Archive for September, 2019

Mark 3:1-6

September 17, 2019

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”

Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6

Suppose you are a Pharisee. You are part of the Jewish fundamentalist movement. You are a real back to the Bible kind of person. Unlike those Sadducee priests you truly despise, who have sold their souls to the Romans so they can enrich themselves from the temple treasury, you see yourselves as a purifying movement for the good of the people.

You are a reformer.  You value all of the ancient writings, not just the Torah. You “know your Bible” through and through. You believe you are quite loving in your interpretation of God’s words.

You are well aware that there is a man with a deformed hand among you in your Sabbath worship. You know what it says in Leviticus 21 about those who aren’t welcome in the tabernacle: For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” You might even feel good about yourself for letting one of “those people” join you.

Then Jesus shows up. There he is again. You’ve heard about him. He and his stinky fisherman friends don’t know enough to stay away from obvious “people in sin.” He doesn’t respect God’s word. But he is developing a following amongst the people and that is threatening to you so you watch him closely. You just know he is going to do something wrong. And he does.

He heals the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath!!!!!

And you think that is such a bad thing that you leave the group and start plotting how you can kill him and get him out of the way.

Is it possible? Can it be true? Can it really happen that people with a deep and abiding faith in God, who know their Bible through and through, can end up utterly blind to the healing, liberating action of God in the lives of those they deem deformed and unclean?

What the Pharisees missed was that Jesus didn’t show up just to heal a guy’s hand, he showed up to heal a community’s broken faith, including the broken faith of the Pharisees who had locked God into a little box they controlled.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, may we always put people first and may we always be open to your healing power. The power than can open hearts and minds and move us from certainty to trust. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Mark 2:23-28

September 16, 2019

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28

Yeah, but that was different.” We’ve all heard that one. We’ve all said it. Back us into the corner and we’re bound to get defensive. “Yeah, but that was different.” You can almost hear the Pharisees saying that to Jesus. If not saying it, you know that is what they are thinking.

Jesus is right. David did get the holy bread reserved in the tabernacle for his troops. Why? They were hungry. You can read the story yourself in 1 Samuel 21. And the Pharisees would have been right in saying “Yeah, but that was different” – it was different. What David did was far worse than the disciples plucking a little roadside snack as they walked.

Technically, the Pharisees were also right. Harvesting grain was forbidden on the sabbath. (Not to mention theft from whomever owned the field.) Still Jesus challenged them. As Jesus saw it, the problem wasn’t that the disciples broke the rules, the problem lay in how the Pharisees had come to applying the rules. They had turned the rules into something they were never supposed to be.

The Sabbath echoed the creation story where God rested on the 7th day – and therefore commanded – for their own good! – that people also set aside one day of rest per week. Here is where I appreciate a common sense understanding of the first three commandments.

1 – You shall have no other gods before me. “You’re going to have a god, everyone does. Don’t waste your time on the wrong one.”

2 – You shall not take God’s name in vain. “Giving you my name is like giving you my phone number so that you can get in touch with me. Use my name, don’t abuse it.”

3 – Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. “Set aside a day for rest, you need it, and while you’re resting, I’d like to have a word with you. Spend some of that rest time hanging out with me and a few other people.”

Jesus challenges the Pharisees to reconsider how they understand the sabbath – not as a constrictive code but as a gift for busy people. AND he lets the Pharisees know that they aren’t the ones making the rules, God is.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we begin another week of busyness at home, at school, and at work, we pray for opportunities to give it our best, to use our gifts to the fullest. And when the work is over, we thank you for inviting us to a day of rest. You create us, may we be mindful of the ways that you recreate us, including gathering us for worship. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:21-22

September 13, 2019

‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’ Mark 2:21-22

The first weird thing about this text is the number of people who don’t know the first thing about sewing patches on to anything. When I was growing up, patches on pants were as normal as holes in tennis shoes. I always had stuff that needed to be patched and my mom always kept a bag of pieces of old denim to be repurposed for new respectability. It seems that ended with my generation.

As for wineskins…isn’t that what snow skiers use up on the mountain?

My point – things change. What is normal and understandable in one age becomes strange and esoteric in another. Things change.

When Jesus spoke of patches and wineskins he was reaching into a world of common sense that his hearers immediately understood. He was talking about change. He was talking about something new entering into the world that could not be contained by the world remaining the same. Jesus is birthing something new that will not fit in the old world and the old ways of understanding God.

