FEBRUARY 4, 2018


In Mark’s healing stories, the details matter -- who it is, where it is, what the ailment and the symptoms. Here it matters that the setting is in the house of Simon and Andrew and that the person who is ill is a member of the family, Peter’s mother-in-law. Excavations are still going on in Capernaum and what is believed to be Peter’s mother-in-law’s house and Jesus base of operations. It is an insula, the most common house in Jesus’s day. An insula was a house with a central cooking, eating and gathering area surrounded by many rooms, one for each family, individual unit.

The word, translated by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as “lifted her up” is the word, “raised” --- “he raised her up.” The verb to “raise up” is used in healing stories in Mark 1:31, 2:9, 2:11, 3:3, 5:41, 9:27. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is the first resurrection story in the gospel.



Welcome to this special liturgical holy day known as Super Bowl Sunday. No use fighting it. I know that some of you are focused almost completely on football today. I heard about one young guy who is really in a difficult situation. He bought two tickets for today’s Super Bowl far in advance. He forgot that he and his fiancé had scheduled their wedding for this same day and time. Now he realizes he can’t go. It’s out of the question. So, if you’re interested and want to go instead of him, here’s the relevant information: it’s at St. Peter’s Church in New York City at 5 p.m. Her name’s Louise. She’ll be the one wearing a white dress.

Of course, even pastors can get caught up in Super Bowl fever. I heard about one Presbyterian Church where the time for the collection of the tithes and offerings was approaching. The minister, a true sports enthusiast, reached into his pocket, took out a quarter, flipped it into the air, glanced at it as it landed, then in typical referee fashion joyfully announced: “The ushers will receive!” I don’t know if the church received a larger offering after his attempt at sport levity or not. I guess it’s worth a try. But enough about football.

We learn in today’s lesson that Simon Peter had a mother-in-law, who had a fever. That evening after sunset, Jesus healed her. Then Mark tells us the people of the area brought to Jesus all their sick and demon-possessed. In fact, the whole town was gathered at his door. Think of that, “The whole town was gathered at the door . . .” I guess this was the first century equivalent of a flash mob. They didn’t communicate by Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat. They had to do it the old-fashioned way, person to person. But it worked. The whole town gathered at his door. Everyone wanted to see Jesus. The next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. That’s important, isn’t it? No matter how pressing his calendar, no matter how many people needed him, Jesus took time to pray. Sounds like Jesus was setting an example for us. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Because of those lonely hours Jesus spent on the cross, we sometimes forget just how popular he was when he first began his ministry.

Everyone is looking for Jesus! I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like a platitude or a cliché, but I really do believe that deep down all people everywhere are looking for Jesus. They may not know his name, and they might use religious symbols and terminology that are different from what you and I would use, but they are looking for Christ all the same. Jesus, “everyone is looking for you.” I personally believe that everyone is looking for Jesus in his or her own way. We have what French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal called a “God-shaped void” within our souls. We try to fill it with all kinds of inappropriate and ineffective substitutes like power, wealth, sex, drugs but nothing on this earth can suffice. As St. Augustine said so beautifully, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” All people, everywhere, need what only Christ can offer them.

For one thing, everybody needs meaning in their lives. Don’t they? Everybody needs something to believe in, something to guide them. Otherwise they wake up one day and realize that nothing in life makes sense. Could it be, they think to themselves, that, like the other animals, we are simply born, live out our time on earth, and then die? There is no meaning to love, no meaning to sorrow, no meaning to life itself? Of course, that is the philosophy of many people today. To them, nothing makes sense. Life is simply one thing after another and then you die! But Jesus offer so much more.

