Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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