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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why it's time for Christians to stop following Jesus

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 1:29-39.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Yup.  You heard me right.  It is time for Christians to stop following Jesus.  And the Gospel passage for this morning proves it.

But before you get all bent out of shape, let me clarify that I am not suggesting we abandon Jesus.  What I am suggesting is that we change our mindframe from one in which we follow Jesus to one in which we serve Jesus.

Let me explain.

In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus, having gathered at least his first four disciples, goes on to perform his second miracle, which is healing Peter's mother-in-law from a fever.  What is striking about this passage for me is not the miracle itself, it is the woman's reaction to Jesus' healing: "...and she began to serve them" (italics mine).

In "serving them", the passage is probably indicating that she quite literally recovered from her fever and starting serving them food, but I want you to hold on to that word "serve".  We'll get back to it.  What is important to note is what she did not do: she did not join Team Jesus, she did not ask to be a disciple, she did not drop everything and traipse all over hell's west acre following this itinerant prophet and preacher.  She just served them.

In the second part of the Gospel, Jesus does something which should have us scratching our heads.  He heals a bunch of people over the course of the night, and then in the wee hours of the morning, he leaves the house to try to find some solitude in order to pray and meditate.  So far so good, no problem there.

The disciples come looking for him.  Finding him, they say "Everyone is searching for you".  I'm assuming that by this, they mean all the people who had spent the night being healed by Jesus.  Quite understandably, they want to be near this great man.  They wanted to be in the presence of the man who was the source of their healing and salvation.  They wanted to follow him.  Once again, no problem.

Here comes the problem: knowing what we know about Jesus, one would think that he would have said, "OK, let's go see them".  That seems to be the kind of guy Jesus was.  But instead, he says, "Let us go into the neighbouring towns".

So essentially Jesus' response to "Everyone is looking for you" is "Let's get the hell outta here!"

Why would Jesus have reacted that way?

I have a theory: there is a difference between following and serving.  And we as Christians are called above all else not so much to follow Jesus as to serve him.  And the way in which we serve Christ (and therefore God) most effectively is by serving other people.

Jesus had a message and a mission, one which he repeatedly admonished the people he came into contact with to keep secret.  Theologians often call this "The Messianic Secret".  One of the reasons he probably told people to keep quiet about his miracles was that he knew many people would be captivated by his miracles, and would therefore lose sight of that message and mission.

Peter's mother-in-law, repaid Jesus for his actions by serving him.  Although the text does not dwell upon her feelings and emotions at all, it would be reasonable to assume that the experience marked her, but her reaction to the experience was not to fawn all over Jesus, to be near him, to cling to his coattails and try to live forever in the wake of his awesomeness.  Her reaction was to serve him and others.

In comparison, the people Jesus cured later that night were clamoring for more by morning.  Their reaction to God's grace was to ask for more.  As I said, they can't be blamed.  It is only natural for us to want to be in the company of great men and women, but generally speaking the great men and women of the world throughout history have had one basic message, and it is this:

We are all capable of and called to be great men and women.

What if we all decided to serve others rather than to try to be in the company of those who had served us?  What if we used the helping hands of others to get on our own two feet and begin helping everyone else around us stand on their own two feet?

Today, don't follow.  Lead.

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