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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Search Is On

Mark 1:29-39
          “Everyone is searching for you.”
And he 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.” 

          I was taken by those words from our gospel text today. “Everyone is searching for you.” Read another way, “They are seeking you.”
          What are you seeking today?
          What are the nebulous “they” searching for?
          The truth is that today, perhaps more than ever before, people are seeking, are searching – for something. Often that “something” is ill-defined and not even understood by the seeker. But still, there is “something”……

          Part of the human condition is that we are immersed in a lifelong search for that elusive “something” we might call it unconditional love and understanding, acceptance, mercy, or forgiveness when we fail; we seek belonging, and finally, peace and well-being.

                   We seek healing and we seek meaning in life. The simple truth is that even when we think that on our own we have found these things, we also find that they can be quickly stripped away, in the blink of an eye, with one illness or accident or other calamity, leaving us once again seeking healing for what ails us, or for a life that is fuller, more meaningful, essential.

          “They are seeking you.”

          Meet Patricia; I met her while I was serving as chaplain intern in a large hospital the summer between my first and second years of seminary. She was a patient admitted to one of the hospital units I covered.

          Patricia was the wife of a Baptist minister and she served alongside her husband in all manner of ministry in their church. She led women’s groups, organized activities and functions of the church, she taught bible studies, and provided moral and spiritual support to the members of the congregation. She arranged for meals and even child care for members who were ill, recovering from surgeries or injuries, or in other kinds of practical need.

          Patricia prided herself on being the perfect homemaker, perfect pastor’s wife, perfect ministry partner, perfect sister and daughter, perfect friend. She lived to serve Jesus, to support her church and her loved ones in every way possible.

          Patricia was a very busy, very engaged and engaging person, seemingly living a life full of meaning and potential. I loved my visits with Patricia. She was kind and vivacious, upbeat and full of a faith she was more than willing to share and talk about – a rare thing these days. She really seemed to have it “going on.”

          I would often plan my visits with her so that they would come just before a break or at the end of my shift so that I could spend a little extra time with her.  We would sit and talk at length about all kinds of things; we had some great conversations.

           But as one week turned into two and then became three, with each passing day, Patricia was a little less upbeat, a bit less positive. Before long, she became withdrawn and one afternoon, I found her in tears she quickly tried to conceal.

          I found that aside from the normal concerns anyone would have about her medical condition, what wore at Patricia most, what, in short order had robbed her of her joy and optimism and shaken her confidence and her sense of hope, was the impact her illness would have on her ability to be all that she needed to be for her family and her community.

          Already, the isolation of illness was wearing on her. People often tend to shrink away from pain, illness, from what they do not understand – something Patricia was already experiencing. And Patricia knew that she would be unable, at least for a while, to serve the church and its members in the ways she always had.

          Unable to care for others as she was accustomed to, and physically separated from her community, Patricia felt alone, discouraged, and disillusioned as she began to question her identity and her worth, and ultimately, why this was happening to her at all.

          Here was this woman of faith, this woman who knew Jesus, and suddenly, it was as if this illness had loosed her mooring. Where was God in all of this she wondered?

          Patricia began searching for answers to a question that plagues many of us in times like these. “Why?” “Why me?” “Why this?” “Why now?”

They said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

In many ways, Patricia’s example illustrates for us the “dynamic of difference” that often occur when, due to illness, injury, disability or any other kind of affliction, one becomes isolated from community and disengaged from society. While this kind of removal from social structures still happens to many of us today, in the first century Palestine it was an especially burdensome and disabling function of illness. We can safely assume that Simon’s mother-in-law, whom we meet in the gospel text this morning had experienced this kind of isolation.

 In addition to the potentially grave, possibly fatal outcome of any fever or similar condition in Jesus’ time, illness bore a heavy social cost, as the afflicted one would be unable to carry on his or her normal everyday duties.

 This would mean the inability to earn a living perhaps, or contribute to the well-being of the household. It also meant you would be unable to take your proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of the household, town, or village, and would be kept in likely isolation from the same.

For Simon Peter's mother-in-law, for example, it was her role and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world.
 Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Here was a woman in need of healing, something to restore her to life as she knew it. Then, Jesus entered in. With the touch of his hand, Jesus restored not only her physical health, but also and perhaps even more importantly, he restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value when he freed her from that fever. Healing is as much about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role, as it is about the as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed. 
If you have ever been laid low for weeks at a time by the flu, shingles, or by surgery or other illness, you may identify with the disorientation and depression of being outside of community or work, or whatever the “norm” for you might be. You might know what Patricia or Simon Peter’s mother-in-law experienced; the isolation; the dehumanizing element that often accompanies illness and disease and the resulting rounds of treatment; the loss of trust and confidence in the fidelity of your own body.
          Sadly, there are many in our community and in our world who suffer afflictions not as easily identified and far more isolating and dehumanizing than those I just mentioned. Addiction, mental illness, longstanding or even permanent physical disability or disfigurement all create walls of separation and insecurity. Shame brought on by social circumstances, sin and failure similarly strip us from the life of community and belonging.
          Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of God’s kingdom of mercy, love, healing and salvation is welcome balm for all who seek, search, and long for what they cannot attain for themselves.
          “Everyone is searching for you.”
          If you know or can identify with any of these, then perhaps you can also identify with, and can understand not only the search, but also the joy of simply being returned as a participant in the "ordinary" processes of community and societal structures.
          Jesus' ministry involves the restoration of those cut off from community to a full role in the community. Jesus’ ministry involves the promise and proclamation of more. Jesus’ proclamation includes the good news that God’s power to overcome the powers of the earth, is indicative of his power to bring healing and wholeness to all who suffer under the power of any of the forces that diminish human life.
          Right out of the box, the gospel of Mark identifies Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is a gospel that urgently wants to share this good news. It is as if the gospel writer takes his cue from the prophet Isaiah, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
          We have seen Jesus drive out the evil spirits from a possessed man, teach with new authority and conviction and call into discipleship those who would follow him. We have seen, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry how God, through Jesus, restores the afflicted, and gives strength to the weary. Jesus gives not only new meaning but new life to those who follow him.
          “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…He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”
          We  confess a God who loved us even when we were dead in sin, even when we are afflicted by disease, even when we are possessed by unclean spirits, think unclean thoughts, and demonstrate unclean actions. We proclaim the good news of a God who heals and sets free those oppressed by any of the powers of earth which threaten to overcome us. Neither sin, nor addiction, joblessness, homelessness, alien status, illness, isolation, depression, nor doubt or hopelessness, nor divorce, nor any other manner of affliction have power to keep us from the love of God.
          This, my friends, is good news that we can share.  And the best news of all is that our search is over. The good news is that the one whom we seek has already “found” us. God has searched us out, God has “found” us, and God has sent the Holy One, Jesus Christ, to bring us the healing we so desperately need. In Christ, God heals and sets free all those oppressed, restoring us for valuable service and mission in his name.
          Thanks be to God!



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