I’m reminded here again of a talk that I heard given by a specialist in addictive illnesses. He was talking about the family dynamics involved in helping an addict stay sober. He said that a family is like a jig saw puzzle. Everyone is a piece and they all fit together nicely. But when one person seeks fundamental change in their lives – like getting sober – their “piece” changes.

His warning was that, if the other family members didn’t also work on changes in their own behaviors, their own understandings, then their own pieces would not change. And that when their loved one re-entered the family system, and no longer fit like they used to, the rest of the family would unconsciously conspire to sabotage their recovery. They would slide back into the old, familiar, ways of being. Deathly though it is.

God’s love for all people; God’s plan for people living in peace, with justice; the simple concept of “enough for all.” These are revolutionary ideas in the world. They are new wine and new patches. When they show up, they give rise to what Paul called “the whole creation groaning in travail” as the new world is birthed among us.

How long is the list of the changes that bring tension into our lives these days? Racial justice and reparations. Embracing the diversity of human experiences of gender and sexuality. Discovering ways for people of diverse cultures to live in cooperation and mutual respect. Religious pluralism. Gun violence. Suicide. Addictions. Sweeping changes in technology. An increasing global economy.

Things change. But human nature doesn’t change very much. Some will welcome and embrace the new wine that Jesus brings. Others will reject it. Some will say “we’ve never done it this way before” even when we all know full well that history is far more cyclical than linear and there is nothing new under the sun.

Except for God. The One who makes all things new.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we expect the earth beneath us to be stable. We want normalcy. We want peace and quiet far more than peace and justice. But you are our Healer and sometimes the emotional, physical, intellectual surgery you need to perform on us to heal us seems too much for us. Help us die to the old that we might be reborn with you into the new. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:18-20

September 12, 2019

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’

Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. Mark 2:18-20

What is this text about? Is it about Jesus reaching into the symbolism of messianic expectations, or is it the first foreshadowing of the end of the story, or is it about fasting, intentionally going without food for a specific period of time? The answer is probably yes.

The idea of the messianic banquet reaches back to passages like Isaiah 25, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

Remember that the central question that Mark is responding to is “What do we do with a Messiah who dies?” Perhaps these verses foreshadow the death of Jesus, the bridegroom who will be taken away.

I’ve never really considered the actual practice of “fasting” to be an important part of this passage. To me it has always been the differences between the disciples of Jesus and those of John and the Pharisees. The disciples of Jesus had no need for spiritual practices to draw closer to God because they understood that, in Jesus, God was right there in their midst. When you are driving a car you don’t use a cell phone to talk to the person in the passenger seat.

Then again, maybe there is something to be learned from the practice of fasting. After all, we live on this side of the resurrection. Maybe there is something to fasting that we don’t know.

Last month, and all of the months of my life before that, fasting was a strange mystery. The only times that I ever “fasted” were in preparation for some medical thing when I was told not to eat after midnight. Which always left me ravenously hungry after I left the doctor’s office until I could go get something to eat.

As a Lutheran, the closest I ever got to fasting was giving something up for Lent. Which I have never been great at. Not eating chocolate is one thing, not eating for an extended period of time seemed just a little crazy. (This from a guy who has struggled with his weight since I was in my mid-forties.)

Then, on back on September 1st, I watched a YouTube video featuring Dr. Jason Fung that a member of our congregation sent to me. It was the first time that I thought of the health benefits of fasting. So I have been trying it. And, I found out for myself, it is amazingly easy. Last night I broke my first three day fast. (Feel free to email me at revkerry@gmail.com if you want to learn more.)

Maybe, had they actually tried it, the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees might have discovered something marvelous in following, rather than opposing, Jesus. The same goes for us.

Let us pray: Jesus, may we celebrate today, and every day, the good news of the love of God in which we live. Today, and every day, may we be always open to the new ideas that the Spirit guides us toward. For truly, in you, we find a life that is truly alive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

September 11, 2019

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him.

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ Mark 2:15-17

“See! I told you so!” You can almost see the sneers among the scribes when they saw that Jesus was sitting at dinner with Levi and his friends. “There goes the neighborhood!”

They were Levi’s friends. He was a tax collector. His friends were tax collectors. And because they weren’t exactly at the center of social adulation, they naturally attracted other nefarious types in their circle of friends.

This story reminds me of conversations I had with my Lutheran grandmother. I met her when I was in high school. She was a wonderful woman. A farm wife. Mother of four. School teacher every winter. Hard, hard worker. And faithfully in church, singing in the choir, every weekend. She lived a couple of miles outside of a little North Dakota town with a population of less than 500 people.

