“What did we come to do?”

Picture of Jesus healing Simon's Mother-in-law from Mark 1:29-39. Many disciples and onlookers are present in the scene.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH February 7, 2021

From 1 Corinthians chapter 12: “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ…If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”

These words from the Bible strike to the heart of how I witness our discipleship as Christians. Words which speak of how we are interconnected through the Holy Spirit and the call for each of us to help ease the suffering of other people in the world. Yet, I wonder what is the cost of discipleship; What is the price each and every one of us must pay for such a deeply ingrained empathy; what is the price when our world is hurting and suffering?

For, today, we are witnesses to people who are suffering from racism, environmental destruction, misogyny, food insecurity, political unrest, LGBTQIA + inequality, domestic violence, isolation, health care concerns, inadequate support for schools, the pandemic, and a host of other issues. Are you overwhelmed, yet? With everything happening in the world around us, are you overwhelmed with grief for our Body? When all the people in the world are crying out in pain and agony and you want to help them; do you feel overwhelmed and not sure which way to turn – who to help – what part of God’s ministry you came here to help as part of the Body of Christ? This beloved is the price each of us sometimes pays for our discipleship – a price for our empathy when we can become overwhelmed by the pain of those who are suffering.

The problem is that if we become overwhelmed, we may become the wounded – the wounded people who become self-protective and thereby avoid – disregard – or minimize the wounds of other people, no longer empathetically walking in the Way of Christ as one Body but only concerned with our own wounds. The cost of discipleship has and will cause a spiraling wound of trauma if we let ourselves become overwhelmed.

Yet, beloved, we are not alone in this struggle. The darkness cannot win for there is a light and it begins with Christ – and within each of us as the Body of Christ. So, although the world is hurting – hungering for healing – thirsty for justice in ways which I have never seen in my life, I invite us all to stop – take a step back – and refocus ourselves as Christians to ask the very real question: what did we come to do? 

As we ponder this question would you pray with me,

Body of Christ reveal to me Your Way and invoke in me Your calling; so, we may each be Your gift to the world. Reveal this gift through Your Holy Spirit so each of us may be healed by those who are called to heal – taught by those who are called to teach – guided by those who are called to guide. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now, Beloved, I am speaking today specifically about our personal call of discipleship – our purpose in God’s ministry – our individual part of God’s Mission. I am speaking of this call through the realization of our pandemic isolation which has provided more time for us to witness the ailments of our world as many people are out of work, working from home, or unable to engage in social activities. Even if this reality is not your case, people do seem to be expressing all the issues of the world louder and more viscerally than ever before. And I hear these concerns, but I am worried about you – worried that these issues of the world are being intensified by your own sadness and loss. Worried that your empathy will become overwhelmed and cost you – your empathy for other people.  

I imagine this same conflict was afflicting Jesus in our scriptural reading from the Gospel according to Mark. This same concern over becoming overwhelmed. For, the story begins in the middle of a narrative of healing early on in his ministry. In fact, these healings in Capernaum were at the very beginning of his ministry directly after he had been baptized and called the first of his disciples. Then, he began his ministry of teaching while using his gifts to heal people and cast out demons. Let me clearly say that although there are interpretations which state the casting out of demons is a metaphor for the healing of mental illnesses, this text according to the theologian Lamar Williamson JR. is referring to actual demons as that is how the Hellenistic world of the first century understood what was happening to people. Either way, the casting out of demons is clearly different than the physical healing which Jesus is also performing. This point becomes especially important as the narrative continues to bring more and more people to be healed by Jesus. I imagine his empathy for their wounds and afflictions must have been overwhelming. For, even though he could heal them all – the streets were full of people needing to be healed.

Then something interesting happens in the Gospel according to Mark, something vastly different than in the accounts of Matthew or Luke. Jesus stops – as he sits there healing people in Capernaum – he stops. And we know the healing is not done; for, the disciples share that “Everybody is looking for you.” There is more healing to be done and they are looking for the healing touch of Jesus. Yet, he stops, and we are left without the answer of why. Why he stopped in the early hours before dawn. Why he stopped healing when people were crying for this touch. And although we do not know, I imagine it is because of how each and every one of us is feeling right now as the world cries out hurting – hungry for healing – thirsty for justice. I imagine that anyone with empathy hearing all these cries needs to stop and take a moment for self-care. Because no matter how much we love all people, residing in the pain, the loss, and the devastation will overwhelm us and destroy our ability to help one another as disciples of Christ. 

And this beloved is the Good news of the account from Mark – the good news of how to continue being a disciple when you start to feel overwhelmed by all the tragedies in the world. Just stop and take a step back to engage in self-care. Jesus’ need for self-care is revealed here by stepping back and entering a “deserted place.” Yet, this deserted place is not like our pandemic isolation; it is a place where he can pray and discover what God is calling him to do. That said, prayer in this Good News can and should be witnessed: as a form of self-care; as a way to refocus our lives; as a way to remember our part of the Body of Christ and thereby be able to help other people throughout the world. 

Furthermore, I believe this Good News is needed; so, we may remember what we came here to do – what we are called to do as people individually and how we are called to be part of the Body of Christ. For, as we saw in the scripture of Mark even Jesus needed to stop, step back, and refocus. We are witnesses to his amazing gifts of healing; but healing is not what Jesus was called to do as the head of the body of Christ. Instead, he is called to “proclaim the message and cast out demons” throughout Galilee, to teach all people about God and heal them spiritually by casting out their demons. This Good news beloved is the Way of Christ – the Way of the disciple – not the exact way for we are all different parts of the Body. Yet it is the Good News we are invited to follow as disciples of Christ especially when we feel overwhelmed by the suffering of the Body.

So, what is your Way – your Way of self-care – Your Way to stop – step back – and refocus? That is the depth of the question this week and one which we will explore throughout the Lenten season. Yet as we explore the various paths, I wish to remind you they are paths with a purpose. For, we are disciples and there is a cost of that discipleship. The cost and joy of allowing God to use us to make the world better. And as I mentioned in my letter this week, I would like each of us to discover that part of God’s Mission – ministry – purpose we came here to do in this life. Now perhaps discovering this purpose will be through trial and error which is why I invited all of you to experience Lent in a new way – instead of giving something up – I have, and am, inviting you to take on a purpose – a ministry – a part of God’s Mission throughout the season of Lent. I offer this invitation knowing that many of us are feeling overwhelmed with the suffering and the pain that is happening in our world. But I offer this invitation now because it is not a simple discernment and I wish you to take your time, consider your gifts, and the variety of ways to share them with the Body of Christ. This Good News, beloved, is the Way Jesus walked – the way of the body of Christ – the Way of the disciple which invites each of us to stop, step back, and refocus on what we came here to do in this world. May each of your days be full of self-care and reflection as we walk in the way of Jesus as the body of Christ. Amen.