Mark 1:29-39; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Sermon Good News
Good morning. I know it’s a been a little while since we’ve heard two scripture readings in worship, but these two texts play very nicely with one another; they shed light on how we’re supposed to live into our call as Christians, as disciples.
Over the last few Sundays, we’ve heard about some of Jesus’ first acts of public ministry as they’re described in the Gospel of Mark. In last Sunday’s lesson, Jesus preached at a synagogue, and then cast out some demons. Today’s lesson begins as Jesus is leaving the synagogue. He goes to the home of Simon and Andrew, two of his disciples. There they learn that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick, and Jesus heals her.
In our translation, Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” She was healed. Sure, it’s a big deal, but our English translation doesn’t do it justice. The Greek verb that’s translated as “lifted up” is the same verb that’s used to describe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Simon’s mother-in-law doesn’t just recover from a fever, she’s restored to life!
Earlier in this first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we’re told that “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’” (1:14-15). Jesus is not preaching repentance so that people may one day qualify for a place in heaven. No. Jesus is proclaiming a new reality that is just dawning, just breaking into the world.
Jesus proclaims this new reality and he shows it, too. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God requires Jesus to address human needs in the present. We see this in the healings that take place in this chapter. In last week’s lesson, we heard the story of Jesus casting an unclean spirit out of a man at the synagogue. Today, we hear that Jesus has raised Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed—she was very nearly dead.
To drive the point home, Mark tells us that, after the healing, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” The city in question is a small fishing village called Capernaum. I’ve heard that its population may have been as many as 500 people in Jesus’ time. So maybe this was hyperbole or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the whole village was there. The text tells us that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”
Here’s the part that I find really interesting. After Jesus finishes tending to the people of Capernaum; after he goes off to pray and renew himself; after all that, Jesus tells the disciples, “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.”
The mission is to go out from that place, to preach and teach and heal. Jesus doesn’t ask the disciples to build him a school or a hospital or a church. No, Jesus tells the disciples it’s time to move forward, time to reach new people. It’s time to go out and find more sick people, more people who haven’t heard the good news.
I don’t think we’re living into Jesus’ example. And I don’t just mean us, the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Freehold; I mean the whole Church, with a capital-C, or at least most of the churches here in this country. We want the people who are outside our walls to have a change of heart and come back to church. We want to attract people to our buildings and show them how friendly we are.
Every interview I’ve had for any position—whether as an interim pastor or an installed pastor—has included some version of the question: “What are you going to do to bring new people into this church?”
This is the obsession of every congregation. We spend so much energy trying to figure new ways to get people to come into our churches, when the answer has always been outside of our walls; the answer has always been, meet people where they are, then preach, teach, and heal. Then move on and find more people. Proclaim the good news.
Honestly, I could have preached this sermon before the pandemic, and it would have been much the same. But I hear so many people saying, “I can’t wait for this to be over; I want to go back to normal.”
I don’t want to go back to normal!
I don’t want to go back to the way things used to be!
The way things used to be is not sustainable. The Church has to find new and different ways to relate to the world outside of its walls if it is to be an effective witness to the love of God in the world.
Yes, we do a great job of loving one another. We are a wonderful witness to the love of God in the world—inside of our congregation. And we do a number of good things outside of our congregation. But Jesus reminds us that we must always be busy going to new places, meeting new people. Jesus also reminds us that he can’t do this work alone; we’re all called to follow him.
Jesus preached and practiced the love of God for the world.
Jesus preached and practiced the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus preached and practiced healing and reconciliation.
Jesus didn’t do this work alone. Jesus called disciples!
Our reading from the Apostle Paul offers some practical advice for effective discipleship. Paul tells the congregation at Corinth that he became “all things to all people.” That also sounds like an impossible task—or a recipe for burnout or self-destruction. But Paul isn’t saying that he learned how to be everyone’s best friend. He isn’t saying that he made himself into the world’s best evangelist or that he’s the most popular guy in the world.
What Paul is really saying is that he learned to speak the language of all those different groups of people. He learned by listening, by building relationships. He worked to understand the realities of Jews and Gentiles. He spent time living in the various communities where there were tiny Christian congregations. He worked alongside the members of those congregations. And he must have talked to an awful lot of people outside of those congregations.
That was an act of great humility. Paul understood that he had a message that he needed to share, but he had to learn how to share it before he began to preach that message. He had to practice the message first.
In our Gospel lesson, Simon tells Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.” I believe that’s still true. While only some people are actively searching for Jesus, many, many more people are searching for the healing, the reconciliation, and the love that comes in and through Jesus, even if they don’t understand what they’re searching for.
People aren’t searching for a church. They’re searching for Jesus. By all means, continue to invite people to church. But before you do that, let’s go out there and show them the love of Christ and the healing that comes through relationship and reconciliation.
The pandemic has also shown us how isolated some people are. There are far too many people out there who are isolated, cut off from friends and loved ones, too many people who don’t have community. I don’t think they’re hard to find, and it’s our job to go looking for them once it’s safe.
As we do this, we have to act with humility, like the Apostle Paul. Yes, go out and meet new people, but don’t try to fix all their problems right away. Let them know they are not alone. Listen to them. Build relationships in which they are comfortable asking for your help. Then you can practice the love of Christ, which restores people to community. And when you’re done, go and preach what you’ve practiced. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, remember that we are called to be disciples; we are called to go out and preach and practice the Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!