Tag Archives: Jesus

You did not choose me but I chose you

John 15:9-17
…You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

As we push into this back half of the Easter season, we continue to be prepared by the risen Christ to be an Easter community. Now that we have lived through the Three Days, come to empty tomb, and been met by the risen Christ, God shaping and transforming us into a new creation, into a new family of faith, a community tasked with being Christ’s Body given for the the sake of the world. 

We continue hearing Jesus speak to his disciples from the moment of the last supper, words that began with the image of the vine and the branches last week. Today, Jesus is giving final instructions. Preparations for leaving. Jesus is giving his disciples and friends some last words to live by as a community. 

As the disciples eat their last meal with Jesus, and as he leaves this commandment to love one other, their whole world was changing. 

3 years prior, they had been called to this ministry by the wandering teacher and rabbi. They had followed him around Galilee as he preached, performed miracles, exercised demons and met with the crowds. But lately Jesus was clashing more and more with the religious authorities, he was talking about dying, he was describing a new future for his community of followers… one where they took on more responsibility. 

And now, now in Jerusalem, Jesus has come riding in like a king. He had been met by the cheering crowds but tensions were high. And the sentiment of the city was changing. The authorities seemed to be planing something.

This was a world of danger. This was a world of risk. And this community of Jesus’ followers was under threat. Their little community was in danger of crumbling. It would be easy to just abandon ship. It would be easy to run and hide. It would be easy to just look for themselves and run. 

This frightened and scared group of followers was who Jesus was talking to. All the talk of a command to love, the reminder that they were his friends, that they were chosen by God. Jesus was worried that his followers might crumble and fall apart under the tense pressure of Holy Week. And he was right. Judas betrayed him. The rest fell asleep in the garden, Peter denied him in the courtyard and the rest fled.

Certainly, we know what it is to live in a world surrounded by threats and danger. We know what it is to run the risk fo crumbling. 

With our communities trying to do what is best for our community and for our neighbours, we have been running the risk of crumbling. We have been in danger by forces outside of us and beyond our control. The reality of our own fragility,  the possibility that our gathering might cause sickness and death has been held up to us nearly daily for year. 

Still, long before the pandemic, churches have been facing the threat of decline, the loss of social pressures that helped folks just show up at our doors and become members. 

And we haven’t been very good at dealing with this squeeze and this pressure. We have often taken the same routes the disciples have. We have hidden ourselves away at times, we have pulled back from community when things were hard, we have even denied knowing Jesus when it become uncomfortable to admit that we did. 

And like Jesus’ disciples, we have started to crumble and fall apart. The church in our time has not always been a shining example of love for each other and the world that Jesus describes today. 

So with his disciples frightened and afraid, with the church of 2021 frightened and afraid, Jesus reminds all of his disciples what this community is about and what it means to belong to one another and to belong to God. 

As Jesus leaves these final instructions with the disciples, he isn’t scolding them for their fears and struggles of the present. Jesus is speaking about what is to come. Jesus is preparing them for a new future and a new reality. Abide in me as I have abided in you. Love each other as I have loved you. Bear good fruit, just as I have born fruit in you. Treat one another as friends, just as you are now my friends. 

And then Jesus speaks one brief and short sentence. Perhaps the most important of all the instructions:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Hear the words of Jesus again:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.  

Jesus reminds the disciples of this key and important truth of God’s mission in the world. God is the one doing the choosing. All along the way, as Peter tries to choose a different less dangerous path for Jesus. And Judas tries to get Jesus to show his true power by having Jesus arrested, hoping the Messiah will fight back and topple the Roman rule. As the temple authorities, Romans and the crowds try to gain power and control by putting Jesus, and therefore God, to death on the cross. Jesus chooses a different path. God chooses to face sin and death head on. And God chooses life. God chooses now. 

Just like the disciples, we are tempted to crumble apart in the face of adversity. We are temped  look out only for ourselves, to pull back from our sibling in Christ to protect ourselves.

Yet, in the midst of the dangers around us, in the midst of the struggles we face, the uncertainty we face, Jesus is calling us to remember who are. To remember who God has named us to be. 

