Sermon on 4th February 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 04 FEB 2018

Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD

 

“And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues

and casting out demons.” Mark 1:39

 

Officially, on any given Sunday,

we gather in the name of Jesus Christ, to draw close to God –

to praise, to seek forgiveness, to ask for strength, to say thank you.

In reality, on any given Sunday,

depending on our stage of life and circumstance,

we gather with vastly different needs and motivations;

joyful baptismal families,

the occasional accidental tourist,

the casualty from other church families

the member who has been here sixty years,

and always some who are keenly aware of life’s frailties,

their own or their loved ones.

How can that diversity of spirit, readiness and unreadiness,

fear and confidence, faith and doubt, be addressed –

that each may find a little of what they seek this morning?

The tried and tested way is to let the scriptures speak.

 

The gospel fragment read today is exactly that – a fragment –

part of a wider passage.

Mark’s gospel starts at a gallop.

No genealogies, no birth backstories, just:

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1

John the Baptist, preparing the way

Jesus himself baptised –

heavens opening with the Divine proclamation:

“This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Immediately the Spirit impels him into the wilderness,

to be both tested by Satan and ministered to by angels.

Then just as swiftly it is back to the shores of Lake Galilee

to call the first fisher disciples.

All of which brings us, a little breathlessly,

to a Day in the Life of Jesus Christ.

 

Capernaum – the place, where the adult Jesus chose to live.

A fishing village on the shores of Lake Genneserat,

the lake of the harp (so called for its shape) –

the Sea of Galilee as we know it.

Today, its ruins are a place of pilgrimage;

columns of a C3rd/4th synagogue, the remains of 30/40 households,

the recent discovery of a near-by Roman barracks –

ancient stones, a bridge across the centuries.

A stone’s throw from the synagogue

a brutally modern church hovers over the “site”

of the house of Peter’s mother-in-law.

 

Leaving the synagogue, with worship over – dramatic speaking, dramatic healing –

Jesus and friends move to the hospitality of the brothers, Peter and Andrew –

Jesus’ new family.

Away from the company, quarantined, Peter’s mother-in-law, laid low.

Jesus attends her.

A bedside, no watching crowd; undivided attention, gentleness of touch, trust –

ingredients of healing.

 

Jesus raises her up – the same word used for Easter morning:

“He is not here, he is risen.”

In this case, a woman ritually unclean, a refugee among her own kin,

led home, restored, on the sabbath day.

For the sake of humanity, more than one law is transgressed.

 

In turn, her response:

“…the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

This too on the sabbath: she makes her choice, judging the consequences,

declaring by her actions that the act of serving

trumps the sacredness of the sabbath.

She becomes Jesus’ first servant.

In time, her service will stand in contrast to the disciples,

who vie for places of honour, rather than reaching for basin and towel,

their master’s signature gesture.

 

After sunset, the ending of the sabbath, the crowds gather.

Many who are sick, in body or mind,

come to the rabbi who spoke with authority,

in whose presence healing happens.

This too will be characteristic of Jesus’ days.

 

Then after the tumult, their exhilaration and exhaustion –

a few snatched hours of sleep.

But long before the cockerel summons the dawn,

then when it is very dark,

the search for solitude – a deserted place, prayer.

 “Dark” is a loaded phrase in Mark;

used when the religious leaders hand Jesus over to Pilate (Mark 15:1)

and to describe the women coming to the tomb

where Jesus has been buried (Mark 16:2.)

Jesus prays in the time of dark.

We should not underestimate either the conflict or the cost of prayer, for Jesus.

But prayer is part of him.

He must draw from the well,

to replenish wisdom, courage and love.

 

Respite is brief; the disciples are demanding.

They clamor for an immediate messiah, immediately.

Once again Jesus will not be confined –

neither by the religious authorities and their sabbath laws,

nor by the expectations of his anxious disciples.

“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.”
A day in the life of Jesus Christ.

As would-be disciples what does it illustrate/illuminate?

The reminder that faith is affirmed and nurtured as much in the home,

as it is in the formal sacred space, synagogue or church.

It reminds us of Jesus’ integrity of word and action –

preaching and healing, service and solitude.

It speaks of the wellspring of prayer, from which best action emerges.

 

But there is also something of an elephant in the sanctuary.

 “The problem with miracles is that it is hard to witness them

without wanting one of your own.” Barbara Brown Taylor

 

In a moving essay this week from the American writer-theologian, Debie Thomas

she describes her struggle with the miracles of healing

recounted in the gospels and the realities of her family life –

a teenage son whose current illness remains undiagnosed

and a daughter who has struggled for years with her mental health.

Thomas, as a mother, knows what it is to pray for someone else – desperately.

With words, without words, beyond words. 

Knows too, the reality of those pleas, seemingly unmet.

 

These days, she goes to a side chapel in her church

every Sunday morning during Communion,

and lights two candles — one for her son and one for her daughter.

The lighting is a gesture of faith, maybe.  Of hope. 

But it’s also a gesture of surrender and exhaustion. 

As in, “I just don’t know what words to use anymore.  

My formulas haven’t worked, and I don’t understand.  

Please let these tiny lights be my prayers.”

 Thomas believes that through these things

there is a slow and painful learning

of how to live with the mystery of this world –

the kingdom of God come, but not fully realised;

The, all will be well, but all is not well yet.

 

What she calls the great task, the great sorrow, the great calling, the great journey,

“is to live graciously and compassionately

in this vast and often terrible in-between.” 

 

She tries now to dedicate herself –

to offer the comfort of a steady presence to those who suffer.

To keep from making promises that are not hers to make.

To create and to restore community, family, and dignity

to the sick and wounded – those without cures.

And to make sure, as best she can,

that no one who has to die – dies alone and unloved,  

 

She concludes: For most of my life, I’ve held out for magic/miracle,

believing that it’s the harder thing, the better thing, the worthier thing.  

But it’s not. Magic is easy. Magic is the easy way out. The shortcut.  

Mystery is hard.  Not knowing is hard. 

But mystery is where Jesus is.”

Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus.