a sermon on Mark 1:29-39 for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone on February 5, 2012
We weren’t sure what was going on, but we started following him anyway. This man named Jesus had stopped me and my brother Andrew one day as we were tossing our nets into the sea. He invited us to cast our nets aside and come with him to start fishing for people. There was something so compelling about him and his presence that we dropped our nets and followed him.
All that was only a few days ago, really, but we’ve been through a lot since then. First, as we walked along the shore that day, we watched as Jesus invited two other fishermen to join us. We had known James and John – they worked with their father in the family fishing business on the same sea as Andrew and me – so it was good to have some people we knew along with us on the way. The next few days went by more or less as we expected. We met up with Jesus and talked about the scriptures and our lives as we walked along the shore and across the countryside.
But then the Sabbath came. We went with Jesus to the synagogue in Capernaum, where he stood up and started teaching as the people gathered there. It was amazing! Everyone listened so closely as he taught – just like us, they were trying to figure out what was going on with this incredible teacher – and it was clear that he was doing more than just reciting the scriptures and assuming that everyone understood.
Then a man stepped up and started shouting at him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” Many of the locals recognized this man, who was known for these kinds of outbursts and the evil spirits that provoked them. Jesus told the spirit to be quiet and instructed it to come out of the man, and after he shook and screamed a bit more, the man was quiet after the spirit left him. Everyone was astonished at this, and word started to spread about this powerful new teacher in Galilee. We weren’t sure what was going on, but we kept following him.
That afternoon after the synagogue the four of us who were following Jesus went to my house. My mother-in-law would normally have been the one to host the feast, but she was in bed, sick with a fever. Jesus got word of this, and just as he had healed the man with the evil spirit in the synagogue, he healed my mother-in-law, too. She felt well enough right away to resume her usual chores, and she was especially attentive to Jesus, showing him the proper hospitality and demonstrating the real and immediate power of his healing touch.
After we ate, as the sun set that night, bringing the sabbath to an end, a crowd appeared at our house. People were bringing sick friends and relatives to experience Jesus’ healing touch, and others came just to watch the spectacle. After this long sabbath day, he healed many with diseases and cast out a few more demons.
It was quickly becoming clear that this man who had stopped on the seashore and invited us to follow him was far more than we had originally suspected. While we had known from the very beginning that there was something special about this man Jesus, his teaching was just so compelling. If that wasn’t enough, the way he healed people along the way suggested that he had real power to make things different in the world.
Every day, I have gotten more and more astonished at what is going on – and I’m less and less sure why we are with him. What does this powerful, deeply religious man want to do with us, four quiet fishermen from a village in Galilee? He ought to be out looking for more important folks to go with him – but he keeps saying he wants us. We may not be sure what is going on, but for now at least, we’ll keep following him.
Now if all this wasn’t enough, that next morning we assumed that Jesus would want to sleep in a bit before making his way back into our village – he sure had seemed pretty tired after all that healing and casting out demons the night before! When we got up and started to look for him, though, we found that he had slipped out of the house already! We got a little concerned – he’s not from around here, and we didn’t think he knew his way around the area – so we started looking for him. Plus, there were already more people making their way to our house, hoping for his healing power to work for them too. We found him out in a deserted place outside of town, quietly praying and meditating. We told him about all the people waiting for him back at our house in Capernaum, but he wanted nothing to do with them – he told us, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too.” As usual, his mind was made up – we were moving on, heading away from our hometown, not quite sure of our next steps, but somehow ready to follow where he was leading. We weren’t sure what was going on, but as usual, we kept following him.
I for one have yet to figure out my role in all this. I’m not a healer, a teacher, or an exorcist – I’m a fisherman – so I can’t take a leading role in what Jesus is doing around here. I’m not as good a cook as my mother-in-law, so I can’t just stand by on the sidelines making sure everyone feels welcome and is well-fed. And I’m no good with directions in general, let alone when Jesus is setting the itinerary, so I just don’t know where we are going next!
Yet I keep following him. The example he sets as we walk together really matters to me. He treats people with kindness, compassion, and gentleness, like no one else I’ve known. He stays grounded and connected – it’s not about him but about something greater than his own personality and presence. Plus, there’s just something special about this journey that we share. I’m meeting the people of my town again, learning more about them, listening to them and their needs more closely, recognizing that they are more than their jobs or their infirmities or anything else that I’ve learned or assumed about them over the years. I’m seeing more of the world too –I’ve never really left Capernaum much, but I figure with Jesus setting the itinerary, we might just travel a bit!
But most of all, Jesus is challenging me to think differently about everything along the way. While he’s transforming people’s lives in very direct ways by healing them or casting out demons, I’m starting to wonder how I might transform the world. Now I’ve always been a bit of an idealist, wishing that things would be different, but I’ve struggled to figure out what to do about it.
After just these few days with Jesus, though, I’m starting to think that I can do actual things that will be steps along the way to something new. I may not be able to touch someone and bring her healing, but I can talk about changing hearts and lives to prepare for God’s kingdom. I might not be able to cast out a man’s demons, but I can encourage people to cast out the things that get in the way of what God is doing here and now. These are little things – they aren’t nearly as exciting or grand as what Jesus does, and I certainly won’t ever be as compelling as he is – yet I think they might actually make a difference along the way, especially if other people get the message and join in. I’m not entirely sure what is going on, but I know I’m going to keep following him – do you want to join me?