Jesus is reminding us that God has chosen us, we did not choose God. God has chosen us to be an Easter people. People claimed and gathered from the foot of the cross and taken to the empty tomb. People who might want to hide away, but to whom Jesus has appeared and given us peace. 

Jesus has chosen us even in locked away homes, even when we cannot see one another face to face, Jesus has binds us together even with online worship, zoom gatherings, text messages and phone calls. Jesus makes us one body, though scattered through the shared word of Good News that we hear together week after week. 

It might feel like it is all we can do but crumble in face of a third wave, more lockdowns and a promises end of the pandemic that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. But Jesus’ disciples have been here before, they have faced all but certain ends to their community….

And the risen Christ has carried them through. The risen Christ has called them from their hiding places, locked doors and graves. This God of New Life that knows and claims us, binds back together in love. Not a commandment to follow, but a naming of the thing that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for each other. 

Today, God reminds us again, when we most need to hear it: You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Waiting for God’s Answers

John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Each Lent  invariably leads us to and prepares us for Holy Week, for those most important 3 days of the church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We do so by journeying with Jesus from Baptism to Wilderness and from Wilderness to Jerusalem. Along the way, we hear hints and signs of what is come. In other years, Lent is filled with stories about Jesus’ ministry. He meets the woman at the well and tells her of living water. He heals a blind man by spitting in the mud and putting the mud on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus feet are anointed by Mary and he is prepared for burial. Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb as a sign of what is coming on Easter Sunday. 

But this Lent is more of a slog than usual. This liturgical year as we focus on the Gospel of Mark, we are dropped into the major themes of Mark’s gospel. No one ever knows who Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus tries to keep his identity a secret. He constantly tells the people around him not to tell anyone of his miracles. 

For the last 3 weeks of Lent, have been faced with the fact that we still do not truly know or understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in the world. Jesus began 3 weeks ago by going into the wilderness. Into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But also into the wilderness to find us… into a wilderness that we have been wandering in for much longer than this season of Lent. Into Pandemic wilderness, into the wilderness of the decline of Christianity, and the wilderness of change. 

This year we went from wilderness  beginning Lent, to Peter’s rebuking of Jesus for talking about dying. But Jesus told him to “Get behind me, Satan”. Jesus was reminding Peter, and reminding us, that God has very different plans. God is going to save the world in a way that we cannot comprehend or imagine. 

Last week, Jesus overturned the market stalls in the temple. He told the animal vendors and money changers to get out. Jesus was furious that people were trying to sell a piece of God’s love. Jesus wouldn’t have it. Jesus reminded us that we cannot profit from God’s love, because God freely gives love and forgiveness away. 

This week, we hear some very familiar words from the Bible. “For God so loved the world…”. Christians of all stripes are encouraged to learn these words by heart. Luther called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell. Yet, as we delve into the verses around 3:16, we discover that this verse is so much more than a simple explanation of the gospel taken out of context. 

This familiar verse is in fact Jesus’ answer to a question. A question posed to him by the Pharisee Nicodemus, who has come asking question. Nicodemus whose world has been rocked by Jesus’ coming onto the scene. Nicodemus thought he knew the path to salvation – follow of the law of Israel and you will be righteous. And yet he also sees that Jesus has been sent from God, and Jesus doesn’t seem to live by the same adage. Nicodemus wants to understand how all these things reconcile, he asks Jesus how one can be born again. He wants stability and certainty, he wants to move on from this disruption that Jesus has introduced. 

Each week of Lent so far has felt like it is taking us from one wilderness to another, one moment of uncertainty to the next. A reminder that God’s promises can sometimes feel so very far from us, that stumbling from one uncertainty to another doesn’t always feel like we are getting somewhere. That our desire for answers and certainty are not usually met neatly and straightforwardly by God. 

Nicodemus comes with his questions trying to figure out his own life, and Jesus gives an answer about God’s plan that include all humankind and all creation. Jesus answers from a perspective that Nicodemus… that we… might not be ready to hear an answer from. 

