The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

The End of Exclusion (Sermon of 8 Feb 09)

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Isolation Room
Image by Victor V via Flickr

With the casting out of the demon on that first Sabbath afternoon of Jesus’ public ministry, his obscurity vanished. Like a cannon shot, news of it exploded through the villages. Here’s what happens next.

Mark 1:29-39 (MSG)

29-31Directly on leaving the meeting place, they came to Simon and Andrew’s house, accompanied by James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed, burning up with fever. They told Jesus. He went to her, took her hand, and raised her up. No sooner had the fever left than she was up fixing dinner for them.

32-34That evening, after the sun was down, they brought sick and evil-afflicted people to him, the whole city lined up at his door! He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits. Because the demons knew his true identity, he didn’t let them say a word.

35-37While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

38-39Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come.” He went to their meeting places all through Galilee, preaching and throwing out the demons.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

From The Historical Atlas by William R. Shephe...
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About Peter’s mother-in-law:   Actually, she deacons to them.  For reasons of their own (that look a great deal like gender bias!), translators treat the word to mean “became a deacon in a church” when it applies to men, but “waiting tables” when it applies to women (See Richard Swanson: Provoking the Gospel of Mark; A Storyteller’s Commentary, p 108). “In the context of Jewish understandings of the abundance that God created when making the world, the deacon was in charge of enacting God’s created intentions.”  Peter’s mother-in-law was in charge of enacting God’s created intentions.

Likely she was well known for helping others.  Is this why the crowd knew where to show up at sundown? Some think the women who followed Jesus were the reason women dared approach him. Think of the women at the cross who ministered to Jesus all the way through – perhaps greater heroes than we know, and greater shapers of the story than we know.

She’s up, she’s deaconing, and at sundown, a throng gathers at the door. Who can tell me why they came at sundown? Because that’s when the day after the Jewish sabbath began. Jesus had no problem healing on the Sabbath, but the crowds apparently assumed he would.

From the ever-insightful Lawrence Moore:

The coming of the Kingdom that Jesus announces means that a new power – the power of the Spirit – is loose.  It is the power of liberation, because it breaks the hold of those things that imprison people: evil spirits and illness. Mark is telling us about a conquest that has begun.

Here’s how:

Both possession and illness did more than mess up the lives of the sufferers.  They excluded the sufferers from participation in family, social and religious life.  It is not that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill and feeling poorly that is at stake, so much as that she is excluded from all that is happening.

Leprosy Warning sign
Image by amanderson2 via Flickr

Think of the demon-possessed man. Included? Think of the ones that will come: the lepers, the hemorrhaging woman, the little girl who was dead that Jesus returns to her parents. Jesus tears down the walls that have been put up to fence them out.

We will see how Jesus’ healings and exorcisms have this constant emphasis: restoration to the community.  In other words, the message of liberation that Jesus preaches and enacts is not focused on making individuals feel better … (for the sake of it), but about restoring and creating a genuine community for those excluded...  genuine community is created for the outcasts.

He takes her by the hand. Jesus goes, extends his hand, touches; isolation flees.

That’s bringing in the new way.

Here’s how Paul does it:

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (MSG)

Preaching without obligation, he is serving like Jesus is in the Mark passage

15-18Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!

An example: All things to all people

19-23Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.

Some of you can remember the Dayton Accords of 1995.  Leaders from Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, who’d been involved in a fierce and evil war, agreed that the war would cease.  Great diplomats from several nations assisted.

Border between Bosnia and Croatia
Image by Antonio Bonanno via Flickr

Some time later, Christianity Today (if I remember correctly) published the back-story.

Turns out there was a barrier in a city beyond which no one from either side could safely pass.  One side was Muslim, the other, Christian.  An imam on the Muslim side and a pastor on the Christian side decided they would do what they could to bring peace.  They crossed the barrier.  They got to know one another.  They began to trust.  Others followed their example.

We know the Dayton Accords and the great diplomats as the peace-makers.  But famous people only do what small people have made possible.  The heroic peacemaking began at a barricade in a town where a couple of people who loved God and peace risked their lives to be peace themselves.

Paul’s words, likewise, express

…Paul’s conviction that Christian communities ought to reflect God’s passionate concern for all, starting with the least first.  His churches weren’t the collections of like-minded people from similar social, ethnic and national backgrounds that our churches often are.

What exclusions can we take down? What isolation can we reduce? Whose world could we enter?  Whose point of view could we learn to see?  How can we become servants to any and all people?

Song: With Kindness

Let’s go do it.


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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 8, 2009; Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

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