Rev. Karen  Dickey
February 4, 2018
Rev. Karen Dickey
Minister. Trustee


Reader:Judy Krzesowski . audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 1:39
Do you know what you have come to do?

Texts: Isaiah 40: 21-31; Mark 1: 29-39

If we’re going to get very far with that passage from Mark’s Gospel for today, there are a few things off the top that need clarifying … things that would otherwise get lost in translation.

So let’s go back to Simon and Andrew’s house, where they, along with James and John, go with Jesus after a morning at the synagogue. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever, we’re told … which is the first thing that might slip by us.
Unlike our use of the word fever, fever here refers to a dangerous, life-threatening illness. So in other words, Simon’s mother-in-law is on her death bed. They waste no time telling Jesus about her.  “He came, and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”  Other translations say “he helped her up,” or “he pulled her up,” or “he raised her up.” Whatever the phrase in English, it’s the same word that’s used for the resurrection of Jesus in the last chapter of Mark’s gospel. In other words, right there, in the home of Simon and Andrew, God’s life-giving, resurrecting power is loose and at work in and through Jesus! … and now, in and through Simon’s mother-in-law.

And then what do we hear? “The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” “Fancy that,” we might think … “this woman is given a new chance at life so she can cook for these guys!??”
Except that if we look closely, the word for serve is the same word we find earlier in the story, just after Jesus is baptized.  Do you remember … he’s driven by the Spirit into the wilderness where he dwells for 40 days, tempted by Satan, the story goes.  And he was with the wild beasts and the angels served him or ministered to him, another translation says, from the same word.

It’s the same word that pops up again 9 chapters later when James and John (the same James and John who are there this day in the house) -- it’s the same word as when they ask Jesus to grant them a place of honour and greatness. That’s when he tells them, true greatness is found in service (there’s that word) … it’s about making your life an offering that frees, that empowers, that maybe even raises up others to life again.

“The fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Not only has Simon’s mother-in-law experienced healing. There’s her response to serve, to minister to the needs of others, perhaps flowing from her gratitude.  What we’re witnessing is the adding of one more disciple to the group --and this time a woman … the 4 have just become 5!

Before we know it, the sun has set, and there’s this great mob of people appearing at the door. One translation says “the whole town came crowding around the door.” Another says “the whole city.” Another says, “the whole world.” In other words, a lot! A great multitude! They came … the sick, those possessed by demons, those driven by forces beyond their control, and those who cared about them. They came. Clearly Jesus’ reputation is out there. People know where to come for help, for healing … for a new lease on life. And they come in droves!

It makes me wonder … when Jesus invited those fishermen to come with him and do something different with their lives -- come and fish for people as he put it --make people the focus of their work, I have to wonder if any of them, including Jesus, was ready for this … if they aren’t wondering what on earth they’ve ignited, faced now with this incredible, overwhelming response.

Jesus healed many, we’re told … summing up the whole affair pretty much like that. For all the carefulness of the narrative, so we don’t miss that this was one enormous night, such a concise summation of what happened that night is striking … as though the narrative can’t wait to get past it, mirroring perhaps something of the spirit of that night … how the most needful thing was to get through it, to the early hours before dawn … past the chaos and the clamouring, the receiving and the healing of people, to, at last, that breathing space.

Very early in the morning, we’re told, Jesus got up -- suggesting that at some point he actually lay down. But when it was still dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place to pray.

Come and find the quiet centre
in the crowded life we lead;
Find the room for HOPE to enter,
find the frame where we are FREED.
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we may see,
All the things that really matter … be at peace and simply be. [1]

Jesus went out to a deserted place to pray … it’s a deliberate move from the clamouring to solitude, from extending himself to withdrawing himself, from attending to the cry of others to attending to his own souls’ voice and the Spirit’s call. It’s not just about getting away from the demands … it’s about locating himself in such a way so he can listen beneath the hubbub for the wisdom to know what to do.

That’s the thing … sometimes the hubbub takes over --takes us over and we can’t hear or see anything else … or even imagine that there is anything else to see or hear.

At some point, Simon and the others come looking for him. You can hear the urgency in their voice when they find him: “everyone is searching for you.” And what does he say? “Let’s go on”… not back to the house, to where they were, where all those people are looking for him, counting on him. No. “Let’s move on to neighbouring towns,” he says. “You mean you’re going to leave those people standing?” I want to say to Jesus. “You can’t do that!”

Which is exactly why he went away to a deserted place to pray … because his world is full of people telling him what he ought to do.  Which is exactly why any and all of us need, at times, to come into that quiet place where we can listen deeply … listen beneath competing voices, beneath everyone else’s wise ideas, even our own best thoughts … to listen for a word that’s deeper yet … that settles with us and settles us, even though it may seem ridiculous to others, and maybe even to us.

Clearly Jesus is a gifted healer. And given the sickness and suffering in the world, he could make his healing gift and people’s need for healing the sole focus of his ministry, his life. But notice from where he takes his lead. Finally what he’s to do is not based in what he’s successful at, or in the needs that are brought to him, but in the call of the Spirit who has plans for him that go beyond his healing gift. [2]

By the time Simon and the others reach him, we hear Jesus speaking from that place of clarity about his call … “Let’s go on to the neighbouring towns,” he says, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” Not only is that a statement of clarity … this is Jesus responding in fidelity to his call.

“This is what I came to do.”

Just when we and all the others, even Jesus himself, thought we knew what he was all about, something more is revealed.

Do you know what you have come to do?
Might it be time you found yourself in a deserted place -- whatever that might be for you-- to wonder, to listen again for the guiding wisdom of the Holy Spirit?

Do you know what have you come to do?


[1] Shirley Erma Murray, Come and Find The Quiet Centre, Hope Publishing Company, 1992; printed in Voices United #374

[2]Kayla McClurg, from her reflection The Dilemma of Gifts, posted on February 8, 2015