Sermon from 7th Feb 2021

Mark 1:29-39 (EHV)

29 Jesus left the synagogue and went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed, sick with a fever. Without delay they told Jesus about her. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, when the sun had set, the people kept bringing to him all who were sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door. 34 He healed many people who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.

35 Jesus got up early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went out. He withdrew to a solitary place and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for him, 37 and, when they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 He told them, “Let’s go somewhere else, to the neighboring villages, so that I can preach there too. In fact, that is why I have come.” 39 Then he went throughout the whole region of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may pay attention to the words and work of our Healer and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever considered how much our own priorities and the priorities of Jesus differ?

Of course, as faithful followers of Jesus, we’d love to say we’re always doing the will of God, but I wonder if we’re as true and loyal as we first think. If our priorities and Jesus’ priorities aren’t the same, what’s hindering us in our faithful discipleship?

Just to check this out, let’s consider how we might prioritise things.

Let’s imagine God’s like a genie who would grant our wishes. Of course, we should never consider our God to be like a genie or that our prayers would be granted like wishes, but just for this exercise, let’s consider what type of things we want God to do in our troubled world right now.

So, if God were to grant your wish, what would you think God should do as his first priority?

Would you want God to get rid of the coronavirus? I mean, just think how many people are suffering in the world right now, how many have died from this virus, and how it’s disrupted our lives, our travel plans, our mental health, and our freedoms. If only we could get back to how we used to live! Wouldn’t this be a good thing for God to do which would save a lot of heartache?

But then again, why would we stop with just one virus? What about all the other viruses and diseases in our world? Maybe we would want God to get rid of all those pesky germs and infections! And what about all those insidious medical problems such as Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Motor Neurone Disease, heart conditions, Diabetes, blindness, deafness, respiratory conditions, and so on? Doesn’t God want us all to get better and live happy and healthy lives?

What about stopping drought, floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis? What about fixing our environment so that we don’t experience the extremes of weather and its associated fires, starvation, and other disasters? If only God would grant us all good weather so that our gardens and crops and herds would benefit!

What about world peace? Don’t you think God should stop all wars and threats of war? Perhaps you want all rightly established governments to prosper and that all coups and rebellions would stop. Perhaps God should also stop all terrorists, radicals, extremists, rebels, protestors, anti-vaxxers, and all those left-wing or right-wing activists!

In fact, why doesn’t God get rid of all evil? Imagine how much better life would be without the influence of evil! And I’m not just talking about the evil acts of humans, but also the evil of spiritual powers and demons. After all, Jesus has power and authority over them too, doesn’t he?

In other words, what do you think God’s first priority should be in our crazy, mixed up, troubled world? What should God prioritise in your own life as of highest importance? It could be those very things you spend much time and energy on is what you think God should spend his time and energy on.

But as you consider the list of priorities you think God should attend to, did any of you have as the first item God should act on is the need for God to preach or teach?

Similarly, do any of you currently list as your own first priority as a faithful disciple of Jesus that you listen to the preaching and teaching of Jesus or any other part of Scripture? And if you don’t consider listening to sermons and attending bible studies as your own first priority, why not? It’s Jesus’ first priority, so why isn’t it yours?

Now, why do I say this is Jesus’ first priority?

Well, have you been listening attentively to the Gospel readings over the last few Sundays? Have you noticed how important preaching and teaching is to God’s plan of salvation?

For example, once Jesus was baptised and tested in the wilderness, and after John the Baptist was put in prison, what was the first thing Jesus did according to St Mark?

He proclaimed the kingdom of God and called people to believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:14)

After he called the first disciples, the next thing he did was go to the Synagogue to teach, and people were amazed at his authority. (Mark 1:22, 27)

Today we hear that after Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (and many others), he tells his disciples it’s time to go and preach in another place, because this is the reason why he came! (Mark 1:38).

While we’re often very impressed with Jesus’ authority to drive out demons and wish he would get rid of all types of evil from our lives, and while we’re also impressed with Jesus’ power to heal people and wish he would also do the same with us and our loved ones, it’s easy to miss out on what Jesus first priority actually was.

His first priority was to preach and teach the Kingdom of God.

Of course, many people don’t always want his words. Most people only want the miracle making God who gives them what they want. And what most people want is a comfortable, healthy and happy life. This will mean God’s priorities and our priorities will often clash.