Renowned preacher, theology professor and storyteller Fred Craddock tells a delightful story. He said he was visiting in a home of one of his former students after graduation, and after a great dinner, the young parents excused themselves and hustled the kids off to bed, leaving Fred in the living room with the family pet--a large, sleek greyhound. Earlier in the evening Fred had watched the kids roll on the floor playing with the greyhound. “That’s a full-blooded greyhound there,” the father of the kids had told Fred. “He once raced professionally in Florida. Then we got him. Great dog with the kids, that greyhound.” So there was Fred sitting there alone with this large dog. The dog turned to Fred and asked, “This your first visit to Connecticut?” “No,” Fred answered. “I went to school up here a long time ago.” “Well, I guess you heard. I came up here from Miami,” said the greyhound. “Oh, yeah, you retired?” Fred asked. “No,” said the greyhound, “is that what they told you? No, no, I didn’t retire. I tell you, I spent 10 years as a professional, racing greyhound. That means 10 years of running around that track day after day, seven days a week with others, chasing that rabbit. Well, one day, I got up close; I got a good look at that rabbit. It was a fake! I had spent my whole life chasing a fake rabbit! Hey, I didn’t retire; I quit!” (Adapted. Cited by The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon, http://day1.org/948-go_for_the_gold.) There are many people who can relate. They’re spending their lives chasing fake rabbits. In their minds there is no purpose to life at all, not key to it all, no meaning.

Albert Camus, French existentialist novelist, was one of the twentieth century’s most famous skeptics. There is evidence that, toward the end of his life, he discovered a vacuum in his life, a vacuum that nothing could fill. Consequently he began attending the American Church in Paris. He even discussed the possibility of baptism with the pastor. The reason I have been coming to church,” he told the pastor, “is because I am seeking. I’m almost on a pilgrimage--seeking something to fill the void that I am experiencing--no one else knows. Certainly the public and the readers of my novels, while they see that void, are not finding the answers in what they are reading. But deep down you are right,” Camus said. “I am searching for something that the world is not giving me.’” (Michael Lindvall. Cited by Doug King, sermonrepository/aug1703.pdf.)

What neither Camus nor his readers understood is that nothing in this world CAN satisfy their search for meaning. There is only one person who can do that. His name is Jesus. In order to have a satisfying life we must have meaning in our life. His disciples came to Jesus and said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

There are three questions that we would all benefit from asking ourselves and our faith from time to time, to help us keep our focus as we walk the road of discipleship.

Where are you looking for Jesus? It doesn't pay always to look for Jesus in the same place. I may have met him in prayer, but that does not preclude the meeting of Jesus in the face of another. We may have needed a certain aspect of the ministry of Christ, but that does not limit his availability to us in every other circumstance of our lives. Where are you looking for Jesus today?

What do you want Jesus to do when you find him? Peter wanted Jesus to go back and keep on doing what he had been doing. We all want that. We would all like to go back to mountaintop experiences of our lives, to find him again just the way we found him before. But Jesus has moved on with his message, and to stay with him we need to move beyond the limits of our own past and into the future where he is proclaiming who he is to all the world.

What does Jesus want to do? That is the key question. With the whole city waiting at his door, why did he forego that promising healing ministry, and move on insistently with his ministry of proclamation? What kind of Savior do we want? Sadly, it is often a Savior to do our own bidding that we desire. But what kind of Savior would that be? Are we going to demand of him what we want, or are we willing to follow, no matter where he leads us?

Why did Christ come into our world? He came to share his message of love and forgiveness with the world. He came to give us the key to a very big secret. It is the good news that life does have meaning. Dr. Daniel Lioy tells about a bronze statue of Professor Einstein at the west end of Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. The statue is 21 feet tall. Einstein’s figure is seated, wearing a baggy sweater, wrinkled corduroy trousers, and sandals. His shock of hair is in familiar disarray. “At Einstein’s feet is a map of the universe -a 28 foot square slab of granite in which 2,700 small metal studs are embedded. Each stud represents the location in the sky of a planet, major star, or familiar celestial body at noon on April 22, 1979- the time the memorial was dedicated. “The expression on the face of Einstein’s statue is a mixture of wisdom, peace, and wonder. The face reflects the serenity of a man who believed a divine mind had conceived the universe he spent his life trying to understand. He would tell his colleagues who believed in a random universe, ‘God does not play dice with the universe.’” ((New York: First Anchor Books, 2012), pp. 1-2.) You can find the key to the meaning of everything. IT’S CHRIST. IT’S JESUS CHRIST AND HIS LOVE FOR ALL OF US. He is the light that shines in the darkness. He is the hope that never fails. He is the life that never ends. He is the key to the secret of life. When we join our life with his, we find everything we need for a complete life. What Christ gives us is not an easy-to-follow three-step plan to a more satisfying life. What he gives us is much better. He gives us himself. Are you still looking for Jesus? (+) In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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