About Our Church

 Sunday Services



 Youth Fellowship

 Music Programs

 Join a Group

 Interfaith Ministries

  Current Year
  Prior Years
  Other Writings

 Pastor's Page



 Searching for Jesus

Sermon - 2/05/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 1:29-39

We are continuing our look in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark, verses 29 through 39 this morning. Jesus has called the first couple of Disciples, they're in Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. And we read:

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

[Before I go any further, I just have to note that this part of the story is a story that is loaded with danger. I mean, isn't that just like a man -- he heals a woman so that she can serve him, right? And if a preacher isn't careful, you end up sounding like a male chauvinist, or worse, you make Jesus sound like a male chauvinist.

But it's a great text for discussing the role of gender in the Bible, and ancient societies. And of course, when you look at the story as a whole, and the number of times that Jesus breaks through some of those gender taboos of that culture, like that wonderful and long conversation with the woman at the well, Samaritan woman, in the middle of the day. You just didn't do that kind of thing as a single man talking to a single woman. Or the inclusion of the women in the inside circle with the Disciples. You soon realize that the dictum in Galatians 3:28 that we use so often -- "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, all are one in Christ Jesus" -- that that's not just a slogan devoid of any meaning, or deeds, but it really is an integral part of the Jesus movement from the very beginning, that was all too soon squelched by the pervasive male hierarchy of the culture.

In fact, the naming of 12 men as the Disciples to the exclusion of women was not the intended design of Jesus for the future good of the church, but rather the accidental destiny of patriarchy for the ongoing oppression of women which would take another 2,000 years for us to finally undo. Sadly, some churches haven't gotten the memo yet. But we're getting there, we've made great progress in that regard.

Well, Jesus heals a woman of a little fever, and I'm talking here about women's suffrage, equal rights, ordination of women, and the rewriting of 2,000 years of church history :) Seriously? I said it was a text that was loaded with all kinds of danger, as well as opportunity. And sometimes you have to preach against the text, and say 'wait a second', the healing of women so they can serve men may have been OK once-upon-a-time, but it is not today, it is not in our culture. And it is not the Jesus that we have found elsewhere in scripture, or that we find in our own lives.

So now that we've cleared up that little thing, we can continue on with the rest of the story (that was just a freebie, not part of the sermon :)]

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He 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.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

What I find intriguing about this text is not that whole issue of gender roles that I've mentioned already, it's not the reports of the miraculous healings, the casting out of demons, and all of that (fascinating as that may be). It's not that the demons seem to know who Jesus is, better than anyone else. Or that Mark, the gospel writer, knows what the demons are thinking, and what Jesus does not let them say. How does he do that?

No, that's all fascinating, but another time. This morning what I want to explore, that I find intriguing, is this whole issue of Jesus having these big crowds, all these people searching for him, presumably as the word spreads more people in the surrounding area of Capernaum hear about it and come the next morning, Jesus says 'Eh, they've heard enough, time to move on, let's go to another town'. Would we do that? Just leave the crowds there, wanting?

I've got enough votes in Florida, I mean Capernaum, time to move on to Nevada, I mean Galilee, right? So, I compared Jesus to Newt Gingrich last week, so maybe today I'll compare him to Mitt Romney. Fair and balanced :)

So, a single mom was having trouble with her two young, hyperactive boys, constantly getting into difficulty. So she thought, maybe the minister can help. Maybe. So she brings them to church, brings them in to talk to the minister. The minister decides to talk to the oldest one first, Johnny, 7 years old. She thought, if he could help Johnny find Jesus, you know, what would Jesus do? Maybe that'll help him make better choices.

So the minister sat Johnny down, and said "Johnny, where is Jesus?" Johnny shrugged and said "I don't know". The minister asks again: "Johnny, where is Jesus?". Johnny again says "I don't know". The minister says "Johnny, think really hard -- where is Jesus?".

