02/08/15 Sermon (February 8, 2015)

posted Jun 24, 2015, 11:20 AM by David Hawkins

“Saved to Serve”

Scripture Reading: Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.

35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

38He 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.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Sermon: "Saved to Serve"             Rev. David Hawkins

For the last few weeks, we’ve been listening to the Apostle Paul as he helps his young congregation in Corinth figure out what it means to live in relationship. This seems to be a pretty difficult thing for us Christians at times. We understand the part where Jesus saves us from our sins, but we are flummoxed by what it means to love each other as he loved us.

We’re going to leave the Corinthians to their confusion for a week as we check in on Jesus, at the very beginning of his ministry as recorded by the Gospel of Mark.

As I was reading the suggested lectionary texts for this Sunday, especially in terms of how they inform our understanding of what membership and fellowship mean in the church, I was struck by the perfect image of ministry offered by this short passage in Mark. It seemed to me that every word offers us an ideal model for how we are called to live and love as Christians.

In fact, even the way it is written offers some guidance. I’ve mentioned this before, that the original text of the Gospel of Mark is written in a strange kind of present tense Greek, something called the Narrative Present Tense. It’s a grammatical style of writing that one uses to describe events in the past as though they are happening in the present. It adds a sense of immediacy to the story telling.

We actually use this style of speaking all the time when we are telling a story to our friends about something that happened in the past. How often have you said something along the lines of: “So, I’m making Chili for the Chili Cook-off, and I’m thinking about how I can make this special, and it comes to me: Beans! So I pour the beans in my Chili, and everybody is amazed!”

Do you see what I mean? That’s how everyone tells stories. Nobody would tell this story in the past tense. It’s way more exciting in the present tense.

Now, what I’m going to do would get me into serious trouble with my Greek teacher at seminary. She told us over and over that if she heard that we were talking about “the Greek” in our sermons, she would track us down, and kick us in the rear end. But I’ve asked Gayland and Whit to watch the doors, so I think we’re safe.

Let me offer just a little bit of what this passage would sound like, if our wonderful Bible translators had preserved this Narrative Present Tense, this unusual way of writing that we find in the Gospel of Mark. For context, I invite you refer back to your bibles on page 35 in the New Testament if you would like to read along:

“And immediately, they were going out of the synagogue, and they go into house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever, and immediately, they tell him about her. He comes and takes her by the hand and raises her up. The fever leaves her, and she begins to serve them...”

Now, this is the way we would tell the story if we were talking to someone. If we had actually seen this happen, and we were telling someone else, this is how we would say it.

But it’s not how we would normally write it, is it? And it would be weird to read an entire book that was written in this style. And this is why Bible translators didn’t translate the Gospel of Mark in its full Narrative Present Tense weirdness. For reasons of style and readability, the Greek present tense verbs in Mark have been changed to past tense verbs in English.

But I think we lose something in the translation. The Gospel of Mark wasn’t written to be read alone, at home. It was written to read aloud, in front of people. It was written to tell a story. An amazing story. An exciting story.

There’s something so urgent about this style of writing. For Mark, everything is happening right now. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not something that happened a long time ago. It’s something that we experience as it unfolds before our very eyes.

And so for me anyway, the way the Book of Mark is written is almost as important as what it is written about. It’s an urgent, immediate, ‘can-you-believe-it’s-true’ type of writing that grabs us by the throat and won’t let go until the very last page. It’s like reading a James Bond Spy thriller, except in this story, the world truly does get saved in the end.

But it’s not just the grammar of this passage that has something to tell us about Christian ministry.

We catch up with Jesus and his disciples as they are leaving the synagogue, where he had spent the sabbath ‘teaching as though he had authority’. And now he comes to his friend’s house, whose mother in law is sick. With this segue, Mark reminds us that Christian ministry is more than just preaching and teaching. It’s more than just talking about God. At some point, we need to leave the church, and go out into the world and do something that reflects what it was that we were talking about.

And when Jesus does leave the sanctuary to offer healing, he does it in relationship. Jesus is there in body, not just in spirit. Think about all the times that Jesus is touching people in order to heal them. Jesus performs his miracles, not through telekinesis, astral projection, or ESP, but by his touch. He rubs mud in their eyes, he touches their hands, or they touch him. He is physically present with them, physically present in their time of need, in their time of sickness, pain, and grief.

