A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on February 5, 2012.
21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God’?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
29 As 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.
32 That evening, at sunset, 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.
35 In 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 neighbouring 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.
The reading from Mark’s gospel allows us a glimpse into a day from the life of Jesus. We see that Jesus seemed to always be dealing with people struggling under some powerful burden.
- While Jesus was teaching at the Capernaum synagogue he encountered a man who possessed by an alien force. Jesus performs an exorcism and the man was delivered from its control.
- When Jesus and his followers went home following synagogue they found Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Jesus “lifted her up”—she was delivered from the illness [Mk. 1:30-31].
- At sunset—after the Sabbath had ended—people came to Simon’s house bringing “others who were sick or demon possessed. Jesus cured “many who were sick with various diseases. He performed exorcisms [Mk. 1:32-34].
- Early the next morning (before daylight) Jesus leaves the house and found a place for prayer. Simon and other disciples found him there with news that “everyone is searching for you” [Mk. 1:35-37].
- Jesus doesn’t set up a “healing center” in Capernaum, but moved on throughout Galilee to continue “proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons [Mk. 1:38-39].
This glimpse into a few hours in the early ministry of Jesus offers some important lessons on how we are to live as people of God.
We are here to embody God’s grace and truth. Jesus embodied God’s unconditional love—we call it “grace”—and God’s truth. He was God’s man of grace and truth wherever he went and whatever he did. He wasn’t defined by a title, official position, or sense of celebrity. He was driven by a sense of mission that impelled him to teach and practice grace and truth.
Grace and truth must meet people where they are and lift them. The people Jesus encountered and healed were everyday people struggling with real burdens. They were disturbed, sick, weary, poor folk. Government officials didn’t help them. Religious leaders didn’t help them. But Jesus somehow managed to turn up where these disturbed, sick, weary, and poor folk were. Jesus encountered vulnerable people everywhere he went because he went where vulnerable people were.
Jesus didn’t need a focus group or opinion poll to tell him people were suffering. He didn’t need a pollster to tell him everybody needed access to good health care. He didn’t need anyone to show him where poor people lived and how they were treated. Jesus made suffering people his business. He made healing his business. He made overcoming oppression his business. And suffering people made their way to Jesus.
Grace and truth is always personal because suffering is always personal. Grace and truth is always local because suffering and oppression are always local. Jesus shows us that God wants us to show up in those personal and local suffering situations alongside the sufferers.
One reason religion is getting a black eye nowadays is that people who claim to be religious—and the people who claim to be leaders in religion—seem more interested in profiting from struggling people than liberating them.
Mitt Romney now says he really didn’t mean what he said last week about not being concerned about poor people. Newt Gingrich and other politicians have attacked Romney for making the statement. But how many politicians have you seen trying to help poor people? Most of them act like Mr. Romney spoke.
Avarice is now seen as an attribute judging from how politicians court and develop policies to benefit wealthy and powerful people while avoiding and causing more pain for the poor. We shouldn’t criticize Mitt Romney for being a Mormon. We ought to criticize Romney and other politicians for worshipping mammon.
Grace and truth always clash with the status quo. When Jesus taught and when he performed exorcisms and other acts of healing he confronted and overcame powerful forces that were keeping people down. Jesus didn’t accept things as they were or had been. He didn’t shrug and say “not my problem” when confronted with oppression and vulnerability. And he didn’t side with the established powers.
Jesus encountered vulnerable people and delivered, freed, or “saved” them from oppressive situations. He didn’t seem to be concerned that religious leaders or demonic forces might have been offended and displaced. Those results weren’t accidents. They were why Jesus was in the world.
Grace and truth operate to build God’s kingdom, not personal influence. When Jesus performed exorcisms he commanded the demons not to disclose his divine identity. Sometimes Jesus asked people who witnessed his healing efforts not to tell anyone. He wasn’t trying to become famous. Jesus wanted to build God’s kingdom of love and truth for people, not build an empire for himself. He sought no title, position, or office and refused to allow others to put him on a pedestal.
It’s easy to give up hope for deliverance when one has struggled against an overwhelming situation for a long time. It’s tempting to think that God doesn’t know about our plight or that God has forgotten us. But the passage from Isaiah and the ministry of Jesus declare that God’s grace and truth will find us. Grace and truth will come to us and come alongside us. Grace and truth will lift us.
Because of God’s grace and truth, weary, sick, poor, and other struggling people can know we aren’t forgotten. Because of God’s grace and truth, we can hope for deliverance to come along. Because of God’s grace and truth, struggling people can hope somebody will meet them in their pain, join their struggle, and help them overcome. We can hope for a new day and a new life. We can live with hope.
And when deliverance comes to us, let’s imitate Simon’s mother-in-law. After Jesus healed her fever she devoted herself to serving others. God’s grace and truth operate to lift us from oppression so we can become servants!
- Servants of God’s grace and truth on behalf of others.
- Servants who will not hold on to privilege but live to share it.
- Servants who aren’t afraid to take on the status quo responsible for holding people back.
- Servants willing to be used up for God’s glory rather than determined to praise ourselves.
- Servants who make hope come alive.
- Servants who embody God’s grace and truth.
- Servants struggling for God with people overwhelmed by their struggles and the forces behind them.
We’re called by Jesus to embody God’s grace and truth as servants! Suffering people are waiting and hoping. Let’s meet them in the prayerful power of God’s Spirit so they can renew their strength. Let’s meet them as agents of God’s grace and truth in the power of God’s Spirit so they can get up and rise above their situations. Then the kingdom of God will prevail over every other kingdom of suffering and oppression! Then suffering people will praise God! Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.