At that point, Johnny jumps up, grabs his little brother, runs out of the church, they run for 3 blocks until they're out of breath, and his little brother says "Johnny! Johnny! What's the matter?". And Johnny said: "I don't know, but somebody stole Jesus, and they think we did it!" :)

So here we have all these people, this whole city looking for Jesus. The night before, Mark says 'the whole city' was there. If only that were a problem here -- all the people flocking to find Jesus. And Jesus decides this would be a good time to get out of town. And from here on, wherever Jesus goes in Mark's gospel, there are crowds -- 36 times, Mark talks about the crowds. He only has 16 chapters.

Remember that story where the crowd is so big, Jesus has been out for awhile, he comes back to Capernaum, the crowd is so big now, 4 friends have a paralytic friend, and they can't get in to see Jesus. What do they do? They go up on the roof, and lower him down.

Or that other time when Mark says 5,000 people, staying so long, staying late to hear Jesus, so enthralled with his teaching, they run out of food. What does he do? Gathers up 5 loaves, a couple of fish, and feeds them. Another story, there are 4,000 in the crowd, and Jesus feeds them 7 loaves and a couple of fish.

There's another time they're down by the Sea of Galilee and Mark says he told his Disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowds, so they would not crush him. Jesus is like a celebrity being chased by papparazi -- everywhere he goes, surrounded by crowds. I kind of know that feeling :)

On my day off, I got this phone call, from Will Cuddy, he's a member of On The Rocks. Will, a sophomore at Oregon, journalism student, he needed to write an article about an influential person, interview someone who is influential. So he asked my son, Patrick, who is also member of the group, if he had any ideas. And Patrick said "Why don't you call my Dad -- he might know someone who is influential" :)

Representative Bonamici has been elected to the 5th congressional district in that special election in Oregon, and turns our President Obama is so impressed with her that he decided to select her as his new candidate for vice-president, to replace Joe Biden (not sure if you got this news yet?). After spending 4 years in the White House, vide-president Bonamici decides to run for President, and she wins. And so it is, that the first woman President came from Oregon. And she calls up her folks to invite them to the inauguration, and Dad answers the phone.

"Dad, I'd like you to come out to the inauguration". Dad says "Well, I don't know, you know it's so cold in Washington D.C. in January". She says "Dad, we have electric blankets, we'll take care of you". Dad says: "Well, the food you eat back there on the east coast, it's so rich". And she says: "Dad, I've got my own chef now, we'll cook whatever you want". Dad says: "Well, it's such a long way to travel". And she says: "Dad, I'll send Air Force One to pick you up". So he says: "Well, alright. If it's important to you, I'll come".

So they come, the big day, they're out there sitting under those warm blankets, at the inauguration. She places her hand on the Bible. The Secretary of State is sitting next to the Dad, and says "You see that woman putting her hand on the Bible? Her brother played for the Oregon Ducks when they won the Rose Bowl" :) Wow, that was impressive :)

Yeah, Jesus was that famous :)

So, last week I compared Mark to Chip Kelly, this week I thought I'd compare Jesus to an Oregon football player :)

So, Mark, like some preachers, undoubtedly used a bit of hyperbole -- some preachers, we never do that. He may exaggerate a little bit to make his point. And if he counted like a preacher, you know, anything over a dozen is a "crowd". So we don't know if the crowds he's talking about are 20, 200, or 2,000, the point is, Jesus doesn't stay put to satisfy the crowd. He's always on the move.

And the crowds having to keep finding him. And I wonder if this isn't Mark the theologian, rather than Mark the historian, trying to tell us something about us, about human nature -- about how we search for Jesus, and just when we think we have found him, when we've nailed him down (so to speak), he eludes us, he gets away.

Lots of good Christian men thought they'd found Jesus, they even wrote it into the Constitution, if you believe some people. Christian document and all. And then some uppity women decided that they had the right to vote too. Had to change it.