So what does all of this mean? What is God up to? Where is God taking us? We want answers, we want to reconcile this messy confusing world that we are living in. Like Nicodemus we want to move on from the disruption. For him the disruption that Jesus brought to the religious order. For us the immediate and intense disruption of pandemic, the larger and slower disruption of decline, and the even larger and more pervasive disruption of a rapidly changing world. 

Waiting for answers, waiting for things to make sense, waiting to be relieved of our inconvenience and discomfort… waiting for God to finally get us to the next thing… it can make us squirm with anxiety like waiting in a long line-up for the bathroom or for a rainy day to let up so that we can go outside or for a slow moving train to pass by us at a railway crossing when we are in a hurry. 

In the midst of our waiting and discomfort God is working on us and it sucks. God is forming and shaping us, making us ready for the thing that is coming next, opening our perspective beyond ourselves and our inconvenience. 

Today, on the 4th or 40th Sunday of our Lenten wilderness,  God is preparing us for cross and for empty tomb… and it is hard to endure. 

And God’s work on us can hurt at first. It can feel like that first ray of sun light that stings the eyes after being in dark building. It can feel like the pain of a deep tissue massage, working out the kinks and knots. It can feel like those first painful and sharp breaths that come into our lungs after being dunked under the waters of a cold lake. 

This Lenten season, as God makes us ready for the salvation that is on its way, it can be hard to endure without the glimpses of Easter that we get in other Lenten seasons. We will not listen in as Jesus forgives the woman at the well. We won’t see with new eyes with the blindman. We won’t watch as Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Instead, we are reminded of where we are going. Of where we are going with Jesus. 

Jesus is on his way to be lifted up. Jesus is on his way up a cross. And from that most terrible place of suffering and death, from that Roman cross meant to be the most humiliating way to die, God is using Jesus to save the whole world. 

This is the promise that is made to us today, in the midst of our Lenten waiting for answers. Jesus has not come into the world to condemn it, but the world is condemned already. We are condemned already. We are dead already. Right from Adam and Eve we have chosen ourselves first and we have chosen death. We have chosen to be our own God’s. We have chosen to align ourselves with anything and anyone but God. 

Yet we also hear that God so loves the world. God so loves the world that has chosen anything but God. The world that would rather die than let God be in charge. This is the world that God loves. Love is how God chooses to judge the world, rather than with what we justly deserve. Our discomfort with waiting, our desire for answers and certainty push us so often towards darkness and death that God should let us have, but instead God gives of Godself over to our death dealing ways. God in Christ is given over to be lifted up and then shows us something new. 

God shows us life. Life instead of death. Light instead of darkness. Healing instead of suffering. And yes, it hurts to wait for that promise to be realized. It hurts to have those wounds and scars covered over. It hurts to look into that light when our eyes were accustomed to darkness. It hurts for our hearts to start beating when they have stopped and for breath to be forced back into our lungs when they are empty. 

But this is the God of John chapter 3 verse 16. A God who so loves… so loves… the world that God gave the son. God’s only son to a world that wants to die, but that now, because of the cross and because of Christ, will find out that death is the path to life. God loves us so much that God will come and be wherever we are in order to save us. 

God is going to save a world simply cannot wait through anymore discomfort or uncertainty.  God is going to save the world by dying, no matter how much we protest with Peter. God is going to save the world freely no matter how many market stalls we set up in God’s house.. God is planning to save the world, even when we just cannot wait a moment more for salvation…   

Even we cannot look beyond ourselves and our problems of the moment… Today, we are reminded that God’s salvation plan is for more than we can imagine. God’s salvation is given freely for us and for all.  

The Anxiety of Lent

Mark 8:31-38
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Last week Jesus went into the wilderness as is always the case on the first Sunday in Lent, and there he met us where we have been lingering for what feels like a year. The liturgical season came around again to meet us where we have been this whole time. And with that, we entered lent as the church, remembering that we are ash, and our alleluias put away. 

Our Lenten journey continues this week with some contradictory statements from Jesus. Statements that speak to the way Lent challenges us to examine ourselves: If try to save your life, you lose it. If you want to follow Jesus, deny yourself. If you want to live, you must die first. 

