St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for February 4, 2018

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
February 4, 2018
5 Epiphany B
Mark 1:29-39
     Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Jesus said, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I might proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." Here we are, still in the first chapter of Mark's gospel and already Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist; he has endured forty days of temptation in the wilderness; has called Simon and Andrew, James and John to be his disciples; healed a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue; preached with authority; and now heals Simon Peter's mother in law, in addition to countless others who have come to him - quite a lot in what seems to be a short period of time.
     In Mark's gospel, there is a sense of urgency. Nothing can wait. Everything must be done "immediately". That word is used throughout Mark's gospel. Because the kingdom of God cannot wait. God's message of love and mercy and forgiveness must be preached and lived out now, not in the future, not at some point in our lives but now. The call to discipleship is urgent.
     We can imagine as word got out throughout Capernaum that this preacher called Jesus was healing people of their infirmities and casting out demons, that anyone who was ill or had a loved one who was ill, hurried to the home of Simon Peter where they heard Jesus was. "And the whole city was gathered around the door." Everyone wanted to be healed. Everyone wanted the healing touch of Jesus, to be made well.
     We can imagine that by the end of the day Jesus was exhausted. He had probably been surrounded by people wanting to be healed for hours, and because of his love for them, he probably continued healing far into the night.
     But early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus goes out to a quiet place to pray. Throughout the gospels, Jesus takes time away from the crowds to pray, to spend time with God, to listen to what God would have him do, no matter how tired he might have been. Jesus makes prayer time a priority. He prays before he chooses his disciples, he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion, he prays after he has spent time with crowds of people. Jesus knows that he cannot continue his ministry without spending time with God in prayer - for strength, for guidance, for direction. Jesus needs quiet time alone with God, and so do we.
     But Jesus' quiet time is interrupted by Simon Peter and some of the other disciples who have come to find him. "Everyone is searching for you," they say to Jesus. Obviously, they assume that Jesus will come back to town and continue healing where he left off, that he would stay and heal people until the last person has been touched and healed.
     But Jesus replies, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."
     Jesus did not come to be a miracle worker. He did not come just to heal people, although that was an important part of his ministry. Jesus came to proclaim the message of God's love for all people, that God was with them in good times as well as bad, that there was a better way to live - with faith and trust and hope in God. And he could not do that if he was constantly surrounded by people who wanted to be healed.
     Many of the people who gathered around Simon Peter's door that day were looking for what Jesus could do for them, not so much who he could be for them and what he could teach them. Jesus was drawn to people who were sick and marginalized because of his compassion for them. He wanted to heal people and restore them to their communities. But his focus in all of that was to point beyond himself to God and what it meant to live as God's people.
     Jesus was not in this just for what he could do for other people. We can imagine the praise and acclamation and thankfulness people poured on him when he healed them. That would be addicting for any of us mere mortals - to be held in such high esteem. That would really boost one's ego.
     But Jesus is clear that healing was not what he came to do. He came to preach the message of the kingdom of God. So he had to leave Capernaum in order to preach the gospel in other towns and villages.
     When Simon Peter and the others came to find Jesus where he was praying in a deserted place, they said, "Everyone is searching for you." Why? Why were they searching for Jesus? So he would come back and continue healing?
     When we search for Jesus, what are we searching for? Are we searching for healing? Are we searching for strength and guidance as we face the complexities of life? Are we searching for answers? Are we searching for inner peace and a lessening of our anxieties? What are we searching for?
     Probably all of these, at some time or another. And Jesus can and does provide all these things, although sometimes not in the way we want or at the time we want.
     What are we searching for? A deeper relationship with God. A sense of being in the presence of God, a sense of belonging. Perhaps we are searching for who God wants us to be, to be the people God wants us to be, both individually and in community. Our Christianity is not all about what God can do for me, but what God wants me to do with the life, the gifts, the opportunities that God has given to me, to be who God wants me to be and do what God wants me to do; to love and serve God as my Lord and Savior, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
     May our searching, our learning, our understanding about who God is continue throughout our earthly lives, as we continue our spiritual journey to know God, to love God and to serve God. Amen.  

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