February 7, 2021
Sermon February 7 2021
SCRIPTURE FOR CHILDREN’S SERMON: Mark 1:29-34
As soon as they 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.
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.
SCRIPTURE: Mark 1:35-39
In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus 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.
SERMON: “Doing Our Job that Jesus Might do His” The Rev. Brent Damrow
The piece of paper was crumpled. It was worn and it was so faded that you could barely even read the number anymore. It had gone into and out of her pocket more times than you could count. It had been clutched in her hand so tightly during the worst of it. Yet the number on that page had never been used, even though she knew countless times it should have. On it was the number written by her mother, someone who cared about her, and who could see that she had lost her way. The number was for a Christian counselor, a 24-hour 7-day-a-week service.
Looking back, it had started so well. She had gone to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to pursue a graduate degree, and found her heart being turned to things of justice and possibility. There she met a gorgeous boyfriend. That boyfriend became her husband, and that husband became the father of her child. He was a poet and an activist. He had swept her off her feet, he had married her, and together they had started a family.
A friend of his, though, had started both of them on something else, an addiction to a powerful drug. One that would lead them not to good places for him, for her, or for their child. Desperate need, physical abuse, dangerous moments. Until finally, one night she took that companion, that piece of crumpled paper, out of her pocket. And at 3:00 in the morning, she dialed the number.
Her mother’s faith was stronger than hers. This number, her mother had told her, would lead her to wholeness, to a new beginning. And when all other possibilities ran out, she called to see what she might find. Because everything else she knew wasn’t working.
Simon, the one who became Peter, oh he had deep faith. In Mark’s gospel when Jesus called, Simon just dropped his nets immediately to follow. Simon Peter went to Christ. And now, only a very short time later, he is bringing Christ home. Peter knew that what was happening to his mom – that story we talked about in the children’s sermon this morning – was beyond him to help. I imagine good old faithful Peter, the one who became the Rock, tried everything for her. Yet whatever was affecting her clung to her. And only days into this new relationship with Jesus, Peter knew enough to understand that his own role wasn’t to heal her – Christ’s was. Instead, Peter knew his job was just to bring healing to her. And so, Peter invited Christ. Peter offered Christ to his mother. He cared about her, and so he invited Christ in.
In last week’s readings, there was Jesus teaching in astonishing ways, so profound that it stirred the hearts of all who heard it. So profound that the people started talking, telling their daughters and sons and friends about this guy named Jesus, the one who brought hope to life. The one who cast out demons. The one who cast out a demon from someone he didn’t even know. Quite frankly, someone that no one in the synagogue knew. In fact, that man last week didn’t even get a name. He was that far gone. Those who were there, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives, wrote down the name of Jesus of Nazareth on little pieces of paper, I imagine, and when they thought of somebody who needed him, somebody who needed that kind of care, I imagine they gave that piece of paper to them. And what Mark’s gospel tells us was that there was hardly time to let that piece of paper get creased, let alone crumpled, before they all came running, for their problems had exhausted everything they knew.
Over Christmas, I decided to give up news while I was not preaching. I decided to turn off the TV, to give up on all the division and rancor, all of the fear about transfer of power, the spreading of the pandemic, dissemination of untruth. It was all so big, and it seemed beyond me. And I was losing the ability to understand how to manage it all. So I just put it away. My family, like so many out there, was under stress. Our worlds were shrinking. Our kids were at home from school. So many of the expansive, outward reaching, joy-making possibilities had been taken away from us. We had gone into survival mode, just trying to make it through the end of each day. Not exactly a recipe for thriving, not exactly remembering the abundant kind of life Jesus says he came to bring.
It was finally on my week in Maine that things started changing for me. Oh, and there were the strategies. I had good strategies for that week. I had two spiritual direction meetings lined up every day. I started by reading a short story every day. I started by writing a note of gratitude. And every day I went outside for at least a moment until I felt my world expanding. I knew I would be getting good food, beautiful views. I engaged in life-giving phone calls. The chance to get back to work, and all those responsibilities, but in a joyful, peaceful, love-giving way. They were good strategies based on wisdom and self-knowledge and intuition. Slowly things started turning and changing and emerging.
What I’m about to say may sound surprising to you, for I am a pastor, after all. But what really started to change things for me was the renewed presence of something or someone that somehow, in the midst of all this thing called church, had grown a little bit more distant. I don’t know if it was because of my strategies or despite them. Actually, I think it was in the midst of them that my new beginning became more and more. Because what I started noticing and feeling was not a better night’s sleep and relaxation. What I started noticing and feeling and seeing was the presence of Christ.
You need to know this: I love Jesus. I really do! And I actually don’t mind saying it. When I applied to this church, my beloved husband helped me with my writing, because he’s a better writer than I am. And he included a line in my profile that I didn’t have there. And it brought me great joy. What it said was this: “Brent has a heart for Christ.” I loved it. In part because it is true. But maybe even more because that heart for Christ came through to someone else, that it showed. I don’t think I ever once used those words to Jon in our relationship. But here he was saying what he saw through me, that I offered Christ.
