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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Epiphany 01/28/2018

Today’s gospel reading begins a section of Mark that could be sub-titled, “A Day in Capernaum.” It begins with the verses I just read as Jesus teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum and also engages with and casts out an unclean spirit from a man who is possessed, with all of this taking place on the Sabbath. After leaving the synagogue Jesus and his disciples go to the house of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law is ill; that’s next week’s gospel. In a preview of that text, Jesus cures her fever and then as the day winds down he cures many more who were sick or demon possessed and that completes the day. After that, the text moves to the next morning as Jesus goes out to pray.

So Mark gives us this day, this Sabbath, that is dominated by Jesus’ mighty deeds as first he heals a man, then a woman and then many more; his healing power expands. In all of the gospels, it seems like an awful lot of Jesus’ healing takes place on the Sabbath. It really becomes the main point of conflict between him and the religious leaders who are offended by Jesus’ violation of the commandment that says no work is to be done on the Sabbath. That’s not the case today; in this story from chapter one of Mark the authorities don’t accuse and come after Jesus, even if it won’t be long before they do.

It’s always made me wonder if Jesus did it on purpose; was it his goal to upset the religious leaders, calling them out for being so focused on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law? Was he trying to show that while the law is good, in this case that Sabbath rest is good, there were still times when, for the greater good, the law could be violated?

Jesus’ interpretation of the law along with the resulting conflict is certainly part of what is going on in some of the healing stories, but again, conflict with the authorities isn’t the presenting issue in today’s reading. In light of that, I found what I think is an interesting take on what Mark is doing in this “Day in Capernaum” text. Remember that the writers of the gospel were free to organize things however they wanted to. Their goal wasn’t primarily about recording history, more about proclaiming what they believed about Jesus, to make his identity known in other words, which is also the overall theme of these Sundays after Epiphany. So Mark gives us this Day in Capernaum and it may be that there was such a day when all this happened, or…it may be that Mark has imaginatively taken several pieces of the tradition and made them all part of the same day in order to help say what he wants to say.

Either way, the day is a Sabbath and…according to the law the Sabbath is a day of rest. But…according to Genesis there’s a creation connection; it’s the day that God finishes the work of creation and rests, having declared what was created as being very good. By placing today’s events on a Sabbath, Mark can be understood as picking up where Genesis left off, having Jesus continue the work of creation, moving it from very good towards perfection. Through Jesus people and relationships are healed and find rest. What was out of balance is restored to balance. Creation moves closer to perfection making this about more than just having Jesus irritate the authorities.

On this Day in Capernaum, Jesus enters into situations where chaos exists. In Genesis, when God begins to create, he too deals with chaos. The earth is a formless void, in Hebrew it’s tohu wabohu, which is, chaos. God brings order to the chaos, but the text never says that the chaos is eliminated. In texts like today’s chaos shows up: it shows up in the demon possessed man who shouts in the middle of synagogue worship. It shows up in the illness of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. It shows up in the variously afflicted people who are brought to Jesus in the evening.

All of these characters represent the chaos that still sometimes rises up and makes a mess of things. It’s disorder and confusion and Jesus enters into every bit of it. With that what Mark gives us here is a profound theological statement about Jesus and again it’s a good example of how Bible stories can be read at a number of levels. On one level it is a healing story that has Jesus doing what only God can do which makes a theological statement about who Jesus is. By itself it doesn’t necessarily say that Jesus is equal to God, but it’s headed in that direction. On another level, it is about Old Testament law, in this case the law about the Sabbath, and how that law is to be interpreted in light of Jesus. That too makes a theological statement about the significance and authority of Jesus.

Going still deeper, we get an even more profound statement about the salvation offered through Jesus. Mark gives us a story that doesn’t just provide information about Jesus, it describes the transformation that is possible through Jesus. If the Bible just provides information it’s really just another ancient text of which there are many. It’s in transformation that the Bible becomes the word of God.

The sick and the demon possessed are symbolic of the state of the world that Jesus entered into. It’s not a world where chaos reigns, but it is a world where chaos is still on the loose. It’s a world that has become alienated from itself and is in need of salvation. It becomes a world without hope, where it seems that nothing new is possible.

But then…Jesus shows up and those chaotic elements are transformed and with that, people are transformed, creation itself is transformed. With this “Day in Capernaum” story from the beginning of Mark, that’s the theological vision he leads with. Mark doesn’t just portray Jesus as a doer of wondrous deeds; his Jesus enters our world to transform it, to transform each of us, to engage our chaos and bring order to it. With what on the surface seems to just be an ordinary healing story, if a miraculous healing story can be considered ordinary, that vision of reality transformed through Jesus is what Mark describes, it’s the reality into which we are invited.

Do we accept the invitation? I don’t know, but I’m going to suggest that a lot of the time the answer is no. In a secular world where reason and intellect are highly valued, it’s easier to understand Jesus as a teacher of morals or the proponent of a changed social agenda and he is both of those things. It’s easy for church to become a Sunday morning social activity during which you hope for a sermon that is thought provoking but not too challenging, you hope you like the hymns and the choir anthem and you look forward to fellowship and good snacks at coffee hour afterwards.

But does coming here feel like being part of a transformed reality where Jesus is truly present in the common elements of bread and wine. Is he present in the words of the Bible and in the preached word helping to open you to new possibilities of transformation? When you leave here do you see a world being transformed by the presence of Christ or do you see a world where nothing has changed, it’s still the same?

Beginning with the Old Testament prophets and poets, followed by Jesus himself, followed by New Testament authors like Mark, followed by the early and later church fathers, followed by reformers like Martin Luther, followed by many more contemporary theologians, Christian faith has always been about a vision of the world being transformed in and through Jesus. It’s about a vision of humanity being transformed in and through Jesus. Even for the most faithful though, it’s easy to become cynical and conclude that the forces of chaos are winning, that the vision of transformation has no basis in reality.

The challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to embrace and live into his vision of reality. We are still sinners, the world around us is wounded but in the beauty and order of worship, in the beauty of the world around us, in simple acts of caring, we get glimpses of a world being transformed, a world that is more than doom and gloom, more than negativity and cynicism. It’s a world where Jesus is present and walks with us through the good and the bad. It’s a world where in Jesus the future has been revealed and it is a hope filled future. It’s a world where in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s new world has already begun.

It’s easy for Christianity and the church to be pigeon holed as being about holier than thou moralism or about social activism be it liberal or conservative. Where Christianity begins though, where following Jesus begins is with the vision of a “Day in Capernaum,” a day when Jesus shows up, and chaos is transformed.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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