February 4, 2018

Preached by Rev. George Yando on February 4, 2018.

Isaiah 40: 21-31
Psalm 147
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
Mark 1: 29-39

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What You Need, All You Need

Have you ever noticed how much of life is lived in relation to crowds? In the course of living our days we spend a lot of time in crowds.  Some we just come upon suddenly and immediately wish we hadn’t, like the slowdown in traffic on a highway as a crowd gathers to watch emergency vehicles full of attendants respond to an accident, caring for the injured and clearing the wreckage.  Some crowds are to be avoided.

Some crowds we deliberately seek out and get into on purpose.  We stand in line at a bank or a postal outlet, in the checkout line at the grocery store or the Walmart, at the service counter of an automotive dealership or our favourite lumber yard.  We wait patiently, more or less, because we need the service.  Some crowds we choose to endure.

Some crowds we actually seek out and join willingly, sometimes even gladly.  With a circle of friends around a table at Tim Horton’s, or with family in a crowded kitchen or living room, on the patio outside the house or the deck at the cabin.  Some crowds are a delight, a sign of life.

Some people avoid all crowds, but most of us, I think, learn to decide and choose between meaningful gatherings and those not worthy of our time.  The key to making those distinctions and decisions isn’t the length of the line or the anticipated delay; rather it has to do with what we are looking for and whether or not we will find it there. After all, we aren’t mindless sheep. So, when faced with a crowd, we usually ask ourselves, “Will we find what we’re looking for? Is what we will end up waiting for be worth the wait?”

In the reading from Mark’s Gospel account that was our New Testament lesson this morning, a great crowd of people from the town of Capernaum gathered outside the door of the home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, because they knew – or had heard – that Jesus had healed her sickness.  In response to what they had seen, or heard, they came – those who themselves were sick, and those  bringing family members and friends who were ailing – they came, to Jesus.

And it wasn’t just a few; Mark tells us “ . . . the whole city was gathered around the door.”   We don’t know for sure how big Capernaum was in Jesus’ day; biblical scholars suggest it was actually a fairly small village, perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 residents. But even if the entire population of a small village turned out, it would have been quite a sight.  Can you imagine the congestion outside the door of that home?

And why?  For what purpose?  Simply put, they came because they were in need. Some, for sure, came out of curiosity, but most certainly, many came because they had heard Jesus had power. They came to get well. Their coming, their gathering, resulted in considerable congestion  It was, however, in their view worth enduring.  Try to sense, if you can, the excitement that must have filled that crowd.  I imagine it was exciting, exhilarating to be part of a crowd gathered in hope of gaining a new lease on life. As each healed person left the house, you can almost hear the buzz of delight.

Which brings us to this morning, to this time and place.  We’re here, all of us, together, gathered from our homes, either with our families, or drawn apart from them, to be here this morning.

I would invite to think for a few moments this morning about the reason for it all.  I would invite you to think about trying to understand the need.  I would invite you to examine afresh why we would gather in the first place.  What compels us even to think of gathering as Christian community?

I’d like to suggest that the average Christian congregation is a lot like that crowd that gathered in Capernaum.  The typical Christian community is made up of needy people seeking the power in Jesus’ touch.
Why, then, would we want to join such a crowd? What is our need? What is our unanswered question? What would make us wait for someone named Jesus?

If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable with that question, you’re probably not alone.  It’s a little embarrassing to have someone tell us that the reason why we are gathered is because we are a bunch of people in need.  The fact is, however, most of us spend much of our lives hiding our neediness, both from each other and from ourselves. We don’t want to appear flawed or troubled. The only winners – we think, because that’s what we’re told –  are those who have it all together, who know it all and are never wrong, those who have all the answers and are always a step ahead.

Think about it.  Someone asks you, “How are you?”  What’s most often your automatic reply?  “I’m fine.”  Regardless of how we might really be, we tend to turn aside peoples’ expressions of concern for us, to deflect or dismiss these often genuine manifestations of sincere caring, and then proceed singlehandedly with silent stoicism to deal with the sadness, loneliness and confusions of life we are actually facing as if they were temporary problems which we are well on the way to solving.

Shortly after coming to Prince Albert nearly 20 years ago, Beth Anne and I became acquainted with two gentlemen of some standing in Prince Albert, one, the manager of one of the city’s better hotels and the other, a chaplain at the provincial corrections centre.  Whenever anyone would ask the first, “How are you?” his usual reply was, “Perfect!”  The other’s response was, “Outstanding!”

Now, you might be able to accept, “Outstanding!” but “Perfect!”?  For these two men to say otherwise, however, would be to admit that things were less than perfect, or at least, not entirely under control.  And that’s the real fear, isn’t it, a fear shared by many of us.  We don’t like feeling powerless, and like it even less admitting it to others.

But our personal armour doesn’t always work.  Life has a way of breaking in on us in spite of the strongest personal defences.  Natural disasters, for example, or major illnesses have a way of overwhelming our defences and exposing our neediness. But then, once the crisis passes, the barriers go back up again and we go back into hiding.

The fact is, however, and by contrast, Christian community can have no healthy basis other than genuine human need.  Jesus came to heal, not to hand out lifetime achievement awards.  I sometimes shake my head at the comments of those who say, “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.”  I’m often tempted to say in response, “You know, there are fewer hypocrites in the church than you think.  In fact, most of the people I’ve met at church are those with the courage to admit that they’re not perfect, but are really people who are here because they have been honest enough to face their neediness.  They are people who are willing to admit that they are powerless to rescue themselves from the depths of human frailty, and are in need of healing and restoration and wholeness, in need of a Saviour.”

Many of us took advantage of an opportunity a few weeks ago to gather with the Reverend Ted Hicks for a time of reflection and discernment about the identity of St. Andrew’s as a church, a faith community, and to envision what God is calling us to be and where our future mission and ministry is to be focussed.  It makes sense to begin with a shared understanding of our identity, of what we are as a gathering of God’s people called into community, and of what we might be called to become as we grow in faith and discipleship.

In Jesus, in his identity and his sense of calling, in his life as a faithful response to that vision of where God was calling him and what God desired him to be, he modelled for us what each of us – and all of us together – might become at our best as a community, a community called to follow Jesus and to be like him.

Christian community begins in a honest recognition of who and what we are: people in need.  People who have heard the news of the arrival in human history, in our world, in our community – of One who has come to heal and save, to restore and renew.  We’ve gathered at the doorway of a place where we hope to meet Him, to soak up the excitement as one by one, the sick and ailing, the hurting and despairing, the burdened and those deprived of fullness of life, one by one, those in need have their needs met, and fullness of life becomes theirs.

In such a gathering, there is no place for arrogance, no room for self-righteousness.  In such a place there is no position of smugness or superiority from which to look down on others because of their lesser worth or greater need.  In such an assembly there can be no attitude of judgement save that we ourselves and those around us have one thing in common: need.  We come and we gather, each and everyone of us burdened with need, need which can only be met by the One who came to proclaim, in word and deed, the arrival of God’s kingdom, so that everyone might receive that good news as cause for celebration and as the beginning of new life for all who would receive it.

That kind of a crowd is really worth seeking out and gladly to be entered.  For in such a crowd, what you need and all that you need is surely to be found; a gift and grace from a generous Saviour who came to make real and visible in the world the goodness and grace of a loving, healing, renewing God.  Thanks be to God. Amen.