These kinds of contradictions define the the way that Jesus encounters creation, encounters us.  And in the season of Lent we take the time to consider what these contradictions from Jesus mean. 

Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that the son of man must be suffer, be rejected and die before rising again after three days. And Peter doesn’t like it, and he lets Jesus know. But like an old fashioned school teacher Jesus sends Peter to the corner of the room with the dunce cap. Jesus does not take kindly to Peter’s rebuke. Jesus has no interest in Peter’s fears. Jesus is not worried about dying, Jesus is talking about life. 

Peter is busy worrying, while Jesus is telling him, and the disciples and crowds, about God. And yet usually we are still with Peter, and these days more than ever we know about worrying about drying. Our lives are full of worry and fear and other myriads of concerns, so much so it is hard to live. Our fears and our anxiety seemingly control us and the world around us. And rightly so… we continue to live in an extraordinary time. Peter gets it, what is Jesus missing?

It is hard to not to have our fear and anxieties fed by the world daily. Turn on the news for a couple minutes and there is no escaping worry. Pickup a newspaper and try to find story without the word pandemic or COVID-19. Check social media or the internet and find people angered by government actions, whether they think pandemic measures are too much or too little. 

Fear makes us feel powerless and week, unable to see any hope. Anxiety has a hold over our economy, over our politics, over our communities, over our churches… over our very bodies. Like Peter, our fears cause us to do things that don’t make sense, like scolding our teachers or speaking before we think. Our fears hold us back, keep us from acting, keep us from risking, keep us from experiencing the world around us because we cannot imagine things turning out well for us. Like Peter, our fear and our anxiety prevents us from seeing God in our midst. 

This confrontation of our fears and anxiety is one of the inevitable meetings of Lent. Our fear makes it hard, impossible even, to see what God is up to in the world, what is God is doing in our very lives, despite our fear and anxiety. 

Peter’s fear is keeping him from hearing what Jesus is doing. And if Peter could get past his fear of Jesus’ death, he might take a moment to think a little longer about the rest of Jesus’ statement. Peter is planted too deep in his anxiety… he cannot hear the part that he should be asking about. “After three days rising again?”

But even when Peter misses the point, Jesus continues to make it. Jesus is not above contradiction. In fact, Jesus knows that it is in seeming contradiction that God’s work is done. Die and after three days rise again Jesus says. Lose your life to save it Jesus says. Take up your cross, follow and you will live, Jesus says. 

Peter is so busy being afraid and anxious, that he cannot hear that with God, death will lead to something new. 

So often, Peter’s fear is our fear. So often, we just can’t shake our fear to see God’s work around us. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing the work. It just means, like Peter, we are going to be really surprised when we peer into that empty tomb on Easter morning. 

It is easy for us to look at Peter and wonder why he didn’t get it, but God’s work among us is just as shocking and just as hard to imagine. Jesus tells Peter that crucifixion is coming, and Jesus tells us that there is drying is happening all around us. Of course there is the tragedy of human death, but there is also all kinds of other deaths. Death and change. Changing communities and neighbourhoods, dying relationships, dying habits and ways of being, dying and changing institutions and structures. Our past is and so much of what was an old world is just slipping through our fingers, and there is a new world knocking on our doors. 

And all this makes us anxious. 

 Yet, Jesus isn’t giving us a warning, Jesus isn’t trying to get our hearts racing or making want to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed each morning. 

Jesus is pointing us to the places where God is at work. 

Jesus is telling us what God’s work looks like. God’s activities in the world simply do not ease our fears or quell our anxieties. God’s work does not ease us into the future, or protect us from the unknown. Instead, God is doing something much more amazing than fitting into a box that our anxiety can handle. God is turning death into life. God is transforming us into disciples and evangelists. God is reconciling a broken world. God is showing us what it means to gain life. 

God is showing that us letting go of all the things that we hold on to, all the things that we fear losing – a world that we spent so much time and energy holding on to, that seems so foreign now –  God is showing us that fearing these things is not living. But rather, God’s version of life means being open to future, open to the other, open to God doing something completely unexpected in our midst. 

