Preached on 4 February 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
“Let’s go. That’s why I came,” Jesus says.
That’s what Jesus says when his disciples come looking for him the next morning, saying, “where have you been? Everyone’s looking for you.”
It’s what he says after some time spent away from the crowds clamoring for his attention, his help, his healing; after some time spent with God in quiet and in prayer, discerning what to do next.
And can’t you just hear the disciples? “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean, let’s go? Don’t you know? Everybody’s looking for you. We’re not done here.”
“But it’s time to move on. I have a message and I need to spread it to all the towns, not just this one. We have to focus on the main purpose, on why I came.”
“But you’re so good at healing and casting out demons and there are still so many people who need you,” they might say.
“But the message; it’s time to move on,” he would respond.
I bet you’ve felt that way before, and may even be feeling that way now. Either the one saying, “let’s go, we need to focus.” Or the one saying, “whoa, wait a minute, we’re not finished here.”
Mark packs a lot into these few paragraphs. Today’s reading picks up immediately after what we heard last week when Jesus teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath and casts out a demon from a man there.
He and his disciples leave the synagogue and immediately go to Simon’s house whose mother-in-law is sick in bed. Jesus raises her up and cures her of the fever. What the NRSV translates as “lifted” is the same verb that is used later when Jesus is raised from the dead. One could say this is a story of resurrection.
And immediately she begins to serve them. She is embodying what the angels did for Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism – we’ll hear about that in a couple of weeks. She is doing what Jesus does and what he tells his disciples they must do. She serves. So, one could say this is a story of call and discipleship.
As the story progresses, we see it move from the synagogue to the intimate privacy of a family home. Then, they move to the more public area of the doorway of the house, where the whole town gathers and Jesus heals many of their illnesses and casts out demons. Next, it moves to Jesus alone with God, perhaps reflecting on what has just happened and thinking and praying about what to do next. Finally, the disciples rejoin him and they move on.
We can see a pattern of action, then reflection, prayer, and discernment, and finally, new action.
Does one of these ways of looking at the passage catch your attention more than the others and invite you to further contemplation?
Perhaps the resurrection story invites you to look for and pay attention to the little resurrections happening all around us. Whether it’s the flower bulbs that are starting to come up in our gardens or a physical healing or a relationship that has new energy or some other event that feels like new life bubbling up.
Or perhaps it’s the call story inviting you to ask yourself, in what way is God calling you to serve God’s people. What does discipleship look like in your life? In the life of this community?
Or maybe it’s’ the story of discernment and movement that catches your attention.
For me, this time, what caught my attention was that decision, almost like a turning point – Let’s go. That’s why I came.
We’ve all experienced that kind of decision point at some time in our lives. Sometimes it’s a choice we make ourselves, but often it’s because of factors outside of our control. In any case, we usually have a mixed bag of emotions and questions and even protestations.
I’m not ready. We weren’t finished.
There’s so much more to say, so much more to do.
I don’t want to let go of or lose what we had.
On the other hand, we may feel relief that what was is finally over.
And alongside all of those, we may feel a mix of excitement and anxiety as we look forward anticipating what’s next. What will we do? Do we have what we need? Will we be okay?
How will we know?
As Ascension enters into this time of transition, those emotions and questions may come up. What will sustain us through this journey? We can take our lead from Jesus: take a step, then reflect and pray and discern, make adjustments as needed, and then take another step.
It also helps to have the words of a good prophet. Remember what we heard from the prophet, Isaiah today? This passage is from the Book of Consolation. The people of Israel have been in exile in Babylon for decades. They wonder if they’ll ever go home, Does God even hear them or has God abandoned them? And Isaiah reminds them about their God. “Did you not know? Had you not heard? Was it not told to you from the beginning? It is God who stretches out the heavens like a cloth; who created the remotest parts of the earth; who does not grow tired or weary. It is God who gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.
This is the God who calls us, who guides us, who goes before us and behind us and beside us all the way. This is the God who sustains us and gives us hope for the journey.