Luther Crest Bible Camp, Alexandria
February 8, 2015
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus has some “crowd control” problems as he begins his ministry here in Mark’s gospel.
Earlier (in last Sunday’s Gospel reading) he dealt with a heckler in a very public setting, Capernaum’s synagogue: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." (Mark 1:24)
The heckler, a demon-possessed man, speaks with a voice that comes straight from hell…surprisingly, acknowledging Jesus’ identity and naming Jesus as a threat to all the powers of darkness.
Jesus dispatches this heckler by exorcising his evil spirit.
Now in today’s gospel reading, Jesus leaves the public space of the synagogue to enter the private space of a house inhabited by his followers Simon Peter and Andrew.
Here in the intimacy of a dwelling evil rears its head once again, under the guise, not of demon-possession, but of a fever afflicting Peter’s mother in law.
We dare not underestimate the danger here. In the first century there were no anti-biotics or IV-drips, no “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” physician protocols. Fevers frequently killed!
So Jesus goes to the stricken woman, touches her, lifts her up off her sickbed—healed! She is restored so immediately, so completely that she’s able to rise up and resume her vocation of serving Jesus and his traveling companions.
News travels fast in Capernaum, though, the way news travels fast in our northwestern Minnesota communities. Garrison Keillor likes to say that people don’t read the Lake Wobegon newspaper to learn the news as much as they read it to confirm the news!
News of the healings of the demoniac and Peter’s mother-in-law travels so fast that by sundown the whole town has turned out, engulfing the home of Peter and Andrew. “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons…”
So Jesus’ “crowd control” problem now shifts from handling a heckler to dealing with the crush of a mob. Hands grab for him, arms reach out to him, rasping voices call to him.
But Jesus doesn’t shrink away from this swarm of sufferers. Jesus makes himself available to all of them.
This brings to mind a familiar scene from that long-running TV series M*A*S*H.
Remember when Drs. Hawkeye and Trapper John were in the operating room for four, five, six hours at a stretch?
After closing up wounds, suturing lacerations, stabilizing the seriously wounded….the two M*A*S*H surgeons would come out into the sunshine, squinting, exhausted—their hospital scrubs drenched in blood, sweat and tears.
That’s how Jesus might have appeared here in Capernaum, just outside the house of Andrew and Simon Peter.
So it is no wonder that after such an exhausting day, surrounded by persons clamoring for Jesus’ touch, he steals away very early the next morning. When it “was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
As a little Sunday School kid I was baffled by the notion that Jesus prayed. How could that be, if Jesus was himself God? When Jesus prayed, was he simply talking to himself?
It’s taken me six decades just to start to get a handle on that….to realize that the praying of Jesus reflected his dual identity as truly God and truly human. And the truly human side of Jesus needed to pray, the way you and I need to pray, because so much of our lives distract us from, draw our attention away from our God who is always as close to us as our next heartbeat.
So we intentionally take time to place ourselves consciously before God, to attend to God, to listen to God even as we speak to God. Nowadays our culture lifts up the idea of “mindfulness”….and for Christians, the best form of mindfulness is prayer.
Isn’t that why you decided to escape your workaday lives and retreat to Luther Crest for 48 hours?
So Jesus “retreats” here, he escapes the crowd (or so he thinks) to get in touch with his heavenly Father….but even there, in his prayer place, the crowd finds him once again. “Simon and his companions hunted for [Jesus]. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’” The crowd is on the prowl!
But Jesus’ brief time of pre-dawn respite has apparently crystalized something in his thinking and planning.
Jesus’s path has become clear to him in the darkness of his praying. "’Let us go,’” Jesus announces to his companions…”’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 he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
Let us go, Jesus responds. Let’s get on the move, let’s travel, for we have miles to go, a journey to pursue.
The previous day’s experience made it clear that Jesus could have stayed in Capernaum, just set up shop (or erected a shrine) where he could sit like a guru and hold audiences with those who had the time and resources to come to him.
Something in Jesus’ prayer time that early, early morning clarified for him that his vocation was not to stay there….but to keep moving, to keep encountering the crowds that would forever be nipping at his heels.
Jesus articulated something crucial about how he discerned his calling, his vocation. Jesus’ vocation would take the shape of a journey, a pilgrimage through this weary world that would finally bring him to the Cross and the Grave “for us and for our salvation.” (Nicene Creed)
That destination shaped the calling for Jesus, every segment of his journey from the first step to the final step.
Jesus made it clear that his was a peripatetic ministry, a walking-around ministry, with a starting point and an endpoint.
And as it was for Jesus, so it would be for his followers. They would follow, meaning that, like Jesus, they would be on the move, out into the world—this is the shape their vocation would take, as well.
Only in such a fashion would Jesus make it unmistakably clear that God is a moving, sending God who is who is always calling persons not to sit still but to keep on the move. “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
My dear friends, Jesus’ words here in Mark 1 still have decisive bearing on our callings, our vocations as baptized followers of our on-the-move Savior who says to us: “Let us go…”
Our vocations, our callings are dynamic, not static. We follow a mobile Savior who came to preach God’s strong and gentle Rule over all things. As Professor Matt Skinner of Luther Seminary puts it: “It is this preaching’s nature not to stay settled and rooted in a single place among a fixed audience but to seek new settings and opportunities to express itself.”Working Preacher
One of the most fateful decisions Christians made centuries ago was to erect church buildings—some of them magnificent cathedrals like the ones my wife and I visited in Germany last month.
When that happened, the church embraced a grave risk: the risk of being planted, settled, sedentary, “nailed down” to a specific location. I fear that the movement began by Jesus often became immobilized when we started investing so much of our identity and way of life in bricks, mortar and real estate.
And now in this 21st century, as many are wondering whether it’s time to become more of a movement and less of a club with a clubhouse….we are rethinking the ways buildings and real estate may have stifled the dynamism of vocation and ministry as Jesus imagined it and lived it.
Now please, I am not suggesting that you go home and light a match to your church buildings—far from it!—but I do believe we need to reimagine, in fresh ways, how we might get better at leaving our buildings and institutional structures and hitting the open road with Jesus who always goes before us.
At the conclusion of our weekly worship services, after we’ve heard: “Go in peace, serve the Lord”…instead of responding with just: “Thanks be to God!” what if we added something like: “Watch out world—the church is leaving the building!”
When we talk in such a fashion we claim the great gift that comes with the whole notion of vocation as we’ve pondered it this weekend.
Truly, our vocations are dynamic, not static. We may begin by naming our vocations: son, brother, husband, father, friend, worker, citizen, neighbor…
But those names, those statuses take us somewhere, send us out into the world, deliver us to our neighbors…
So, where is your vocation leading you, where are your feet taking you? To ordinary places? Yes, most of the time…to ordinary places, including places you never pictured yourself going.
Our feet will take us to wherever the next generation is hankering for accompaniment and maybe even open to a bit of our wisdom.
Our feet will take us to wherever the lost, the last and the least are hungering for life’s necessities including the staple of life we call justice
Our feet will take us into public spaces, sometimes even into the hurly burly of political conversations about the common good.
Our feet take us to nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, even cemeteries--wherever ears are longing to hear some word, some touch that restores faith, hope and love in Christ.
Through our vocations (which Luther sometimes called the masks God wears out in the world) through our vocations God’s work is done: the Good News of Jesus is voiced, the neighbor in need is loved, the earth itself is cared for until God’s New Day dawns.
And we get to be part of that simply because God has called us to it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.