Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jesus Guide To Success Mark 1:35-45 (Close Encounters OF The Jesus KInd Part 4

One of the distinguishing features of the twentieth century, which is following us into this new millennium, is the fascination that we have with fame and success. It’s a product of electronic mass media that people can become famous all over the world. They can become celebrities whose faces and name sell everything from movie tickets to cameras, shoes, perfume and clothes.  The often sordid details of their flawed and broken lives sell new papers and magazines. We all want to know their secret to success or the details of their fall.

In the west many of us have reached a level of success and material wealth that was unheard of 100 years ago let alone in the history of the world, and we tend to live lives of some comfort because of it or at least try to catch up with  to the expectations of comfort that our consumer society pushes on us. Into this world as we read the gospel of Mark this person Jesus Christ walks and invites us to follow him. Today as we look at how Jesus handled the growing success of his ministry and work in Capernaum and Galilee. I pray that we might have a close encounter of the Jesus kind that would enable us to look at our lives and how we handle success.

Jesus had preached in the synagogue in Capernaum and had delivered a man of an unclean spirit. The people had been amazed at the authority with which he taught. He had then gone to the house of Simon Peter and had healed Simon peters mother in law. The town folks had waited till after the Sabbath was over and brought all their sick friends and relatives and people suffering from unclean spirits and Jesus had healed them and set free.

Then in the passage we had read out to us today we see that after this Jesus gets up early in the morning and heads out to a desolate place to pray by himself. His disciples come looking for him because as they say when they find him ‘Jesus everyone is looking for you’. Perhaps my imagination runs away with me but you could imagine in our days reporters wanting to interview him, perhaps the local radio or TV station wanting to talk about a show, a clothing store wanting his endorsement “Nike gospel shoes a blessing on the feet of him that spreads good news. Definitely the people wanted to know more, hear more and see more healing from Jesus. But Jesus tells his disciples that its time to go to another village and preach that the kingdom of God is near. His purpose is to preach the good news in all of Galilee. You don’t get the idea that this is Jesus doing a McDonald’s and wanting to open a franchise in every town, rather as he has been alone with God he has sensed that this is God’s purpose for him.

As he preaches in other towns he encounters someone with the dreaded skin disease leprosy, a disease that has caused him to be ostracised from the rest of God’s people. He takes the risk of approaching Jesus against all the customs and laws of his culture and Jesus is angry and then reaches out and touches the man a move that would have been seen in his society as making Jesus unclean, but Mark tells us that with Jesus touch the leper is made clean he his healed. Jesus tells him not to say anything, rather to go and show the priests and give the appropriate sacrifices. But the man can’t contain himself and goes and tells everyone what Jesus had done. He has healed the unhealable and as a result of this we are told that Jesus can no longer openly go into the towns for risk of being mobbed he stays out in the wilderness and people come out to him.  

What is there in this passage for us? How can we say that in these short verses and this brief encounter with the leper is Jesus guide to handling success? Three things.

Firstly, He does not stay with the acclamation of the crowd even when it is laced with the demands of the needy, rather he comes out to find solitude to connect with God, to pray. 

 In the face of Jesus success in the town of Capernaum his focus is not on what he has achieved but rather the core relationship in his life. Jesus knows or at least will come to know how fickle the adoration and the acclaim of the crowds will be.  In the last week before his death the crowd that cries hosanna, hosanna blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord will become the crowd who chant crucify him, crucify him before Pilate. Jesus knows that the most important thing in life is our relationship with God so he goes to pray.

In our world be it in the busyness or in the business of being or looking for success, in the demands of our life we too are confronted with the same dilemma. To stay or to go and pray. In our world today people are talking about re-evaluating what it means to be successful. People know see wealth not  having the most things or money but rather having the time to invest in the important relationships in their lives. Success is being able to have the lifestyle you want, people work hard to get a lifestyle block so they can spend time with their families. Yet many find that in actual fact they just have to work harder to maintain that life style. Jesus shows us that in the face of the demands of success he is willing to be disciplined to make a priority on that most important relationship with God. To do that always means that we make priority time for what should be a priority. That we will walk away from other things sometimes important things for something which may not always seem important and urgent but is of the greatest of value.

