5 Epiphany B—2/4/18
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Pr. Scott Kramer
I shared with you last week that my Uncle Rod died at the age of 85, following a few brief months of living with leukemia. Here’s a line from his published obituary that gives you an idea of what he was like:
He loved meeting new people and would often choose to go in the “singles” line at the chair lift while skiing just to have the opportunity to meet and talk with others on the ride up to the top.
Now, if you’re not a skier, you might not know that the “singles line” line merges with groups of two or three from the main chairlift line, which means that both lines go faster.
Not all of us have the gregarious, extroverted personality of my Uncle Rod. And yet, there is something in him that is universal in describing what it means to be a follower and not just an admirer of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus in our reading today begins with the comfortable and the familiar: brothers James and John, Simon and Andrew. They in turn invite some of their friends. Then, in today’s story,
As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
There is movement in this story! Jesus begins with sets of brothers and their friends. In today’s story the circle gets bigger; it’s the in-laws who are included! Like my Uncle Rod choosing the singles ski line to meet new people, Jesus also is moving beyond relationships that feel safe and familiar. But for all that, he’s just getting warmed up. Notice what happens next:
“Everyone is searching for you,” his disciples say. He 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.”
What is this message that Jesus proclaims? It is the message of God’s love for all people. This may be what he preached in words but there’s a lot more than that going on here. Jesus preached an even more powerful message by just showing up: Showing up outside the familiar circles of family and friends. Showing up outside the familiar confines of his home town. Showing up among strangers, outsiders, people who were diseased or in other ways on the edge of society.
Yesterday I drove downtown Seattle to a workshop called “Kids and Race.” It was a powerful conversation about the messages children hear early on that either encourage or discourage them about who they are. What kinds of messages over the centuries has the church communicated in pictures and in language that send a message that the Christian God is a white God?
I didn’t attend this workshop as a presenter or an expert. I didn’t go in order to bring back some great strategy or curriculum or program for our congregation to use. I went to listen. I went simply to show up. I went because it would send a message of encouragement to others who were there that I don’t have all the answers and that I need to learn; I want to learn.
“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.” I think most of my life I’ve thought of Jesus as the “answer guy,” the all-powerful one perfectly in control, who steps in like some action hero to save the day for weak and pitiful people.
I don’t believe that anymore. I think of Jesus more as the guy at the ski area who, like my Uncle Rod, goes in the chairlift singles line, intentionally trying to meet up with strangers to hear their stories and learn from them. The power of the gospel message was not so much in what Jesus said as who he was. Sometimes the most effective way of communicating God’s love is just showing up!
We are blessed to have an intern who seems to understand this instinctively. Nathan is at another church today on behalf of Open Door Ministries but on Friday, Nathan texted me that he was on his way to Harborview Medical Center to visit the mother of the young man who was the victim of a hate crime in Auburn last week. Not to fix things or to provide answers. He went simply to show up. A white man by the bedside of a black man who is at the brink of death.
What is this Jesus story that we come to hear all about each Sunday? And why are we here? To hang out with people we are comfortable with? “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.”
To follow Jesus means to begin with what’s familiar, and quickly move to that which is not. Notice that we’re not even out of the first chapter of Mark’s gospel when Jesus is heading out of town. To proclaim the message of God’s love, often as not, means going out of our way to learn from people and stories that are different from our own. Not to fix or provide answers or to be heard. Just to show up and listen, as an act of love.
This morning in class we again used the book, “Faith in Action,” to guide our conversation. We focused on incarceration, and the injustice of the American prison system. A system that has always been driven by fear and a need for control is now, more ominously, driven by profit. What might it mean for followers of Jesus to “just show up” to hear the stories of those who are most affected by unjust incarceration, especially, people of color?
The opportunities for God’s people in a major metropolitan area to just show up are endless. Workshops, concerts, rallies, classes. Last Saturday night one of our sister congregations in the Renton Highlands hosted an opportunity for Muslims and Christians to gather for conversation over dinner. One of our own attended the Crosscut conversation of community leaders. Yes, the opportunities are endless, just to show up, to hear the stories of people not like us, and maybe even to be transformed by those experiences!
We have in Jesus Christ an example to follow. It’s work that anyone can do. Start out with family and friends—whatever fits inside our comfort zones. We then pay attention to opportunities that appear along the way that call us out into less familiar territory. What if God’s people understood Sunday morning as the singles line at the ski slope? What if each person who comes on Sunday sets aside agendas for personal needs and expectations, and instead follows Jesus’ example of intentionally going out of our way to hear and learn from and be shaped by the stories of others? What if this Sunday practice becomes the shape for our lives the rest of the week?
The world is not going to be saved by politicians or political parties. The world will not be saved by safe and comfortable confidence in economic security or wrapping ourselves in the flag or racial identity or any other of the failed strategies of this world that never satisfy. The story of our faith is the story of God’s people following the one who came to save the world in this life one person at a time, through an expanding circle of love. Beloved people of God, led by the Holy Spirit, this morning you have already gone out your way and just shown up.
Now what are you going to do?