Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.

For twenty plus years I have been responsible for the lives of two children. The responsibilities changed over the years. When they were babies, I needed to take care of their every need. As they grew older, they could do many things on their own, but it was still my responsibility to make sure they had the resources necessary to do what they needed to do. I had to cook dinner, wash their laundry, make sure they went to school and did their homework. I had to kiss their booboos, take them to church, and make them birthday cakes every year.

I will never stop being a mom, but my motherhood responsibilities have diminished significantly since the kids have gone to college. I still cook dinner for Bruce and me, but our meals are simpler and easier to cook. I still have dishes to clean, but half as many. I still have laundry to clean, but half as much. I donít need to be up early to get kids off to school, and I donít have to rush my errands to be there when they come home. I donít have to sit around waiting for them to get finished with practice or a meeting or run to the store to buy them materials they need for that project that is due tomorrow. They still call when they are sick, but I canít do anything but give them advice.

My job for those twenty years has been to take care of those children, and now that they are grown, I find myself displaced in a sense. For those twenty years, my identity has been wrapped up in the lives of those kids. Now that they donít need me in that way, I donít know what to do with myself. This is an extreme example, I know, because I am more than a mother. I have gifts and abilities to share. But I have to admit that I enjoyed having the children home over Christmas vacation because I found myself restored to the work that I have been doing so long.

I think sometimes we read the story of Simonís mother-in-law and we are shocked that they would waiting on them so soon after her illness. Didnít she need time to recover? Didnít she need time to get back her strength? The point of this story is not just that Jesus healed Simonís mother-in-law, but that He restored her to her place in the community. She was given a chance to do her work. She was given the chance to be whole again, to do what she was gifted and meant to do. His ministry went beyond healing, to changing lives and transforming people.

Mark tells us that Jesus healed many people that night; so many that the task seemed to become overwhelming. Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus stole away for a moment to go pray. Meanwhile, the disciples searched for Jesus. The people were still coming; the people were still seeking His healing hand. Once again we are surprised by Jesus because we expect that He would want to ensure that everyone is healed, and yet we hear that Jesus wants to go to another place to take the message to other people. Why would He abandon those who were still sick and possessed?

We are people of action. Words donít mean anything. In the midst of our nationís political climate, that might just be true. However, in the midst of the Kingdom of God, what matters is the Word. What matters is the message. In last weekís passage, Jesus healed to prove His credibility. He assured the people that He did indeed speak with authority, and the healing showed the people the source of His authority: God. He was willing to give people life and healing, wholeness and forgiveness. The problem at Simonís house was that the crowds just wanted Jesus to heal them. They werenít looking to be changed or to be transformed. They just wanted Him to fix their problem. They didnít want the Word that came with the action.

It is so much easier to be people of action. We can easily give away a bag full of food to a poor person, but we are afraid to tell them that Jesus loves them. We donít want to offend. We donít want anyone to think that we are giving them the food because we are trying to convert them. We donít want to waste our energy on words when there are so many who need us to do something. We can talk about faith later; first we need to fill their bellies or heal their hurts. Yet, as we see in this story: someone will always need us to do something. We canít let the need for action stand in the way of proclaiming the Word.

The crowds could have easily dictated the course of Jesusí ministry if He had answered every call for healing. He might never have left Simonís home since the crowds continued to come. But healing was never meant to be the focus of His ministry; it was only a part of it. Healing was one of the ways that God would verify Jesusí authority. By the power of God, Jesus changed lives and the miraculous moments testified to Jesusí real identity. When the disciples find Jesus, He said ďLet us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth.Ē He came to preach, to teach, to change peopleís spirits as well as their bodies. Jesus would not allow the crowds to tell Him what He should do or to keep Him from His work. He did what God had sent Him to do. That is the share the Word that heals hearts and sets people free.

What is striking about this story is that Simonís mother-in-law is given a central place but she remains insignificant. She isnít named, she doesnít speak. She is sick, she is healed and she serves. Sounds like most of us, right? Now, I can imagine Jesus and the disciples leaving the synagogue after the worship and the healing of the man, headed to Simonís house for an evening meal. I can hear Jesus greeting Simonís wife affectionately and asking, ďWhereís your mother?Ē They were probably like family, even though it was early in Jesusí ministry. She was important to them, though she might not seem very important to us.

