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February 4, 2018

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
The Fifty Sunday after the Epiphany
February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

One employment firm has estimated that 14 million people will call in “sick” tomorrow. And for those who do make it into work tomorrow, productivity will be abysmal. See, while you’re fighting the indigestion of scarfing too much quest and too many wings, you’ll be talking about the Super Bowl. There will be a buzz, a running conversation tomorrow about what will happen tonight - what was your favorite commercial? What did you think of Justin Timberlake? Can you believe what the quarterback said after the game?

To me, that is always fascinating. The winning quarterback is swarmed by a scrum of reporters, and with cameras and microphones shoved in his face, the quarterback has to answer inane questions like, “how does it feel to win?” “Uh, great, duh.” “What are your plans for next season?” “uh win again, duh.” Just watch, tonight, whether it’s Tom Brady or Nick Foles, the reporters will swarm, hundreds of articles will be written, the sports radio airwaves will be on fire - our ears will be tingling with what was said in the post-game interviews.

What happens tonight in Minneapolis is not so different from what happened in Capernaum two thousand years ago. Earlier in the day, Jesus had cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. The gospel story from Mark says that she was “raised up,” she was “resurrected” from her pain and illness and given a new lease on life. And just before that, Jesus had confronted a man with an unclean spirit and the spirit had left the man. And the whole town of Capernaum was on fire with the news. Like the scrum of reporters who will gather around the winning quarterback tonight, the gospel story today says “the whole city gathered around the door” where Jesus was. They were desperate to hear what he had to say.

The next morning, Jesus went to go get some alone time, like a banged up running back will ice down his weary muscles after a long game. Jesus snuck away to find some time to pray early in the morning while it was still dark. But the town, the people were still buzzing with the excitement from yesterday. They gather around the proverbial water cooler and talk, replay, rehash what happened yesterday. The newspapers, if you will, had huge headlines about Jesus. The radio commentators couldn’t stop talking about it. It was all over Facebook and Twitter. After these great deeds, all the people could think and talk about was Jesus. “Can you believe he cured that guy? Did you see that when he healed that sick woman? I mean, he cast out demons!” You’ll go into work tomorrow talking about commercials and touchdown passes - the people of Capernaum woke up talking about Jesus.

Still buzzing themselves, Peter and his companions go looking for Jesus that morning. And when they find Jesus, they say those beautiful words, “everyone is searching for you.” Everyone is searching for Jesus.

So we have to ask ourselves the most basic question - why? What was it that Jesus said or did that made them so excited? What did Jesus have to offer that they couldn’t find anywhere else? Were they simply gawking at him like a miracle worker, or did they want to know more?

Those same questions are turned to us. Why are we here? What are we searching for you? What have you heard, what have you seen that has caused you to search for Jesus?

This is the hard edge of the Gospel of Mark. This is the question that Mark will continue to ask us. Why are you here? Are you listening to Jesus because he’s like a celebrity quarterback, or are you listening because he’s the Holy One of God? Notice, that even the demons know who Jesus is, but not all the people do. It’s a subtle criticism of us - how can the demons get it and we still don’t? Are we followers of Jesus, or are we fans of Jesus?

Take the Bible for instance. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that five billion bibles have been published, bought or given away since 1815. Five billion. You can find bibles in every hotel room, in secondhand bookstores, on Amazon. I probably have at least fifteen bibles of my own. But the mere fact that we own a bible is meaningless. You would think that if there are actually five billion bibles floating out there, that we would know what it says. More often than not, we are fans of the holy scriptures. We crowd around the bible with passing curiosity, we cherry pick what we like and then move on to the next thing. As Marilynne Robinson says, “the Bible today is much thumped but little pondered.”

Or, take Church. It used to be that church was the place for community. If you wanted to grow your business, if you wanted to find a good doctor, if you wanted to run for political office, you had to be part of a church. That’s not the case any more. If you want to find a job, you sign up on LinkedIn. If want a doctor, you ask your insurance company. If you want to run for office, you raise money. Churches were packed, sure, but to what end?

And I’ll go on record as saying this - I am glad those days are over. I am glad that the days of church as country club are over. Because it means that for us who are here, we are here for the right reasons. We are not searching for Jesus because it will further our careers, we are searching for Jesus because Jesus has the words of eternal life. 

So that question is turned to us again - why are we here? Why do you have a bible at home? Why do you go to church? Are we followers of Jesus, or are we fans of Jesus?

And it’s that “why” that I ask you to ponder. Why are you here? Why are you searching for Jesus? It is not enough to simply go through the motions of a life of faith. It is not enough to simply own a bible and belong to a church. By themselves, those are meaningless. 

And this is actually what Christians can learn from the Super Bowl. No player out there tonight is just going through the motions. No one out there on the field thinks it’s just enough to be there. You know that Tom Brady and Bill Bellichik have been thinking about, studying, practicing, planning for this game for the entire year. Every single one of those players has an intent. A reason to be there that will drive them to play their hardest. Everyone of them wants to win the Super Bowl.

Could the same be said of us? That we are here because and only because we are searching for Jesus?

As we approach our Lenten journey, I ask you to set aside those forty days as a time for figuring out the why - why are you here? Why do you search for Jesus? Why do you want to be a disciple? So often during Lent we get wrapped up in the how, the when, and the what. By all means, during Lent, commit to reading the bible more, commit to be in church more. But those are only the means to the end. It’s the “why” question that matters. And I cannot give you that answer - that is an answer that you have to discover for yourself. 

Everyone is searching for Jesus. And the good news is that Jesus is also searching for you. Jesus says to his disciples, “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.” What Jesus came to do, is to find you. To open your heart to love. To cleanse you from what ails you. To bring you into God’s loving arms. 

I pray that tomorrow you wake up with some indigestion, indigestion because you have eaten at this holy table and you have met Jesus here. I pray that tomorrow your proverbial water cooler is buzzing about Jesus, and what Jesus has done. And then I hope you go beyond the simple things; do not be a fan, be a follower.

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