January 29, 2012

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

Psalm 111 – I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – Concerning food sacrificed to idols: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. No idol really exists. So we are no worse off if we do not eat food sacrificed to idols, and no better off if we do. But take care that your liberty does not become a stumbling block to others.

Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus rebukes the unclean spirits, and they obey him on the Sabbath in the synagogue, and the people are amazed.


The next few weeks we’re in for a lot of healing stories. This coming Sunday we read of Jesus doing an exorcism in the synagogue. This is the first miracle in Mark’s gospel. Changing water to wine in Cana is the first miracle in John. In Mark, the first miracle is an exorcism. February 8 Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, then rises early the next morning to find time to pray. February 15 is Transfiguration Sunday already, then we are into Lent!

In this Sunday’s gospel we are told the man had an unclean spirit. There seems to be a clear message that Jesus is willing to encounter, care for and touch the unclean, as opposed to the religious leaders’ distancing themselves. This is evangelism Jesus-style. Jesus touches the untouchable, and loves the unlovable. When society ostracized, Jesus walked through the walls of stigma and fear.

Last week we heard Jesus calling the disciples. “Follow me and I will teach you to fish for people.” Well, here it is: This is what fishing for people looks like, Jesus-style. For Jesus, fishing for people means teaching and healing around Galilee. Teaching with authority (power, strength), and embarking on an itinerant healing ministry, engaging the suffering and outcast of this world.

What would this look like in your neck of the woods? How are you bringing healing and teaching in your community? I want to point out that the teaching is an important part of this. They are astounded at his teaching. I sometimes see congregations that serve at a food pantry and then wonder why no one notices. There is more to evangelism that social work. A healing ministry without teaching doesn’t feed the soul and invite others into the dance. A teaching ministry without a healing ministry in the community is hypocrisy.

Teaching and healing will not necessarily make you popular. Speaking up for people who are getting a raw deal sometimes irritates people. It pricks the conscience. It also means people have to confront their selfishness, and deal with the inequities in the system. And then there’s the very human: More for you means less for me, fear based on the assumption that life is zero-sum. Try speaking up for any group of people that are struggling or outcast. See what happens.

Someone once said to me, why don’t you stop talking about immigrants and just preach the gospel?

I responded, “Which gospel is that?”

I don’t know of any gospel without a call to love the stranger, feed the hungry, love the unloved, and preach good news to the poor.

Somewhere I read: “How effective would Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God have been had it not been accompanied by his ministry of healing in the community? Think about this. What if Jesus had just preached? I believe his message would have lacked authenticity. Our preaching informs our ministry in the world. Our ministry in the world informs our preaching. One without the other is bereft of substance.”

How effective will our preaching be if it is not accompanied by a healing ministry in the community? Will it be bereft of substance? Will it lack the inescapable sense of real world truth? “Preach the gospel always,” said St. Francis, “if necessary use words.”

Friar and priest Brennan Manning challenges our churchy private clubs: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

The preacher might consider providing a list of opportunities to participate in healing ministries of the congregation, of other congregations, and in the community. It could be part of the worship registration card or another piece. Give people an opportunity to sign on the dotted line. “I’m interested in finding out more about…” This doesn’t commit them, but gives them a chance to respond tangibly to your message. To often we inspire people, bring them to the edge of the water, the send them home without a chance to respond to the good news and call of the gospel.

Have your stewardship team follow up with these responses. Don’t limit yourself to what your congregation is doing. Another neighboring congregation may have a great Alzheimer’s program. Include it. Meals on Wheels is looking for volunteers. List it. List contact information so that they can take initiative, but don’t leave it at that. Have a team ready to call with information, and questions. “What interested you about this? “ “What have you done before?” “When have you served in the past in a way that moved you?” “Where is God calling you to serve these days?”

The power of Jesus’ witness lay in the irresistible combination of his teaching with authority and his healing with compassion. Still today, it’s an unbeatable combination. Our best evangelism program, our best fishing, will be lives given in love for the world. When people see the church doing what it’s supposed to be doing, what Jesus did, they will sit up and take notice. People want to be part of a movement that is making a difference in the world, impacting lives, serving in Jesus’ name.