Recharge with Prayer- Sermon for February 7,2021

Sermon for February 7, 2021

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     The newspaper article read “Laredo, Texas held the bleak distinction of having one of the most severe outbreaks of COVID-19 of any city in the United States. As cases soar, the death toll in the overwhelming Latino city of 277,000 now stands at more than 630—including at least 126 in January alone.” In Laredo there is an eminent doctor, Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa. He could have remained quietly in his cardiology practice, but instead has become a leading spokesman on the prevention of the disease. He has been nicknamed the “Dr. Fauci of South Texas” driving around in his beat-up Tacoma pickup encouraging people to wear masks and practice other precautions. He even makes house calls treating COVID patients. People who come to his clinic who have no insurance are treated anyway understanding there is the higher calling than treating the sick instead of worrying about billing. He said “Until we make the right decisions, it’s about money versus life.” He is not afraid to confront politicians and local businesses when they ignore the alarming spread of the virus.

On the news the other night a nurse practitioner serves the poor in an Appalachian region of western Virginia. She drives around in an RV converted into a mobile health clinic. For years she has been working in what are called “under-served” communities, places remote with many poor and without easy access to medical care. She has called on the governor of Virginia to help her obtain vaccine for one of the poorest areas of the state. The cardiologist in Laredo who left the comfort of his office to hop into his Tacoma pickup and make house calls, the Nurse Practitioner who could have had an easier position in a city but instead drives a mobile clinic in the back roads have this in common: a desire to move on be among the people and serve as many as possible.

In the gospel lesson we heard that Jesus was kept busy healing the sick and driving out demons. The reading is a continuation of last Sunday’s text which told of Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It was said that Jesus taught with authority meaning he brought the Word of God to life. This was further shown when Jesus was interrupted by a man at the synagogue who was possessed by an evil or unclean spirit. The spirit, speaking through the man yelled at the top of his voice, “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.” The evil spirit’s knowledge of Jesus could be understood as a challenge: if you are the Holy One of God, show your stuff! Jesus did and freed the man of this evil spirit that had invaded his life. What took place in the synagogue was not a mere interruption of Jesus’ sermon, a pesky annoyance. This was Jesus’ mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that would overcome the kingdom of evil and liberate people from its control. The people of the time understood what had happened saying, “A new teaching, with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

Now we come to the gospel lesson for today: as soon as Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, along with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was not well, in bed with a fever. We do not know what caused the fever but we know it was serious since Jesus was told about it at once. Jesus went to her, took her by the hand and raised her up and the fever left her. Jesus did not yell and say something like ‘be healed’ but instead gently took her by the hand. Jesus revealed himself as ‘gentle and lowly of heart’. Jesus healed not to show off but to show compassion.

It is interesting that Simon’s mother-in-law, healed of her fever, left the bedroom for the kitchen and began to serve them: five men! One may wonder why Jesus did not tell her to rest and have Simon and Andrew make a simple meal of sandwiches and serve her. But in the culture of the time it was the role of the women in the house to serve food for the family and guests. I have the feeling Simon’s mother-in-law did not serve begrudgingly, but with gratitude for Jesus’ gift of healing. At this early stage of the gospel of Mark, she was showing true discipleship by serving. Later in the gospel Jesus would gently scold the men disciples who had the tendency to imagine their own importance and seek power and influence. Jesus told them not to follow the world’s understanding of greatness. Jesus told them if you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, you must be a servant. Jesus said “I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” I imagine Jesus showing gratitude to Simon’s mother-in-law for serving lunch and I ever wonder if Jesus did the dishes. When Jesus heals the fever of fear in our lives and gives us the peace which surpasses all understanding, we are ready to rise and serve others in need. Gratitude for God’s grace is a powerful motivator.

