Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sermon Scraps from Feb 5, 2012 Mark 1: 29 - 39

This Sunday I preached on Mark 1: 29 – 39, which, in the NRSV, reads:

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.
I chose to focus on the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, and I think that was the sermon I was supposed to preach. Still, I cannot seem to get something out of my head about this pericope. Mark says that Simon and his companions hunted for him (Jesus) when he had gone to pray in the deserted place.

There are a few common themes to Mark’s gospel that are important to note. The two words that appear most in Mark are “and” and “immediately” (kai andeuthos). Mark is a series of run-on sentences, which apparently are fine in Greek. And everything happens immediately. But every so often, Jesus steps away from everyone and everything to pray. When he does, they always find him and bring him back.
This leads me to ask a few questions:
  • Why do people feel the need to seek for Jesus and not as much now?
  • Was the gospel he proclaimed different than the gospel we proclaim?
  • Why are we chasing people to come to us, when the people were chasing Jesus?  
I do not have answers to these questions, but I still ask. I think there is something in the immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. People needed healing; they needed the Kingdom of God to be real. They needed and they needed now.
I do not believe that we are any less in need of healing, but I am not sure we are acting with the same immediacy. The Kingdom of God can wait? The healing you need, you can wait until next week, when I have more time, right? Maybe we as the church need to try something different. Maybe if we present the gospel with the immediacy of the Kingdom of God being at hand instead of come to my church, we have a good pot luck, maybe . . . These are people’s lives we are talking about. But I wonder if we even believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We certainly do not always act like it. The Kingdom of God, it is coming someday. But Jesus began his ministry saying the Kingdom of God was at hand. The love, we have to offer through Jesus is right now, immediately.

Again, I do not have the answers, but I think chasing people and begging them to come to our church service is not the same as initiating them into the kingdom of God (for more on this understanding of evangelism, see William Abraham’s The Logic of Evangelism). Maybe if we really got involved, got touchy-feely, and stepped into the reality of the everyday-life of others and the messiness of others, and loved our neighbors in such a way that God’s love would shine forth through us and change their lives . . . Maybe  . . .
My sermon was about our need for touch. Touch heals, but it is not safe. When you lay hands on another, you are not unaffected. When you hug another, you may get dirty too. When you walk alongside another, you may be ridiculed, mocked, and hated too. When you love others, you may experience a miracle. I am convinced there is no other way to show the love of God except to let God love the unloveable through you. If we were doing this, maybe . . . Just maybe we, the Body of Christ, would be hunted too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sermon Scraps Mark 1: 21 - 28

Once again I have been called to repentance for neglecting my blog. I will do my best to keep it up. I do not promise a weekly post, but I will (once again) try not to forget about it entirely. Thank you for your patience with me.
Yesterday I preached on Mark 1:21 -28. In the NRSV, it reads:
They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘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. ‘But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He* commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. ‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
In my sermon I said that anything that comes between God and you, God and God’s love for you, or God and God’s will for your life is not of God. Anything that separates us from God is not of God. This leads me to ask, what is it that we allow to come between God and us?
God has a purpose for us, a mission or a job that we are specifically designed and made to do. This is not to say that God has only one plan for us. The book that the Bend UMC’s Bible study group just finished last night discussed what it means to be in or out of God’s will. The author described a time in his life when he felt he was outside of God’s will. He left Austin, left his church and moved to Ft. Worth to work on his DMin. He felt that during those three years he was outside of God’s will. He said eventually God brought him back to Austin.
I am not sure that God’s will is ever that specific. Is it not just as likely that God will use what we give God? Here’s my logic: I have felt that answering my call to ministry was somewhat inevitable for me. I was made to be a pastor, and God has been preparing me for this vocation as long as I can remember. One of my former parishioners has told me when she was younger, she also felt called to ordained ministry. We have talked about it a great deal, and I can see such gifts and graces in her life, but she was reared in a denomination where women were not given the opportunity to serve as ordained clergy. Now that she is in the UMC, a denomination that would welcome her gifts, she feels she is just ‘too old now.’ Yes, she is near to retirement age. That she has not answered this call on her life the way I did does not mean she is any less faithful. Instead of becoming a pastor, she is a vibrant and enthusiastic church volunteer and leader. She has reared two boys and is now enjoying a beautiful granddaughter. She is a brilliant and dedicated public servant, and she can offer the church gifts of which I could never dream. Here is what I think: She was offered the opportunity to serve God in one way. She chose a different way, and God still used her gifts for the church, and still blessed her.
Here is another example. In our discussion last night, one of the Bible Study-ers said that she always felt called to be a pediatrician, but her brother talked her out of it. Instead, she became a music teacher. Were children any less blessed because she was a music teacher? I think not. I think God used her love for children to bless her and others in a new way.
I refuse to believe that there is only one path for our lives, and I refuse to believe that if wander off that path, there is no hope. The reality of our free-will is such that God does not interfere with our decisions, but instead God uses those decisions to work out God’s plans. Paul writes in Romans 8, “We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV). That does not mean that everything that happens is good or in line with God’s will and purposes, but God can and does work good out of what happens.

So to circle back to my sermon and the beginning of this post, it is not that we could do the wrong thing and interrupt God’s will for our lives. Yes, we can and do sin, which is contrary to God’s will for our lives, but that’s not what I’m going on about here. Instead, I am talking about fear. It seems to me that we are afraid to do much of anything for fear we will do it wrong, fail, or worse find out it was not what God wanted us to do. More than anything, I think God wants us to try, just try, be willing to step out in faith with an attitude that says, ‘I don’t know if I’m doing it right, I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I know I can do something.’ Not doing anything for the kingdom of God is simply unacceptable, and it is not of God. To that we should (to paraphrase Jesus) say ‘SHUT UP.’ We have a purpose and a job to do, and if we are willing, God will use us to build the kingdom.