I remember listening to her stories and it was clear that she divided the world around her into distinct groups. First, there was the Lutherans and the Catholics. Then there were the people grouped either by profession or geographical proximity. “So and so, he works at the bank…” or “So and so, you know, they live over by the Johnson’s…”

She would tell me stories about people and it was clear to me who ranked at the bottom of the totem pole. “You know, he goes to the bar” she would say with a little tsk of distain. Never once did she mention that she lived less than 30 miles from the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation or ever include a story that included a Native American.

But I always noticed. I always noticed how my stomach constricted a bit when she talked about the people “who went to the bar.” Over in the other corner of my world, 190 miles away where I lived with my mom, my mom and all of her friends “went to the bar.” Other than the farmer I worked for, all the adults I knew well, “went to the bar.”

I don’t suppose it ever occurred to my grandma how surgically she drew a line between herself, her circles, and those who “went to the bar.” I doubt she would welcome or understand a real conversation about “white privilege.” She never mentioned a Native American, but if she had, I know it would have come with some painful adjectives attached. And had she ever heard about the kind of red-lining that went on in big cities to isolate non-WASP people, she wouldn’t have drawn a similar line down the highway to the reservation.

Jesus went home with Levi for dinner. He sat with the “bar people”. Can you see him there? Laughing, eating, drinking, telling jokes, enjoying himself with his new-found friends? He, the star of the show, finding his home among the outcasts. Where he was welcomed and not judged.

I wonder what my grandma would say about that?

Let us pray: Jesus, you sat with sinners. You ate with the despised. Was it because you felt at home there, knowing that you also were despised by those who judged your new friends? Lord help us, when we feel something uncomfortable rising within us at the thought or mention of those whose lives look different than our own, to recognize that the sickness lies within us rather than the diversity of your creation. Heal us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Mark 2:13-14

September 10, 2019

Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. Mark 2:13-14

Someone once said that “Character is what you do when no one is watching you.” I can’t argue with that…I just want to add that character is also what you do when everyone is watching you. Like Jesus will later teach us, what and who we are on the inside will inevitably spill out to what everyone else sees on the outside.

Today’s verses teach us something important about both Jesus and Levi.

About Jesus. He continues to draw crowds. Casting out demons and healing paralyzed people will do that sort of thing. So will car accidents. That is just how people are. But people remain attracted to Jesus even when all he is doing is teaching them. Why?

Ask any teacher today and they’ll tell you that one of the hardest parts of their jobs is motivating students to want to learn. These crowds are motivated, maybe because they are desperate. And Jesus has them in the palm of his hand.

So how does he use that power? He calls out to Levi – who everyone knows is a tax collector – and invites him to “Follow me.”

You should know that tax collectors made their money by over-taxing everyone they could. You owe $100? The tax collector demands you pay him $225 and he keeps the difference. And if you don’t pay? The tax collector calls on the local Roman troops and you suddenly wish you would have paid. Tax collectors were despised in the way that poor people despise slumlords, Pay Day lenders, and everyone else who shamelessly rips them off as they fill their own wallets while complaining that poor people don’t work hard enough.

THIS was the guy that Jesus called! Think about what he was risking! He could lose his whole audience. Crowds are fickle (as we’ll see at the end of the story), but Jesus cared more about his purpose, his principles, and his passionate love for people who are hurting than he did about his crowd size or celebrity.

About Levi. Why did Levi leave everything to follow Jesus? He didn’t need to go. He had it made. Tax collectors were wealthy. They were wealthy because they kissed up to the hated Romans – the only way they could become tax collectors in the first place – which only added to the hatred other people felt toward them.

So I’m thinking he was troubled because he knew that what he was doing wasn’t right. Yes, he might have had far more material pleasures than most people, but he lacked peace, purpose, joy, love, contentment, friendship, community, real connection.

Mark doesn’t tell us what motivated Levi to follow Jesus. Maybe that is so we can kind of “fill in the blank” with all of the areas of our own lives that could be better. That falls short of the lives that God would have for us. Jesus promised something better.

In the end, maybe Levi wasn’t any different than the crowds – maybe he finally got desperate enough to become teachable.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you invited a hated tax collector into your inner circle, risking everything to give him a life that was truly life. You’ve done the same with us. You accept us as we are. You don’t check our credentials or credit rating before loving us with everything you have. May we, like Levi, get up and follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:5-12

September 9, 2019

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’

And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ Mark 2:5-12

Far too often we think of “faith” as something we “think” about. We reduce faith to the ideas that float around in our brains. Ideas that we freely accept or reject. Ideas that we think others should or should not also think. We turn faith into a head game.

