"The Rhythm of Ministry" (Mark 1:29-39)

Mark Longhurst, February 4, 2018
Part of the Epiphany series
the scripture readings can be found at the bottom of the page

Sermon 2/4/18

The Rhythm of Ministry
Rev. Mark Longhurst

Scripture: Mark 1:29-39

The rhythm of ministry ebbs and flows. It is up and down. It is exciting, rarely mellow, tiring and energizing, sometimes monotonous, often joyful, sometimes painful, occasionally riveting, always evolving.

The rhythm of ministry ranges from, according to the trajectory in this little lectionary passage from Mark, hunkering down, healing at home or church; standing out on street corners enacting the liberating kin-dom of God, stealing away for time just by ourselves; and impacting an entire region.

Jesus in Mark’s gospel has gone viral. Word of his synagogue scribal showdown and exorcism has spread, so Jesus and new followers hunker down in a safe place, Simon and Andrew’s house. It’s a place where this Spirit-empowered man and these former fishermen can rejuvenate and catch their breath. It is the Sabbath, in this passage, after all.

Jesus needs not fear reprisal from healing on rest days in this house. Unlike in the synagogue, he is free to live into the full vision of holistic Sabbath well-being. Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever, and he takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. The fever leaves her and she becomes, the Greek says, a deacon. She gets up and serves, or she diakoneo, from which we derive our word Deacon.

I know, Mark says she began to serve them, and it’s easy to interpret this negatively, but do we really think that Jesus affirms a woman’s place is predominantly in the home? Not in this gospel; not in this church.

It takes Simon, soon to be Peter, struggling through the whole story to realize the path of discipleship is to become less, rather than to become more. His mother, on the other hand, grasps this immediately. She becomes an archetypal disciple. She joins the movement and does whatever needs to be done. She, literally from the Greek cognate, kicks up dust, because she is on the move. Even if it is washing out small communion cups, or arranging flowers, or recycling bulletins or staying late to lock up the church. Deacons are those who internally understand the larger mission of God’s transformation through love, and who know that the nature of love is to show up and pitch in no matter how seemingly unimportant the task.

The women, it must be said, often lead the way in church. I’m thinking of you, co moderators, Jody Green and Katherine Myers, for your thoughtful and trustworthy leadership. I’m thinking of you, Susan Clarke, and your tireless commitment to the work of personnel, Stewardship, and annual report pagination edits. I’m thinking of you, Suki Wilkins, for your faithful commitment to ensuring we have beautiful flowers every Sunday. I’m thinking of you, Lynn Chick, through your profound hosting ability, and for propelling the logistics of events such as the Leadership 101 Night for Ministry Teams, and coffee hour, and so much more.

We men could learn this lesson, by the way, so if, in your committee meetings, it’s a woman taking notes, maybe try your hand for once, such as our good clerk Lauren Stevens. Or, watch the witness of Jerry Smith, who hates to be recognized, but has donated hours upon hours of his time, faced large and uncertain hurdles, to ensure that the kitchen project gets done.

Once the Sabbath is over, that evening, the people arrive. Jesus and company hit the streets. The whole city gathers outside his door. And this, too, is the rhythm of ministry because transformational ministry never stays in the building. It’s not primarily about what happens here, but rather how what happens here on Sunday morning galvanizes us for the work of revolutionary love the rest of the week. As I’ve often said, we can’t expect people to walk through the doors anymore, we have to go out and show up in vibrant, justice-filled ways in our own lives, our own vocations, and in the way we live out our church’s mission.

The work of ministry, then, is to stand to who we truly are, and passionately, and it is also to stand on street corners, sometimes with signs, saying “Immigrant Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter.” Even in Adams. Even in the Berkshires. It is to place our bodies along compassion’s path, to have a StorySLAM in a pub. To worship at a museum, to drive food pantry guests home with arms full of groceries, to engage in small groups on other people’s streets, in their homes.

Let’s not forget, too, that ministry is exhausting. Jesus escapes. In the morning, while it was still very dark he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. The verb here is in the imperfect: he did not begin praying; he continued praying. The work of action and worship and service is praying, too, but sometimes you just need to be by yourself, away from people, in silence. Sometimes it’s time to take a walk in the woods, or sneak into the back row of Images Cinema, alone.

We need to restore our souls, bodies, and minds, for the movement. And serving on a committee is not for everybody. Maybe you turned a nominating request down this year, or last year. Maybe you prefer simply to be here without getting actively involved. Maybe you, too, feel that you are in a deserted season of life. This, too, is a part of the rhythm of ministry, and you are teaching us. So, please, you’ve heard it from me – you have nothing to feel guilty about. Your presence is enough. We treasure your Yesses as well as your No’s.

The mission and message, however, is larger than one little town. Jesus starts by the Sea of Galilee, moves on to Capernaum, takes a break at Andrew and Simon’s house, and then draws the circle and scope of ministry wider. This is a movement, after all, that we’re talking about, and so Jesus and we go on to neighboring towns, and we proclaim the good news of God’s justice, love, and peace. I encourage us to think boldly this next year and beyond: what if we became county-leaders in the area of faith-based social justice? What if we specifically embraced a ministry of highlighting the arts? What if we allowed ourselves to dream…just a bit, before landing back down in reality? What could this church be for you, and your family, and our town, and our region? It’s been a fabulous year. What does God have for us in the future, and how will you choose to join God’s movement of transformation?

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