Sermon • February 7, 2021

Today’s Gospel passage runs like a Superbowl highlight reel: It’s fast-paced, and it covers a lot of ground. The first chapter of Marks sets the speed for our story. The Greek word for “immediately” is used 11 times in this opening chapter, and it hits us that the ministry of Jesus demands immediate attention. The kingdom of God cannot wait any longer, and we see Jesus carry God’s grace and truth to a weary world. In today’s passage, we watch Jesus and the disciples on the move. After healing a man at the synagogue, Jesus heads to the home of Simon Peter, where he offers another healing, followed by many more who come to the door. Then, without a word, Jesus slips out early to pray the next morning, and when the disciples finally discover him, he tells them to get ready for another journey. This outline of events announces that the good news of Jesus is both urgent and enduring. God’s merciful love is made known again and again as he continues to heal and preach in new places. Through his ministry, Jesus reveals that we are made for a community and a calling.

This ministry is not bound to any one group or geographical area, and we see a sign of God’s kingdom in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. At first glance, the scene appears rather straightforward: Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up, leaving her with no fever. Looking closer at the circumstances, however, we can begin to notice some other information: This healing is the first healing of illness in Mark’s gospel. The event illustrates that Jesus is committed to the care of all, women and men alike Then there’s the setting: This woman was at home when she met God’s healing, and it was brought to her through Jesus’ disciples. God’s care can come to us anywhere through material means; it can arrive as a meal, a card, a call, or medicine or therapy that restores our health. It is healing that inspires service, and it is here that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law shines. She does not take this gift for granted, and she launches into offering hospitality as the host of the house. Meeting Jesus enabled her to be herself again, and she becomes an unexpected disciple, while her son-in-law Peter still struggles to understand Jesus.

Peter and the other disciples fall for the temptation of “mission creep,” and that’s a military term that can be applied to Jesus’ ministry at this moment. “Mission creep” describes what happens when we lose sight of the original mission. Mission creep often begins innocently enough, when a project is broadened to accomplish additional goals, but it often ends up undermining the original aim. The disciples were ready to open a healing center in Capernaum, but Jesus recalled to them that was not their task. They were entrusted to announce the kingdom of God throughout the world; the light of the world could not stay small and stationed in one spot. Jesus had to hasten with this message, so he gives them their marching orders.

In telling the disciples that they had to go to the neighboring towns, he was teaching them to let go, to drop whatever plans and preconceptions they had in order to stay committed to the kingdom. We struggle with this directive, as well, because the dreams of our discipleship often differ from how we’re called to be disciples. We might want to give to a charity, but we find that they really need us to volunteer. We hope to be generous and forgiving like our Lord, and then we face situations that test those things. We wish to be together in our pews, but we’re online as one body. In calling the disciples to go with him to other towns, Jesus frees them from their expectations and disappointments, and he opens their eyes to new opportunities. As Mother Teresa observed about her own discipleship, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful,” and as long as we endeavor to be faithful, we will walk with Jesus wherever he goes.

So how might we be faithful to Jesus when we’re snowed in and separated due to the pandemic? We know that God can meet us wherever we are, but for today, let’s go and pray to our Lord in a dark and a deserted place. It doesn’t actually have to be dark and deserted, but set aside space and time to be uninterrupted and offer your intercessions, thanksgiving, and attention to Jesus. The dark and deserted details in chapter 1 of Mark’s Gospel is meant to make us think of the dark and deserted places that Jesus will go on behalf of humanity, to the wilderness, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately to the cross. Even in those depths of despair, God declares his love toward us, and calls us to share the love of his Son through our own witness, in healing, teaching, and helping others to know Jesus in our day. We’ll probably forget who’s the winner of tonight’s championship game at some point, but this Sabbath day will be memorable if prayer and service are offered to the mission of Jesus.

The Reverend Alex Allain +