"That is what I came to do"

February 6, 2000 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon  Mark 1:29-39

The day before the first big storm we had, almost two weeks ago, a teacher at Carroll Manor elementary school had the little ones doing a "snow dance," which Tessa (my youngest child, in kindergarten) showed off to one of our friends at home that afternoon. The next day, several inches of snow later, that same friend called and said Tessa could stop dancing now.

It was enough to shut down pretty much everything, wasn’t it? - even the federal government for a day. Of course, some still had to go to work, in spite of the weather, but for the most part we were snowed in. Prior to these last few snowfalls, I recall a number of us longing for a good storm that might keep us home for at least a day. I think the words even came off my own lips. The desire, in part, was for a break from the frantic pace that our daily life has become. To be snowed in is to be given permission to slow down - to stop, even. After all, when the heavens open, who can argue?

Those of us who had that desire, did you get what you longed for? Was it a refreshing break from the daily grind? Or did the excitement wear off quickly? Did cabin fever offset the gain? Those with family at home, was that good time, or was it just more work? And thinking about the aftermath, with snow shovel in hand, is your back still sore? Beyond the physical aches and pains of the body, what about your spirit? Was there any benefit from "life as usual" being shut down for a while?

In this morning’s gospel story, we see Jesus himself intentionally shutting things down for a while. Of course, there was no outer storm that gave him relief from the frantic pace. He had to make it happen on his own. As the gospel storyteller Mark relates it, this episode came early in Jesus’ earthly ministry. After his baptism he spent his 40 days in the wilderness getting prepared for what was to come, facing off with the temptations that would be there every step along the way. You could say he began his time with a period of "shut down," getting straight as to why he was there, what his task was, where he was headed.

Then the journey began with a vengeance. According to Mark, the pace was set by the sea of Galilee, where he called his first disciples. Capernaum was the name of the town where it all happened. It was on the Sabbath, the last day of the week, that he really began. It was no day of rest for him. He went to synagogue, and there he taught. His words carried a lot of weight. People were touched by his authenticity. From his mouth they heard the voice of the author of all things, God. And they came to him.

The first encounter was with a man who had an unclean spirit. We don’t know much more about this fellow other than that he was possessed by something. Of course, we’ve never seen any possessed people, or have we? Aren’t there folks around us who seem to be so controlled by some passion that they ignore the more important things in their life? They have lost track of what’s really real. One doesn’t need to be writhing on the ground, foaming at the mouth, to be possessed. Unclean spirits abound, obsessions that can seem very rational. The man Jesus encountered in the synagogue that first day made a great deal of sense. The spirit within him knew the threat Jesus presented. After all, life is never the same once the Lord steps in, is it?

From the synagogue, where he changed that man’s life, Jesus went to Simon’s house. This was not to be a place of rest for our Lord, however. There he encountered Simon’s sick mother-in-law and healed her. I wish I had some appropriate mother-in-law joke to insert here but, you know, this lady had her act together. It’s not so much that she knew her place, and that after she regained her health at the touch of the Master’s hand, she went to do what a woman should do according to some, that is, wait on the men folk. No, as some commentators have pointed out, she was the first who modeled what Jesus called all disciples to do - to serve. Her action contrasts with that of her son-in-law, Simon. When people start banging on his door seeking help, did he do anything to help them? No. The opposite sex might point out that he was a typical man. Jesus, however, was not.

Did you catch the scene as Linda read that all-too-brief passage? Apparently word had spread about this healer who was in town. "The whole city" then showed up at the door, bringing with them "all who were sick or possessed with demons." Imagine the scene. Perhaps it was an exaggeration to say "everyone" was there. If so, however, the gospel storyteller Mark had his reasons. Yes, Jesus started out by being the man of the hour, the person everyone wanted to be near. What does this then say about their need? It was so great that they could not help from coming and banging on Simon’s door. In a sense, Capernaum is the world in desperate need, a world which "God so loved," as the gospel storyteller John wrote, "that he gave his only Son."

The whole town was at Simon’s door. The hour was late, but still they came. And Jesus reached out to them - healing, casting out demons till who knows when. Scripture at this point takes a station break, so to speak. That scene fades away. The day has ended, the first day of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and it is a rat race. So much to do, so little time to do it. Sound familiar? I think the gospel storyteller Mark nailed it on the head with his hyperbole - the whole city, all the sick and possessed, everyone sought out Jesus. Call it "the tyranny of everyone."