In our text we now hear it is sundown. For the Jews, a new day began at sundown. Now the Sabbath was over and it was the first day of a new week. On this new day Jesus discovered the whole city was gathered at the door. Jesus did not try to escape through the back door. We hear a summary statement that Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons. We understand the meaning of healing the sick but we can wonder about Jesus’ work of casting out demons. They were spiritual entities that would torment and control people. They would speak through their human host. They knew Jesus but Jesus had the final authority and he would not let them speak. Jesus did not need to listen to demonic voices. What Jesus did listen to was the tormented souls they possessed and oppressed. So Jesus got rid of them so people once again would be at peace and know the mercy of God.

Can you imagine ministering to so many people; Jesus was exhausted. He was not only physically weary, but spiritually worn as well. So when it was still dark, Jesus got up, making sure not to wake anyone, and found a deserted place. Jesus would recharge with prayer. Some have wondered that since Jesus was the beloved Son of God, why he would need to pray. We must not forget the message of Christmas: Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, God in the flesh, truly a human being. When weak, heavy-laden, and cumbered with a load of care, Jesus needed prayer so he would be strengthened to continue his work of revealing the authority of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was not only a teaching for the Sabbath Day service, but his ministry every day meeting people longing to be healed and set free from what troubles and torments them. Jesus would need the refreshment and renewal of the Holy Spirit which comes through the freedom of prayer, the gift of casting every care upon God because God has compassion and care for us. If Jesus needed prayer to focus on what was important in life, just think of how much we need the gift of prayer. Just think of all the distractions, just think of all our anger and fear, just think how easy it would be to say, as Isaiah the prophet heard the people complain of God: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”. Prayer gives grace as we focus on God, with faith we understand God does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”

There was another reason Jesus needed to get away and pray. Jesus’ disciples found out he was missing and the text used an interesting term, “they hunted for him.” Jesus was out to pray and not to be prey. When they found Jesus they told him “Everyone is searching for you.” It would be tempting for Jesus to stay where he was at in Capernaum, heal people and cast out demons, and he would be a local celebrity. Jesus was not interested in celebrity by seeking the lost. Jesus was not interested in popularity in a safe place but going on to other places and towns faithful to his calling of proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. So Jesus went throughout the Galilee teaching in synagogues and casting out demons. By his words and actions Jesus manifested the truth of the coming Kingdom of God, a rule of God’s love, healing, compassion, and peace.

I begin by telling you about a doctor in Laredo, Texas, who left his lucrative cardiology practice for the time being seeking to deal with the soaring number of people struggling with COVID-19. He is a well-known and beloved doctor and people listen to him. But then he came down with the virus. He thought he could beat it at home, but it was not the case. He was admitted to a hospital in San Antonio. He recovered and had this to say about his bout with COVID and brush with death: “it has made me a better physician”. In other words he is more urgent with his activism for precautions people need to practice and his speaking up before government to seek help. It also means he has walked the miles in his patients’ shoes and knows firsthand their suffering.

The coming of Jesus into the world has made God a better God; I am not sure if that is a proper way to say it. What I mean that through Jesus, God has walked the miles in our human shoes. God knows affliction and is acquainted with grief because of Jesus. We are all searching for God; this is what our fears and anxieties mean as we wonder just where God is. The good news is that we find God in Jesus, or Jesus is God who has found us.

Many will watch the Super Bowl tonight where there is a lot of hype and star power. Enjoy the game at home, a whole lot cheaper that trying to get a ticket for that game in Tampa….it is shocking what some people have paid for a ticket, well into the thousands of dollars. But today, as we heard the good news of the Kingdom of God from Jesus’ words and actions of healing, we have a victory far greater than any Super Bowl champions. The victory comes from Jesus’ cross and resurrection declaring that in spite of what we may think at times, the powers of sin, death, and devil will not prevail. Jesus has won the victory and gives us by grace, forgiveness of sins, new life now and forever, and the peace of Jesus’ guardian presence in our lives. Because of Jesus we are healed from the fevers that cool our love for neighbor. Now with gratitude may we take Jesus by the hand, follow him, and serve by his strength and example.

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