When those four guys showed up with the guy on the stretcher, Jesus couldn’t see inside any of their minds. All he could see, through the dust and debris dropping on his head, were four guys huffing and puffing as they dropped a man lying on a stretcher onto his lap. He couldn’t see what they “believed,” he could only see what they were doing. Their effort to help their friend was the faith that Jesus saw.

Many people reduce the vast changes wrought in the Reformation as a fight between “salvation by grace” versus “salvation by works.” As if it was only about theology and specifically about the fine distinctions between “what we do” and “what God does for us.” Whether or not it was the intention of my teachers, or whether I was just a muddle headed student, I came away from the seminary largely believing that, if we could just help people think differently about the faith, to believe correctly, everything would be better for them. More head games.

That is pretty much where we find the scribes in these verses. They are playing head games about the proper understanding of how forgiveness works. Jesus is breaking the rules!

So Jesus “gets them out of their heads.” He asks them a question. At the point that they begin talking publicly, they are involving their whole selves in the moment. They aren’t hiding in their heads. Jesus both involves and exposes them in the moment. And then Jesus acts.

With a word, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk and he does. Everyone, obviously, is amazed.

Jesus isn’t about head games. Jesus is about restoring wholeness. Wholeness, of course, includes our heads but it also reaches to the tips of our toes and beyond our toes to the entire world. Jesus cares about what we know but also, and maybe even more, about what we do.

Including bringing our brokenness, and that of our neighbors, to his feet, even if it feels like we are “barging in” while the snippity ones complain.

Let us pray: Thank you for this mental picture of a man climbing off his mat while his friends cheer from the roof! We all have our own mats. We all have our own needs. We too pray for wholeness and the willingness to act in loving, healing, ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 2:1-4

September 6, 2019

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.

Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. Mark 2:1-4

Today’s devotion is for everybody but especially for men. It is both a celebration and a challenge to how we do “church” in our lives. Here it goes.

Years ago I heard someone ask the question while talking about the lives of men: “If your world was falling apart and you needed help at 3:00 AM, who would you call?” The speaker suggested that many men cannot identify even one other man with whom they have a close, mutual, deep friendship. The kind of friendship where you wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help in the middle of the night.

A 2018 Barna Report came to the same conclusion. Barna says that “Earlier this year, a study from health insurer Cigna found that most Americans report feeling lonely, left out and not known.” Loneliness is an epidemic in America today. It afflicts young people as badly as it retired people. The ache of loneliness, the pain of not being known, the sadness of social isolation, gives rise to a host of self-destructive behaviors which seek to self-medicate and numb the pain.

What is the answer to this? Community. Connection. Safe spaces and safe people among whom we can be ourselves. We can be vulnerable. We can speak our truth. We will be heard and we will be able to both give and receive support. This IS exactly what Jesus was talking about when he called his followers to love one another. That is the celebration of church.

Later this morning I am going to meet a group of men at a golf course to spend the day together. The core group have been meeting every Friday for over eight years. We are always open to others and often invite guys to make room to play. I met all of those guys at church. Through the years we have all been through the highs and lows of life. Together. I wouldn’t hesitate to call any of those guys at 3:00 AM. They are a blessing.

The church is one of the few institutions which enables long term relationships between people. That’s a good thing. It is essential. But the church is also a place where people can put on their Sunday best and pretend. Church is somewhere they go when Jesus’ idea is that church is something we do. That is the challenge to the church – are we willing to do Christian community that goes more than skin deep?

Don’t get the wrong idea about that paralyzed guy. He wasn’t helpless. Sure, he couldn’t walk but he wasn’t helpless. He had plenty of help. All the help he needed. Because he had four friends who were willing to carry his mat to Jesus. Four friends who were not going to be satisfied standing among the overflow crowd. Four friends who hoisted him to the roof, dug a hole in it, and dropped their friend right in Jesus’ lap. That is what friends do!

As we will see next week, Jesus welcomed him. That is another challenge to the church. Are we ready and open to welcoming the physically and mentally infirm into the community? Do we make room for the full participation and inclusion of the physically challenged? Don’t you think that congregations ought to strive toward that?

By the way, there are two ways to develop deeper friendships at church. Be a friend and bring a friend. It is worth it. There is healing in there.

