Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
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One of the many facets of ministry that I enjoy is the ministry of preaching. I take serious the duty I have to break open the Word and consider its meaning for us in our lives today. As such, I devote significant time and prayer each week as I prepare to write the weekly meditations. Although I’ve heard the stories countless times over the years, I’m always struck by the way the Word speaks to me anew each time. This is a reminder to me that the Word of God is a living word and is always speaking to us and our life experiences.
A friend once asked me if I’ve ever reused an old sermon. He quipped that it must be easy to give old sermons again since our readings are read again every three years. Although he joked, I could see how some ministers might be tempted to do so. After a few years as a priest, I’ve come across many of these readings more than one or two times. Surely you would think we’d know the lessons so well it would be difficult to say anything new.
Yet I found the opposite to be true. Each Monday I open my Bible and turn to the appointed lessons for the week ahead and read and pray the texts. I repeat this everyday and as I do, I study various commentaries from the saints of ages past to the scholars of today. A theme or message usually formulates in my heart by week’s end until I find a point where I can lock myself in my office and write.
This practice is both beneficial to me as a preacher and as a person of faith. In fact, I’d recommend it to you as well. While I realize many of you might not have the time to study commentaries or read recent scholarship, all of you can take time each day with the Word and listen to what God is saying to you. Write down what you hear; you might be surprised by what you discover.
This has been very much the case for me these past three weeks. And, like so many times before, I’m struck by what I continually find myself turning to and noticing in the readings. Over and over again I hear the gospel lessons speak about the life of a disciple. Two weeks ago I spoke about the centrality of the cross in the life of the disciple. If we follow Jesus, we must be willing to embrace the cross. Last week I spoke about our call to be a prophetic people, to proclaim in word and deed the good news of God in Christ. This week, I’m drawn to another aspect of discipleship, namely, being Jesus to others.
Now it ought not be a surprise to us that we are called to live and be like Jesus to others. In Baptism, we were anointed with the oil of chrism. That anointing wasn’t a simple ritual act, but another a sign of who we are called to be. Messiah, or Christos in Greek, simply meant anointed one. In the Old Testament, and even in our own day, Kings and Queens are anointed as a sign of their ministry. Jesus, as well, was anointed as God’s beloved son for the redemption and healing of the world. So, too, are we. We are anointed to be another Christ in the world and to share in his ministry of healing and forgiveness.
Mark subtly alludes to this in the selection we read from his gospel today. Three elements of the story point to Jesus’ healing ministry and our sharing in that ministry. And that healing ministry isn’t simply for a select and chosen few, but for all God’s people, particularly the marginalized members of society, as Isaiah so wonderfully proclaimed “God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” (Is. 40:30)
The first indication of the nature of Jesus’ mission is the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Although she remains nameless, it is telling that Jesus’ first healing is the healing of a woman. Women, as you might recall from my other sermons, were not considered religious persons at the time of Jesus. They were often burdened by laws and rules of the day that favoured men. Despite the cultural norms of the day, Jesus begins his ministry by healing a woman. Immediately Jesus sets the tone of his ministry. Jesus’ ministry is an inclusive ministry, gathering all — particularly those who are alienated — into God’s kingdom. The inclusivity of Jesus’ ministry is further emphasized by the apostles’ telling Jesus that “everyone is searching for you.” (Mk 1:37)
Once healed, Peter’s mother-in-law exemplifies a disciple’s response to Jesus. As John Donahue and Daniel Harrington note in their commentary on this passage, “Peter’s mother-in-law embodies and foreshadows the ideal of discipleship as service of others which Jesus will address to all the disciples in repose to a question from two of present in this narrative: the greatest among them should be their servant.”Although some might suggest that she was simply doing what was expected of all women, Mark uses the Greek word diakonos to describe her ministry of those present. She generously gives herself for the good of all.
Although the disciples witness Jesus’ healing and the woman’s response to his grace, they don’t quite get the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. While Peter’s mother-in-law gets that she now shares in Jesus’ healing ministry, the others still turn to Jesus and expect him to do everything. The disciples “hunt” Jesus out of his time of prayer and solitude and inform him that everyone is looking for him. Even though Jesus accepts that is the nature of his ministry, namely to heal the sick and set the captives free, he turns to the disciples and includes them in his mission “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mk 1:38) The disciples are included in his ministry of healing and proclamation of the coming of the reign of God.
So, too, are we. Once again, we return to the theme I spoke about last week: our encounter with the Living God in the Eucharist compels us to go out into the world and serve as the ministers of God’s grace. As disciples of Jesus, we are to know Jesus and to live like Jesus. We come to know him in prayer and we live like him in caring for God’s people, particularly the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the wounded, and the broken.
The challenge for us, then, is how will we respond to our encounter of Jesus and serve as his ministers of grace and peace to all people? This seems like a perfect question to ask as we prepare for another vestry meeting at the end of this month, a time when we renew our commitment to serve in this community. How will you share in the ministry of Christ Church? Or will you stand simply as a bystander watching others practise their baptismal vocation? My hope and prayer is that you will share with us in our ministry and to serve as an instrument of God’s grace in our community. Amen.