s117g00 Somerton Park 6/2/00 Sunday 5

"When (Simon and his companions) found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."" Mark 1:36-38

There have been occasional times in my twenty - something years of ministry that I've felt that a few look to me as a priest to "jolly them along" when they get a bit down. And certainly I have tried, at least consciously, not to antagonise people. Particularly in our Anglican Church, various tests are put before clergy. Will the priest use the old service occasionally? Will the preacher say the right things? Will the Rector support my particular contribution over another's? Will the minister spend his or her ministry keeping ME happy, or will I go off "in a huff".

Clearly Jesus was able to fulfil some of the expectations that people placed upon him. Our gospel story tells us that even those with a fever, like Simon's mother in law, were cured. So much so, that we are told "everyone is searching for" him - even Simon and his companions. What a useful companion could Jesus prove to be for Simon to have, someone who can keep his mother in law happy ... :-) All married men should have one ... :-)

But if everyone was searching for Jesus, clearly there were some needs yet to be fulfilled amongst those people he met on the first day in our reading. I am sure that the people concerned 'understood' - clearly Jesus couldn't heal everyone in just one session. But other people with other ailments were anxious to find their peace. But Jesus goes elsewhere. I recall Fr John Stewart saying at a Retreat some years ago, that some people probably got quite put out. They may well have gone early that morning to get granny, stretchered her from the next town, only to find Jesus had moved elsewhere. Most inconsiderate. Jesus could have at least waited and finished the job in one place before moving on to the next. I have this picture of granny on her stretcher with her sons, sitting dejectedly by the side of some dusty path that second morning, realising Jesus had left.

In fact, of course, this is Mark's particular recollection of the ministry of Jesus. He recalls how Jesus flitted from one place to the next. "Immediately" (or "at once") occurs in Mark in 43 verses, in the whole of the rest of the Bible only 77 times. To read Mark's gospel at one sitting, while not a difficult task, leaves one breathless.

One must come to the conclusion that Jesus first priority was NOT to cure everyone possible, and if his first priority was not to CURE everyone possible, then we have to ask what was Jesus' first priority.

Jesus says that he had a message to proclaim; though Mark gives us little or no indication of what the actual message that Jesus preached was. If it was not the message, the words which Jesus spoke, which were important, then we have to look elsewhere for the message.

If we focus on that "immediately" for a little while, we get a picture of Jesus in a hurry. In fact the word eúyus (yoothoos?) occurs twice in our gospel passage for today, but our translation substitutes "as soon as", and "at once" for it. Perhaps that curious injunction relates to this when Luke recalls Jesus saying to the seventy: "Greet no one on the road." (Luke 10:4). The task is too urgent even for this. There is a serious task - it is not just "hail - well met" - "ships passing in the night". It is that always there are others.

So it really is a distinct possibility that the message was Jesus' desire to visit others, which people needed to recognise and appreciate. It is the only conclusion that makes any sort of sense in the context of the words of today's gospel reading.

Jesus first priority was that in the ministry - the other was always included. It was more than that he wanted to make sure that no one would miss out on a visit, or at least have an opportunity to meet and make a contribution to the task. Clearly some people inevitably did miss out, whether he stayed or whether he moved on.

Faith is always directed towards the other person. It is not my faith but our faith. God's grace is not directed toward me but always towards us. God's grace is never extended towards an individual at the expense of someone else. God's grace is therefore never extended towards one denomination at the expense of another. God's grace is never extended towards Christians at the expense of those of other faiths.

So everyone is indeed searching for Jesus. And so I would paraphrase a quotation of Paul Tillich (The Shaking of the Foundations pp 151-2): "I am convinced that much of the rebellion against christianity is due to the overt or veiled claim of the christians to possess God" ... to which I would add .. at the expense of people of other faiths and at the expense of those with no faith ... I have no doubt that Tillich would have applauded the rebellion, and put in these terms, myself also.

Let me say that this is NOT a prelude to insisting that we accept the new words "We believe ..." instead of "I believe ..." in the Creed we say each service. Nor is it leading to a message to greet each other more heartily during the "Peace". (I was interested to look in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. At the same place within the service as is our "Greeting of Peace", the words there are written: "Then so many as shall be partakers of the holy Communion, shall tarry still in the choir, or in some convenient place near the choir, the men on the one side, and the women on the other side. All others (that mind not to receive the said holy Communion) shall depart out of the choir, except the ministers and Clerks." What for us has become a time of fellowship has evolved a long way from what was initially a time of separation - separation from those who were not receiving the Holy Communion and separation of those of different gender.)

One of my constant failings is to focus so often on my self, I think that everyone else has got the message and it's only me that's struggling. One of the real "eye-openers" for me in my experience on the Internet is that everyone else is struggling just like me. I have sometimes assumed - well one can't expect much - it's only us in little old Adelaide - beset with parish and diocesan politics. The rest of the world obviously has overcome these sorts of things. But it isn't true. Church politics exist everywhere.

But it infects me as a person. I sometimes feel I still need to be "brought out of myself" and I will find some peace. It manifests itself in my reluctance in preaching (or more accurately used to - I'm getting a little more practised at it these days :-) I focussed more on the fact that it was me getting up to speak and not on the message I had to convey. I have particularly found this when I get up to speak in Synod. I feel the presence of the listeners keenly and my focus shifts from the message to myself and the message gets lost.

Yet in the midst of all this, it is God who put me here, and if God wanted the message to be preached by someone perfect, God definitely chose the wrong person.

To repeat: Faith is always directed towards the other person. It is not my faith but our faith. God's grace is always directed toward me so that I can be gracious to others. God's grace is always extended towards an individual so that that person can be gracious to others. God's grace is therefore always extended towards one denomination so that it can be gracious to others. God's grace is always extended towards Christians so that Christians can be gracious to those of other faiths and those of no faith.

To me it is quite inconceivable that Christian fights against Christian. It is as inconceivable that Christian fights against Moslem, Jew, Hindu, even the Atheist.

Jesus reluctance to answer the question about who he was must also be related to this. It was less important for people to know who he was, than it was to realise that his actions in taking the initiative for good for everyone, accurately reflected God's will and actions from the beginning of time until the end, if beginning and end there be.

Jesus couldn't be tied down or wrapped in a cocoon of orthodox doctrines, let alone confined to a tomb. The resurrection is but the logical extension of this living for others. The "religious" people who wanted the "faith" for themselves had no option but to kill Jesus, for he proclaimed the message loudly and clearly that faith always includes the other.

Jesus ministry was always taking the initiative, going to people, and in this Jesus' reflects God's nature most accurately - always taking the initiative for good. Jesus didn't sit in one spot waiting for people to come to him - he went, just as we too are sent.

The message is NOT that in Jesus here is one worth searching for, even though many did and still do. The message is that Jesus has already taken the initiative in looking for us and all people and finding us and all people. This is the good news - that we and all people have been "found" already.

But what do we do with granny on her stretcher and her sons, sitting dejectedly by the side of that dusty path that second morning, realising Jesus had left. Perhaps they had just missed him. They couldn't follow because they didn't know what direction he had gone. Is life just chance? Had fate passed them by, by only a matter of minutes?

Perhaps we could better ask: "Is not the love of the sons for their mother worth but a little?" If we but go and recognise Jesus in those we meet, will we not bring joy and healing too? Even though Jesus had left the first place, clearly he left grace behind, that those who missed out might find their peace. They would find it, as we too will find it, in one another, and as others see him in us, in ourselves. AMEN.

 

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