Sunday, February 5, 2012

Huntin' down Jesus..Sermon for Year B Epiphany 5

Huntin’ down Jesus...

I love our Epiphany banner.

I am so grateful to Betty Hayes for creating this for St. John’s.
We are truly blessed here at this parish
by people with so many different and diverse gifts
and you are so generous in sharing your talents.
Thank you.
Thanks be to God for each one of you.

I love this banner because--well, okay, I will just flat out admit
that WE THREE KINGS has always been one of my favorite hymns.

One of the glorious things about the Episcopal church
is that we have an entire season of Epiphany--
a season when we focus on the Christ light that came into the world
and how we might follow that light.

Epiphany is the season where we reflect on what it means
to follow a star--
or to follow a man who comes walking through a small fishing village
or comes walking, often unexpectedly, through our own lives.

Epiphany is a wonderful season to think about our gifts
and how we are called,
how each of us is uniquely called to follow Jesus
by sharing
that with which we have been blessed.

I like to look at our Epiphany banner
and imagine conversations these travelers are having
on their holy journey.

“Are you sure this is the right way?”
“ I think he’s going to like my gift the best.”

“My feet hurt.”

“Are we there yet?”

They are on their way--a risky journey--but off to meet the king---
only they have no idea
at the point when they set off
that this king will look like an ordinary child--
that this child began his life born in a manger.

Speaking of mangers,
you might have noticed that I moved the manger up here
in front of the altar this week.

It’s empty.
Throughout the month of January it was overflowing
with the diapers you brought--
those diapers are already being put to use
at the Irene Wortham Center.
I saw Liz Huesmann this week--she’s the director of the Wortham Center--
and you know what she said?
She said, “Thank you.”
“Thank you. We are so so grateful to St. John’s”
That’s you. YOU are St. John’s.
Thank you.

So here is the manger.
Empty except for a little bit of straw.

Appropriate for a manger to have straw since it was a feeding trough--
never intended to serve as a bed for a baby.
It was a make-do.
It was an all-they-had.
It was a be-grateful-that-at-least-we-have-this-manger.

But this empty manger
that sits before our altar
is here now because of our gospel reading today.

There are four distinct parts to today’s gospel story.

The first part picks up the story right where we stopped last week.
Jesus and his disciples--Simon, Andrew, James and John--
left the synagogue
and went a short distance to Simon’s house.

We are told that Simon’s mother-in-law is very sick and is in bed.
You did not stay in bed in that time period
because you had just stayed up too late the night before
or because you were feeling a little under the weather.
You only stayed in bed
if you were--literally--deathly ill.
Fevers that put you in bed
were not to be taken lightly.

We are told that immediately upon entering the home,
Jesus went to her, took her by the hand
and lifted her up.
Jesus healed her. Immediately.

Once more we are reminded of whom this man is--a teacher, yes.
but also one who heals. One who brings you back to your whole self.

We are told that Simon’s mother-in-law--we are never told her name--
but we are told that she got up and begins to serve them immediately.
(In case you haven’t noticed,
the writer of the gospel of Mark loves the word “immediately”).

Now there have been times
when I have read this gospel or heard it read
and cringed at the poor woman
who had to get up off her sick bed
and begin serving the men.
Couldn’t she have at least one day off?!!

But I have come to see this verse in a very different way.

When we are healed, when we are made well by the grace of God,
it is our JOY to serve others.
It is our JOY to be back to our routine
of doing the things we do each and every day.

To serve with joy
never diminishes us.
To serve with joy never diminishes us.

Then we come to part 2 of this gospel reading.
By evening the word had spread throughout the village and suddenly,
the whole city--those are the exact words they use---
the whole city gathered around the door of Simon’s house.

I did a little research and discovered that Capernaum
was a small fishing village--really small--
and the population around the time of Jesus
` would probably have been about 1500 people.

The population of Haw Creek--of the 28805 zip code--is about 17,000.
1500 is a small number.

It is completely feasible that the whole city came out that evening.

Do you know someone who has cancer or Parkinson’s disease?
Do you have a spouse or parent with Alzheimer’s
or a friend who suffers from mental illness or depression?
A baby with a raging fever?

Don’t you think you would be out of the house
and heading down the street--
even if there was a remote hope of healing?
I’d be there.
I hate crowds but I would be there.
Heal me hands of Jesus.

And it didn’t matter than Jesus had already had a long day
and was no doubt exhausted,
he stepped outside and healed people.
He cured many, the gospel says.
I wonder what time it was when he finally got to sleep that night?

But like Simon’s mother-in-law
it seems that what he did,
he did with great joy, with great love.
He served because he knew he was called by God to serve,
to do just this.

We move then to the third part of this gospel story.
We hear that Jesus gets up early,
early in the morning--
when it was still dark--
and he goes out to a deserted place and prays.

Jesus knows what he really needs.
He knows what he needs more than an extra hour of sleep.
He needs quiet and silence and the peace of God’s created world--
and most of all,
he needs time alone with God.
He needs time for prayer.

Jesus knows that he--nor any of us--
are fit for ministry--
and by ministry I mean every single thing we do in a day--
if we do not take time out--time away--for prayer.
That is not easy.

Everything else will hurl itself towards us like angry birds
determined to gobble up
all the slots on our daily calendars.
Gimme. Gimme. Gimme.

Even these newbie disciples don’t get it--the gospel tells us that
Simon and his companions hunted for Jesus.
That’s right--hunted!
The Greek word really means hunted--
tracked down with the intention to capture.
They hunted for Jesus and when they found him
they essentially say,
“What on earth are you doing out here by yourself?
We don’t have time for praying!
There are people who need you! Let’s go! ”
The disciples don’t get it yet.
Sometimes we don’t get how prayer
is the true fuel for ministry,
for our life with God and with one another.

The world has so many needs.
Indeed, part of our call is to attend to some of those needs.
But Jesus is showing us by example
that we must put our need to have time with God---
to have time for prayer--
we must put that need first.
It must be the number one priority on our day’s agenda.

Jesus teaches by example.
Do this.
Take time for prayer
so that you will have the strength and the courage
and the stamina and the heart
for all that will come your way the rest of the day.

W move into the fourth part of Mark’s gospel for today.
Jesus does not chastise his friends for coming to find him,
for hunting him down.
He does not say, “Back off! I’m praying.”

He is ready to go. Ready and willing to serve.
But he also quickly lets them know that his ministry--their ministry--
is far bigger than just Capernaum.

Let us go to the neighboring towns...for that is what I came to do.

And off they go.
Jesus knows what God has asked him to do.
Jesus is very clear about how he is called to serve.
He is called to teach and to preach and to heal.

He does all this--including pray--to set an example for his disciples.
Not just Simon and Andrew and John and James.
but Jesus sets an example for each of us as well.

I put this empty manger here today
to remind us
that we too need to keep our mangers ready and open and empty
so there is room for God
to come in and be born in us.
We need to keep our lives open--
ready to receive and welcome God.

We need to keep our calendars open enough
to have time to be quiet, to pray.

We need to keep our hearts open
so God can find room to live inside of us.

We need to keep our eyes open--just like those three magi in our banner--
so we can see the star and follow the light.

We need to keep our ears open
so we can hear God calling us--calling OUR name--
so we might serve
and do everything with joy and delight.

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