I know the apostle Paul had his reasons for writing that "I have become all things to all people."     (1 Cor. 9:22)     Paul’s main task, however, wasn’t to do everything, to be everything, for everyone. His actions were for the purpose of "saving some." Not all, but "some." Having said that, however, Paul’s words can become tyrannical. I, for one, cannot "become all things to all people." It’s not just because this is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually impossible for me to do. It is also a matter of my calling. I am not called to do everything, to be everything, for everyone. My task in life has a shape to it. There are God-given boundaries that help me accomplish my God-given mission.

In this respect, Jesus was no different. He had a mission, and it was important that he keep that task in focus - something hard to do when everyone was pounding on the door. What did our Lord do? Did you catch it? He shut down for a while. The next morning, it says, while it was still dark, he found a deserted place, an intentionally made space to be "snowed in" so to speak. There he prayed. Now, don’t go getting all pious when you hear that word. We’re not given a picture of him down on his knees, hands clasped, looking toward heaven. It may have been, but that’s not necessarily what constitutes prayer. I think of Jesus’ prayer that morning as a time to shut down the clamor and refocus upon his mission in life.

It says that when the disciples found Jesus (and those as yet goofy guys were only seeking him out because everyone else was looking for him), Jesus changed their direction. They didn’t go back to Capernaum, where "everyone" was waiting for him. Let them continue to "wait." As the psalmist says, there is benefit to be gained from "waiting." Jesus turned his mission toward other towns, "so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do." By shutting down, and using the time to turn toward God, Jesus refocused upon his main task: to proclaim the message. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15)

One of my favorite authors, Chaim Potok, knew at an early age that he wanted to be a writer. When he went off to college, however, his mother took him aside and said, "Chaim, I know you want to be a writer, but I have a better idea. Why don’t you be a brain surgeon? You’ll keep a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make a lot of money." "No, mama," he replied, "I want to be a writer."

He returned home for vacation, and his mother again talked with him. "Chaim, I know you want to be a writer, but listen to your mama. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make a lot of money." "No, mama," he told her again, "I want to be a writer."

This conversation was repeated every vacation break, every summer, every meeting. "Chaim, I know you want to be a writer, but listen to your mama. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make a lot of money." Each time he replied "No, mama. I want to be a writer."

The exchanges accumulated. The pressure intensified. Finally there was an explosion. "Chaim, you’re wasting your time. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make a lot of money." The explosion detonated a counter-explosion: "Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying; I want to show them how to live!"
                                   
(Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eerdmans, 1992, pp. 46-47)

Jesus turned away from the city of Capernaum, where there were, no doubt, lots of dying people in need of healing. The pressure was intense, as it would be for the next all-too-few years. In the early hours on that morning the day after the Jewish Sabbath, the day we call Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus paused to regain his focus, then turned in another direction, saying, in effect, "I’m not here to keep people from dying; I’m here to show them how to live!"... "for that is what I came to do."

This scripture, this gospel story is not just about Jesus, nor is it the possession only of preachers - those who are called to "proclaim the message." This text belongs to us all. You see, we each have a special calling from God, a vocation, which may or may not have anything to do with the job in which we are currently employed. You don’t have to be officially ordained or licensed to be a minister. Your "ministry" may not be within the boundaries of the church. Nevertheless, we each have a calling from God. What is yours?

Having said that, how well I know that everyday life is full to overflowing with anything and everything we could, should, or would do. Many of us are pressed in on all sides by everything and everyone demanding our time and energy. Some of the demands, of course, are far from healthy. They are counterproductive, draining, or even downright sinful. Other demands are worthwhile, healthy, good. Still, we can’t do everything, can we? None of us can.

It is vital, then, that we (like our living Lord) pull away, shut down, do some kind of "snow dance" to intentionally make time, find a deserted space - whatever you wish to call it - and center in upon our main task in life, refocus upon what our God is calling us to do or to be. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Otherwise, we can easily be blown around by whatever wind comes our way, pulled by whichever demand upon us has the loudest voice.

Let me end by repeating the question Linda asked earlier. What is that "something" that God is calling you to do or to be? If you don’t know, or if you’ve lost track of it, then, by all means, go to a deserted place (wherever that is for you, however you can simply make it happen), and there pray and refocus upon your God-given vocation.

2000Peter L. Haynes

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