February 4, 2018 – Epiphany 5B
Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
The news that a charismatic, young rabbi had come to Capernaum spread quickly throughout the region. Jesus had visited the synagogue there on Saturday morning as a guest teacher, and the congregation was most impressed. In the middle of his talk, a man who was possessed by a demon started shouting strange things about him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?…I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” At first, the members of the synagogue just stared at each other, wondering who would step in and take care of the disturbance, but then Jesus intervened and rebuked the evil spirit, which cried out in a loud voice as it left the man. Amazement spread throughout the congregation. “What is this?” they remarked to one another. “A new teaching—with authority!”
Surely one or two of them whispered something about the sabbath and how this rabbi had performed the exorcism at a time when the Law of Moses said it was forbidden. The collision of two competing dispensations—the God-given power to heal and the God-given mandate to rest—was as exhilarating as it was confusing. The strange combination of emotions and the fact that people did not know exactly how they were supposed to feel in the presence of this power ensured that the story of the controversial healing spread like wildfire.
Not wanting all of that attention, Jesus and his disciples slipped away from the synagogue and went to Simon’s house. Normally, his mother-in-law prepared a fine Saturday dinner, but she was in bed with a fever. Realizing that his rabbi and other companions would be expecting an afternoon meal, Simon apologized that the offering would be simpler than usual. “Usually, my wife’s mother makes an excellent brisket,” he explained, “but she hasn’t been feeling well of late.” It may have been the thought of a good meal that sent Jesus back into her bedroom, but, whatever the reason, he did not hesitate, taking her by the hand and lifting her up, healing her immediately of her illness. So thorough and instantaneous was Jesus’ restorative touch that Simon’s mother-in-law set straight away to entertaining her guests.
An hour or so after the meal was finished, there was a knock at the door. Simon went and opened it, and his jaw dropped at what he saw. There were at least a hundred people gathered outside. They had been assembling for over an hour, and, as soon as the sun disappeared below the horizon, signifying that the sabbath was over, the first in line knocked on the door to see if the visiting rabbi was still there. Someone had been fairly certain that he had seen Jesus and his disciples duck into that small house on the corner, and, from there, the news travelled fast. “Um, Jesus?” Simon called out toward the room where the rabbi was reclining. “You’d better come and see this.”
For hours, Jesus healed those who came to the door. Children had brought their parents, and parents their children. Husbands and wives had brought their spouses. Neighbors had brought their friends. Dozens upon dozens of people crowded in to see if Jesus would heal their loved ones. There were fevers and palsy and dropsy. Some were blind or deaf. Some were lame. Several were possessed by demons. And Jesus healed one after another after another, taking time to look his patients in the eye and listen to their complaints. Perhaps he could have simply waved his arm over the multitude and healed them all at once so that he could go back inside and get some rest, but Jesus knew that the people needed more than a cure. They needed the healing touch that only he could give them. Long after it had grown late, hours after everyone had grown tired, Simon waved his hands and said to those who remained in the crowd, “Come back tomorrow. It’s late. The rabbi needs to rest. We all need to rest. Go home and come back in the morning.”
But, when they came back, Jesus wasn’t there. As soon as it was light, Simon got up, rubbing his eyes and recalling how late they had all gone to bed. He went to open the windows and door to let air through the house, and he saw the crowd, already waiting for Jesus. He spun around to see if the rabbi had gotten up from his pallet, and there was his blanket, neatly folded, but Jesus was nowhere to be seen. Simon stuck his head in all the rooms, asking if anyone had seen the rabbi, but it quickly became clear that Jesus had left before anyone was awake to notice. So Simon went back out front and said to the crowd, “He’s not here. He’s…well, I don’t know where he went. But I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
No one moved an inch at Simon’s words. The disciples got up and washed their faces and hands, saying their morning prayers, and then they set out, hunting for Jesus. They knew the kind of place where their master liked to go for some quiet prayer, and they found him in such a spot among the hills outside the town. “What are you doing here?” they said to him. “Everyone in the town is searching for you. People have come from all over. There are many more who want to be healed. Quick, we’ve got to go back. There’s no time to waste. We’ve got a full day ahead of us.” But Jesus seemed not to hear them. “Jesus?” Simon said, wondering what his rabbi was thinking. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns,” he answered them, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
As a church, we wake up every morning and hunt for Jesus. We search for him because we want him to validate the work that we are doing. We want him to join our efforts to feed hungry children and heal the uninsured and tutor those who otherwise would go home in the afternoon to empty houses and teach their parents how to speak English. We are doing good work—godly work—and we don’t want Jesus to leave before the work is finished. But the truth is that there will always be hungry children in Decatur. There will always be individuals who slip through the cracks of our health care system. There will always be more students who need tutoring and more immigrant parents who are desperate to learn English. But Jesus isn’t hanging around any longer. He setting out for a new town, for a new school, for a new clinic, for a new church. And he’s asking us to go with him.
“Let us go on to the next place so that we may bring the good news there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Our church does a lot of good in this town, but we aren’t in the doing-good business; we’re in the good news business. All of the good that we do is a testament to the good news that we share: that God’s transformative love has come to the world in Jesus Christ so that all people—rich and poor, brown and white, privileged and oppressed—might find a place in God’s kingdom. That’s why we spend all of this money and give all of this time carrying out these ministries: to show people a glimpse of the hope that God has come to give them—a hope that will long outlast our efforts. And, as followers of Jesus, our calling is always to take that transformative hope with us to the next place where God’s kingdom is waiting to break through.
Yes, of course, we will continue doing all of the good that we already do, but we cannot stop there. We cannot stay where we are. We must move on to the next place, to the next school, to the next need that is ripe for the saving news of the gospel. Where will that be? Will we take Homework Helpers to another elementary school like West Decatur? Or will we take that work to the next level and partner with a middle school like Oak Park? Will we reach out to other congregations across the city and help them establish their own programs until every at-risk student in the district gets the help he needs and the food he needs and the opportunity he needs to fulfill the dream that God has for him?
Several years ago, we made the mistake of confusing the building that is Episcopal Center for the work that happens inside of it. We cared more about getting credit in the community for what we had already done than using the capacity that we had developed to take the work of the kingdom to the next big project, and it made us look like hypocrites. Let us not make that mistake again, especially now that we are in the middle of a building project. Sure, there is plenty of good work to be done right here on this city block, within these very walls, but Jesus won’t let us stand still. The need waiting just over the horizon is too great. There are others who need to know that, despite all of the forces of evil that are working against them, God is on their side. Who will tell them? Who will show them the transformation that God has promised in Jesus Christ? Will we? Will we have the courage to stretch beyond ourselves and take the good news to whatever next place needs to hear it?