Christian ministry is done in relationship. We bear each other’s burdens together. And it’s hard sometimes to be with someone who is hurting. We hurt with them, and that is painful, and we don’t want to be in pain. Sometimes it’s easier to walk away from pain.

And when someone loses a loved one, it’s even harder. Grief and sorrow make us uncomfortable. We feel like crying, and we hate that. We don’t know what to say, and so we stay away to avoid uncomfortable silences, or we offer easy cliches and platitudes.

It’s hard to be in relationship with someone who is hurting. It’s hard to see people we love in pain. But relationships are where healing takes place. And without relationship, healing is hard to come by.

I read about study in which two groups of hospital patients were being prayed for. The first group had no relationship with the group praying for them, didn’t know them, never met them, never talked to them. The second group knew the people praying for them and they communicated regularly, were visited frequently, and experienced the personal touch of friends and family.

Guess which one of these groups showed the greatest healing?

In the Romanian Orphanage that our Presbytery supports, and where several of our own members have done mission trips, there are several older women, called, ‘The Grannies’, whose job is to provide physical touch for the youngest children. It has been discovered that children raised without human touch find it difficult to form any kind of lasting relationships in adulthood, and often are unable to fully trust or love anybody. In fact, many infants who don’t experience human touch do not live to become adults.

And so these Grannies are paid a stipend, nothing really, to come in and spend a few hours every day simply carrying, touching, holding, talking to, smiling at the children. And this simple touch changes everything. It turns out that a loving touch offered in relationship might be the most powerful healing technique these orphans, or anybody else for that matter, will ever experience.

Yet, even though Jesus shows us how powerful the human touch really is, our Gospel story doesn’t end when Simon’s mother-in-law is raised up. But, I think for a lot of Christians, it kind of does. The point of Christianity for a lot of folks is to get saved. That conversion moment is the only thing that matters. And when it happens, when the sinner confesses, “I believe!” that’s that. Job well done. Yay Jesus.

But for Simon’s mother, being saved is not the end. Being raised up is not a stopping point. Immediately after being relieved of her fever, she begins to serve Jesus. And this small, seemingly insignificant detail is a very big deal.

You see, it’s still the Sabbath. Remember, that’s how this story started. It’s not an accident that this story began with Jesus leaving the synagogue. Mark doesn’t do anything by accident. He’s got a story to tell, and every single word counts. It’s the sabbath. Simon’s mother in law was sick, but she is raised up, and she serves the Lord. On the Sabbath. When it is against religious law to serve anyone.

Simon’s mother-in-law reminds us that being raised up is the beginning of our ministry, not the end. She reminds us that we are saved to serve, even when the world tells us that service is somehow wrong or stupid or inappropriate, even when the church tells us our ministry is not allowed. She reminds us that our whole life is a response to Jesus’ healing touch, and this response transcends artificial religious boundaries .

After Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law, he spends the rest of the day healing others in the town, friends, family, people that are being brought to see him. Because that’s what we do when we see Jesus at work. We want to invite others to see him, to invite others feel the same thing, to experience the moment when Jesus touches our own lives, especially when we feel like nothing will ever feel good again, when we feel like we can never know what peace is, when we feel like we have been forgotten by God. When we ourselves are raised up by Jesus Christ we want to invite everyone we know and love to experience the same joy.  

And after Jesus spends the day and the evening ministering to those who came to see him, he takes the next day off, gathering his strength in prayer and in worship.  Even when his disciples try to convince him that there are still people looking for him, he insists on taking the time he needs to be rooted spiritually, mentally, and physically.

This short scripture tells us everything we need to know about what being a member of the Christian Community looks like. As members of Christ’s body, we are called to be in relationship, and to be present with those who are in pain.

We are reminded to take care of ourselves as well, that we are given permission to rest from time to time; even when the need is all around us, we can spend time in worship and in prayer to remember whose work we are doing.

And finally, we are reminded that the call is urgent. Our participation in the ministry of the church is immediate. We are called now, where we are, when we are, who we are, to rise and serve Jesus, not when it’s convenient, but immediately upon feeling the healing touch of our savior.

To the Lord who speaks to us,

and strengthens us,

and blesses us with peace,

be all glory and honor forever. Amen.