As many of you know, I spent most of Christmas week in Texas, visiting with my family – my older daughter and her family and my sisters. It was my first trip back since my mother died a little more than a year ago, and it was a strange experience to be there without her. When I go home, I usually do a memory tour, driving to all the places that have been important in my life – to the houses where I was born and raised, to the houses where the close friends who nurtured me lived, to the houses where my daughters began their lives.
This time, I also drove by my mother’s empty house and remembered one of my last visits there, about two years after Mother’s stroke. During that visit, about three years ago, I went by the house just to check to make sure everything was ok. When I stepped into the kitchen, I remembered all the times I’ve come back home as an adult. I remembered walking through the rooms, checking to make sure nothing really significant had changed while I was away. I remembered my daughters taking similar inventories on each visit as they grew up, looking for those things like lemon drops in the jar in Mother’s bedroom, looking for those things which meant that all was right with the world.
Our lives were full of changes, and the absence of change in that house meant stability and safety to my daughters and me. We wanted time to stop when we were in that house. We wanted time to remain stopped when we were away. We knew a good thing when we saw it, and we wanted to keep it that way.
I think Simon and Andrew, James and John would have understood how my daughters and I felt about that house.
The Gospel according to Mark is filled with stories that are similar to the portion we’ve just heard. In today’s gospel, Jesus cures Simon’s mother-in-law of some malady, and the whole city converges on the house. People come to Jesus asking for healing, and he heals them. The next morning, Jesus is nowhere to be seen. The disciples finally find him alone at prayer. They urge him to return to the crowds. They know good work is being done, and they’re intent on continuing just as they are. I can imagine them setting up permanent healing stations, similar to the little houses Simon wanted to build for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the day of the Transfiguration. I can imagine them wanting a permanent base of operations, an unchanging center for good things happening in the name of God. Simon and Andrew, James and John know a good thing when they see it, and they want to keep it that way.
But Jesus has a different plan. It doesn’t matter that good work is being done. His purpose is not simply to continue the healing in the place which has welcomed him. His purpose is to proclaim the message—the good news of God’s love—throughout the land.
Most of the work of sorting through Mother’s household fell to my sisters and daughters. I helped when I could, and it literally took us years to do it – one box, one closet, one shelf at a time. As we sorted, our most difficult decisions were about those things which tug at our heartstrings but have no use or purpose or place in the houses we live in today. Continuing the work that had to be done meant that we had to put some things to the side. Continuing the work meant turning away from things that have meant safety and comfort to us. That process is difficult. But unless it was done, we couldn’t move forward to complete the task ahead of us.
For the disciples, for Simon and Andrew, James and John, continuing the work means moving away from a place of comfort and safety. It means moving away from a place where they have done good ministry. It means moving from a place where they have felt welcomed. For the disciples, continuing the work means moving into uncertainty, moving on down the road to faces they don’t know and into situations they can’t imagine.
And what about us? What about us in St. Mark’s parish? What about us in the Diocese of El Camino Real? What does continuing the work mean for us? How are we called to live into Jesus’ purpose—to proclaim the message—the good news of God’s love—throughout the land.
Here at St. Mark’s, we are in a time of renewed energy—following our healing from a time of pain and disruption. It took a while for us to heal and be healed. And it was important that we gave time to that. But now we’re being called to move on down the road. As we move to proclaim the good news, we have begun the process of sorting through the things we carry with us. Now we need to choose what has use and place and purpose as we continue the journey. We also need to choose what must be left behind. Some of the choices will be easy. Some will be difficult.
These next months and years will also call our diocese into new places and will require that we make choices about the things we carry with us. We have done good ministry but some of our ways have not served us well. Some of our ways have been barriers to Jesus’ purpose in the world. The next months and years will hold difficult choices—and great opportunities for new ministry in Jesus’ name.
The good news, my friends, is that we don’t move into the unknown by ourselves. The good news is that we have each other here in this church. The good news is that we have the communities of the deanery and of the diocese. The good news is that Jesus still leads us. The very good news is that he is still proclaiming his message of God’s love for every single one of us.
Thanks be to God.
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