Handing the Work off to Us
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 1: 29 – 39. Focus on Jesus’ model for ministry. Check out the choir following the sermon.
Mark’s Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush. Already within the first chapter of his gospel Jesus has been introduced and baptized by his cousin – John the Baptist, been driven into the wilderness to face three great temptations at the end of a 40 day fast. Following that he goes out and picks 12 disciples, then teaches in a synagogue as one with authority, heals a man with an unclean spirit then appears at Simon Peter’s house to heal his mother in law, finally eats and finishes his day by healing most of the town’s ill and demon possessed citizens.
But that’s the nature of Mark’s Jesus. He’s a no nonsense, walking, talking man of action. In fact, the first hint that he’s anything but divine comes in today’s passage, which tells us he ate and had to find a secluded place to pray. It’s refreshing to know that even the Son of God had to do things like eat and pray in order to recharge himself.
But more importantly Jesus gives us a model for doing ministry in our time and place. It’s a fourfold process and it begins in the text just before this one. Mark tells us that Jesus was walking along by the Sea of Galilee and he saw Simon and Andrew casting their net into the sea and Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women.”
So the first act of ministry is one of invitation. He invites others to join him in what he’s doing. And that’s what we need to do. We need to get into the habit of inviting others to join us not only for worship, but we need to reach out to find out what needs in our community are not being met? We need to find a way to differentiate ourselves from what others are doing.
The church has to develop an intimacy that meets people’s deepest needs. Twelve step groups grow by attraction not by obligation. They offer something the church used to offer in a clearly focused way that points to something greater than ourselves that can heal us and make us into nothing less than a healthy mature human being – someone who makes people think of Christ by the way they carry themselves, by the integrity and faith and doubt and honesty the share. The kind of person whom others see and say “Truly that was a son or daughter of God.”
And for this time is required. It doesn’t do much good to invest hundreds of hours into a person, but in one hour per week increments over the span of years. Now you might learn a lot about someone that way, eventually, but it will be a shallow kind of knowledge, like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake. To know a person requires time spent together in private, or in small groups where people learn to let down their masks. It requires being around each other enough to see each other cry. To see each other laugh, to care for one another and see that as our mission forward to those not yet here.
And when you calculate the hours we have in a week – 7 days, 24 hours a day – that’s 168 hours. How many hours a week do we spend together? One? Two? So we have to become intentional about creating time to listen for God’s guidance, which again requires time.
We need to pray and ask for a clear focus on ways to attract those who have never been in church or were burned by bad church. And here we can learn from Jesus who went out to where the people were and met their immediate needs. He healed, he taught, he ate, he prayed and he did it where people lived and worked. Personal invitation and involvement in other people’s lives is what Jesus models for us and that’s what we need to model as well.
But to be a model you yourself must also be in training. When Jesus says “Make disciples of all nations.” He was giving us the ultimate goal. To disciple someone means to apprentice them. But in a way where the student teacher / shepherd sheep relationship between each other is quite fluid. In short we learn from each other with Jesus as our guide.
The second thing that Jesus models for us is community. Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach Marks tells us, which means he shared not only in their daily lives, but in their spiritual and religious lives as well. But because there are many interpretations of who God is he went in to say God was like this – loving and just and was willing to put people ahead of religious ritual so he heals on the Sabbath too and so reminds us that the Sabbath and all of our rituals for it were made to serve us and not the other way around.
The reason worship is important is because its one of the few times we gather to hear a word that comes from beyond us that is not reported by the news, or talked about in the office or in most homes and its here that we learn about the life God intends for us to live so that we will experience an abundance of it and to find a peace that passes anything the world can give. Peace, the absence of worry and stress, not because you have conquered it but because you have learned how to ride above it like a surfer on top of a wave.
The third thing that Jesus models for us is the act of extending compassion to others. We may not be able to cast out demons like Jesus did, or touch someone and have their fever break but we can do what Simon’s mother-in-law did and that is to serve others, with a meal, a call, a visit, an email a how you doing hand of compassion, with a smile, a laugh, with an honest question, with patience.
If there’s no room in your life for service then your life will be empty. We have a natural God given gift to want to care for others and when we refuse that impulse we hurt ourselves and we begin to die. Life comes from giving and receiving, from loving and being loved. I like how Bob Dylan puts it. “Going get up and get out of myself and go and see what others need.”
The fourth thing that Jesus models for us is a need we often overlook, which is to find places of solitude, especially in nature, where we can be alone and in prayer with God. Martin Luther once remarked that the busier his day was the more he needed to spend time in prayer. We often go the other way. We often tell ourselves that we don’t have time to be quiet with God, that our days are too busy and we just don’t have the time. But I can tell you from experience that time is truly relative and the more time I give to God the more time God gives back to me.
In fact the busier my day or week looks the more time I need to be giving it up to God. When I practice this spiritual discipline it really works and I find that I do not burn out and I do not get as anxious or as angry when things do not go according to my plans, because I am more aware of God’s plan as it unfolds around my day.
I had a professor named Kosuke Koyama, a survivor of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb blast, who used to tell us that God travels at three miles per hour, and when asked why? – He’d say that was the speed that a human being walks. And what he meant was that when we get all caught up rushing around in the busy-ness of our lives we often rush away from God. God is not in a hurry! God has eternity. God has forever. We don’t.
We tend to think of spending alone time as a waste of time, but you are never wasting time when you spend it in solitude with God. In fact one of my favorite lines in scripture is the one from Psalm 46: 10 that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Prayer keeps us from burning out and from confusing our will with God’s. So I would encourage all of us to begin every day in a few moments of solitude and prayer with God.
And the last thing that Jesus models for us in our text is the need to pass on what we have learned from our life’s journey about the nature of faith, hope, love and loss, rejection and resurrection – all of this we are to pass on to others.
Why because that’s how life is. One generation passing on the lessons it has learned from life to another generation, but also letting go and letting the next generation run their unique race of faith in ways that are meaningful for them.
That’s ultimately what we need to do. We need to leave this place in the hands of others who will continue the work that was passed on to us. We need to leave this place better than we found it. That’s the model Jesus left us. It’s a model that has worked pretty well for the past 2000 years and it’s a model that’s worked here for the past 180. Let’s make sure it doesn’t end with us. Amen