There would good Christian schools, thought they had found Jesus, even said their prayers every morning at school, back when we could do that kind of thing. Until President Johnson brought in the National Guard and said they had to let in the black children too.

And we all thought we knew what a Christian family looked like -- a husband and wife, 2 kids and a dog, right? -- until some Gay and Lesbian friends said "Hey, we love Jesus too, aren't we a family?".

And so the circle keeps getting bigger and bigger, and more often than not, come to find out when we thought we had Jesus with us, here inside our circle, we find he's out there, the one calling us to come out where he is.

And so it is, that searching for Jesus, we keep expanding that circle.

I was rather chagrined, and really disturbed by some of the complaints that the Occupy Eugene camp generated, how it was just a bunch of derelicts, free-loaders. Did you see the news of the tent they erected yesterday, in downtown Eugene, just for the day? Offering free medical care, doctors and other medical staff, anyone who needs it, come down here. Kind of reminds me of someone else who offered free medical care wherever he went. Healing people, no questions asked.

Whether you agree or disagree with those folks, you have to admire they way they do some things, feeding and healing people, challenging the status quo. It makes you wonder, just where should we go looking for Jesus?

The infamous first quest for the historical Jesus ended in 1906, when Albert Schweitzer published his definitive book by that title, summarizing over 200 years of biblical scholarship, concluding that there was very little we could know about the man Jesus, the person who lived and walked at that time, because all of the scholars disagreed on all the details. We knew a lot about the Christ of faith, but we couldn't know a whole lot about the historical Jesus.

And for 1/2 a century, no serious biblical scholar even attempted to take up that search. In the last 3 decades, there's been an enormous resurgence of historical Jesus work, and today, many Jesus scholars think they have found the historical Jesus, that is, that they can say with reasonable certainty which things Jesus really said and did that are based in factual history, and which ones are based in the faithful re-telling of history based on that understanding of faith of who Jesus is for us.

As you know, I'm a big fan of all of that work. We actually know a lot more today about the historical Jesus than Schweitzer ever dreamed possible. And yet, his famous conclusions still rings just as true today as it did 106 years ago. I know many of our choir members know it, because it's been done in a beautiful choral anthem. Quoting from Schweitzer:

"He comes to us as one unknown, without a name as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those men who knew him not, he speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me". And sets us to the task which he has to fulfill or our time. He commands, and to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship. And as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is".

Which is to say, it's not the historical Jesus we follow, but the risen Christ. Sure, that person raised by Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, who attracted such big crowds throughout Galilee with the reputations of his miracles, those clever parables he told, those witty aphorisms, and wise teachings -- all of that is hugely important to us today. But the one we follow is not only a person of history, he is also the Christ of faith, the Lord of time, the master of our lives. The Risen Christ who bears the wounds of the crucified Jesus is one in the same and yet also wholly different.

It is the risen Christ who speaks to us today, and says "Follow thou me".

It is the risen Christ who says to us "I was hungry, and you fed me", or not. "I was naked and you clothed me", or not.

It is the risen Christ who warms the coldest hearts, who softens the hardest soul, who forgives the greatest sin, who comforts the very poor, and afflicts the very rich.

It is the risen Christ who brings light to the dark, and life to the dead.

And here in the first chapter of Mark's gospel, already the crowds are searching for Jesus, and when we come to the end of the gospel, the crowds turns against him, and all abandon him, they even have to get a complete stranger to carry the cross for him. Save for a small group (not even a crowd) of women, at a safe distance, watching.

And early on a Sunday morning, these women, healed by Jesus, come to serve him one last time. And they find -- he's gone.

And so it is, searching for Jesus. We find him not where we expect, on the streets, in a shelter, among a bunch of foreigners, people of different faiths, enemies, even--even--in our own hearts, the risen Christ comes to us.


Home | About Our Church | Services | Mission | Education | Youth Fellowship
Music Programs | Join a Group | Interfaith Ministry | Sermons | Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site?  Contact the WebMasters