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The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Readings: Is. 40:21–31, 1 Cor. 9:16–23 & Mk. 1:29–39.

For those of you who were here last Sunday, you might be wondering to yourself, if I am going to use today’s sermon as another opportunity to shamelessly talk about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The short answer is; yes.

The opening verse of today’s gospel passage tells us, that having come out from the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus immediately enters the house of Simon and Andrew, and heals Simon’s mother-in-law.

I want to show you a photo which, if you were here last week, you might remember. It shows the ruins of a fourth century synagogue in Capernaum, which was built on the ruins of the very same synagogue mentioned in the gospel this morning. The next photo, which again is one that I used last week, shows the stones from this first century synagogue which became the foundation for the fourth century building.

Located a stone’s throw away from the synagogue, is what is believed to be the actual house of Simon (or Peter as we know him better). If you look through the doorway of the synagogue in this picture, you will see another building located behind it.

This ‘spaceship’, as it has been referred to, is actually a church, which has been built on the site of Peter’s house. The next three photos, give you different views of this building. You can see from the further three photos that follow, just how close Peter’s house was to the synagogue. So Jesus literally walked out of the synagogue and into Peter’s house.

What happens next in the gospel story, is that later that night, once word of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law has spread, virtually the whole city, arrives at Peter’s doorstep. They bring people to Jesus for healing. People suffering from various diseases, and also those being possessed by demons. Again, if you were here last Sunday, you might remember the photos I showed you of a first century settlement in Capernaum. You can see just how close, these people lived to the synagogue and to Peter’s house. It is understandable then, just how quickly the word about Jesus spread, and how quickly people came to be there. And we heard that Jesus did heal those who were sick, and he cast out many demons as well.

Presumably, being both physically and spiritually exhausted from all this healing, Jesus got up well before dawn, and went into the wilderness to find a quiet and peaceful place, where he could pray to God and recharge his own spiritual battery. But he didn’t get much of an opportunity to do so, because we heard that Simon and the others followed him, telling him that everyone in Capernaum, was looking for him, probably so that he could continue to heal them.

Rather than returning to Capernaum, Jesus suggested to his disciples, that they go elsewhere, leading people to other towns in the region. He told them, that this was what he was meant to do, this was the mission his Father had sent him on; to preach in all the synagogues of Galilee, and to cast out demons.

I spoke last Sunday about the worldview in Mark’s Gospel, where human beings are held captive by demonic forces, operating under the power of Satan. If we see Jesus’ mission in this context, then it could be described as being to loosen the grip of Satan and reclaim human lives for the rule of God.1

In both today’s and last Sunday’s gospel readings, Mark has told his readers, that Jesus possesses the power of God, a power which gives him authority and control, over demons and evil spirits.

The prophet Isaiah, spoke of this same power, when he questioned the Jewish exiles in Babylon, who doubted that God could both restore their homeland and return them to it. Given the might of the Babylonian captors and the splendour of their gods, the question the exiles were probably asking, was did the God of Israel, possess the power to deliver them? How could the glory of God, be revealed in a world dominated by emperors and their armies?2

Isaiah’s answer to their question, was that God is the Creator of the ends of the earth. Who or what, could possibly compare with Him and His power? God, is the one who does not faint or grow weary. He gives power to the faint, and He strengthens the powerless.

One of the ways in which God does this, is through the ministry of people like you and me. In preparation for ordination, I had to complete a unit of CPE (which stands for Clinical Pastoral Education). I did it full-time for eleven weeks at the Alfred Hospital, between November 2014 and January 2015. During that time, I was assigned to several different wards in the hospital, where I had to visit patients and see if they wanted to receive pastoral care. I had to visit all patients, regardless of their faith or religious beliefs, and I was only allowed to discuss religion if the patient raised the subject first, and wanted to talk about it.

Needless to say, when you introduce yourself to a patient as being from the pastoral care team, they usually assume, that you are there to talk about religion, although one lady I introduced myself to, did surprise me by saying that she knew nothing about farming, so clearly she had a different understanding of what the word ‘pastoral’ stood for than I did.

A number of patients politely declined to talk to me, with some obviously thinking I was going to talk religion to them, and others perhaps just feeling uncomfortable talking with a complete stranger about why they were in hospital and how they were feeling. But there were also a lot of people who were happy to chat.

I remember one lady I met, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was still trying to come to grips with the news, and obviously needed to talk both about her prognosis, and how she was feeling about it. We established an immediate connection, and had several long conversations during her stay in the hospital. She told me several significant, and very personal things, that she had never spoken to anyone else about, not even her husband or any of their children.

I remember thinking how privileged I was, to have this lady, a total stranger, open up to me about various aspects of her life, that she had never spoken about to anyone. It was a very rewarding, and very satisfying, experience. And it was one of those moments that affirmed for me, that God really was calling me to a vocation of ordained ministry.

And in a similar way, this is what Paul is talking about in today’s passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians. In last week’s reading from this letter, we heard Paul talking to the Christian community in Corinth on the subject of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some members of the community considered themselves to be more mature in their faith than others, and they claimed that this privileged position meant they were free to eat meat offered to idols if they wanted to.3

Paul’s way of countering this argument, was to state the many privileges that he was entitled to claim, but which he didn’t, in case they turned out to be hindrances to the effectiveness of the gospel.4

The privilege he does claim though, is his right to proclaim the gospel to others free of charge. He receives no monetary reward for doing so, even though he was legitimately entitled to it. The payment, or reward, that he receives, is in seeing the blessings that the gospel brings to others, much like the satisfaction that I received, in knowing that my conversations with the woman in the Alfred Hospital had been a blessing to her.

As Christians, each of us have been called by God to carry out our own unique ministry. Each of us, by God’s grace, has been given our very own special gifts. And just as God worked through Jesus to heal the sick and cast out demons in his ministry, God works through us in our various ministries, so that we might give power to the faint, and strengthen the powerless.

The Lord be with you.

References:
1 Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel
(Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008), p. 49,
2 Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
(Westminster John Knox Press, Kindle Edition) p. 26,
3 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians
(Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2002), p. 92,
4 Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p. 92.

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