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Mark 1_29-39

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TITLE:   Eye on the Ball                   SCRIPTURE:    Mark 1:29-39

You probably heard about the guy who was sitting behind another car when the red light changed to green.  The car in front didn't move, so this guy started blowing his horn -- shaking his fist -- saying ugly things.  A policeman who observed this exchange came over and arrested him.  Our guy protested, "You can't arrest me.  I have a right to say what I want!"  The policeman said, "I see that you have a fish symbol on your bumper.  I am going to check to see if you stole this car from a Christian."

Several old sayings come to mind when I read this story about Jesus healing crowds of people and then going elsewhere instead of sticking around to make something out of his newfound congregation. 

One of those sayings is, "He doesn't have the sense that God gave a goose."  I don't know where that saying came from, but it suggests that geese don't have much sense -- and that some people have even less.  That might be what the disciples thought.  Jesus came to Capernaum.  He attended the synagogue and drove out a demon.  He went to Simon's house and healed Simon's mother-in-law.  The people flocked to him so that he might heal them.  He healed lots of people, and the crowd couldn't get enough of him.

And then, just as he had them eating out of his hand, he went off to a deserted place to pray.

Of course, I would be the last person to criticize anyone for praying.  We might think that Jesus would not require prayer.  But Jesus gave out spiritual energy all day every day, so he needed time for renewal -- time alone with the Father -- opportunity to recharge his spiritual batteries so that he could face the challenges that he encountered every time he entered a new town.

But his disciples lost patience with Jesus.  They found him missing, and began searching for him.  The Bible (NRSV) says that they "hunted" for him.  That is a good translation of the original Greek. It is the same word that people used when talking about hunting animals. It was as if the disciples had gone on a manhunt looking for Jesus -- trying to figure out where he went -- searching everywhere to find him.

They finally found him in a lonely place -- all by himself -- praying -- seemingly oblivious to the crowds clamoring for his attention back in Capernaum.  This is when the disciples began to wonder if Jesus had the sense that God gave a goose.  They couldn't believe that Jesus had gotten the people so stirred up and had then walked out on them.  It didn't make sense.  They had marveled at Jesus' teachings --and everyone was in awe of his healing power -- but the disciples silently wondered what Jesus was doing out here in the middle of nowhere when he was needed back in Capernaum!

I can imagine how they felt.  Jesus had raised people's expectations -- and then had disappeared.  With nobody else to turn to, I am sure that the people turned to the disciples.  There were only four of them at this point -- Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  But what could they do?  They didn't know how to handle these crowds.  They didn't know how to heal the sick.  They had only recently begun to follow Jesus, and they certainly weren't qualified to stand in for him.  I'm sure that the disciples were feeling the pressure -- that they were mystified and angry when Jesus disappeared -- when he walked off and left them holding the bag.

When they found him, they said, "Everyone is searching for you."  I think they really wanted to say, "What's the matter with you Jesus!  Everyone's searching for you.  Come on!  Let's get back to town!  Let's take care of business!"

I think that they also wanted to say, "Furthermore, don't do that again!  Don't leave us alone!  Don't get the crowds all stirred up and then disappear.  It's not fair!  It's not fair to them -- and it's certainly not fair to us!"

But Jesus was having none of it.  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'm sure that the disciples were stunned.  "But what about all these people who are searching for you Jesus?  They want to see you.  Everyone wants to talk to you.  There are people who need healing -- and there is a young man who wants to be your disciple -- there's a rich man who wants to build you a synagogue.  You don't need to travel all over Galilee, Jesus.  There are more opportunities right here in Capernaum than you can shake a stick at -- opportunities to last a lifetime!"

Another old phrase comes to mind -- "Let's strike while the iron is hot!"  I don't know where that phrase came from either, but it means, "Let's take advantage of this opportunity!  Let's not let this one slip through our fingers!" 

But Jesus said:

     "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."

"That is what I came out to do."  Another old phrase comes to mind.  Jesus "had his eye on the ball."  That old phrase comes out of a sports context -- exactly which sport, I'm not sure, because keeping your eye on the ball applies in most sports.  It means staying focused on the one thing that counts most.  A soccer player who has his eye on the ball isn't listening for the crowd's cheers -- isn't worried about the mud stain on his pants -- isn't trying to figure out how to invest his latest bonus.  The soccer player who has his eye on the ball is focused on the one thing that counts -- the game -- the play -- and most especially the ball.  He needs to know many things -- which team has the ball -- where they are on the field -- which team is ahead -- where he is in relationship to the other players.  But none of that counts unless he knows where the ball is.  If he loses sight of the ball, he isn't likely to defend effectively -- and certainly can't score.  Keep your eye on the ball.  Stay focused on the one thing that counts most.

Jesus had his eye on the ball.  "That is what I came out to do," he said.  What was it that he came to do?  He came to preach -- to proclaim the message to the neighboring towns.  What message was that?  Mark told us earlier that Jesus proclaimed "the good news of God" -- that he preached, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (1:14-15). 

There is a lesson here for us.  We, as Christ's church, need to be doing a thousand things.  We need to feed the hungry -- provide shelter for the homeless -- visit the sick and those in prison -- send blankets and money to hurricane victims.  But those things are not our first order of business.  Our first order of business is proclaiming "the good news of God" -- preaching "Repent, and believe in the good news."  That is what it means for us to have our eye on the ball.  If we are not preaching the Good News of Christ, the other things won't amount to much. 

It is MY job to preach the Gospel on Sunday mornings at nine, ten, or eleven o'clock or whenever worship hour happens to be. 

But it is OUR job to preach the Gospel the other hundred sixty-seven hours of the week. 

It is YOUR job to preach the Gospel in the many places where you have influence -- certainly in your family -- to your neighbors -- to co-workers -- to friends -- perhaps even to the panhandler that you meet on the street. 

Do you need to be discreet about that?  Of course!  It is, as we all know, possible to alienate people instead of persuading them.  But the problem for most Christians isn't that we are likely to alienate people by being too pushy -- but that our witness is likely to be so low-key as to be invisible -- no witness at all -- and that is not what Christ asks of us.

Let's start with the witness to your family.  Surely you can let your family know that you are a Christian.  Surely you can help them to grow in faith.  Surely you can make faith a daily part of your family's life.  Surely you can expect your children to participate in Sunday school -- and worship -- and church youth groups. 

-- Would it be too much for Christ to expect that you will make it a point to eat at least one meal a day as a family -- and that you begin that meal with a prayer of thanksgiving? 

-- Would it be too much for Christ to expect that you who are parents of small children will find a good book of Bible stories and read those stories to your children in the evening? 

-- Would it be too much for Christ to expect that you will have prayer with your children at bedtime? 

-- Would it be too much for Christ to expect that you will personally make Sunday worship a priority in your life -- and that you will encourage your family to do likewise? 

-- Or maybe your family is grown.  Perhaps you have grandchildren.  Perhaps you could give some thought to how you might encourage them in the faith.

I'm not talking about anything difficult here.  I am not talking about buttonholing strangers on the street and asking, "Do you know Jesus?"  I am talking about your family -- the place where Christ expects you to take the lead.  It doesn't matter whether you are father or mother or child -- or grandfather or grandmother.  In the family, each person is important and each can help the other to grow in faith.  

When the disciples found Jesus and asked him to take care to the crowds in Capernaum, he said that he had to go to neighboring towns to proclaim the Gospel, because that was what he had come to do.

That is what God has called us to do -- to proclaim the Gospel.  Let us be faithful to that calling.









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