The reality is that we are important to our own loved ones, but we arenít any more significant than Simonís mother-in-law. The people to whom Jesus ministered were insignificant. They were often unnamed. They did not have powerful jobs or important positions in society. They were a lot like us. We are reminded in Isaiah that we are trivial. We are like grasshoppers compared to God Almighty, who created everything and whose hand drives it all. God can bring down princes and rulers and scatter them like a storm scatters stubble. He placed every star in the sky and He knows them all by name. ďTo whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One.Ē There is none like God. Yet, we try to be like Him. We try to be the one in control; we demand that God do what we want Him to do.

In chapter 40, Isaiah asks a number of questions about God. ďWho hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counselor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding?Ē And finally, ďTo whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?Ē

We lose sight of God when we focus on fixing our problems and forget the unmerited blessings of His grace. Godís people have always tried to find our own solutions to our troubles; we have always sought hope and peace and strength from the wrong places. Israel allied with neighbors for protection, sought encouragement from foreigners, all the while forgetting the God and King who provided them all they would ever need. They turned from Him, and in doing so lost touch with the One who could and would protect them. So do we.

Our problems may differ, but we are the same as Israel. Have we chosen to believe that we have the answers, that we know how to solve the problems? Have we become too comfortable in our action and forgotten that it is His Word that truly makes a difference? Have we lifted up the false god of our own goodness and made it our priority, ignoring the real purpose of Godís grace? Isaiah calls out to us today, just as he called out to the Israelites so long ago, ďHast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding.Ē He is faithful and we will find our hope in Him.

Jesus broke down walls. He brought healing, He cast out demons. He changed lives and restored people. But that's not all He came to do. He also came to preach. Unfortunately, the people were so amazed by the miraculous things He was doing that they did not hear what He had to say. They were closing in on Him and expecting from Him only what they wanted. They were not giving Him the room to be who He came to be. So, after dark Jesus went out to a lonely place to pray. When the disciples found Him they told Him that everyone was looking for Him. He said to them, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth." He was not going to allow the people to dictate the work He was going to accomplish. It was time to move on, to share the message with others who might hear. Sadly, we learn in Luke 10 that Capernaum never came to believe. Strange, isn't it? They came to Jesus for healing, but never found wholeness.

What is the message that Jesus was preaching? It was good news! He may have even quoted Isaiah., ďThe everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.Ē It is not what we do that makes a difference in the world, it is God.

We have been called to continue proclaiming the message of hope to the world, but we are reminded in todayís Epistle lesson that speaking the Word does not give us cause for boasting. The Gospel is shocking. It is life changing. It is powerful. Most of all, it is for everyone. Thatís why Paul says that he has become all things to all people. He isnít saying that heís willing to give up what matters, to let the crowds dictate what he does or says about God. Heís not wavering on the one thing that mattersóthe message.

Paul knew that not everyone would hear. He wrote, ďI am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.Ē He does not expect that all will be saved, but heís willing to see the world from someone elseís point of view to help them see God in a life-changing and transforming way. He was willing to let God work through his life in a way that would heal people and make them whole.

The Gospel brings change. The change comes from the Spirit of Christ dwelling within, and it is in Him that we live. In Christ we are more alive than we have ever been, and the breath we breathe is from the Spirit of God Himself. This life leads us to a life of praise and thanksgiving, a like that canít help but proclaim the message of Grace to the world. The Gospel gives us the power to take the Kingdom of God to those who will hear, and it gives us the power to continue the work of Christ in this world.

We will have to act. Weíll heal our neighbors and cast out their demons. Weíll feed the hungry and clothe the poor. Weíll act for justice and work for peace. But in the midst of these ministries let us never forget that ultimately our purpose is to proclaim the message to all people, so that they too might experience the transforming power of His Word. I might not be needed as a mother in the same way, but that was never really my purpose anyway. Raising my children was just one way that I lived out the work of proclaiming the Gospel which Christ has called me to do. Now I must go to the next town to share the message with others and trust that God will finish the work He began.

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