2/4/2018 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany The text is Mark 1:29-39; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not a day on the church calendar, even though some people regard football as somewhat of a religion. As for me, I never watch the game, even when the Patriots are playing. I don’t like watching grown men crashing into each other nor do I like watching the antics performed by grown men if they should happen to score a touchdown (as if scoring a touchdown makes them super heroes). With that being said, there is one thing I do like watching, one thing that will have me flipping over to the game today, and that is the commercials.
Commercials are a type of proclamation. They are art forms that make official announcements. They are also sales pitches about all sorts of things – from personal care products to food to cars – all of which are designed to make us believe we can’t live without the item. The best commercials, like those of Anheuser-Busch, have us remembering the product while others have us remembering the cute presentation, but not the product being hawked. It is always interesting to see the angle manufacturers take in trying to get our attention. Years back, Mercedes-Benz took an unusual tactic in order to get people to purchase their cars. In the commercial, a spokesperson for the car company, being interviewed about safety innovations, pointed out that some important safety-features designed by Mercedes-Benz were now found in many cars and with that, the spokesman said, “There are some things that are too important not to share.”
There are some things that are too important not to share. Jesus and Paul felt that way about the gospel. In fact, the sharing of the good news about God’s plans for humanity was the primary purpose of Jesus. For, Jesus said, “that is what I came to do.”
Both Jesus and Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel. But, their proclamation of the most important news in the world was not delivered in the way we have grown accustomed to it in the world today. There were no sales pitches designed to lure unwary consumers, and no door-to-door “Bible toting” missionaries proclaiming their faith. For them, proclamation began not with a product to be peddled, but with real people and real needs. So, we need to watch what they do and then listen to what they say instead of the other way around.
Take Jesus, for example. This week we have the story of Jesus’ healing of Simon’s sick mother-in-law. This healing story is not as spectacular as last weeks. There is no dramatic confrontation with a wild man in a synagogue, no dramatic rebuke of an unclean spirit. Here there is a tender scene as Jesus goes in, offers his hand to Simon’s ill mother-in-law, and lifts her up. The scene is very tender, very domestic, very ordinary and yet, wondrous, and it is the proclamation of the gospel – the proclaiming of the good news in an act of salvation.
Jesus says that he had come to preach, to proclaim the good news, and we think of preaching as a very verbal activity – like what I am doing now. But, it’s hard for Jesus to get a chance to open his mouth and express in words what God has in store for us with so many hurting people clustered around him. So, Jesus reaches out to them. He touches them. He wades into their pain, taking some of it upon himself, and they are healed.
Jesus begins his proclamation with real people who experience the fears and joys of real life in order that the real hope of the real message of salvation will be found in a living Christ who touches human need with the hand of divine grace. In Jesus there is one to turn to who is not selling another product among many, but one who has something too good not to share. In Jesus there is life, a life which can touch human life and transform sadness into joy, despair into peace, brokenness into wholeness through unity with God.
It is this good news that Paul found so compelling that he gave up the freedoms he had in faith in order to closely identify with others. He became all things to all people in order that they might come to believe and trust in the God of his salvation. He did everything for the sake of the gospel. He became a slave to the needs of others and accommodated himself to various groups in order to bring people to Christ.
This makes Paul’s understanding of apostolic freedom light years away from the current generation. For instead of seeking happiness by focusing on his wants and needs, he found joy in selfless living, blessing in placing the needs of others before tending to his own needs, and life in giving away himself and his resources.
“I have become all things to all people,” writes Paul. “To the weak, I have become weak…” These word that accompanied Paul’s actions are extraordinary for we would expect to say, “I made myself wise to save the ignorant, strong to save the weak.” But, Paul takes another path, the path of Christ who became as one of us. Paul does this and then speaks so his words follow his actions.
There is no attempt to sell a product in Paul’s words. There are no accolades expressed. There is no need to distinguish himself. Paul is following the way of Christ, the way in which actions become the proclamation and words help us understand the “why” of it all.
This is far removed from the commercials we will watch today on TV. This is far removed from the “new gospel” which has us focusing on ourselves and our wants and needs over and above others. And yet, it is the way of salvation and life in Christ who gave everything to us, including his life. This good news is too good not to share and the sharing begins, not from the safety of the couch or from an attempt to sell faith through words and cute commercials. It is shared as life touches life.
It is difficult for us to put aside our defenses, to peel off our public masks and to open ourselves genuinely in order to be vulnerable with vulnerable people. In rare and precious moments, perhaps beside a sickbed or in the midst of a quarrel or in a sudden smile of gratitude or affection, epiphanies can take place. Person touches person with the true light that warms and heals us all. In those moments, the gospel is proclaimed. It is proclaimed and spread whenever soul meets soul.
May we experience the divine touch in our need, and may we share the divine touch with others in their time of pain. For, the good news of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ is too good not to be shared.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.