February 4 2018

Sermon preached by Reverend Mark Thompson

Central United Methodist Church, Lansing Michigan

February 3, 2018

 

“People Searching for Jesus”

 

Scripture: Mark 1: 29-39

 

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

Sermon

 

This is the last Sunday of Epiphany.  We have been in a season wherein we are reminded that the message of the birth of Emmanuel, God With Us, aka Jesus, was spread far and wide. It wasn’t just for the people of Bethlehem, the people of Judea, nor just for the people of Israel.

 

The good news that God was reaching out to humankind was for “the ends of the earth.” The story of the men from the east brining gold, frankincense, and myrrh as the followed the star to Bethlehem was intended to mean that all of creation was receiving the message of a new chapter in the world was dawning. Even the stars in the heavens were sending the message of “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2: 10b-11)

So often we forget this time of year. I recall some of the looks of suspicion that I have received over the years when I state that I wish for the Christmas manger scene to not include the Wise Men figures nor their camels. The looks become even more inquisitive when I state that we need to save them for the season of Epiphany.

 

I sometimes wonder if neglecting the season of Epiphany has led us to ignore the theology of reaching out to other nationalities or ethnic groups to encourage them to walk along beside of us in this journey to find Emmanuel, God Among Us. I celebrate the God who reaches beyond the limits that humans might set up. I celebrate the beauty of the message of Epiphany.

 

In our gospel reading for today, we find Jesus reaching beyond the norm of the day. He was interacting with the down and out. History has told us that others were also performing miracles, even raising people from their sick beds. So, what was different about this Jesus that makes us want to follow in his ways. Some view the ways of Jesus as being a miracle healer. We have those who put on quite a show as they perform miracles, albeit for a generous offering in the plate. I believe that Jesus would have not be inclined to show up at such a parade of frenzy and profit making.

 

Jesus, I believe, would have been more grounded in the message of connecting people with God on deeper level. It is great that someone is healed, but if there is not change on the inside of a person, then life is shallow. Disease will inevitable come back. Death is not an option for any of us.

 

Jesus was about calling people to a higher level of spiritual existence. Notice in the scripture that Jesus went away to pray before the sun came up. When the disciples came looking for him so that he could heal more people, he replied that he needed to go and spread the good news of God’s love to other places. It wasn’t about miracles of the body only. It was much deeper than that.

 

It was about turning the world upside down, or I should say, right side up. Jesus preached a message that stated blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, the persecuted for the sake of the good news of God’s love for all.

 

Time and again, Jesus had to remind his disciples what his mission was. “To preach good news to the poor and release to the captives…”

 

I do believe that people are looking for Jesus, Immanuel, God Among Us. Women, men, teens, and children are looking for dignity, justice, and peace. Some are misguided and want the only quick fix, all the money that they can have, all the possessions that they can afford or can’t afford. Some are searching for a deeper meaning in life as they see walls of prejudice being built, pitfalls of captivating debt to pay for basic needs, unbridled wealth for some and smaller paychecks for the rest that lead to being imprisoned in class warfare…

 

As the song goes “People need the Lord.” They need to hear the message of Jesus, “release to the captives.”

 

As I said in last week’s sermon, our mission is to proclaim:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon (us)me, because (God)he has anointed (us)me to bring good news to the poor. (God)He has sent (us)me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,”

.

 

I am the kind of preacher that has the reputation for reminding us of who we are: We are disciples of Jesus Christ who are in existence to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We are about transforming the world into a place of peace, justice, and equity for all of creation.

 

In our membership vows, we have promised:

To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of their (our) sin;

To accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression;

 

I would add that it goes beyond resistance on the personal level. It is also a vow to work against evil that in any way impedes others from reaching their potential as a child of God, made in God’s image.

In this month of Black History Month, we recall times when the church has been both resistant to and collaborative with the evil that was levied on African black men, women, and children as they were captured and brought here to the land of the free and home of the brave and then made to serve as animals for the profit of the few. The racism has taken different forms. The cotton fields of captivity have been replaced with prison bars of steel. The inability to make enough to buy one’s freedom has been replaced with prejudice in schools of choice and the market place for housing.

 

We still have a long way to go. We, the church must stand up and speak the truth to power as that power seeks to make money from imprisoning the disenfranchised, the refugee, the alien among us. We need to be about speaking truth to those who would traffic women, teens, and children for the sake of greed and carnal desires. We need to speak truth to the powers that keep poor people poor by levying higher and higher taxes and commodities so that the wealthy can become wealthier.

 

Central UMC, we are doing just that. As we lend our ears, time and resources to the

•              collection of food for those caught in the prisons of poverty,

•           baby products for those living in a country that continues to be ravaged by foul                             weather of humankind and natural disasters,

•           gloves, hats, mittens for children of Willow School whose parents might not be able to                     afford them

•           school supplies for that same school, Willow School, whose teachers find themselves                caught in the battle for funding of public schools

•           offerings for mission endeavors that are truly empowering people throughout the                         world to stave off deadly hunger, disease, and begin to undo the walls fortified                       by hateful regimes.

… the list can go on and on. Central UMC, you are to be commended for your faithful efforts.

 

Let us continue to be who God intended us to be on the corner of Capital and Ottawa…in this time of our shared history with the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, shared history with the city of Lansing and with the State of Michigan. Let us join hands with brothers and sisters of our tradition, other Christian traditions as well as other faiths; let us work together to proclaim the good news of God’s unconditional love for all.

 

Let this be a time in our history wherein we reach out to draw others closer to God, the God who welcomes all regardless of regardless of race, ethnicity, orientation, gender, or status in life. Let be known for proclaiming that

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon (us)me, because (God)he has anointed (us)me to bring good news to the poor. (God)He has sent (us)me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,”

 

Amen.