Scripture Readings: Isaiah 40:21–31 | Psalm 147 | 1 Corinthians 9:16–23 | Mark 1:29–39
“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.” (Mark 1:38)
What comes first?
Whether we’re preparing to take a trip someplace new… or following a recipe… drafting a budget… writing a poem… planning a project… or basically anything we humans do… its always wise to take the time needed to figure out what comes first. What’s the most important part of the task before us… the part that we can’t do without… even if there might end up being lots of good things that have to be set to the side?
Among other things, these weeks after Epiphany remind us of the priorities of God’s Kingdom. There are lots of good things for God’s people to do in the world… lots of ways to make a truly positive impact… and sometimes it can be hard for us to know what we are supposed to prioritize. Thankfully, Epiphany reminds us to step back and seek to know… to remember what God has revealed is most important… not just to us, but to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, and Saviour of the World.
Our Gospel reading today from Mark Chapter 1 brings this question before our eyes, helping us understand right from the start of Christ’s ministry, what He has come here to do.
Our reading today is the continuation of what happened last week: when he entered the synagogue one Sabbath to teach, and all were amazed at His authority… which proved to be backed up by heavenly power as He cast out a demon, a rebellious spiritual being at odds with the Living God, from somebody in there midst.
And straight away, we hear today that Jesus continues to do good and powerful things in Capernaum: first, before the Sabbath day was done, Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. And then, once sunset fell, everyone in the city gathered around where He was staying, bringing to Him those who were sick, or who were oppressed by demons, and His healing, rescuing power worked wonders in their lives, to the amazement of all.
But when morning came, Jesus was nowhere to be found. “[W]hile it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). Jesus made prayer a priority… the first thing that He did was to take the time to step back and reconnect with His Father in Heaven. Before all else, this relationship was what mattered most.
And this key relationship with God the Father helped all else in Jesus’ life find it’s proper place as well… keeping Him from getting off track, and from forgetting what His mission was all about.
I mean, He could have done a lot of great things in Capernaum if He has just stuck around, right? He could have made it a booming place of peace and prosperity… a city free from disease, and all demonic influence… a new centre for godly devotion. Think of all the people who would just love to live next door to someone with His kind of power.
But instead of seizing the opportunity to build up a solid base for Himself… or even to make sure that all of Capernaum’s needs were met… Jesus knew it was time to move on… to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom… the Good News of what He Himself was up to in the world… to take this news to others… to those who have not yet come to experience it.
Mark 1:36-39, “Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 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.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
All throughout the last 20 Centuries, the Church of Jesus Christ has faced that same temptation to stay put… to build up our own little corners of the world… to make sure that all of our own needs get met… and make our own kingdoms safe and secure… instead of following Christ’s example and keeping our ears open to Heaven, and our eyes on the horizon.
Sometimes we have made the choice to stay true to Christ’s mission to share His Good News with all the world. Sometimes we have let our own priorities distract us from what means the most to Him. One reason that I know myself, and many others given into this temptation to stay put is because of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having our own needs met. Fear of what may happen if we let go of control.
That’s why we need this season after Epiphany, and its reminders that Jesus came to be, not simply our personal Saviour… but the Saviour of the World. And as this is what He came to do, we who are His people have a key part to play in making His Good News known as best we can.
In other words, as much as Jesus loves Capernaum and its people… and as much as He loves Gondola Point and all of us… we are not actually at the centre of the story of what God is up to in Jesus Christ.
The top priority of Christ’s Kingdom is not to make you and I feel better, but to share God’s forgiveness, His freedom, and His New Life with us, and with all! We Christians, who have placed our faith in Jesus, are embraced, and invited now to be a part of how He shares this New Life of the Kingdom with everyone. We’re all part of this story: God’s love for our whole world.
What does it look like to take this calling seriously? To have our priorities fall in line with what we know of our Saviour’s mission and heart?
In our second reading today, we catch sight of one clear example of a life realigned to serve Christ’s Kingdom.
In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul spells out his new priorities, which he holds out as an example to follow. As an Apostle, and founder of Christian Church communities across the Roman Empire, St. Paul could have chosen to play it safe. He could have sought out more established positions of influence, and found ways to prioritize his own status, and security, and build for himself his own home base… his own little kingdom.
But instead, again and again, St. Paul follows the example of Jesus Himself, whose priority was not His own comfort or security, but the sharing of God’s holy love and the Good News of His Kingdom with everyone.
