Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalms 147:1-11, 20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39 February 7, 2021 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
Jesus is busy again this morning. Mark is the most succinct of the gospels, brief and to the point. The word “Immediately” appears more than 40 times in Mark’s account.
It is as if he is writing it in a hurry, to get it all down on paper before something happens to him. Or maybe he is just keeping it short, easier to copy…to carry…to conceal.
This morning, Jesus has just been baptized when, immediately, the Spirit sends him out into the Wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Then John the Baptist is put in prison and immediately Jesus goes to Galilee where he heals and teaches and preaches.
He calls the disciples, and they go to a synagogue where he teaches and casts evil spirits out of a man. He astounds everyone who witnesses the event and word of him begins to spread like wildfire.
We are still barely halfway through our reading of the first chapter of Mark when we pick up the narrative today.
He heals the mother of Simon and Andrew, and many others in the village.
Then…he goes off to a quiet place to be alone with his co-Creator, his Father, the One who sent him. John Barrymore, the famous actor, once noted that “In Genesis, it says that it is not good for a man to be alone; but sometimes it is a great relief.” He might have been talking about this chapter.
Jesus goes off many times to be at one with God, but then the disciples come, as they do today and tell him everyone is looking for him. He tells they are going to another village so he can preach to them also, “That is why I have come.”
Let us consider that last statement. It seems like he is doing a lot of other things besides preaching, but he says that is the point of his arrival on the scene…his entry into the world.
He preaches with authority, amazing those who hear him, we know that. But he also wrestles with the devil, heals and gives great signs…and he goes off to quiet places to be at One with God.
Could he be saying that all those other things are just preparation for the main event. They draw attention to him, even inspire wonder. But he is the Word, the One the prophets have told us God would send to save Israel…and we will eventually see that ‘Israel’ means ‘all of God’s people.’
Other gospels make this same point, but not as quickly or forcefully as Mark. Here we have the Word of God ready to speak. So we need to listen…and take heed…and grow into God’s love…by following him where he leads.
What Jesus was doing was new to people. Since the days of Isaiah they had been promised a savior and it had taken so long, so that even in Isaiah’s day, the people began to have savior-fatigue.
They didn’t know what they had done to deserve the pickle they were in. Where had they gone wrong? They looked at when the great change had taken place…when the Babylonians had entered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and swept the Assyrians away.
They looked at when the Babylonians entered into the Southern Kingdom of Judea and advanced on Jerusalem. They came up with theory after theory but still could find no clear, helpful answers.
By the time we get to Isaiah 40, Jerusalem has fallen, the Babylonian Exile has gone on and on, and they are returning ‘home.’ Where are we to turn? How do we begin again? Isaiah breathes a prayer of comfort of them…and us…this morning.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? Look to the one who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, so great that people look like grasshoppers.
They try to solve a great problem without looking at or listening for their Lord and Savior. They do not humble themselves to the signs that they can see: All they want to know is when will it be over? Isaiah says, “Look! See! Listen! Hear!”
Five Hundred years later, along comes Jesus and gives them all these signs and preaches with great authority. One day he will tell them that it is the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…who will be called blessed.
But they are a great nation. Why should they mourn, be meek, or surrender to their circumstances if God is on their side?
They don’t want Jesus to save their souls. They want him to make them a world power again. They want Jesus to be who they want him to be. They don’t think to ask themselves what is it that Jesus wants them to be.
That’s the way people are. We see what we want to have and we look for a way to get it. We don’t spend that early morning hour with God like Jesus did.
I suspect his prayers were listening as much as talking and I don’t think he held much back or turned away when the next step had to be taken.
Are we unlike him or is he unlike us? Does it always have to be that way? Seeing this gap between the way Jesus acts and we act, then, what are we to do about it? Do we need to make him more like us or do we need to become more like him?
Abraham Lincoln had a pretty good response to this question. A clergyman asked him during the Civil War whether he thought God was on the Union side. He replied that the question should be whether the Union was on God’s side.
So how do we get on God’s side? How do we conform our actions to the model that God in Jesus Christ has revealed to us?
Our Scouts gave us a good example of a good start. With their Scout Oath they promise, “I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times. To keep myself physically fit, mentally awake and morally straight.”
This is one of the first things they need to learn to become a Scout. They say it again and again at every meeting…like we say the Lord’s prayer. We can learn a lot from both of them.
Our Lord and Savior gave us the plan, too, and he gives it to us today. Do what you can now, here, with whoever God gives you to minister to or be in ministry with.
He heals, he spends time in prayer, he calls people to serve their Creator and each other, to love God and their neighbor.
He becomes a sensation, but is that to his glory or God’s? When the disciples come for him the next morning to tell him ‘everyone is looking for you!” does he stay and bask in the glow of his fame?
No, he gave God the glory for that. He wants to go to another town, where people had not heard the Word or about him…to give them a new insight into the heart of God.
That was why he had come. I am thankful that I have had a front row seat to watch what you have become in the past few years. I report to you this morning that it has been noted by our neighbors and they have pondered it seriously.
I was having coffee with a friend from another church this week. He is a good friend and we have had more than a couple of talks together…in one context or the next.
He is a member of his church’s governing board and they are just going through a time of looking back at where they have been and looking forward at what might be next. They are looking around and listening to God’s voice to discern their call.
They want to become more active in the community, sponsoring programs for the townspeople at their church and reaching out to help other groups help our community with whatever resources they might be able to offer.
I found myself smiling and nodding as he talked it sounded familiar to me. And then my friend said, “You know… like your church does.”
He was very interested to hear about our newest ministry with the Threads program. He asked me how we hear of all the opportunities we have taken advantage of.
I told him that you do something, and then you try something else. Maybe it works wonders, maybe it doesn’t. But you keep listening for opportunities and you keep trying new things as the opportunities arise.
We are blazing a new trail in our community, but it seems to be one that others have also found interesting. This is encouraging for a couple of reasons.
First, it suggests that what we are doing is seen by others as fruitful. Second, through others our efforts may bear even more fruit…and their efforts may bear more fruit…and so on.
I am all for setting a good example for other churches, other civic groups, other nonprofits. I am all for seeing good examples in other churches and following them.
It’s like Jesus telling the disciples they need to move to the next village and preach there also, because that is why he has come…for this. Maybe that is why we have come, too…for this.
So we have a mission field all around us, whether it’s food or clothing for kids, a place for community groups to meet, talks on topics of public interest, blood drives, Scouts, and so on and so on.
And now, because of the many efforts we have made to support the work of our church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service, maybe…just maybe…in all we do, God may be glorified.
So let us continue to go to the next village…the next ministry that we are called to…to spread the Word of God’s love revealed to all people…even us…in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. As Jesus put it himself, that is why we have come.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.