Continuing my catch-up of The Year Of Mark … here’s my sermon on Mark 1:21-34. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
August 5, 2018
To Know Our Church
One of my favorite guilty pleasures in life (that, full disclosure, I am not exactly proud of) is watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. For some reason it is that train wreck that I just cannot turn away from. Recently, as podcasts have gotten more popular, a lot of Bachelor-related podcasts have popped up, which basically consist of former cast members and sometimes fans discussing the show every week for an hour at a time and somehow getting paid for it.
I am even less proud to admit that I am an avid listener of these, as well.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to one of the recap podcasts and they were discussing the current Bachelorette, who has spoken openly about the fact that she is a Christian and that she has a great group of friends who all attend the same church every week. The hosts of the podcast were talking about the suitors she had left at this point in the show and whether or not they would fit into that part of her lifestyle. I do not remember exactly how they put it, but one of the hosts asked if they could picture any of the guys going to church with her every week and essentially said, “I mean, how many people in this country actually go to church every week?”
Which then launched them into a separate conversation about how everyone in our country is basically a lapsed Catholic that doesn’t go to church, because it is no longer relevant.
And I am pretty sure if I had not been in the middle of moving with a toddler while getting ready for the yard sale at church, I might have paused the podcast, searched for their contact information and then fired off an email that started, “Let me tell you about my church,” before launching into a rant about how wrong they are.
Sometimes I get a little defensive when it comes to people’s views on the church, particularly people who do not know much about it.
I often think that, as a whole, the Church is misunderstood. And I have moments where I wonder if, perhaps, I was born in the wrong generation; sometimes I think maybe I would have been better off pastoring a church in the 50’s where it was “relevant” and more a part of people’s lives. Sometimes I do feel as though I spend a lot of time defending my faith and my church to the outside world, trying to get them to see and understand that my God is a God of love, light and grace; that the church is about building community in that love and enacting a powerful Gospel that I believe can change the world.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that perhaps the church has always been a little misunderstood.
In this morning’s scripture reading, Jesus begins to show the true depth of his capacity to heal in this world, even when the world did not know or understand him. He was in the synagogue and a man with an unclean spirit came in and began to yell at Jesus. Jesus rebuked the spirit and it came out of the man.
Then Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue and they went to Simon and Andrew’s house, where they found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick. Jesus laid hands on her and she was healed. At this point, people were starting to talk and hear about what Jesus was doing, so that night everyone in the city of Capernaum (scripture says, “And the whole city was gathered around the door”) brought people who were also sick and had unclean spirits in them. And Jesus healed them all.
One of the things that I find to be so remarkable about this story is that fact that, even before Jesus began to heal, he was called out and questioned by an evil spirit.
When Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum, the man with the unclean spirit yelled at him:
‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
From the very beginning, the Gospel was called into question. This is not a new thing, brought on by the 21stcentury and a surge of Bachelor-related podcast hosts looking to make broad generalizations about Christians in our country. This is a human thing, caused by our imperfections and our shortcomings. Jesus came into this world so that we might be saved, but we did not think that we needed saving.
But we did. We still do.
When the man with the unclean spirit spoke out against Jesus, Jesus remained calm and composed as he spoke his truth and healed that man. As I thought about this story this week, I wondered what my ministry would look like if, when faced with the same adversity and opposition, I, too, remained calm and composed and spoke my truth.
I think sometimes, when I hear someone talking about the Church in a negative light, my natural tendency is to get defensive and a little argumentative. But this story reminds me that Jesus used opposition as an opportunity to heal; he used conflict and resistance to show people what God’s love actually can actually do in this world.
And I think we should do the same.
We live in a world that does not really understand church. But that’s okay, because the world really did not necessarily understand Jesus, either! But he never let that stop him. He healed and he taught and he showed people what it meant to believe in the Good News.
“[And] they were all amazed.”
I want our world to be amazed by thetrue depth that the Church has, as a capacity, to heal in this world. I want our world to be amazed at what the Church is doing to spread God’s love, to shine God’s light and to undercover God’s grace. I want our world to know know that there are people who go to church and are excited about church. And I want our world to be intrigued by what the Church is doing, to perhaps even consider opening their eyes and their ears and their minds and their hearts to the possibility that they, too, could be touched by Jesus’ healing presence.
I talk a lot about what it means to dochurch, but this morning I would like to encourage you to not only do church, but to talk about what that means to you and how church is relevant in your life today. Because the work we are doing here really is changing people’s lives. And I understand that years of confusing dogma and rituals and denominational drama and conflict has turned some people in the world away from the church, but that is not what we are about. But like the people in the synagogue in Capernaum, we want to follow Jesus and be amazed at his capacity to heal. We want to bear witness to the work Christ did in the world, building a community in God’s love and enacting the Gospel in our lives. We want to serve the people within our community and outside of our walls, as well.
On a personal level, I was reminded this week of the true depth that this community has to touch people’s lives, particularly my family. Bruce and Harrison and I moved into our new house on Thursday. And on Friday evening, I went back to the parsonage to move some things that we had left.
Including the stash of diapers that we still have from last year’s diaper shower.
For those of you who only started attending RCC this past year, last May, the church threw me the most incredible shower I could have ever imagined. Everyone brought diapers in different sizes, wipes and a book to add to Harrison’s library.
Bruce and I were humbled by the church’s generosity. Harrison is 14 months old and we still have not bought diapers. And I was loading them into my car on Friday night to bring them to the new house, I was reminded of this scripture and what it means to heal and take care of people.
Because when you all called me to be your pastor, you entered into a covenant with me and promised to love and serve me (and my family), just as I promised to love and serve you. And, guys, you fulfilled that promise. You might not have casted out demons or physically healed someone of their ailments, but you showed tangible signs of God’s love to me and my family through your generosity and I think, at the heart of all of the Gospel, that is what Jesus was asking us to do.
So, first of all, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And second of all, I want people to know this Church. I want people to know what it means to see God’s work very much alive and very much relevant in the world. I want the world to gather at the door to the Gospel and be amazed as they watch the capacity Christ still has, today, to heal. I want people to know that their lives can be changed; that they can be healed and made whole again. I want them to believe that their families can be strengthened and that friendships can be fostered. I want them to experience radical generosity and a love that always wins. I want people to sing in worship and laugh and cry with their church family. I want people to know what it feels like to be part of a community that shares in both their joys and their sorrows. I want people to get caught in a downpour during a yard sale, but to laugh about it and give wet hugs as they say goodbye. I want people to know this church so that their life might be changed.
I want the Gospel to continue to spread so that the world might know Jesus – and so that God’s love would always prevail.
Thanks be to God!