Previously on “As the Gospel Turns,” Jesus was baptized by John, battled his demons in the wilderness, called some disciples, went to the synagogue to teach, and, while there, healed a demon-possessed man. Not a bad showing for a newly-minted Messiah.
Having put in a full day’s work, Jesus and his new “peeps”—the brothers, Simon and Andrew, and the other brothers, James and John — head over to Simon and Andrew’s house for some of that falafel Simon’s mother-in-law is so famous for…except that, when they get to the house, Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. All of Simon’s relatives–perhaps some of them had been at synagogue that day and had seen Jesus heal that demon-possessed man–tell Jesus about the illness. Jesus heals the ailing woman and she begins serving them.
Then, that evening at sundown, Mark says “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” The whole city was gathered around the door! Can you imagine? Now, 1st century Capernaum wasn’t a city like Atlanta is a city. I doubt there were 6 million people gathered around Simon’s door…but at the end of a long day, it might have felt like 6 million.
“The whole city was gathered around the door…” Take a minute to picture that…. They’re trying to have a little supper that Simon’s mom-in-law has joyfully created when they hear murmuring outside the door. Simon goes to investigate (he’s always first) and discovers a large crowd–people with bent bodies, people walking around talking to themselves (remember, this was before cell phones), people with dead expressions on their faces, people with emaciated bodies, holding out crude cups for a contribution.
The whole city gathered around the door, because they needed healing. Because they’d heard that Jesus could heal people. Because they were desperate to be made whole.
Do you ever feel like the whole city–or the whole world–is gathered around your door? Of course, with the internet, we’re able to bring the needs of the world inside, past the door and into our home. Do you ever get overwhelmed? Does it ever feel like there is SO MUCH to be done in the world, so many people who need helping, so many people who need healing—the impoverished, those suffering from AIDS and ebola, victims of human trafficking, bullying, racism, discrimination in all its forms, women across the globe whose personhood constantly is denied… Do you ever feel helpless in the face of so much need?
Mark doesn’t tell us how Jesus felt when he learned about all those people at the front door. Mark only tells us that Jesus healed them. He healed their bodies. He healed their minds. He healed their spirits. The people needed help; they needed healing. Jesus gave it to him.
How many of you have helped with Family Promise this week? Based on what I’m hearing, it’s been a good experience, not just for the families, but for the volunteers. It feels good to help others, doesn’t it? Oh, sure…when we let ourselves think about all the other homeless families in Cobb County who aren’t in Family Promise, we can get overwhelmed…but helping the families who are in it right now? It just feels good to do something, doesn’t it?
So why not do it all the time? Why not host every week? Oh, wouldn’t Camilla be grateful! Wouldn’t those families! Just think how many more families we could help if each congregation hosted families every week of the year! So, why not host all the time? (Responses)
One of the brilliant aspects of Family Promise is the tiny level of commitment it involves. To participate, all you need to do is a cook one meal, or spend a couple hours setting up, or stay over one night. With everyone working together, the workload isn’t overwhelming. And hosting only four weeks a year helps us use our resources wisely.
If we opened a shelter for homeless families… I guess we could do that….but if we did, we would seriously have to reconsider our mission… because, currently, our mission is to be a church, not a homeless shelter. “We seek to grow in worship, serving, and learning, as a faithful people of God, bringing hope, comfort and friendship to all, welcoming everyone in Christ.” If we focused only on serving, we’d be doing a good thing, but we wouldn’t be fulfilling our stated mission. I’m also guessing we’d get tired. We’d burn out. After a while, we’d probably close the shelter down because we were just too tired to keep it going.
Jesus sees the needs of all those people at the door and he heals them…then the next morning–while it’s still dark–he goes out to a secluded place to pray. Alone. Perhaps he learned this during his 40 days in the wilderness—that the best thing to help you keep going in the work of acting the world into well-being, is to step away from it on occasion. To stop. And breathe. And pray.
Several years back, Rev. Nancy Sehested preached here. At the time, she served as Chaplain at a men’s maximum security prison in North Carolina. At lunch the day she preached, I asked her how she could do what needed to be done day after day. Her response? “I have to begin each day with prayer. If I don’t pray, I can’t make it.”
Jesus, too, knew that he wouldn’t make it without prayer. He could see all the needs that cried out for his healing touch, but he knew he’d have no hope of meeting the needs of others if he didn’t take some time to tend to his own.
In a movie called Short Term 12, the title refers to a group home for children and teenagers who’ve been abused. Grace is one of the social workers who works with the kids in the home…and she works wonders with them. When they need boundaries set, she sets them. When the flashbacks come, she sits with the kids and comforts them. When they get discouraged, she en-courages them.
When a teenage girl is admitted to the home, Grace works her usual magic. She respects the girl’s defensiveness. She sets the appropriate boundaries. She removes all the sharp objects from Jayden’s room so that the girl won’t start cutting herself again. She listens when Jayden’s defenses finally begin to come down and the girl starts talking.
But even as she’s doing good work with the girl, Grace spirals down into confusion, desperation. Her behavior becomes erratic. She accepts her boyfriend’s proposal of marriage, then reneges. She goes to visit Jayden’s house with a baseball bat intending to hurt Jayden’s abusive father. Instead, she bashes out the windows of his car.
Back at Short Term 12, Jayden begins cutting again. Grace takes her into the cool-down room to keep her safe. While they’re in the room, Grace shows Jayden her own cutting scars. It’s the first time she tells anyone about the abuse she suffered from her father.
That’s the point at which Grace knows she has to get help for her own wounds. She was able to help others for a time, and did so with great skill and compassion….but neglecting her own need for healing and renewal, she was only able to go so far. Without getting help for her own wounds, without taking time to care for her own spirit, she would have been able to help no one. In fact, she’d already begun making poor choices because the pain and exhaustion were weighing too heavily on her. Getting help, stepping away, taking care of her own spiritual, physical, and emotional needs, was necessary for Grace to continue helping those children, children who, like her, also needed spiritual, physical, and emotional healing.
Serving others, acting others into well-being—that’s the reason we’re here, isn’t it? We’re here to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, welcome the stranger…as people of Christian faith, as followers of Jesus, if we’re not doing those things, we’ve missed the point.
But just because we’re called to do those things, doesn’t mean we’re called to do them 24/7. We don’t have to feed ALL the hungry or clothe ALL the naked or visit ALL the people who are imprisoned ALL the time.
And we’re not called to meet ALL the needs of the people we are able to help. Were you surprised to hear that when Jesus got up early to go off to a secluded place and pray, “Simon and his companions hunted for him?” Of course they did. I don’t have kids, but I imagine the first thing you hear after sinking down into a warm bubble bath is, “Mom!”
So, how does Jesus respond? “Go away!” I’m not saying that’s how I would respond if MY warm bubble bath was interrupted….but I’m pretty sure that’s how I would respond if my warm bubble bath were interrupted. But Jesus doesn’t do that. When Simon, et al, say, “Everyone is searching for you,” Jesus says, “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” And Mark tells us that “he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues casting out demons.”
Jesus knew he couldn’t help everyone. His calling wasn’t to stay in Capernaum and see to the healing of every person there. His calling was to travel around and share the good news of God’s love with others. If he was to fulfill his calling, he was going to have to move on.
Sometimes, that’s our calling, too. We can’t help everyone. Feeling guilty about that fact doesn’t help anyone. Getting realistic about our limitations—that’s a good gift to everyone. Sometimes, acting others into well-being begins with seeing to our own. (“Precious Lord”)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2015
<!– 29 –>
Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
29 As soon as they* left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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. <!– 35 –>
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.