Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.
The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?
I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.
If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.
In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.
Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?
There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.
The Hearing of the Gospel
Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:
Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out
Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.
We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”
The Healing of the Gospel
This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.
These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.
But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.
The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Call to Righteousness
As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.
Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”
Our Call to Pray for Healing
Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.
We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.
There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.
Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?
What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?
What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?
Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?
Yesterday I preached on the allegiances the Gospel of Jesus challenges us with from Mark 1.10-20. While there may be times that Christ’s call to us may be an utterly radical call to hop on a plane and give the rest of our lives in service on the mission field, more often the call to radical discipleship is in the everyday stuff of life. This season of Epiphany we have been focusing on the fact that God is everywhere and is always revealing himself. The task is for us to have eyes to see his work. This doesn’t just happen, but we need to train our minds, hearts, eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands to feel and experience his presence–as we live and move and have our being in him (Acts 17.28).
Yesterday we considered that Christ’s call to a new allegiance is more often a reappropriation and reorientation of our lives–a line which he draws in the sand and bids us to step over that line, turn around and see the grandeur of the ocean.
The Allegiance of Livelihood
When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, notice that he did not say to these fishermen, “Follow me and I make you become makers of tents and tabernacles…or stonemasons…or anything other than what you’ve known all your life.” Have you considered that God has placed within you, indeed, knit you together, with gifts and talents and passions that he wants you to use in reference to him in the service of others. We minimize our lives and worlds when we strive for our own building up. But when we use these passions and desires for the service of others, we have the opportunity to see God’s glory and our joy multiplied. Don’t shirk the person he has made you to be. Don’t run from the things you love to do because it seems harder. Rather, challenge yourself to re-purpose your loves and passions in service to others, and thereby seeing God’s face more clearly.
The Allegiance of Family
The family in the Ancient Near East determined much of who you are–your profession and your very existence. We get a glimpse of how Jesus reconfigures and challenges the identity and covenantal headship of the nuclear family when he says that those who do the will of his Heavenly Father are his mother and brothers and sisters (Mark 3.31-35). In this, Jesus reorients and challenges the notion that family determines your life. What is more, he is calling his people to a new family based upon faith and apprenticeship to him. To follow him and learn from him.
We long for our children to know Jesus. We believe that parents are the primary disciples in their children’s lives. But we still affirm the call of Jesus to each of our children to repent and believe to be a child of the family of faith.
This reconfiguring of the family can also be seen in the way the Apostle Paul challenges this notion of having to be married and have children to be complete. Not only was he single all his life, and laser-focused on doing what pleased the Father, but our Savior Jesus was single. This challenges the popular notion, and shuts the mouths of those who would ask a single person, “When are you going to get married” or to the married couple, “When are you going to have children.” Relationships and children are gifts and are good. But they are not the definition of wholeness.
The Allegiance of Self
At root of both of the explicit allegiances is the implicit challenge to the gravitational pull of allegiance to our self. Our desire to gather around us “yes men” who merely affirm what we want to be true. Jesus’ first words of public ministry were words of power, words of stark harshness, words of utter grace. Grace in that he offers us freedom from the slavery to our self and our passions. He offers us freedom to experience his world and see him in his world…once we turn from our navel-gazing to see the vastness of his love. Not just at one moment in time, but verily at all points in our existence. If we will have eyes to see.
His call to repent does not come from a call to shape up or ship out. Rather, it stems from his having conquered Satan in the place of judgment and of human weakness and frail and failure–the wilderness.
Consider these questions to guide you in your application of this passage into your life:
1. Your skills at fishing were never meant solely for you. They were intended for and are made even greater when used in the service of others. How has God gifted you? What do you find you are most excited about?
2. How can you make the family of Christ more of a priority in your life? What areas of welcoming others into your life and being open to being known is God calling you to?
3. What allegiances is God challenging you to question and forsake?