Jesus will have none of Peter’s fears today, nor will Jesus have any of ours. Instead, Jesus calls us to let go. Let go and God’s activities in the world will completely surprise and shock us. And still, even if we don’t let go, like Peter cannot, there is going to be an empty tomb waiting for us when we least expect it. 

Transfiguration from the Valley

GOSPEL: Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

The mountain stands high before us. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, a touchstone moment in the church year. In so many ways Transfiguration looms in the background right from Advent. But certainly from the day of Epiphany, the revealing of the Christ child to the Magi. From then on, this next revealing of the Christ is on the way. The words spoken at the the Baptism of Jesus are foreshadows of the words spoken again today: this is my Son, the beloved. 

And this mountain stands before the valley to come, the valley of Lent that will push Jesus towards that next hill, the hill of Good Friday and another revealing of the Christ. 

This Transfiguration comes to us when we are little more tense and stressed than usual. Normally this time after Epiphany and these green Sundays before Lent are some weeks to catch our breath after the excitement of Advent and Christmas while preparing for Lent, and the wilderness Journey that we are about to embark on. 

But for right now, everything seems to be about Jesus’ journey up the mountain. Like so many faithful patriarchs of the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Elijah (who show up today!) Jesus goes to a mountain to be seemingly be closer to God. And Jesus brings with him 3 of his disciples… maybe the 3 leaders. Peter, James and John. 

It should be noted at this moment that we have skipped through half the book of Mark (don’t worry we will come back his summer). For three weeks we lingered in chapter 1, only to jump right to chapter 9 of 16, the half way point. 

And Jesus is transfigured, meaning his outward appearance is changed. 

He shines like the sun. Moses and Elijah appear beside him. Jesus not only goes up the mountain to be closer to God, in Jesus God comes closer to creation, to Peter, James and John. 

Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to mind… or maybe the extremely well thought out idea he has been holding onto the whole hike up the mountain. Peter suggests that like good and faithful jews who know a holy place when they see it, that they should build a dwelling place. An alter to worship God. Just like his forebears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who built altars on mountains. 

But maybe it isn’t Peter’s thoughts are relevant, but his feelings. Here on the mountain, he is away from the struggle and chaos. The mountain top is removed and calm, quiet and enlightening. The mountain top is a place to escape the reality of the world. The mountain top is a place to leave troubles behind. And Peter knows a world of trouble. Living under foreign occupation by the Romans, conflict with the religious authorities, experiencing unclean spirits, dealing with demanding crowds, and managing a moody and enigmatic Jesus. 

We get it, escaping the struggle and chaos is worth staying a while, worth lingering and holding on. 

Most times we hear this story, we imagine ourselves standing right beside Peter, there on the mountaintop, there witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus and having to contend with our strong desire to remain in this safe place. 

But this year feels different. Transfiguration feels far away. Escape and relief feel far away. 

This year we are not on the mountain top. We are down in the valley. We are witnessing Transfiguration from afar. 

Our perspective has been shifted, and Transfiguration isn’t an insiders journey that we get to witness up close. Instead we only hear about it from Mark, we only get to catch the wisps of light emanating from the mountain top, we only hear the whispers that Peter, James and John cannot keep to themselves once they get down from the mountain. 

We are living in the valley and stuck there this year. The valley of struggle and suffering, the valley of the shadow death. The valley that Peter is so happily escaping as he tries to build a dwelling and an altar on the mountain top. We would much rather have that moment of escape that, break from the chaos, that chance to just catch our breath, to feel free, to relax and be safe, to forego our daily vigilance just for a moment. 

And yet there is no escaping our predicament, no mountaintops where we can hike above the fray… we are in a moment, a shared moment, a global moment of struggle and hardship, chaos and suffering. We are all stuck together down in the valley. 

A valley where struggle and suffering multiply struggle and suffering. Where one threat to our heath and safety requires sacrifice and struggle, where trying to fix one problem creates two more. Where one person refusing to buy-in and share the sacrifice can jeopardize us all. 

This is a valley we were unprepared for, one that is wearing us down, one is harder to bear than we ever imagined. 

