Summary: A Sermon for the 5th Sunday After Epiphany, Series B.
5th Sunday after Epiphany, February 8, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the gift of your Son, Jesus the Christ, who through his faithfulness to your will for his life, gave us an example of what it means to live in relationship with you, our creator. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, increase our faith, that we might prove to be worthy disciples of Jesus, following his example of trusting your will for our lives. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Here we are, still in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, and already Jesus is in the midst of his ministry. Just think of what has taken place in these first 39 verses. Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan, where a voice from heaven declared him to be God’s beloved Son. This was followed by the Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days and was tempted in his relationship with his Heavenly Father. He then called his first four disciples, and, as we heard last week, he went to Capernaum and astounded those in the synagogue with his preaching, even casting an unclean spirit from a possessed man, by the authority of his Word.
Today, Mark tells us that right after leaving that synagogue, Jesus and his disciples go to the house of Simon and Andrew, where he discovers that Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Jesus simply takes her by the hand, lifts her out of bed, and she is healed of her illness and begins serve Jesus and his disciples a meal.
But there was little time for Jesus to rest, for Mark then tells us that that same evening, the whole city gathered around the door to the house in which he was staying, bringing with them all who were sick or possessed. And Mark tells us that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”
Of course, these reports about Jesus casting out demons may sound a bit strange to those of us living in today’s world. We don’t like to think in terms of demon possession in our modern world. With the advances in psychology and medicine, we have developed a different mindset toward describing various conditions that were at that time summed up by a person being “possessed by a demon.”
And some today are even skeptical about Jesus being able to heal people of various diseases by his touch or a spoken command. It seems beyond comprehension in the ontological mindset of modern medicine. Although I must admit that there have been some miraculous healing of persons I have known throughout my life, or read about in studies. But defending this aspect of Jesus’ work that day is beyond the point of my message this morning.
What I would like us to focus on occurs in the last four verses of our text. Mark tells us that “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
For years, I thought I had this passage figured out. I’m sure most of us here this morning have had some pretty busy days, even busy seasons. I know that following Christmas and Easter, most of us pastors tend to look for some time of rest and solitude to recharge our batteries, which is why Pastor Burkness and I spend the first week in January at our camp.
But I can’t say that I have ever had a day quite as busy as the one that Mark describes Jesus had that day in Capernaum. And given the pace of ministry that Jesus has experienced in this opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel, it just seemed natural to me that Jesus would want to seek a deserted place for rest and prayer.
But this past week, I read a commentary on our text by Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Princeton Theological Seminary, that gave me a different perspective on our text. Dr. Tisdale points out that in the Greek language in which Mark writes, the story of Jesus’ temptation is reiterated.
To cite Dr. Tisdale, “Jesus gets up very early in the morning and goes to a wilderness place to pray, and the disciples hunt him down and interrupt him. The purpose of their interruption? To let Jesus know that there is a great deal of excitement in Capernaum about his wonderworking powers, and that everybody is looking for him. The disciples’ desire seems to be that Jesus come out and revel in his increasing popularity by continuing to perform miraculous cures.