“This is What I Came to Do”
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 4, 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “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.
It must be difficult to be a VIP (Very Important Person).
I have bumped into celebrities on rare occasions.
It has felt awkward.
Beyond a smile of recognition,
Do you say hello? Shake their hand?
One doesn’t want to offend or bring undue attention,
Yet, there is always someone who breaks in and asks for an autograph.
The intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,
Must make it increasingly difficult to get work done.
It must get old.
Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,
Who responds with grace,
And appropriately acknowledges even the most disruptive fans.
In the Gospel of Mark
Our author does a marvelous job of
Recording this increasingly difficult tango.
Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,
Back and forth,
Alternating between concealment and secrecy,
And, publicity and proclamation.
The pendulum swings between messianic secrets
To our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.
Jesus makes his public coming out,
Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,
At the same time,
He swears his followers to secrecy and
He is prone to go to a quiet place to pray.
Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry
Because throughout Mark
He follows up ministering to the crowds
With retreats into privacy
For spiritual recovery,
For time to pray.
(Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Craddock, Hayes, Holladay. Pg. 149-151)
This rhythm is healthy;
A good discipline for all followers to emulate.
In every community he visits
The more popular he becomes,
The more difficult it gets
For Jesus to achieve success proclaiming the message.
He is forced to itinerate.
He is forced to move on.
Jesus was in the public Synagogue
Where he preached Good News with authority
And cast out an unclean spirit (with that same authority).
He cast out this unclean spirit from a man
Who publicly identified him and challenged him.
Today we continue the narrative.
Jesus leaves the public venue of the Synagogue
And goes to the private home of Simon’s mother-in-law.
Use your mind’s eye to think about the scene this way:
Housing density is so high in Capernaum,
We can just imagine the whole city gathered around her door.
Think of people peeping through the windows,
Hanging from the gutters,
Looking down through cracks in the roof.
Her private residence had become a public spectacle.
He goes because he had been summoned.
They (we assume Simon, Andrew, James, and John because they are mentioned)
Told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.
She was sick in bed with a fever.
What we don’t know is:
Was she a widow?
Men often die before women and she was of the senior generation.
Was her fever an illness that would have made her unclean?
Some diseases like leprosy rendered a person unclean, others did not.
What we do know is that her fever was serious because
“They told him about her at once.” (Mark 1:30)
There was an urgency here;
She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.
The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because
They had just experienced his preaching with authority.
They had just seen Jesus using the same authority to cast out an unclean spirit.
If Jesus had that kind of power and authority
It was clear that they believed Jesus could
Heal and bring back this woman from near death, too.
The Gospel of Mark lays the ground work for the Good News:
Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.
Trust in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.
What is immensely helpful to me,
And I hope is insightful to you, too,
Is that this implies the message that Jesus brings
Is more than mere words.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,
Casting out demons and healing people,
Bringing them back into the land of the living.
Jesus makes an incursion into the shadow land
of sin and evil, of
and with mercy,
brings healing and deliverance.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a pastoral sermon on the mount,
It’s answering the summons
To come to the aid and assistance of a neighbor in need.
For the Gospel to speak,
One has to act.
The moment the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law,
She began to serve.
The verb “to serve” is a key term in Mark’s Gospel.
“Kiakonein” is interpreted as a response of faith.
It is used to serve in ministry:
The angels in the wilderness serve Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:14).
The women who followed Jesus served him (Mark 15:41)
Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry,
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
She is an
icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.
(Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean, President, Professor of New Testament, Seminary of the Southwest, Austin TX, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547)
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law
Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.
Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,
But there is also ministry that needs done.
If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,
You might call it social justice.
Others from a more Christ-centered, or
Christo-centric, point of view
Might call it kingdom building.
Yet others, using the latest hip language employed by church experts,
Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.
I call it living like Jesus.
When we live like Jesus
We reveal to the world
Christ manifest within us.
We demonstrate to the world
This is truly Epiphany!
Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.
Christ’s message is proclaimed by
Both our words and our deeds.
How does this make a difference?
What does this mean for you and me and our journey of faith?
Go into the world,
Step into the crowds,
And start to make some friends.
Make friends, because you truly want to have friends.
The only motive for making friends is to be a friend.
Never let ulterior motives poison the relationship.
Suppress motives and temptations of money, power, size, and status.
Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!
Temper public service and balance it with times of privacy,
Praying in a deserted place,
Or in a quiet closet,
Just like Jesus did.
It’s a privilege be a friend
Serving in Jesus’ name.
Serve simply because of the joy of serving.
Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.
Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society
And left for dead.
Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,
To serve those who are difficult to serve.
Cast out their demons and resurrect every last one of them from the dead.
Our compassionate behavior,
Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,
Completes the message
That he came to proclaim.
Like Simon’s mother-in-law,
Serve simply as a response to the faith
That is developing and deepening in your life.
Jesus recognizes the necessary next steps that he had to take.
His message is God’s message to the world,
Not to just one demon possessed person, here,
Or one needing healing, there.
God so loved the world.
The Passion of Jesus Christ
Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal
To the universal.
God so loved the world.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Takes salvation and eternal life from the personal
To the global;
… That the world might be saved through him.
Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.
Trust in his capacity to take one back from the edge and margins of life.
Trust in his ability to heal and in the power of his resurrection.
The message of Jesus is spoken in the language
Of both words and actions.
This is what Christ came to do.
Go, and do likewise.