The Sanctuary Sermon for 2/7/21
The Sanctuary Sermon for 2/7/21
“Searching for Jesus” Mark 1:29-39
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Everyone loves it when Jesus shows up. His presence makes a difference. Things happen. Mother-in-laws are healed. The sick are cured. Demons are cast out. Lives are changed. This is true not only for the people of Capernaum in Jesus’ time but also for us here and now. He comes to our house as surely as he went to the house of Simon and Andrew. Let me tell you about some houses that have been visited.
I know an alcoholic who says that one day he prayed, and Jesus removed from him the compulsion to drink. He’s been sober ever since. I remember a man named Max while flatlining on the operating table had an encounter with Jesus the gardener. Jesus placed his hand on Max’s shoulder telling him that he couldn’t stay in the garden, that things weren’t ready just yet. I remember visiting dear Jan in the hospital, her body was cancer laden, but she had the widest smile and an ethereal glow on her face. She exclaimed, “Jesus visited me at the foot of my bed last night,” and the next day she was with the Gardener in the most beautiful garden ever imagined. I have heard men and women tell the story of how Jesus called them into the ministry. Some of you have told me about experiences of calmness and peace that came from Jesus’ presence. Even as Diane prayed before she was struck head on by a diminished driver last week, “Lord, don’t let me die,” and so God was gracious to both motorists. Others tell how his strength and grace carried you through days you were sure you could not survive. Years ago, I was in a hospital room with a family watching and waiting for their patriarch to expire. In the end it was a holy death; nothing short of miraculous as he peacefully passed over. More recently, I’ve witnessed that same strength and grace carry a beautiful bald-headed princess warrior through a dark and most difficult time of her young life. #Melastrong.
I know of diagnoses that have changed for no apparent medical reason. I know people who have wept for joy and gratitude in the presence of Christ. There are lots of people who get together in a group each week and talk about their “moment closest to Christ.” I know that we all remember a moment when we were closest to Christ.
It happens. Those experiences are real. Jesus is present and active in our lives and the world. Those are the kind of things, as Mark tells us, for which people line up at Jesus’ door. Faith comes a bit easier in those moments. Jesus is real. His presence is felt. Results are seen. Our soul is well.
What happens, though, when we awaken to find ourselves in the nighttime of life? You know as well as I that there are times when life is just – plain – hard. We don’t get our way. Things happen that we never wanted to have happen. Faith becomes difficult and its results are not so tangible. In those times it seems as if there is only darkness and Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Some will assume he has forsaken them. They will abandon their faith. They will give up on the Church and Christ himself. What do we do when Jesus sneaks off, goes on a walk-about and we feel all alone? That’s the nighttime question.
According to our text, that time will come. Jesus will get up in the early morning hours, while it’s still very dark, and go to a deserted place. This is not, however, about Jesus escaping or getting away. It’s about prayer; his and ours. It’s no longer about what is happening around us or to us—but what is happening within us.
Regardless of how dark it may seem Jesus never leaves us. He may withdraw but that doesn’t mean he is absent. His withdrawing is in reality an invitation for us to move to a new place—to the deserted place. He calls us out of the comfort of the house into the vulnerability of the wilderness. It is a deserted and desolate place; a place where there is only prayer. There, we are alone with the Alone.
We all have deserted places in our lives. For some it is accepting the limitations that age and disease bring. Others deal with broken relationships. Loneliness and grief are desert places for some. The struggle to make ends meet in the uncertainty of a failing economy is a wilderness many are trying to escape. Every one of us could name our own wildernesses and deserts.
Truth be known, we don’t like the deserted places. They’re not the locales we would choose to reside. We tend to avoid them; they are empty arid places that can be scary and dangerous. There is nowhere to hide. We have to face up to who we are and who we are not. We are confronted by things done and left undone. Our sorrows and losses are laid bare in the deserted place. We begin to recognize that our successes, possessions, and accomplishments don’t ultimately count for much. In the wilderness we have to admit we are not in control. Time in the deserted place is a matter of life and death.
It is also, however, the place where our deepest healing can happen.
There is a price, though, for going to the wilderness. We must trade the security of the house for the risk of the desert. The wilderness prayer of self-surrender must begin to replace the house prayer that only asks for things to happen or change. Wilderness prayer doesn’t ask so much that circumstances will be changed but that we will be changed. The wilderness makes that change possible.
Jesus goes to the deserted places of our lives to draw us there. If he didn’t go first, if he didn’t invite us to that place, my hunch is that none of us would ever go there. Yet, the wilderness and desert places of our lives are sacred places. In the desert there is only God, there is nothing but God. Jesus is drawing us deeper and deeper into the heart of God. Ironically enough, that happens in the very place we thought was barren, empty, and desolate.
The deserted places of our lives are the places of Jesus’ prayer. They are the starting point for his message of good news. Good news comes from the empty and desolate places. Jesus will leave this deserted place to go proclaim his message in the neighboring towns. Before today’s gospel Jesus emerged from the wilderness saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe the good news.” Before him was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” Before that, the voice of God spoke creation into existence when “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” New life arises from the deserted and empty places. The good news of Christ comes from the wilderness.
“Everyone is searching for you,” they told Jesus. Yet Simon Peter and his companions were the only ones to find him. Maybe they were the only ones willing to go to the deserted place. I wonder where the others were searching. The safety of the village? The familiarity of neighboring houses? Standing in line at the door? Or perhaps just not searching at all.
I wonder where we will search when the nighttime of our life comes. Go to the deserted places of your life, places that you think are barren, empty, desolate, and there you will find Jesus, praying. Even now he knows your desolate place and is making intercession for you, sitting at the right hand of the Father.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.