Let us pray: Thank you Lord for the people with whom we share our lives. Thank you for friendship and for opportunities to both give and receive help. We pray for those who suffer from loneliness and isolation and pray that you guide us toward being church in a way that proves a real blessing in peoples’ lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 1:40-45

September 5, 2019

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. Mark 1:40-45

Leprosy, Hansen’s disease, is caused by a bacterial infection. Over time it can be very damaging. Around 200,000 new cases show up around the world each year. It is easily treated with a combination of modern drugs and highly curable. But it wasn’t always this way.

In Jesus’ day, all disease was considered a spiritual matter with communal implications. The Jewish laws proscribed very specific treatment for those with outwardly visible physical afflictions. God is punishing them! Kick them out of town! Have nothing to do with them! Even menstruating women were considered unclean and supposed to keep to themselves during their cycle.

Today, when I read “leper” in the Bible I always remember the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. The fear. The grief as people mysteriously got sick and then suffered until death. The social judgment and ostracization that those testing positive faced. Ignorant and opportunistic preachers perverting the Christian faith, manipulating their followers with fear, fueling their prejudice and lack of information, by declaring AIDS to be God’s punishment for homosexuals.’

No. It was a virus that attacked the human immune system. Once understood, it could be treated. With proper treatment, even those who test positive for the virus can live long and full lives without coming down with a full blown case of AIDS.

Jesus had room in his life, in his work, in his heart, for suffering people. Jesus understood both the physical pain of illness and the social pain of blaming the victim to protect the community. So when Jesus was confronted by a leper desperate enough to break the social taboos against approaching a “healthy” person, Jesus welcomed him. He cured him. Then he sent him back into his community so that his physical cure could lead to his social reconciliation.

Again, surprisingly, Jesus tells him not to say anything to anyone except the priest who needs to rubber stamp his cure. Again, just wait until the end of the story so you can really understand what Jesus’ healing means.

Again, not surprisingly, the man can’t help but blab to anyone who would listen. I get that. Last weekend a friend shared some new information with me about weight loss, something I really struggle with. They couldn’t help but share what they found to be wonderfully promising information, even at the risk of offending me, because they care. Now I’m trying something new and like them, and like the leper in the story, I’m so excited that it is all I want to talk about. That is the way it works, it is how the faith spreads, and we all get to play.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes the brokenness in our lives is on full display for all to see. More often, we suffer from the inside out and no one sees. Always, the most important medicine in our lives is love. May your love birth compassion and healing in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mark 1:32-39

September 4, 2019

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

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

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. Mark 1:32-39

To this day, there is no advertising that any businessperson covets more than good old fashioned “word of mouth”. Nothing attracts satisfied customers more than satisfied customers telling others how satisfied they are. And, of course, that also works the other way.

To this day, no matter how many times our parents might have drilled into our heads that “in this world, there is no such thing as a free lunch”, we are all subject to the absolute insanity that the world is full of free lunches. That is precisely the human pipe dream that con men prey on and manipulate. Everybody wants something for nothing. Everybody wants an edge. Insider information. And we fall for it.

Word spread quickly that there was this guy doing amazing things in Capernaum. Mark says the “whole city” gathered around Jesus. We can imagine that. How a neighborhood is suddenly swamped with onlookers and reporters after something significant happens. Rubberneckers clogging the lanes around a car crash. Lines snaking around the block to get the new iPhone.

What does Jesus do? He helps hurting people. He heals the sick and casts out demons. That is obvious. This morning I’d like us to notice two things that might not seem so obvious.

The first is the line, “he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” This really is a curious thing for Jesus to say, and he will say it again and again in Mark. Why? Obviously Jesus wants to be known. He says himself, “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.” So why tell anyone NOT to tell the story of Jesus?

The explanation that makes the most sense to me goes back to the key question that Mark wants to answer – What do we make of a Messiah who dies? Mark’s answer will be the resurrection. That the death and resurrection of Jesus is the point of the whole story. Nothing that Jesus says or does will make much sense until we get to the resurrection story. And therefore, all of these stories of healing and casting out demons are all previews of coming attractions. They are “little resurrections” that demonstrate the power Jesus has to give us new life that will only be revealed in its fullness at the end.

And the other thing I want to notice is that, early in the morning, Jesus went to a deserted place to pray. He models God’s pattern of work/rest. His prayers remind us that there is more going on in him than a traveling medicine show. He reminds us again that God’s love has to come to us before it can flow through us.

Let us pray: Jesus, there is something powerful in imagining you surrounded by sick and hurting people rather than building an army. From the very beginning, people looked to you for healing. Be our Healer. And use us to tell our own stories of how you transform our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.