Secondly, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to other towns in Galilee, you’d think that maybe he’d head back to Capernaum and clinch the deal, build a solid base from which he could then expand his ministry when the time was right but Jesus in his solitude with God has reflected not on what is successful but what is the purpose that God has for him and he chooses to go that way. We may find ourselves doing well at many different things in our life yet we find meaning and purpose not in our success but in doing what God calls us to do. Which may not be successful in the eyes of the world, but it is in God’s. Jesus knew that God had called him not just to Capernaum but to all the other towns in Galilee so he is prepared to walk away from success to do what God desires.  In Mark chapter 9 after Jesus disciples have made the great affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah he tells them that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer and die. They are obviously totally shaken up by this, in Peter’s response you all most hear him acting as Jesus publicist “you know Jesus can I just say that’s not a good career move’. But it tells us that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, knowing what lay ahead of him and knowing what God’s will was. The challenge is the same for us today to find purpose and meaning in the purposes of God rather than success and a comfortable life style. They are not mutually exclusive by the way but we can mistake one for the other.

There is of course then the question ‘well what is God’ will for my life?’ Rick Warren’s book ‘the purpose driven life’ is very helpful in this because he points out that God has already revealed his purposes for human beings through scripture and it as we work to fulfil these that we find God able to direct us to the specifics of our own circumstances.

Rick warren points out five purposes that God has for his people.

Worship: To know God and love him, love the lord with all your heart and soul and mind

Fellowship: to love others as I have loved you

Discipleship: to grow more like Jesus. If you love me you will keep my commandments.

Ministry: To use the gifts and talents that God has given us to serve his people in the church. We are the body of Christ. 

Mission: to go into all the world and make disciples teaching them all that I have taught you and baptising them in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit.

Thirdly, Jesus success did not lead him to hob knob with the rich and famous like in our time and day rather it leads him to encounter with compassion the least in life, those ostracised and outcast from society. He encounters a leper who comes and begs him to heal him. Scripture tells us that Jesus was angry, not because this man had dared to come and get near him, risking contaminating him with this disease, but rather angry with the way this disease had effected the man and caused him so much grief and pain. He does the unthinkable in his society reaches out and touches the man and the man is healed.

We often find our selves fascinated with the rich and famous or even the rank and infamous but the Jesus guide to success calls us to the poor and lowly.

I was moved by two things I read this week that challenged me about the lepers in our world. One from a novel I am reading by Geoff Thompson. It’s raw and violent and hard to read. His main character says.

“I never trusted God. Never. God was for posh kids. I knew that that much. God didn’t come to houses where the mum’s had faces permanently bent from too many drunken beatings, and dada who had crippled minds , and kids who wore plimsolls through winter and summer because the family allowance was fighting on too many fronts.”

From an interview with Bono the lead singer of the band U2 in rolling stone magazine, Bono is a Christian and a man who is at the forefront of justice issues in the world. He says this about the church and aids.

"I'm wary of faith outside of actions. I'm wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.
Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn't believe it. It almost ruined it for me -- 'cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS."

Jesus success leads him not away from such places and people but towards them and the call to us is to follow.

Possibly the most famous Christian in the last century, an old nun in the cluttered and dirty streets of Calcutta summed up her Christian faith by saying “ I meditate on Jesus and then go and find his face amidst the faces of the dying of this city’.

Here are some questions I want to leave you with for your reflection. In them I hope you will have an encounter of the Jesus kind.

In what ways is Jesus calling you not to stay but rather to go to the solitary place and pray?

How do our lives our priorities and time and successes align with God’s purpose for us?

Who are the lepers that Jesus is inviting you to risk reaching out and touching with his healing hand?

 In the answer to these we may not find success as the world defines it but Jesus and things of eternal value.

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