Sunday, February 5, 2006

Click here to read Mark 1:29-39.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” This is the message that Jesus is proclaiming in the region of Galilee. It took Jesus 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for the beginning of his public ministry. And these are the words that are at the heart of his teaching. His very presence on this earth is the fulfillment of time. Wherever he goes, the kingdom of God breaks into this earthly realm in fantastic ways.

It’s still only Jesus’ first day of work. He’s already amazed the crowd in the synagogue with his authoritative teaching and released a man from the captivity of an unclean spirit. So the word about Jesus is spreading like brushfire. The word has a way of doing that, especially when miracles are involved. Jesus of Nazareth is famous by noon.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus constantly faces new opportunities to reveal God’s lovingkindness. After the dramatic showing at the synagogue, Jesus retreats to Simon and Andrew’s house only to discover that Simon’s mother-in-law is dizzy with fever. Jesus simply offers his hand and lifts the woman out of her bed and out of her fever. And so it is with God, as Isaiah proclaimed so many years before: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

The whispers about Jesus become shouts, and by dusk, the whole village of Capernaum is gathered around Simon’s house. Men and women whose spirits were strangled by demons and people afflicted with all sorts of ailments show up. Men and women, old and young, healthy and sick: all are burning with hope that this strange and amazing man might bring truly good news.

That scene must have been incredible. A make-shift hospital set up in a rural village. No triage room, no wards separating the diseased of heart from the diseased of mind, no nurses to help shoulder the burden. Just one physician in dusty sandals, filtering out the roar of the crowd to concentrate on each suffering patient. He carefully discerns the nature of their illnesses, and dispenses his power to restore them to health and wholeness.

This matter of miracles is important. The miracles Jesus performed drew in the crowds, and throughout Jesus’ ministry, he demonstrated mixed feelings about the miracles. There is a tendency to miss the power behind the miracles, to miss the truth behind the magic.

Jesus did not perform miracles to impress crowds into a confession of faith. Rather, these miracles of healing and wholeness demonstrate something essential about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Within God’s realm, no unclean spirit excludes a man from his community. No fever hinders a woman from welcoming her guests with bread and drink. Within God’s realm, the power of the Spirit overwhelms the powers of evil.

The Kingdom of God is a just and peaceable kingdom, in which no one is held captive by sin or imprisoned by illness. As this story of God’s new movement through the work and person of Jesus Christ continues to unfold, we shall see that the power of the Spirit shall overcome even the power of death.

Jesus is more than the messenger of the good news; he is the good news. He is the Son of the Living God. His teaching and healing allows his Father’s Kingdom to rupture the powers and principalities of this world.

Even though the village of Capernaum and the region of Galilee were still oppressed by the Roman government, all those who responded to the gospel were liberated. The power of the Spirit was so concentrated in the person of Jesus that their suffering simply evaporated at his touch. The Kingdom of God was among them, near enough to heal the wounds and restore the spirit of an entire town. All within the course of one day, no less.

But the true heart of this gospel lesson happens the morning after that first exhausting Sabbath of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus had barely recovered from his 40 days in the wilderness when he began proclaiming the good news. Yet the next morning, before the rising sun scattered the darkness, Jesus returned to a deserted place. He didn’t tell his new followers where he was going; he simply disappeared.

Jesus crossed the safe boundaries of the city and found a deserted place to meet God in prayer. He single-mindedly sought out an opportunity to be in focused communion with his Heavenly Father. Before the sun ascended high enough to illuminate all the work that needed to be done that day, Jesus carved out a time for prayer. No matter that Simon and his companions were anxiously searching for him. Jesus knew that he needed to rekindle the spirit within him by reconnecting with the Spirit of God.

When the panicked Simon finally found him, Jesus was renewed and ready for another day spent giving power to the faint and strengthening the powerless.

After waiting for the Lord in prayer, he was strengthened to go on to the neighboring towns so that he could proclaim the message there also. That time with God reassured him of why he came to Galilee—why he came to earth at all. In this passage, we see the weight and power of prayer in the life of Jesus, the Son of God.

Isaiah coined the phrase waiting on the Lord, and I think this is the best definition of prayer I have ever heard. The Hebrew word for waiting is the same as the word for twisting, like making a rope. When we wait on God in prayer, he works on us, braiding our spirits with strength and power.

“Waiting on God then, implies an experience of allowing God to bind together our strengths, or to collect our resources. Or as we might say these days, letting God help us “get our act together.” God focuses us, gathers the frayed strands of our being, conserves our resources, reinforces us, enables us. (…)

Waiting is active, not passive. It is not waiting with dismal resignation to our fate, but trusting with confident expectation that God will employ the various strands of our life to the strongest and fullest degree possible.

This is not always a comfortable process. It may involve pain; tough decisions, personal anguish from radical changes as we ask God to reorder our discordant lives.” (Bruce Pewter)

This reordering can happen over 40 minutes, 40 days, or 40 years, so long as we keep waiting on the Lord. Prayer isn’t so much answered as fulfilled—when we stand up ready to share the good news.

The morning retreat Jesus takes in the desert is one of the few moments of calm in the first chapter of the Mark’s gospel. The pace is hurried. There doesn’t seem to be much time to wait on the Lord. There are people to heal, demons to cast out. But there is Jesus, praying in solitude, waiting for God to replenish his strength and authority.

For all the drama of this scripture, for all the joy that reverberated through the streets as the people shared the news that Jesus of Nazareth had the power to dispel evil spirits and illness, it is the quiet and humble act of prayer that is the greatest miracle and the most profound expression of the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are each called to hear and respond to the good news that “time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” We are each called to “repent, and believe in the gospel!” And as we surrender ourselves to the life of discipleship, God calls each of us to participate in the construction of his peaceable Kingdom. We are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, trusting that the Holy Spirit will turn us into vessels of God’s love and healing. Like Jesus and Isaiah before him, we must proclaim hope to the hopeless and give love to the unlovable, for we are the hands and feet of Christ.

But all our good works will be powerless if we are not continually returning to the source of love and life. Around the dinner table and around the communion table, in the loud rush of the city and in the quiet hush of solitude, let us pray like Jesus prayed.

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