A Meditation on Mark 1: 21 – 28
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church January 28, 2018
As much work as Leslie & I put in to crafting each week’s worship experience, seeking words and music which may create a space for communion with God, it is the unscripted moments which create memories.
- The moment a songbird flew out of the massive flower arrangement, and flitted around the sanctuary, on Pentecost Sunday, just as the interim pastor sat down to share a story with the children! You can’t plan this. The timing was amazing. All eyes were glued to this bird as it flew around the sunlit space. We all watched until a man took off his suit jacket, tossed it so gently over the bird as it flew by, and carried it out the front doors to set it free. With the excitement over, the pastor said to the children, “and that’s what it was like on Pentecost! Let’s pray.”
- Which reminds me of the moment when our Pentecost flame installation fell so softly down upon our shoulders last spring, perfectly timed to the ending of the offertory piece. Unforgettable!
- And then there are the coos, cries and shouts of babies and toddlers. Perfectly timed “amens.”
While it would have been tempting to Jesus’ human nature to “plant” someone with an unclean spirit in the congregation that day, we can rest assured that’s not really his way. Besides, it was inevitable that someone would shout out. It was a holy inevitability. It was inevitable because when a group of people come together, we come as we are. We don’t have an option to put on our “perfect” selves before we walk out the door. We come with all our “demons.” That this inevitability was holy? Because God is holy, and if we come to worship God, then we will encounter the holy in our midst.
The surprise of this story is not that someone cried out “What have you to do with us??” The surprise of this story is that only one someone cried out. Why didn’t an entire chorus of people cry out, “What do you want with us? You won’t destroy us, will you?”
We have no idea which scroll Jesus read to the congregation that day. We have no idea how he taught or what he taught. I wish Mark had included that detail. Whatever it was, the worshiping community heard the authority in Jesus’ voice. They weren’t unfamiliar with good preaching, but this was unlike anything they had ever heard. This was the voice of God. I would have hated to be the scribe who was scheduled to teach the following Sabbath. What a hard act to follow…
We all respond differently to what we hear. Many stayed silent. But one? One could not be contained. One was about to explode. Jesus spoke truth and that truth penetrated that person’s soul so deeply, that they simply had to interrupt the service.
This holy interruption, this outburst, allowed for this individual’s salvation, and most likely the salvation of others. Jesus spoke a word of authority, and the man was healed.
Both Jesus’ teaching and his healing work amazed the congregation. Of course they did. It was nothing short of miraculous. If I had been there, my mouth would have been hanging open. I would have wanted to run and tell everyone. But Mark, in his writing, cautions us. Jesus is not seeking people who are amazed by him in the moment; he is seeking people who can keep the faith with him over the long haul. In Mark’s gospel, whenever Jesus offers a miracle of healing, he asks people not to talk about it. So strange to us in our day and age of oversharing. Jesus longs for people who will focus, not on the miracles, but on the giver of miracles: the God of creation.
But…but…being amazed is energizing! It’s exciting! It was a rush of adrenalin for those who watched the story unfold AND they sustained that excitement by being the center of attention: “I saw the miracle!” “I was there!” What a rush. But like a “sugar high,” it doesn’t sustain you. It’s like watching an amazing fireworks display. We “ooh” and “aaah,” but then it’s over. We have to wait for the next holiday to see anything that inspiring again.
Faithfulness is a completely different experience of being energized. Instead of a “sugar rush,” of a Butterfinger and a Coke, it’s the sustained energy of quinoa and lentils, spinach and blueberries. For Jesus’ disciples, it meant staying the course even when they were not guaranteed a place to sleep, didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, or what the world would do to them. Faithfulness means going places we didn’t know we could go, doing things we thought were impossible, speaking out, showing up, praying when you don’t feel like it or when you wonder if God is there. Faithfulness.
Some of you have been open about your struggles with chronic physical or mental illness. No simple answers or quick fixes. Yet you keep the faith.
Some of you labor for justice for loved ones who have been neglected or abused. No simple answers or quick fixes. Yet you keep the faith.
Some of you keep searching for job security or for satisfying employment, not just a job that pays the bills. No simple answers or quick fixes. Yet you keep the faith.
Some of you labor for the rights of all God’s people, work that is endless. You chip away at injustices, bit by bit. Even as one gap is filled, you watch other gaps open up around you. No simple answers or quick fixes. Yet you keep the faith.
This is what Jesus was talking about. He came to the synagogue to teach, and his teaching provoked a response. He offered the teaching and he offered them a miracle. The miracle itself was offered to them as testimony and reminder: this is what the power of God looks like. The teaching and the laboring go hand in hand. Jesus did not offer one without the other.
And though Mark does not draw attention to it, we must remember that all of this happened on the Sabbath. Jesus taught on the Sabbath. That was totally acceptable. Jesus also healed on the Sabbath. That was not. When worship was over, Simon and Andrew invited the preacher over for lunch. But Simon’s mother in law was sick, and lunch was far from ready! Jesus healed her, and she did what any good Jewish mother was expected to do in the day: she fed everyone! Again, he healed on the Sabbath.
By sunset, the city was crowded at the door, and Jesus spent the evening healing all those who were in need. On the Sabbath. He spent much of his Sabbath breaking the rules about Sabbath. Which isn’t a blanket statement that we are free to throw the rules out the door. Jesus summarized all the law with these two practices: Love God. Love others. All others. By love he doesn’t mean hearts and flowers, kisses and hugs.
Love is serving and sacrificing. Love is forgiving. Love is laboring and, sometimes, fighting. Love will not always make us popular. It may even leave us misunderstood. Ask Jackie & Scott McQueen who have been sharing their story with us this month in the “Called Out” series, and in his book “Reasonable Doubt.” It made Jesus so unpopular that some in this world could not endure his presence. if we are those who walk in his way we must also be prepared for that.
Today we celebrate one year of being Grace Presbyterian Church. We have accomplished much in the course of a year, but there is so much more we are called to do and to be. I pray most of all that the stories of God’s people, the stories we encounter week by week will continue to challenge us to be faithful. I do hope that we will be amazed by God from time to time. (I think many of us are still amazed that we are now Grace!) And I pray that from within our midst there will always be a voice that is compelled to speak up, to speak out, to raise questions about God, raise questions to God, and provoke a miraculous response from God.
One spoke out. One was healed. Which lead to the healing of multitudes. When one is healed, the community is changed, renewed, reborn. May this be a place in which God works those miracles among us, even as we seek to be Jesus’ faithful, enduring disciples. Thanks be to God. Amen.