5 Epiphany: Your preaching…

Okay, this one is down and dirty.

This is a seemingly insignificant story
from Mark
yet chocked full of juicy stuff.

This story is one of the reasons
I love the Gospel of Mark so much.
It’s just a short paragraph or tow
and still it holds several really big ideas
that point to the presence of God
even in our own lives.

The first thing I notice is that
my late mother-in-law
would have done exactly
what Peter’s mother-in-law did:
get up from her sick bed,
having been healed by Jesus,
and immediately gone back to work
taking care of everybody else.

My mom, however, would have handed Jesus
her towel and apron
and told him to get to work.
But that is just my personal interaction
with the text.

There is of course, a legitimate feminist critique
that can be made against Jesus
and all the other men,
letting a woman who had been on her sick bed
get up and serve them.

If she did it because she felt compelled to
and stuck with it as her lot and role in life,
then shame on all of them.

But maybe, social and political realities aside,
she had a heart for hosting community
and it was her way of loving people.
We don’t get to know any of that
because the story-teller doesn’t tell us.
So I guss we have to ascribe to Jesus
and Peter’s mother-in-law
whatever motives we want.
What we assume, of course, changes the story.

What I want us to notice in this story, is twofold:
Jesus’s preferences and Jesus’s mission.

Can you even imagine
Jesus’s chagrin when, at sunset no less,
the whole town shows up
with all their neediness in hand.
We know sick people —
because we’ve been plenty sick ourselves.
And we have had to take care of sick people too.
The sicker the needier,
and some people in their sickness,
just get down right self-absorbed
in what they need
and how they need it
and when they ought to have it.

I don’t get the impression
from reading this story
that Jesus loved taking care of needy people.
In fact, when he was finally done,
he ran for the hills — literally.

He snuck off, alone.
He wanted to be by himself
so he went, it says, to “a deserted place.”

You know, there are a lot of people
in the helping professions you’ve got to look out for
— like clergy, social workers, teachers,
counselors — who just “love” taking care of people.
That’s a dangerous personality if you ask me.
Sure, we want those people to be conscientious
about doing their job,
which includes caring for those they work with,
but when we define our self-worth
by who and how many
we can take care of, look out.
I like to imagine
that Jesus empowered people
not enabled people,
and there is a big difference.

Maybe it’s just projection on my part…
but I get the impression from this story
that it wore Jesus out
to have to take care of all those people.
Maybe he was an introvert —
but even extroverts can get emotionally drained
by having to care for too many people.

So that is the first thing to notice
about this story.
Jesus ran away from everybody,
and hid.
His friends had to go looking for him —
”hunted him” down it says.
When they did find him,
notice what he told them.
He told them the reason he had come to them
in the first place — his mission.
Was it healing? No.
Was it taking care of people? No.
Was it fixing the church? No.
He came to preach.

That’s the word it uses in the NRSV;
”proclaim the message”
is what it says in the translation we used today.

His students hunted him down
and scolded him
that everyone was looking for him.
”Come back,” they must have pleaded.
”No,” Jesus said.
”We’ll go around to the other villages
and towns, where I can preach,
because that is what I came to do.”

Jesus’s mission was to preach,
all the other things may have been necessary
but preaching was what he came to do.

That’s our task too.
There are a bunch of things we can
and should
do together as a spiritual community,
but our big reason for being
is to share the gospel
as we understand it.

So that is our mission too,
to share the gospel.
We don’t have to use that word — gospel —
but the wisdom and love in it
is what we have to share.
It is our mission.
It is what Jesus came to do,
Mark says so.

Now remember,
there are all kinds of ways to preach.
Some people are poetic,
some are thrilling,
some are inspiring, and
others are didactic.
But some people are more eloquent
with their lives than with their words.
Some people preach with their presence
and with how they do things.
Preaching is about how we share the gospel
not what method we use to communicate it.

Preaching is a power
used to share the love of God
and it gets voiced and embodied
in all kinds of ways.

We are ALL preachers
when it comes to our mission
to share the gospel.

I might recommend we all spend some time
wondering about how we preach,
and if we want to try preaching
in some other ways
than we are used to.

As I think about retiring from parish ministry
I still have to wonder about
how I will continue to preach.
In fact, I’m going on retreat this week
to do just that — develop the next incarnation
of my preaching.

How will it be different?
How can I continue to share the gospel?
Will it be different now that nobody is paying me
to do it — now I’ll be like you, and preach for free!

Something a spiritual community
always has to ask itself,
especially one associated with the gospel of Jesus,
is whether our current preaching style
is effective at sharing the gospel
as we have come to understand it?

And personally, we could ask ourselves
does everyone who knows us
have a pretty clear understanding
of what we are about?
Or do they need a little more
and better preaching from us?

It’s worth thinking about.
Healing is great when we can get it
or when we can do it.
But it is not our first mission.

I suspect that is because God doesn’t need us
in order to unleash healing in the world.
But for whatever reason,
God does need us to be preachers
when it comes to sharing the gospel.

So, preach it, brothers and sisters.