So, St. Paul refused to cling to his own personal interests and preferences… holding only lightly onto all that was not essential, in order to put first the Kingdom of God… helping as many people as possible, from every background and status, and community, to come into contact with the Good News of Jesus, and what Jesus has done to save us all.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
Now when he says he has become “all things to all people”, St. Paul was not simply playing to the crowd… taking on false personas to ingratiate himself with whoever was around… twisting himself in knots to get others to accept and support him. Not at all. It was because St. Paul was certain of what stood at the centre of his life… what must come first above all other priorities, namely the Good News of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, and all that He has done for the world… because St. Paul had this Gospel as his key priority, he could let go of all that stood between himself, and sharing this Good News with everyone around him.
So when he spoke to his fellow Jews about Jesus, he didn’t need to pick a fight about this or that matter of the Law, or rub the freedom he had found in their face, but could instead focus on all the ways the Risen Lord was reaching out in love to rescue His covenant people.
And when he spoke to Gentiles, people from outside the Jewish faith, from all the nations that had not yet come to know the Living God, St. Paul would then try to meet them where they were at, and introduce them to the story of the Saviour of the whole world.
And so, on it goes. Because St. Paul knew what comes first… what matters most: the Good News of Jesus, the Risen Lord… he found he could be extremely flexible about other things, all while staying true to his mission to share God’s holy love with the world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This faithful flexibility freed St. Paul to do remarkable things for the Kingdom of God, spreading the Good News to corners of the world where it had not been known before. But it also meant leaving a lot of things behind… a lot of good things… and facing lots of uncertainty, and hardships… sacrificing much of what we take for granted for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom.
And St. Paul holds up this example for other disciples of Jesus… back then and today… for you and I to learn from and follow. Inviting us to learn to truly put first things first, even when it hurts. To follow him, as he himself follows Jesus in letting God’s saving love for the world lead the way.
But does this mean that God doesn’t care if we suffer loss? That our own needs, and hopes, and fears as God’s children mean nothing to our Father in Heaven? Doesn’t He care about us too, here in Gondola Point? How can you and I be sure that we won’t be forgotten if we let go and follow Jesus into the unknown?
Once again, it all comes down to faith. To our connection… our trust in the Living God, whose heart of merciful love we’ve come to know in the Scriptures, and most of all in Jesus Christ.
And in our first reading today, the prophet Isaiah’s words remind us of what kind of the God we believe in… the God who has far more than enough to go around, and who sees all the needs of all His children.
Isaiah 40:27-31, Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
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;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
God sees and knows everything that we need. He has no intention of neglecting any of His beloved children, nor is His ability to provide limited, as if there is only so much of His blessings to go around. But to know and trust in Him means to learn to let go of our impulse to hoard Him and His love for ourselves. To trust that He will provide what we need as we follow Him, and choose to make His priorities our own.
The Lord gives strength to the faint-hearted, and power to the weak who look to Him for help in time of need. Our loving Creator knows all about our circumstances, our hopes and fears, and calls us to trust Him with it all. But if we just want Him to stay by our side and meet our needs, while we forget about all of the other people all around us who don’t yet know His saving love… we’ve lost sight of what our Saviour has come to do, and the work that He has called us to take part in.
Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. He sought, not His own will, but the will of His Father in Heaven. Jesus completely surrendered His own life into the hands of the Living God… He gave up everything at the cross to defeat the powers of darkness once and for all, and to bring the Good News of God’s Kingdom, His New Creation to life… in the lives of those who trust and follow Him.
Jesus came to be the Saviour of the world, but this meant choosing the way of sacrifice. It meant choosing to surrender His rights, and to instead entrust Himself completely to God’s saving love… dying to self-centeredness, and rising again to share God’s New Life with us all.
We might not be like St. Paul, personally called to travel to new lands and plant new Church communities among the nations. But we are called like him to trust the Living God to give you and I the strength, and to provide everything that we need to take up our own part in service of Christ’s everlasting Kingdom.
We too are called to prioritize, not our own comfort, or status, or preferences, but the sharing of the Good News with God’s world… with our neighbours, our families, all those that God places in our paths… through the words that we speak, and the choices we make day by day. Not to nail Him down to stay where we want Him to be, but to trust and follow Him wherever He leads us.
We are those whom the Living God has entrusted the Good News of Jesus Christ to in this generation. We are the ones who have the calling to make it known today, in any way that we can.
As this season after Epiphany nears an end, and the season of Lent draws closer, preparing us to walk with Jesus Christ our Lord to the cross, and find there His saving love and sustaining grace… may we truly make it our priority to know the core of our faith, and live it out ourselves. May we make it our priority to nurture God’s holy love in all we do. And may we make it our priority to share this Good News of hope with those who have not yet heard it… trusting God to give us everything we need along the way. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School