[sermon src=’http://stmarks2018.wpengine.com/sermons/Sermon-2012-02-05.mp3′]

Mark 1.29-39

holistic ministry

February 5, 2012 The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

Roy W. Howard

Jesus heals. He touches the afflicted with the gracious love of God.

Jesus prays. He steps away from the crowd to rest his soul in God.

Jesus proclaims God’s reign. He declares the ways of God to a disordered world.

Jesus casts out demons. He confronts disfiguring forces with power and grace.

Before I go any further, let me just skip to the end. It seems to me that this ministry of Jesus gives shape the ministry of the congregation that seeks to follow him in the world.

But before we ask what that might mean, let’s do some unpacking

The setting is Capernaum is perfect for a mass rally. Jesus is the talk of the town; to some a prophet healing their deepest wounds, to others a curious phenomenon. His fame has preceded him and the crowds with all their mixed motives run after him. It’s an aspiring politician’s dream. He teaches with such startling authority that demons flee. Why doesn’t Jesus set up shop in Capernaum?

Rather than bask in the gaze of the astonished crowds, Jesus leaves them to go home with Simon and Andrew. That’s odd. Did they discuss the ongoing preaching tour?  Did they talk about crowd control? Maybe Jesus simply collapsed in exhaustion in the spare bedroom letting the disciples worry about such things. All we know is he walked away. Soon Jesus learns of Simon’s mother-in-law suffering with fever. He holds her hand and her fever vanishes with his touch. She is whole again.

Mark says,  “She rises to serve them”.  No fuss, no glory, just service.

It’s the last we hear of her in the gospel.  I wonder how many others there are with untold stories of healing in Jesus presence. (Okay this is where we all note that she is rising, like so many women before her, to serve the men in the kitchen. We could say a lot about that fact. But that’s not really the point here.) I think her capacity serve is a sign of wholeness, the evidence of healing.

There is only so much one can say in a sermon. So let me say this briefly that the word here for healing is closely related to the word for salvation and they both are often translated by the world wholeness. That which is broken is made whole. The kind of healing Jesus brings is not always or necessarily a physical cure of some ailment, but is always wholeness of spirit.

I’m aware of those one who respond to the sustaining presence of Jesus in their lives quietly in simple acts of compassion: like visiting someone in prison or the nursing home and hospital, tutoring children whose parents are working three jobs to survive; checking on frail, isolated neighbors, or as one woman said to me, I may not be able to get around any longer, but I can pray for you every day. She rises to serve, says the text. Like the ones who teach Sunday school, help with the youth, sustain good stewardship of our land, keep hoping alive, and participating in worship. They rise to serve.

This is what Christian discipleship means. Those who encounter the presence of Jesus respond by serving, loving our neighbors, sharing the light that is Christ.

The elders and deacons recently gathered for our annual retreat in which we had long conversations about how to lead our congregation into just this vision of an integrated life in which service arises from an abiding relationship with Christ.

So let us speak plainly. Our hope is that every person in our congregation will encounter the living Christ, find wholeness in him and as a response rise to serve. Not for the sake of the institution; but for God’s sake. On my office wall is a framed quote by Albert Sweitzer, “The most joyful people in life are those who have sought and found a way to serve.”

Finding a way to serve becomes a grateful response and a joyous adventure of those who are being drawn into the God-centered life, following Jesus Christ. Spirituality without some from of social practice is self-indulgence. And social practice that is not rooted in God soon becomes graceless and moralistic and usually ends in burn out.

Jesus offers at different way.  It may surprise you.  He prays.

At a time when the work is most demanding, when the presence of human need is greatest and expectations most high, Jesus intentionally turns aside to find a place of solitude. Mark says, early in the morning while it is still dark, he slips away to pray.

Years ago one of the members of my congregation was a federal judge in Kentucky – the first woman appointed to her post. At the time she and her husband had two young children. They were always on the front row of the early worship service.  How do you manage this life I asked her. She said, “every morning I wake early to read the bible and pray. My husband knows that is my time and so do my children. I’m alone with God. Without that time, I can’t survive and certainly can’t do the work I do well.”

Time alone with God need not be an escape from humanity; it gives rise to the capacity to enter into solidarity with all who suffer. It also gives spiritual depth to the mission of the Church whenever we practice a deep commitment to worship and prayer.

When the world was busy, Jesus turned aside to a lonely place to pray.  Perhaps he prayed for direction. We need to do the same. Maybe he needed courage to carry on his mission.  We need the same. Maybe, he simply needed to be alone with the Source of Love. We need the same.

Jesus returned from solitude and the demands had not ceased. Nothing changed. But he was certainly clear about his purpose. He began to say NO so that he could continue to say Yes. Jesus said No to those searching for him in Capernaum; no to those crowds astonished by his preaching and healing power; no to the growing fame.

He said no to nearly everything and everyone, in order to say yes to his central purpose in life. That’s what spiritual discernment means. When our life is rooted in God and focused on discovering God’s purpose, we are better able to say no, so that we may say yes to our deepest call.

Jesus went on proclaiming the radically good news that God’s reign has come among us. And as he did, the demonic forces against God’s reign were cast out.

Jesus heals. He touches the afflicted with the gracious love of God.

Jesus prays. He steps away from the crowd to rest his soul in God.

Jesus proclaims God’s reign. He declares the ways of God to a disordered world.

Jesus casts out demons. He confronts disfiguring forces with power and grace.

That seems like a pretty good assignment for a congregation that wants to follow Jesus.

Don’t you think?