Martin Luther realised the importance of paying attention to God’s Word. His explanation to the 3rd Commandment about Remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy is: ‘We are to fear and love God, so that we do no despise God’s Word or preaching, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.’

In this case it might be helpful for us to reconsider our priorities and ask ourselves such questions as:

  • Have I become lazy and inattentive to God’s Word? And if so, why don’t I cherish it as I ought?
  • Have I become indifferent with, or defiant towards, what I hear through the sermon? And if so, why have I become apathetic or resistant towards hearing the proclamation of God’s Word?
  • Am I unwilling to learn from God’s Word through attending bible studies? And if so, why have I become a reluctant disciple of Jesus who doesn’t want to learn from God’s Holy Word?

It could be we need to repent of our own selfish priorities and refocus on what is most important so that we would have in mind the things of God instead of the things of humankind.

What we hear in the Gospel according to St Mark is that Jesus’ first priority is to preach and teach the Kingdom of God.

He seeks first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. He proclaims how he is the fulfilment of God’s Word as the Word-made-flesh. He preaches and teaches us so we can grow in the grace and knowledge of God. He knows the Word of God acts like a sword which cuts to the heart of what’s wrong with us and why our priorities differ with God’s. He proclaims the Gospel – the good news message of God’s forgiveness for our apathy, rebellion and reluctance. He knows we need to learn the ways of God because everything we learn about God and his holy ways is counter-cultural and supernatural. He knows the Holy Spirit calls us through the words of the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, makes us holy and keeps us in the one true faith. He knows faith comes through hearing God’s Word.

But just because Jesus’ first priority is to preach and teach, this doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned about the evil we face in this world. It also doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t concerned for your physical health and mental well-being. Jesus is deeply concerned about these things, and his gracious compassion is illustrated in his work of healing people and casting out demons. Many people came to him in the hope they would be cured and out of compassion Jesus healed many of them, but we need to remember he didn’t heal everybody. Even those he healed were likely to get sick once more.

This means it’s ok to pray for healing for yourself and your loved ones. God may grant you and your loved ones healing, which will lead you to praise him and his goodness to you, but don’t be surprised if your priority and God’s priority don’t always match. Sometimes God will grant you health once more, but sometimes you won’t get better. This doesn’t mean his goodness or compassion or power or love is limited. It could be God has a different priority for you and your loved ones to focus on right now. It could be you need a good dose of God’s Word to cure a deeper illness or a deeper longing.

You see, since the sickness of sin and its wages of death are inevitable for us broken, hurting and rebellious people in a troubled world, God’s priority is different to ours. No matter how important your physical health is to you right now, your physical health isn’t as important to Jesus as your spiritual health and your eternal well-being. There’s a deeper spiritual illness God wants to treat and cure, which is only received through faith and trust.

But this faith and trust isn’t always built up by God giving us what we want, but through us believing his words – the words which he preached and taught; the words which he enacted through his proclamations of forgiveness; the words which explain how Scripture was pointing to himself as the fulfilment of God’s Word to us; and the words which continue to do what they say through the church today.

If you think about it, our faith in Jesus isn’t because we saw Jesus with our own eyes or because we witnessed the miracles of healing, but because we believe the words spoken about him. We don’t always have physical proof, but we have his words, and in matters of faith, that’s all we need.

Even in our church today, Jesus’ words come to life and do what they say.

For example, we receive the benefits of God’s gracious gift of baptism through faith – by believing what we’ve been told through the Word of God. We believe that God promises forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, and eternal salvation to all who believe God’s Word.

As Luther said: ‘Clearly the water does not do (such things), but the Word of God, which is with, in, and among the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”

Similarly, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we listen for the words. We hear Jesus’ body is given for you and me. We hear Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. We eat and drink in faith, trusting Jesus doesn’t lie and we receive what he promises. We receive the benefits of this holy meal by believing what we’ve been told through the Word of God.

We learn today that Jesus’ faithful and obedient adherence to the priorities of the Kingdom of God stand in sharp contrast with our own desires that our own selfish priorities become the most important matters in God’s plan. Today we rejoice Jesus gets the priorities right for our sake and the sake of all in his Kingdom. His highest goal was, and still is, to fulfill the Father’s command to save all those who are lost – to fulfill everything spoken about him in the Word of God, so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.