February 7, 2021 (5th Sunday after Epiphany) -- Pr. Phil Tonnesen

Prayer of the Day: Everlasting God, you give strength to the weak and power to the faint. Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Mark 1: 29-39

Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. 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.

A Preaching Tour in Galilee

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 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.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Some thoughts from Pastor Phil:

This past Fall I participated in an online bible study led by Bishop Tim Smith. We focused on the Gospel of Mark, and at our last session someone on the Zoom call raised an interesting question. This woman wondered why Mark’s gospel ends the way it does, in Chapter 16, verse 8, with the women fleeing from the empty tomb, afraid. Is it possible, she asked, that the original ending of Mark had been lost?

It was an interesting question, and one that people ask from time to time. But in light of our gospel lesson today from Mark, another good question would be: Why does the Gospel of Mark begin the way it does? It begins so abruptly. Is it possible that someone lost the opening portion? Or is there a reason why Mark begins as hastily as it does?

Here is the point I’m getting at: The Gospel of Matthew begins by giving us the ancestry of Jesus, which was very important for Jewish readers and for anyone interested in Old Testament prophecy. Matthew then tells how Jesus was miraculously conceived and born, and then how he was worshipped by wise men who came from a great distance because they wanted to see the new king that God was sending into the world, the king of the Jews.

The Gospel of Luke also begins with the miraculous story of the birth of Jesus, prefaced by another miracle story, the birth of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus.

The Gospel of John begins like a mystery story, not simply with the birth of Jesus on this planet, but with the story of his existence before coming to this planet, as the One who was with God from the beginning.

All this is to say that Matthew, Luke and John all begin, in one way or another, with stories related to the birth of Jesus. But Mark doesn’t tell us a thing about Jesus’ birth. In fact, he begins his story when Jesus was about 30 years old. He tells us how John the Baptist announced that Jesus was on the way. Then, in two or three sentences, Mark tells us about Jesus’ baptism. Two more sentences tell us of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, and then that he began preaching and calling some disciples to help him. Then, a somewhat lengthier report follows about how Jesus astonished people with his preaching and, more than that, by the way he delivered a man who had “an unclean spirit” (our gospel lesson from last Sunday); and with that, we are led into our text for today.

It seems strange, doesn’t it, that Mark’s gospel tells us nothing about Jesus’ birth, that it, instead, begins its story when Jesus is 30 years old and that it does so by thrusting us full-scale and helter-skelter into Jesus’ work? Mind you, all of this comes to us in roughly a page and a half in our Bibles. It takes up less space and time than a report in the newspaper on today’s Super Bowl game.

Why does Mark do this? That is the question I would like for us to consider this morning. What does Mark have in mind? Obviously, we can’t read the author’s mind, but one gets the feeling that Mark can’t wait to get into the story of what Jesus was doing.

The Gospel of Mark is very much an action gospel. It’s as if Mark were saying, “The world needs Jesus. People were waiting for him whether they knew it or not.” Then Mark proceeds to show us that the world to which Jesus came was a world out-of-joint. It was a world in trouble, a world that needed a Savior.

The great 20th century Russian novelist Boris Pasternak said that the first-century world into which Jesus came was “a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement of filth.” But then Pasternak said, “into this tasteless heap of gold and marble, Jesus came.” The novelist is telling us in his graphic way that humanity was living in a “flea market,” a “tasteless heap of gold and marble,” but that in spite of all the power of the Roman Empire, Christ changed everything by his coming.

This, very likely, is what Mark, too, is telling us. Many Bible scholars suggest that Mark’s gospel was originally directed especially to the Roman audience, to people who lived in the seductive, distracting glamour of the imperial city, and Mark wants them to know the truth about the human condition. Life was cheap and easily sacrificed to the purposes of entertainment or emperors or the pleasures of the wealthy. And with it all, most people were enduring many kinds of ailments of body, mind and spirit, ailments that seemed to be everywhere. And then…Jesus came. He spoke eternal good sense. He brought hope, integrity and purpose to life – and clearly, he cared, and so the needy ones came to him.

In our text today we hear that Jesus came to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew, and Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Now remember that fevers were often a life and death matter in that time and climate. Jesus entered the sickroom, took the woman by the hand, and lifted her up. Mark tells us in a very matter of fact way that “the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

 

There is something delightfully simple and unpretentious in this story. No one runs out into the street to announce that a healing has taken place; no news reporters are brought in to ask questions and prepare a story for the press. The mother-in-law does what is most natural to her; now that she is well, she heats up the coffee and gets out the sandwiches and cookies.

As the story continues, somehow words get out that Jesus is in the miracle business, and so the community starts to bring to Jesus “all who were sick or possessed with demons.” The good news continues to spread, and Marks says, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” Mark doesn’t take the time to give a detailed list of the problems and ailments, he simply says that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.”

We don’t know how many the word “many” designates, whether it is 10, 30, 50 or 100. Jesus then retires for the night, but we read that in the morning, “while it was still very dark,” Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place so he could pray. He had to restore his spirit in order to be ready for the challenges of a new day. There were other towns, Jesus told Simon and the others, where he must go to proclaim the message; other towns where he will preach and cast out demons.

Friends in Christ, I think this is a very important text for us to hear on this Sunday as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent. This scripture tells us, in dramatic ways, why Jesus came. It moves from the warm and the lovely sentiment that accompanies the Christmas story to a day-to-day description of the world into which Jesus came, a world out-of-joint, and why, therefore, Jesus needed to come.

It reminds us that Jesus needed some alone time with his Father, sometimes late at night or early in the morning, to get the reinforcement he needed to meet the titanic needs of our world. The other three gospels tell us very poetically that God came into our world in the person of Jesus. Mark’s gospel tells us the kind of world into which Jesus came. Mark’s gospel thrusts us right into the mess of everyday life.

All that is to say: Mark tells us that Christmas happened because we need it; we couldn’t survive without it. This is a holy reminder, with Lent some 10 days away. You and I and Christians around the world are the ones who represent Jesus in this world that is so much out-of-joint. We are the people who represent our Lord in a world that needs him as much now as it did some 20 centuries ago. This is surely what Mark want us to know.

Because our world is still out-of-joint. It still needs the Christ of Calvary, with his compassion for our human need. And folks, we are part of the delivery team. Amen.

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