Sunday, February 1, 2015

JESUS AT PRAYER AND ON MISSION (revised). Homily for Mark 1:29-39
For the 5th Sunday - 
Ordinary Time, 
Year B
A Homily for 2.8.15
edited from a 
a Homily posted 2.5.12

The Gospel Lectionary reading for today brings to us both the remarkable prayer life that undergirded Jesus' ministry, and the ongoing movement of his mission and message. 

Again, the text offers us a description of the wonder working and miracle-signs that was the most visible aspect of Jesus' ministry. Here he heals Peter's mother-in-law, he heals others with illnesses and he shatters the power of evil spirits over individuals. The context of this pericope should include the preceding verses which, taken together, actually give a glimpse into one day with Jesus. 

Yet, even though it had been a long day, early the next morning Jesus secrets himself away from the crowds, and even his followers, where he finds a deserted place to pray. Eventually, however, his prayer hideaway is discovered by Peter, who reminds Jesus of his obligation to the needy and his growing fan-base. But, Jesus, curiously declares (explains) to Peter his primary mission
 "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come."
There is much here for the Christ-follower at the beginning of the 21st century, mush that aids a determined discipleship. Notice two broad headings that will open as a door into the text: 


Healing the sick and freeing the captive 
Living out the day fully engaged 
Silencing adulation and acclaim 
Leaving success for calling 

The foundation of ministry -- guidance 
The power for ministry -- Spirit's presence 

Notice first, then, Jesus' mission, which included preaching, healing the sick and freeing those captive to evil spirits. But, of course, we know there was more to Jesus' healing ministry than helping the sick, as wonderful as that was. No, the real point to the healing ministry of Jesus was to display to all who had eyes to see and ears to hear that Israel's Messiah, GOD's chosen One, had finally come to bring new life — resurrection life — to GOD's chosen people. 

Therefore, these miraculous signs were clues to Jesus true identity as Messiah, the anointed one of GOD. 

To be sure, these miracles benefitted the individuals and families who were touched, and Jesus was much moved by the plight of the sick and the possessed. But the primary intention of the healings and exorcisms was to show that, in the Kingdom — that was both present and future because of the presence of the King — there would be a day when no healings or exorcisms would ever be needed again. 

That is, these miracles announced the truth of Jesus' person and also Jesus' determination to ultimately overturn the dire and dirty plight of humanity in GOD's good world. In fact, it is in this way that we must ultimately see the cross and its victory over the powers of darkness and empire, for the cross and resurrection culminates the work Jesus began in those little healing rooms and synagogue exorcism sites of Galilee. 

This also speaks, therefore, to the necessity of Jesus’ relentless movement toward Jerusalem and his ultimate confrontation with the powers. Always on the road, always moving to the next town and to the next group, time was his enemy. What would be done must be done quickly. He knew the authorities would eventually work to shut him down and shut him up. He knew that popularity was his enemy. He knew success was not measured in notoriety or large crowds, but instead by the sustained, forward movement of the message, even after he was gone: 
"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, '"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'" (Mk. 1:14-15)
Here is a north star for our ministry, then. Our eyes must be kept upon the mission -- who is our King. Jesus, the LORD, is our goal; he is our message and mission. And we accomplish his message and mission -- this working toward King and Kingdom -- through the proclamation and royal announcement with our lives and our mouths that there is indeed a new King of the world. That Jesus is kurios -- LORD -- and Caesar isn't. That Jesus is kurios -- LORD -- and the powers of darkness and hate and greed and disease and finally death are defeated. 

This proclamation and announcement, therefore, includes our actions to behave justly, to relieve suffering, to care for the dying, to identify with the poor, to proclaim salvation, all in the name of the Jewish Messiah -- crucified, slain, raised and still at work in the world through powerful the Holy Spirit. 

Like the King himself, nothing must divert us from task; nothing must divide us from the caring community that Jesus created, this new humanity that displays the results of Jesus' LORDship work -- unity. Unity in spite of and in confrontation with a fallen and fractured world at war with itself. 

We must not be sidetracked with our own fame and resume. We must not focus on our own kingdoms and glory. We must, instead, offer our time, our talents, our money and even our lives if necessary to the proclamation of this message: That the most wonderful thing has happened... 

I would submit that the only way we can ever hope to faithfully accomplish our part of the Kingdom task is to pattern ourselves after the Jesus, especially molding our hearts and actions after his prayer practice. 

What is before us in this text cannot be overemphasized. Jesus, feeling the pressure of ministry and the strain of his calling, turns to prayer. Prayer renews his spirit and emboldens his determination. We do not know, but perhaps Jesus is fighting some unrecorded internal spiritual battle, and like before is again driven to a lonely place as happened during his temptation sojourn. Whatever the reason, clearly, Jesus feels the spiritual-tug to spend time with the Father and to reconnect with his calling. For, after the prayer-time, he says to Peter -- 
"Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee."
Brothers and Sister, if Jesus felt the need to pray, how much more must we take prayer as our primary action. We must pray in secret; we must pray in community. We must pray when it is convenient and when it is not. We must pray when we feel like it and when we do not. 

Prayer is the doorway to the Spirit's presence and power for ministry. Prayer connects the believer with the One, True and Living GOD. Prayer sustains us during the weary onslaught of the human condition that would tear us away from the mission of caring and loving the world. 

Finally, prayer shows us whether we believe in GOD for our work, or only ourselves. If we pray, there is a bedrock theism to our calling and understanding that this world and this work began with the Almighty and that it will end there as well. If we do not pray it betrays a human-centered ministry that begins and ends with us. Know this, Jesus did not depend upon himself and his own strength to accomplish his mission and ministry, but instead, daily, relied upon the Father for power, for direction and for an inward spiritual vitality. It must work the same for us.