Mark 1:32-39 • Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert • 8 February 2015
When I was in college, I participated in Bible studies and went to church most Sundays. But there were some Christian groups on campus that made me uncomfortable. Why? Because they were always encouraging people to go out and evangelize. They were teaching methods of starting conversations with strangers in order to get the Gospel message across. And there was something in me that just could not feel comfortable with that, though I admired their determination to make God known.
Have you ever been around pushy Christians like that? Maybe you’ve been one. Unfortunately, that kind of evangelism is what gave the E word a bad reputation. When did sharing good news become such a negative? Such a negative that some Christians like us avoid it altogether. As Cindy Rigby said yesterday at the Faith Focus lecture, we should be able to share with enthusiasm our joy about being in relationship with Jesus Christ, with even more passion than we share about our favorite restaurant in town, but most of us don’t. We might say, “Scrambles is absolutely the best place in town to get lunch, and no one would quarrel, and say, “Do you mean you cannot get good food anywhere else in town?” When we speak enthusiastically about our Christian faith, about our church, we are not claiming an exclusive corner on all truth, but we are claiming that we have been transformed by the One who is Truth, and we are simply saying to others, as one hungry person tells another where to find bread, “Come and see.”
We have two lessons today – one about Jesus making God known by caring for people, and by keeping himself grounded in peace by reserving a time of solitude for prayer. And a second lesson from Paul about proclaiming the Gospel – to all people by being all things to all people. Listen well for the Spirit is speaking to her church:
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Paul makes it clear that proclaiming the Gospel can never be an exercise in arrogance. Neither can proclaiming the Gospel be optional – like we treat it. We are given a commission to share the good news. When we do, we are blessed. What I think Paul is saying by giving up his rights, even though he is freed by the Gospel, is that he has to make God known in ways that connect with the people with whom he’s in relationship. That’s what God did in coming as One of us – identified completely with us. Became weak like us, so that we might become strong like He is.
Notice that in the lesson from Mark’s Gospel, people are simply bringing others to Jesus -- literally. Notice that Jesus has the whole town at his door. He heals them, but early in the morning, before they wake up, he escapes to pray. If you think you are too busy to pray, then you are too busy NOT to pray. Prayer is essential for finding out when to do what. Prayer is essential for having the perspective and power to do what we are called to do. As Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” When life gives you more than you can stand, then kneel. Consciously put your life in the hands of God, and you will discover what’s true and valuable, and the strength to face what’s difficult. Some of you may have noticed that your staff members do not arrive at church before 10:00 in the morning. That’s because we need to pray first, and that more reliably happens at home, in solitude. Pray that Christ would be evermore born in you, for your job, your peace, your joy is to be like Christ. What did Christ do? He made God known by the way he lived. Here’s the thing about making God known. We do it better when we are not so focused on our own selves doing it.
We are better at it, when we simply focus on loving God and neighbor. At Peace our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others.
So if we are growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, people will see it. It will make a favorable impression. They might even ask us about the change, the love, the fruit they see in us. You will know them by their fruit, Jesus says. Are you growing? If we are growing as disciples, we will be consciously building the same mind that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, humbled himself, emptied himself, for us. If we are growing, people will feel it, they will see it in our eyes and in our actions of love.
Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace. Christ not only healed people, but he challenged oppressors and those who thought themselves more valuable than others. Paul says we are called to share the good news with all kinds of people by all kinds of means. To build a community of peace is to live together in this church community with forgiveness and acceptance of differences, but also to build peace in our community and world by working for justice, freedom, and dignity for all people. When value human dignity, we make God known because that’s who God is – the Human Dignifier. God so loved the world, that God decided to dignify all human beings by being One. Paul says, to the Jews I became as a Jew. That’s respect. That’s the kind of respect we owe to persons of other religions – we do not give up our own Christian faith, but we dignify them by the way we speak and act with reverence for their tradition – while still speaking our truth in Christ.
Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others.
Jesus taught, yes, but more often than he was teaching, Jesus was healing people, caring for their needs. You cannot make God known if you simply ignore a person’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. Those needs are tied up with the spiritual needs. People come as packages. You cannot just say, “Forget that you do not have enough to eat. Christ is your Savior.” No, that’s why we are participating in the CROP walk and sending faithful folk to Beth-El every Thursday to pack food. That’s why we have classes to discuss mental illness and how the church can be more supportive and helpful in that struggle. That’s why Stephen Ministers and other caring people are not going to say, “Get over your grief and trust in God!” No, they will listen with compassion, giving you space to express doubt and fear to find grace.
As we have often said, caring for needs, building a community of peace, and growing together as disciples requires that we have trusted relationships, which assumes we know each other fairly well. Peace offers you more ways to build authentic relationships than you really have time or energy for, so you have to pick and choose. There are Ministry Teams and Music Groups, which pray and work together on specific responsibilities at Peace. There are fellowship groups like Faith and Film and Dinner Groups, where people gather to share a meal or a movie. There are study groups, prayer groups, mission-task groups, youth groups, kayakers and jazzercisers, potters and planters, and sewers and game players. If I did not name your group, it’s okay, because we are growing so large, even the Pastor cannot keep up, and certainly cannot participate in every activity at Peace like I used to do.
But here’s the thing: we are not just trying to keep you busy. No, all these groups are for building a community of peace and caring for the needs of others, for giving us entry points of relationship so that deeper relationships and involvement can lead us into growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Peace Church’s current stage of life and how we have to stop being a pastoral church, by that I mean smaller church, with the pastor involved in everything, but we have to broaden our ministry and relationships. You know when you are thinking hard about something, it often shows up in strange ways in your dreams. Richard said it might be dangerous to tell you this dream. Thursday night I woke up several times from the same dream in which I was waiting for one of you to shoot me. He said this dream might seem like I’m feeling embattled by you and I’m not – but I’m not.
No, I think the dream is telling me that I have to get out of the way, give over more leadership to elders and management to ministry team leaders. We need more and more small groups, where you build relationships with each other, not depending on me. But I have to tell you a few details of the dream because it is funny, in retrospect. I said, “Jane Taylor, you have to shoot me.” But she wouldn’t. “Give the gun to someone else if you don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger.” Now, the funny thing, maybe the merciful thing is, I cannot remember which one of you did pull the trigger to shoot me, but despite all my anxiety about dying, I did not just fall to the ground. No, I just stood there, bleeding and wondering aloud when I would start to lose my cognitive ability?”
So anyway, I’m not planning to go anywhere, but I do think that maybe God is telling me to die more to self, to let go of my need to control what happens here at Peace. This church used feel like my baby, that would die if I did not feed her, but it’s not so any more. Actually, it never was my church or yours. It has always been the church of Jesus Christ. It is our mission to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. We cannot strive in some contorted, contrived way to make God known by sheer force of word or will. We must simply keep growing, building, and caring not just for our kind but for all people.
Especially in this world, where there is so much pain, where suburban as well as urban people do take guns and shoot ex-wives and their families in real life nightmares, in a world of suicide bombers, and even more deadly hunger problems that could be solved with generosity but are not, we must preach the Gospel and use words only when necessary. People are skeptical of words, of preaching, of pushy people. But healing is needed, peace is needed, restoration. Healing us from all that would deform or destroy or dis-ease us. It is those of us who recognize we were sick in body, mind, or spirit, who can say with great authenticity, Christ changed my life.