And  this valley changes the way we see and hear the story of Transfiguration. This valley pulls us down from the mountain and keeps us far from that mountain top escape. 

So we long to be Peter, we wish we could foolishly think that living on the mountaintop was a good idea because we long to feel, even if just for moment, Peter’s sense of relief. 

And then almost a quickly as it started, Jesus is headed back down the mountain. 

Jesus tells these privileged three not to tell anyone about what they have seen, at least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

At least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

Jesus took these three up the mountain, Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah, the voice of God speaks from the heavens, yet Jesus seems most concerned about something beyond this mountaintop experience. Peter wants to stay and linger, but Jesus is back on mission. 

Jesus is focused on the being raised from the dead. Which means Jesus also knows that he is headed towards Crucifixion. Headed towards, arrest and trial, towards conflict with the plotting religious authorities, towards more demands for healing and miracles from the crowds, more encounters with the surpernatural. 

Jesus is focused on going back down into the valley, back down into the depths of suffering and chaos, back down into the place of human need, back down to where creation is thick with finiteness and mortality… 

And Jesus is doing what he has said he has been doing since the beginning. Bringing the Kingdom of God Near. Bringing the God of all Life close again to creation that feels so far. Bringing God into the struggle and suffering that seems so far from the mountain top, so far the high minded dwelling and altars where the space between heaven and earth feels thin.

Jesus is on the way to the places that feel far from the divine, far from God’s love and mercy and grace. 

And that makes all the difference. When you are on top of the mountain like Peter, it makes sense to stay. But when you are stuck in the valley, when you feel far from the shining light of God, far from the dwellings and altars where God seems close enough to touch…

Seeing the God made flesh, the Christ come to save, the Messiah on the way…. To see Jesus coming down the mountain, coming down into the valley of the shadow of death changes everything. 

Today, we get that feeling too. We might be used to feeling like we are on the mountaintop, but, this year we need to be reminded that God is coming down the mountain to. 

Jesus is coming down into our lives, into our communities, into our chaos. Jesus meets us in the shadows of pandemic, the shadows of lockdown, of loneliness and isolation. The valleys of suffering and sin, of racism in our institutions, division in our politics, stress in our neighbour hoods

And Jesus is doing the work of the God. Confronting our mess, confronting our chaos, confronting our sin, confronting death. And in that confrontation Jesus is on the way to the new thing that God is doing among us. Bringing comfort where there is suffering, forgiveness where there is sin, and life where there is death. 

Here today, down in the valley, far from the mountain top, far from the escape of transfiguration, Jesus is coming down to us. Coming down to us in word of promise, joining us to one another through the spirit, making us alive again in the Body of Christ. 

Why Heal Anyone if You Don’t Heal Everyone, Jesus?

Mark 1:29-39
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “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.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Today is our last Sunday in the mini green season before we head up a mountain. This church year began way back in Advent, as we built towards the coming of Christ in the flesh of the babe in a manger. And soon we, with Ash Wednesday and Lent on the horizon, we will be building again towards the coming of Christ, this time Christ coming to a cross on Friday and out of the grave on Sunday. 

But for now we have been lingering with the revealing of Jesus. Revealing of his mission and ministry, revealing his identity in the waters of baptism, his call to the disciples in various ways, his message for God’s people bringing the Kingdom near. 

Last week Jesus cast out an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue, a spirit that revealed our own fears and anxieties of change, of the unknown, of the future. 

And all these weeks between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent, are supposed to moment to steel ourselves for the slog of Lent. Yet, this has been hard work, being forced to face reality and deal honestly with our situation. 

In this final week of lingering, there are more miracles. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then the whole town comes with their problems. They want to be healed too. 

It is no wonder that Jesus is tired by the end of the night. It is no wonder that he wants to get away and be by himself. And it is no wonder that even the disciples want more out of him. 

The miracles, the people clamouring for Jesus. This is the story of today. But as Mark tells us these stories of healing, we are begged to ask a deeper question, one that is percolating under the surface. 

Mark shows us that there are many, many people searching for healing, searching for miracles. And Jesus doesn’t accommodate them all. In fact it almost seems random and doesn’t make sense. Why heal anyone if you don’t heal everyone? 