Since I got here, I think over the years much good has been happening here – growth, depth, service, love. We have honed our welcome. We have welcomed many new members. And we have honed our leadership structures. We’ve invested in food ministries like our new pop-up pantry. And we’ve reviewed our by-laws. We have launched small groups, and discerned division. We teach Bible classes at Riverbrook Residence. And we passed sustainable budgets. We have welcomed the Waldorf School to use our space, and are leaning into a capital campaign to care for these spaces. These times are so full of opportunity. Issues of justice and need, possibilities of new ways of living and being, moments that demand all of our gifts and our faith, that we drop our nets like Peter did and simply follow. That we commit ourselves to this shared endeavor of building up this church, for it is the Body of Christ.
And yet. And yet there is a deceptive thing in the middle of it all, something that we need to resist and then something we need to honor. You see, at the core of it we know what happens if all of this effort, if all of these strategies, if all of work becomes about us or about church as an end in itself, if it is only about our wisdom and our dreams, as large as they might be, it is still less than what it could be. And worse, probably a recipe for stress, burn-out, flame-out and dead ends.
Instead, I think what this passage reminds us of this morning is just how important it is to remember Jesus. To see it as an opportunity to bring us to Christ and to bring Christ into the midst of our needs and the depths of our hearts, too. Because where we encounter things so beyond us, like they are right now, we remember that Christ makes all things possible. When we are weighed down by the burden of it all, we remember that Christ offers his comfortable, form-fitting yoke. When we clutch to any solution, like that piece of paper she clutched, we end up warping it and not using it.
Instead, Jesus simply says “Come to me.” We know this, because when we do those things, when we welcome Jesus fully in, suddenly those things aren’t so beyond us anymore, because he is in the midst of it. Because when we do, those we care about, those we love find new beginnings that we on our own can’t offer. And we get the peace of letting it go a little bit, too. And then those people, well, they become beginnings for others, and so on and so on and so on.
Over the last 8-1/2 years, I remember how many people have come in to this place because one of you invited them. I have heard stories about how people came because others saw them hurting or in need, and said “Come and see about the love in this place.” And I’ve heard stories about how things change when you walk through those doors. I hear stories about how you stay because of our vital worship, our glorious music, our stimulating classes, our connected and hope-building service, our bridge-building fellowship, or any number of the other things we do well. But I know this to the depths of my heart: people get engaged because they see Christ in and through it. They see the heart for Christ that we have learned to live with.
After healing all those people, Jesus went to pray. After healing all those people throughout the night, Jesus found some peace and quiet to pray, to open himself up to things that were beyond him, in order for his heart to be in the right place, so that he could remember what his job was — and Mark makes it clear here – to proclaim the message of wholeness and healing. That is Jesus’ job.
So the question is, what is ours? I think it is to do what we learned last week, to spread his fame. Not just to his glory, but for the healing of the nations. To invite Christ into our homes, not just that he can be fed, but that he can feed us, and that his remembrance may be our sustenance. To commit ourselves to being the best church we can. Yes, because we pay attention and can use wisdom. But even more because we have a heart for Christ, and because through us people meet Christ.
Oh, by the way. That call she placed in the middle of the night, you know at 3:00 with that crumpled piece of paper, when all had given out? That call to the Christian counselor? It made all the difference. She could tell as soon as he answered the phone that she had woken him up. She heard the crinkle of his sheets and the rearranging and squeaking of his bed as he sat up to be able to listen and talk to her. She poured out her full self, not just about the drugs but about all the ways that things weren’t going well, and about her hopes for that little baby that was suffering because of her. She confessed and she hoped. And all he kept doing was saying “I’m with you.” “Tell me more.” “That must be hard.” He did was Jesus does. He stayed with her. He sat with her in compassion. Jesus will do that countless times in the gospel of Mark, waiting to hear the whole story before he responds.
Finally, she was a little puzzled. She said “Wait a minute. Aren’t you going to quote some Scripture to me? Or aren’t you going to give me some assignment or some penance to do? You know. To make up for all this, so I can be a good person again?” She said it because, well, that’s our rap, isn’t it? It’s what we sometimes take as our job as Christians, telling others how they should be. But you know what he said? He said “No.” And then he paused. He said “Would you stay on the phone if I told you the truth?” And she said “Yes.” So he said “Really?” And she said “Yes.” And so he said this: “You know what? You called the wrong number. I don’t know who you were trying to call, but you did not call any kind of counseling center.” But he said that he was glad to be with her in her moment of need, even if it was the middle of the night. We don’t know if he was Christian, because in her story she never tells us. But I do know this. He pointed her straight to Christ, in ways that I bet even exceeded her faithful mom’s greatest expectations.
Whether a loved one needs a referral for something that has grown unwieldy, or whether a stranger calls in the middle of the night, or whether you bump into someone walking down the street who is struggling, we have a job to do, so that Christ might do his. And our job is simply this: to invite them to Christ, or Christ to them. Not to convict or convince or to turn them in any way, but simply to bring Christ into their presence. Mark’s gospel makes it perfectly clear: Jesus came to save the whole world and everyone in it. He came for freedom for the captive, for wholeness for the breaking, for direction for the lost, for sustenance for the hungry, for life for the dying. He came not for the powerful or strong, but for the struggling and vulnerable. And all of that, I know, is way beyond anything I can do. And it’s something that he absolutely can.
Friends, may we simply be a church family, and each of us individually, where Christ is indeed in our hearts. So that as natural as our next breath, we simply do our job, offering Christ to all the world around us. And I know this: it will be enough — for anyone, for anything, indeed for everyone and everything, and even for us, too. Amen.