medicine was quite different in first-century Palestine. There were no otolaryngologists to speak of, but there were a variety of healers. Some were better than others, and some were known for particular things. If you had bad eyesight, you might go to this miracle worker. If you had bad gout, you might go to another. Jesus, however, wasn't practicing a pseudo-scientific art that he had learned as an apprentice. Jesus was and is the Great Physician. He heals us as only God can heal us--by making us whole.

Still, a part of me is surprised that Jesus didn't just stay put. With gifts like his--the ability to address any physical or mental or spiritual malady--why wouldn't you set up shop in one place and let the crowd come to you? This is just the beginning of his ministry, and already the entire city of Capernaum had heard about his talents. They flocked to his door. If you build it, they will come. Let the people come to him. Why pack up and move an operation like that from one town to another, where, again and again, he would need to establish himself as a master of the healing arts?

Early the next morning, when the disciples found Jesus alone and in a quiet place, they asked him why he had snuck off. "Everyone is searching for you," they said to him. "Your work is not finished. There are more sick people who need healing. Things are going so well. You can't stop now." But Jesus looked at them and said, "Pack it up. We're moving on. 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." And Jesus went from one place to another throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.

Why not stay put? Because Jesus did not come only to heal the sick whom he met. He came to heal all sickness. Why not set up shop and let the people come to him? Because God's work in Jesus is to meet us where we are--not to wait for us to come and find him. Jesus could have stayed in one place and healed everyone who came to him each day, every day, for his whole life. As word spread of this amazing healer, people would have come from all over to find him. His work would never have been finished. There would always be more people in line hoping for his miraculous touch. But, likewise, that work would never have been complete.

Jesus is the Great Physician. He is our healer. But the healing that he gives us is not merely a cure to an earthly ailment. Yes, sometimes Jesus does give us a miraculous healing from cancer or some other disease. Today's gospel lesson of healing is not merely a means to an end. Jesus confronts physical illness as well as the spiritual disease of sin. Jesus addresses our very mortality. Jesus attacks evil itself. In Jesus, God comes down to earth to bring true and lasting healing to creation. He makes all things whole. And he does that by seeking out the broken, the lost, and the marginalized. He accomplishes his work by searching for the sick, the friendless, and the needy. He brings healing by confronting the institutions of sin like greed, centralization of power, and preference for the privileged that have imprisoned God's people for all of human history. He does not wait for us in our sickness to find him. He comes and finds us. He brings us healing.

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