And if you have the the time to stay and heal some people, would one more day, to finish the job, be so bad? Jesus decides to pick up and move on, and for us it doesn’t really jive. 

This Gospel lesson brings another story to mind, one that may open wide the question that is floating beneath the surface, the one that we might be afraid to ask.

In the face of suffering, in the face of pain and grief. In the face of death, we bring our greatest questions to God. And we ask why some and not others? Why heal some people and why let others suffer? Why is there no obvious reason for it all?

This moment in time has certainly opened the flood gates of questions about suffering, with a sometimes near harmless, sometimes deadly virus seemingly arbitrarily choosing who gets really sick and who doesn’t, who ends up in the hospital and who just gets the sniffles. Not to mention all the other things we have going on that are out of control from job loss to climate change, from racial justice to extreme political division based conspiracy theories. 

We know both the exhaustion that Jesus seems to have with it all (and it is only still the first chapter of Mark) and the clamouring for healing and miracles of the crowds who are coming to him. 

There is a temptation when preaching about this story tell you that we are being selfish when we ask why God isn’t solving our problems. There is the temptation to say that we only want a magic Genie God who comes at our beck and call to make our lives easier. There is the temptation to say that all human life ends in death, so a little healing here and there doesn’t really make a difference. 

But that is not fair to the reality of suffering. That does not acknowledge how much suffering and our need to be healed can come to define our very existence. And nor does it explain why sometimes it doesn’t make sense why some people are healed and some are not. 

When Simon comes and tells Jesus that people are looking for him Jesus says, “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.” 

For that is what I came out to do. 

We know the message. We know what Jesus has done for us. 

But at this point in the story, Jesus hasn’t done it yet. The message that Jesus is preaching is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Those are the very first words that he says in the Gospel of Mark. 

The Kingdom has come near because the King has come near. God is near because Jesus is near. And Jesus is not only on his way to proclaim the message, Jesus is the message. The message is what we proclaim as a community of faith:

Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ will come again. 

But the message is not just knowing the story, but discovering how exactly the story has changed our lives. 

Jesus has not come to take away our suffering. In fact, even the people who Jesus healed, they still suffered afterwards. And even still, Jesus himself suffered. 

Suffering as terrible as we know it, is normal. That doesn’t make it easy, that doesn’t make it suffering good. 

But especially these days, as our suffering and discomfort, our crisis and struggle is so acute, there is a strange comfort in know that it is not outside the normal. It isn’t *our* normal, but pandemics and economic struggles and existential threats are not unusual for creation, not new in history, and not outside of God’s purview. There is nothing that we are experiencing now that is too big for God to contend with.

God’s mission in Christ, God’s purpose in the incarnation, God’s activity in the world has not changed. God stills comes to be reconciled with God’s people. God still brings mercy and forgiveness and grace into a world that needs it. God in Christ has come near to us to do something about ultimate and permanent defeat — death. 

While life and freedom will always mean that suffering and discomfort are a part of our existence, God’s mission to creation is to redefine our existence. Not take away our pain, our suffering, our grief. Not remove death from our existence. But rather to transform it.  

On the cross, Christ takes all of our death. 

Christ does not take it away, rather Christ changes it, all of it. 

Transforms it. 

Into something new.

On the cross and then in the empty tomb, Jesus takes death and makes it something completely different. It is no longer the end of our lives. Death is now our entrance into the Kingdom of God. Suffering, pain, grief and death are near. But so is the Kingdom of God. This is the message that Jesus has come to proclaim. This why Jesus only stays for so long and why some are healed and others not. Because this healing is only temporary. But death having been transformed into resurrection. That is permanent. 

Yes, we know that suffering and death can be terrible and it can in fact come to define our very lives… but God has refined suffering, God has redefined death and God has redefined life. Yes, we come clamouring to Jesus to take away our aches and pains, to take away our grief and sorrow. But Jesus does something completely different, something that isn’t for just a few or some of us. Rather, Jesus has come into our world, joined God to all creation in order to bring us, all of us, all of creation, to New Life.