Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:29-39 Part 5
A woman enthusiastically told some friends about the value of a first-aid class she had just completed. "Why, only yesterday," she said, "I was driving down 52nd Street when I heard this awful crash behind me. I jammed on the brakes and ran back to find a car wrapped around a telephone pole. When I got to the injured driver, I saw a horrible sight. My knees went limp, and I didn't know what to do. But all at once I remembered something from my first-aid training. Immediately I bent down and put my head between my knees, and it worked! I didn't even faint!"
Many of us Christians can chuckle at this story and move on unchallenged. Few, if any, of us really believe our faith equips us only to help ourselves. Except for perhaps the most blatant TV evangelists preaching "God wants you wealthy," we know we are to help others.
What we are to do becomes less certain for us when the issue is framed: "How are we to help those who are near and those who are somewhere else?"
For some the issue is simple. As believers, we are to help anyone who is near us. We can hear the explanation: "Jesus never refused to help anyone in need," and we do well with this. Churches feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the grieving, heal the sick, and raise the orphans. Christians give tirelessly in urban ministries and Appalachian mountain ministries. They construct houses for Habitat for Humanity and they volunteer at the community Thanksgiving Meal.
A full reading of this lection at the end of an act of local service can leave the believer uneasy. While more in need of healing gathered around Simon's house, Jesus was out alone in prayer. When found, he did not return to those waiting. Instead, he left, explaining he must go to other villages so he could work "there also."
At that explanation, there are other Christians who nod assent. They have challenged local-mission-only efforts and worked tirelessly to provide for "foreign," or "overseas" mission programs. Asserting the obvious, they have called us away from duplicating efforts again and again for those locally who need help and urged our service in places not yet reached.
Some years ago, a Baltimore city council member had an idea for helping the poor pay their overdue heating bills. Soon it caught on in other parts of the country, so that customers of 144 gas and electric companies in more than 30 states are now assisting needy neighbors. Homeowners are asked to contribute one dollar by adding it to their bill. In many programs the utility company matches these dollars. For the individual customer, one-dollar doesn't seem like much, but when many give a little, it quickly adds up.
Often it is easier, and more satisfying personally, to help an individual close by. But we know that when we organize to help a lot of people by working together we are doing the work of our Lord as well. Perhaps the challenge facing us is to find the way to include a healthy balance of helping those near and those somewhere else.
We might live more comfortably if we leave the text there. But we can't. Helping others does not include all the activity of Jesus reported in the text. The current lection appears after Jesus healed, following a time of teaching in the synagogue. While healing, helping others was an integral part of his ministry, it did not exhaust it. He had to preach and teach in such a way to extend the Realm of God. He could not let doing a part of his work prevent him from doing the whole job. Doing good things was not enough if he did not do all he came to do. Jesus did heal. But he also prayed. He shared the good news of God's love.
Just like our Lord, we in the church must refuse to let others set the agenda or determine the priorities for the life and work of the church. Yes people need help, but they need more than physical help. They need spiritual sustenance. They need to know God. They need to experience the cleansing power of God's forgiveness. They need to learn how to live faithful to the ways of God. Unless our ministry as individual believers includes the spiritual as well as the physical, we may have settled for "part of the Lord's work" instead of all of it.
We will be no more faithful to God if we exclude the spiritual dimension of the life of faith than we will if we turn aside from helping those who need physical assistance. Helping people worship God is equally important. Indeed, if the church of Jesus Christ does not "go aside to pray," who will?
Brian A. Nelson
West Lafayette, IN