Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Jesus Agenda

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like everyone needs you? The boss gives you a deadline. A kid gets sick or whiny or your adult child needs you to babysit a sick and whiny grandchild. The house is a mess. The car breaks down. The phone keeps ringing. The neighbors show up on your doorstep and you haven’t even brushed your teeth. When we have a day like this, it can be hard to remember what we wanted to accomplish.  Our agenda gets thrown out the window as we respond to the crises around us.

This is the kind of time Jesus was having. It was a stressful day for the Son of God. He’d worked a long day amazing the crowd with his teaching and wowing them with a healing in the synagogue.

The people left synagogue buzzing about this Jesus guy. Friends were telling friends that Jesus could preach with authority and heal. Jesus’ ministry went viral in the town of Galilee. By that night the whole town was outside the door waiting for Jesus to do his thing.

Christ Healing the Sick by Washington Allston, 1813.
They were probably jostling to get to the front line, bringing their sick and diseased relatives along, pushing them toward the front. Shouting for Jesus to help them.

Jesus, heal my daughter!
Jesus, restore my sight!
Jesus, cast the demon out of my father!
Jesus, help me to walk again.

And there was Jesus, healing person after person, but there were more, always more.  By the time he quit, the gospel writer Mark tells us he healed many of them, but interestingly he did not heal all of them. There were still people who wanted Jesus—who needed Jesus— to do more. 

After a late night of work, presumably, Jesus goes to sleep for a bit. Then, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus gets up, leaves the house and goes to a solitary place where he prays.

But, the disciples find him and Peter comes up to him and says in an accusing voice, “Everyone is looking for you!” It seems there are still people clamoring for Jesus to do his thing. It’s like devoted fans who wait by the back stage door to catch a glimpse of a famous singer or actor. The crowd was waiting for Jesus. Longing for Jesus.

This story, like our own lives, if full of competing agendas—the crowd, the disciples and Jesus each have an agenda.

First, there is the crowd. There are people whose are there for healing. Their agenda is to encounter Jesus and obtain healing for themselves or a loved one. Other people may just be there to see the amazing healing. But healing and miracles were definitely on the top of the crowd’s agenda.

Second are the disciples. The disciples are interesting because they don’t seem to have an agenda of their own. Their agenda is being formed from the outside in.  They are the ones dealing with the crowd. They are the ones who hear the crowd call for Jesus’ help. The crowd is influencing what’s on the disciples’ minds.

They say it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and that’s certainly the case in this story. The disciples feel the pressure of the crowd’s expectations and go looking for Jesus.

How often is your life like the disciples on that morning? Many of us spend so much time responding to other people’s needs that we lose track of our own agenda. We run from one thing to the next to the next without stopping to eat and barely remembering to breathe.  There’s just so much we have to do that we forget to check in with God. We move blindly forward letting things on the outside motivate and form us. We have no idea what God's agenda for us might be.

Finally, there is Jesus’ agenda. Jesus is beginning his ministry and his popularity is on the rise. He heals people from the town only to discover there are more and more of them.  Jesus gets up early, heads off alone to pray. The disciples interrupt and try to impose their agenda (or the crowd's agenda) on him. But Jesus says no.

“Let us go on to the neighboring 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.

In this passage, Jesus connects to God in prayer before planning his day.

It’s possible Jesus prayed a prayer that many of us pray. Maybe Jesus was looking at all of the hurt, brokenness and illness and wondering how he could fix it.  How could he possibly heal the whole town? Should he heal the whole town?

Being overwhelmed in the face great need is normal. Talking to a dying person or someone who has been through a serious trauma leaves all of us feeling hopeless and helpless. We want to “fix” things, but we just can’t.

And that feels so wrong. What do you say to a man who has lost his beloved wife? How do help a person whose child has committed suicide? What can you do for a 10-year-old whose parents die in a car accident?

In the face of such a broken and hurting world what is our Christian calling? Jesus surely calls us to action, to do something. But there is just so much anger, war, abuse, hunger, sickness, poverty heartbreak…. The list is huge.  And there’s more, always more. 

As Christians we came face to face with this issues of brokenness and fragility all the time. We see the consequence of it in our lives. We also see the results of our collective brokenness and we want to do something about it. 

That’s why many of us are here. We long for healing. We want to change ourselves. We want to change the world.  We have heard the good news of Christ and we are trying to figure out how to apply it to our lives and how to live it in the world. 

We love Jesus and we believe that following the teachings of Jesus will make us better people and the world a better place. We believe that loving our neighbor, praying for our enemies, blessing the poor, healing the sick, strengthening the faint hearted and supporting the weak are what Jesus is calling us to do when he says Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

We have felt Jesus touch our lives and change us and we want that change for everyone. Jesus offers this salvation. Jesus is a powerful man who calls us to participate in God's redemption. 

And yet here is Jesus in our story. He's alone in a garden, while a crowd of broken and anxious people gather to see what he will do. He's off praying while a crowd of needy people hope to encounter his healing. The people in the crowd long for the elimination of suffering and the miracle of a happy ending in their lives. 

But then, Jesus leaves. He simply walks away from the crowd and moves on to the next town. This is disturbing. But there is an important lesson in it, and it’s this:

When we focus on the miracles of healing that Jesus performs, we can see Jesus’ power. We can revel in his divinity.

But, when we focus on the fact that he seemed to leave people behind, we can learn something about his faith. We can learn something about our own lives from his humanity.

In this story of Jesus’ early ministry, he learned that at some point he had to trust God to set the agenda. We see that despite his divine healing power, he wasn’t called to do it all at that time.  While he may have wanted to be the one to heal every single person in that town right then and there, God gave him a different agenda. Jesus had to trust that God loved those hurting people and would continue to work for their healing. 

Letting God set the agenda is a great act of faith. If we control events from start to finish who is really in charge? If we plan everything out and know exactly who should do what, then where does God fit in?

Today, we will meet as a congregation to review our past year and try to discern how we are being called to participate in God’s mission. We aren't called to set our own agenda. We are called to participate in God's agenda. 

As the body of Christ, we face a world full of hurting people. God is unquestionably calling us to heal some of them. God has even equipped us to heal some of them.  But, we will never heal all of them. That’s God’s job. Our call is to be in prayer and follow the agenda that God places before us. Our call is to hold on to the hope of healing and wholeness in the face hurt and brokenness. 

Let's fast forward Jesus’ story to the end.  As his death draws close, we see him praying alone yet again, pouring out his heart to God in Gethsemane. Let this cup pass from me, he prays with tears and hurt and heartache. He's asking God to change the agenda. And when that doesn’t happen, Jesus does not fight the circumstances that lead to the cross.

On the cross, it seems hopeless. It looks to everyone like Jesus is leaving behind the hurting and broken world. It appears that Jesus the Messiah is abandoning his work, his friends and the people who were counting on him.  

But really he was trusting God’s agenda to reconcile and redeem all things. Jesus went to the cross in faith, believing that God was at work in the most unlikely of circumstances. Jesus was fulfilling his call and trusting God would do the rest no matter how unlikely the circumstances seemed.

And that is our call as well. As a church we are to pray and discern where God is calling us act and how God is calling us to heal. We are to pour ourselves out for that calling, recognizing that there will always competing agendas and too much for us to accomplish on our own. We are to trust that God is working through us and through Christ's death and resurrection to heal the world and reconcile heaven and earth.

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