Rev. Deacon Tom Bates
February 4, 2018
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Today’s readings are packed with information. So today, rather than preach, I thought I would do some teaching for some of you and some review for many of you. As I go over the readings, there maybe be preaching in it for you. For example, you may be called to spend time with God in reading the Gospel of Mark, or you may be called to repentance, or to service like Peter’s mother-in-law. Maybe you’ll feel the Apostle Paul’s compulsion to preach to Good News. Maybe not. As a minimum, it’s my hope that you will get a feel for the gospels of Mark and John, how they differ, as we study them this Church Calendar Year.
I think most of you know that we are in year B of the Church Calendar. And that means that the gospel readings will be taken in about equal halves from Mark and John. In year A, the gospel readings are taken from Matthew and in year C from Luke, but because Mark is so short about half of the readings come from the Gospel of St John. Today’s gospel is from Mark.
Scholars think that the Gospel of St. Mark was the first of the gospels written and that it was written during a time of great turmoil and persecution at the hands of Rome. It was a time of fear, certainly, of hope and a time of new beginnings for followers of Jesus or, followers of the Way, as they were later called. It was time for them to define their faith and theology. The Apostle Paul probably did that better than anyone and some of his letters were probably the first written in the New Testament.
Because of the vicious persecutions, many betrayed their faith in Christ so Mark’s Gospel also served as a call to repentance and a recommitment to discipleship. This call to repentance will be part of my message for you today.
Matthew was one of the twelve; Mark, many believe received much of his information and inspiration from Peter; John was one of the twelve and Luke, it’s believed, received much of his information and inspiration from Paul. All four, are thought to have received their information and inspiration either directly from Jesus or from someone once removed from Jesus i. e. Peter and Paul.
I find it interesting that Mark’s message of betrayal, repentance and discipleship is reflected in Peter. Peter, of course, was a follower and friend of Jesus. He was even in his inner circle. Peter betrays Jesus and then becomes very obedient and the rock upon which God’s Church is built.
If you’ll look at your prayer books, you’ll notice on page 393, a confession in Prayers of the People Form 6, that we sometimes use, but mostly do not like. Why do you think that is? What’s missing? The answer is the repentance that Mark writes about.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh who lived among the Israelites and now dwells with us. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is prophet, teacher, preacher, healer and Son of God, but referred to by Jesus as Son of Man. John’s Gospel is thought to have been written forty years after the Gospel of Mark and reflects a more mature church, thanks to the presence of God’s Spirit. In John’s Gospel we find seven “I am” statements defining Jesus as both God and human.
Both gospels call for a commitment to the teachings of Jesus; both demand integrity, faithfulness, understanding and transformation; both stress community as well as an individual relationship with God. We’ve heard sermons on every one of these things.
Mark’s Gospel stresses action and the pace is fast. In today’s gospel reading Jesus moves quickly after leaving the synagogue. The word “immediately” appears several times in some translations of today’s gospel reading. Immediately they leave the synagogue. Immediately, they tell Jesus about Peter’s mother-in-law being ill. Immediately, he raises her up and the fever leaves her and immediately she begins to wait on them.
Megan McKenna notes that Peter’s mother-in-law’s response to being healed is that of service. According to McKenna, the word used is that for a deacon who undertakes the work of the table and care for the poor. Jesus has his fifth disciple: Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter, Andrew, James and John were summoned from their work, but Peter’s mother-in-law, whose name we do not know, responds and serves out of gratitude. In fact, her house becomes the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Most of the Annual Parish Meeting was devoted to thanking all who serve. I hope that your service is out of gratitude and not out of obligation.
In Marks’ Gospel, things move quickly. McKenna describes what’s happening in Mark’s Gospel as, “Jesus, the power of God, is loose in the world, reaching out and touching, altering everything and everyone in his path.” You’ll remember Megan for telling us that all stories are true. Some actually happened. She notices, and I think correctly, that Jesus’ words in Mark convey power and a sense of being grasped. Read the entire gospel and you’ll agree that when Jesus speaks, people believe, people are healed, when He calls, people work for justice, are baptized and follow him.
We see in today’s gospel reading how the word about Jesus and his power spreads. How people are flocking to him to be healed. We see that there is forgiveness for the burdens of the past like sin and guilt. There is hope. Most of the town gathers at Peter’s mother-in-law’s front door to see Jesus and Jesus responds to their needs. Then he slips away to solitude to be alone with God in Prayer. But soon they track him down. We get the impression that everyone is looking for him. And from here the rest of the gospel unfolds as Jesus continues his ministry and journey to the cross. Do we see this activity today? Do we see the spread of God’s power? Do we see release from the burdens of sin? Do we see Jesus responding to the needs of the people? Do we see people seeking Jesus?
When Jesus and his followers left the synagogue, they go immediately to someone in need of Jesus’ power, touch and presence. Where do we go after church? Some go and give communion to shut-ins. Others do make calls and spent time with family and those seeking friendship. Some of us spent time and money with those in need. Where do you go?
In the epistle reading, the apostle Paul says that preaching the Good News isn’t an option or something to boast about; for him, it’s a compulsion, a drive born of the Spirit. He does it willingly, I think happily, but if he doesn’t what would happen? He wouldn’t be Paul, in my mind. He would not receive the reward of a runner or boxer. He wouldn’t be faithful to God who has given him the responsibility of preaching the gospel and sharing its blessings. Paul lives for one thing: to share what he has been given – the Gospel of Jesus. Nothing gets in the way of Paul’s preaching. In fact, his power and imagination grow to serve him in preaching the Word. Paul is free but, he’s a servant to the Gospel, to the Jews, he’s a Jew, to the Gentiles he’s a Gentile and he does it all for the sake of the gospel that he might share with them its blessings. Do you consider the gospel a blessing? Have you thought of it that way?
The reading from Isaiah is not very cheery, but it’s realistic. The Old Testament reading for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany used to be Job 7:1-7 and I think we’ve all felt like poor Job who certainly didn’t deserve his terrible suffering. Maybe these somewhat dreary Old Testament readings were included because they contrast with the message of hope in the Gospel reading. Maybe they are a slight exaggerations of what life would be like without love and without faith in God. Maybe it’s like life without serving God or answering His call. I like to think that we have been touched by God as Peter’s mother-in-law was touched by God. I like to think that we have been called to serve God and have a role in the reign of God’s Kingdom on earth. My prayer is that you spend time this week with God in reading the Gospel of Mark and find, peace, forgiveness and hope in so doing. Amen.