A favorite part of Winter Convocation for many people is our shared worship. This year that takes the form of two shared sermons by our bishop. These can be incorporated into your online worship for February 7 and 14. Here is link to the video sermon
for February 7 and the text is available below.
Sermon – V Epiphany
February 7, 2021
One of the very challenging realities of this continuing pandemic is its disruption of our disciplines, the rhythms and practices of daily life that undergird our physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Changes to almost every aspect of life present obstacles to the routines that have brought us satisfaction, stability, and security. Services upon which we depend and that we have long taken for granted have been difficult to access for months. Routine practices for grocery shopping, exercise, healthcare, and social contact have been disrupted. Our regular and spontaneous connections with colleagues in the workplace now require a Zoom appointment. The affirmation of a stranger’s smile is hidden by a mask, as is the wordless encouragement we offer to another by a facial expression of companionship and understanding. The physical presence of children and grandchildren who used to populate our comings and goings is profoundly missed. Many of the routine ways by which we serve in outreach programs, community activities, and individual care of others, responsibilities that define our purpose and give structure to our lives, are lacking. And of course, the familiar sights, sounds, and practices that so define our worship are altered, limited, or absent, in spite of the wonders of Zoom and Facebook Live. Most of us have had to reconsider why, how, and in some cases whether we should continue those disciplines that had become routine and normal. In some cases, we have learned again what is important and necessary for ourselves and society, and discovered new priorities and practices.
The Gospel of Mark wastes no time in outlining the essential practices of Christian life, those disciplines that form and sustain us as disciples of Jesus. It provides no nativity narrative, neither any genealogical validation for the Messiah. It simply states that what follows is “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and begins with a brief account of his baptism and the collection of his first followers. And then, it takes off at a significant pace.
Eleven times in the first chapter of his Gospel, Mark uses the word euthús, which we translate as “immediately” or “at once.” Eleven times in only 39 sentences! While our use of these terms principally implies urgency and how quickly one event follows another, in Mark this immediacy also carries with it a sense of connectedness. The connection between events is not just sequential, but consequential. There is a connection between Jesus being claimed by God in his baptism and targeted for temptation by the spirit of evil. In the calling of the first disciples, there is a connection between being seen by Jesus and following him. The consequence of meeting Jesus is relational as well as sequential. One event not only follows quickly after the previous one, but it builds upon it. Were Mark writing in English, perhaps he might use the word “thereupon” or the phrase “as a result.” Likewise, there are intentional and consequential connections between arriving in Capernaum and going to the synagogue; worshiping and the arrival of the man with the unclean spirit; healing him and Jesus’s fame spreading in the surrounding region. What Mark is describing is not simply an historical timeline, but a Christology – an understanding of who Jesus is – and with that, a practice for Christian discipleship – a pattern for being formed as his followers.
In today’s reading, Mark makes a similar connection between worshiping in the synagogue and healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Equally so, he implies a distinct connection between being healed and serving others. Finally, he makes a connection between ministering to others and intimacy with God. Each action is both prompted and informed by the previous one, and together they provide a new discipline for his first followers that forms them as Christians. As a whole, they describe a pattern of living shaped by devotion, service, and prayer that draws us deeper both into the heart of God and into the world God calls us to heal.
What Mark begins to describe in the opening stories of his Gospel is an integrated discipline of common worship, ministry to others, and personal intimacy with God modeled on the spiritual practice and healing ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
So much of Jesus’ ministry begins with worship in the synagogue, in study and devotion within the spiritual community that formed, challenged, and sustained him. We read, “And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught.” The synagogue represents the community where and with whom he drank from a common spiritual well. Devotion grounding in corporate worship, whether virtual or in person, is critical to our development as the body of Christ, each of us a member who provides the heart, eyes, hands, and voice of the incarnate Jesus in our own time and place. Wherever he was, Jesus connected to the community that grounded and formed him, even when he was at odds with it.
And that is where today’s Gospel lesson begins. The Greek reads, “And immediatelyhe left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.”
Anyone who has visited Capernaum will know that the house believed to be Simon and Andrew’s, where Jesus stayed for much of his ministry in the Galilee, is right in the midst of the community. Unlike the practice of returning from church to our separate homes on Sunday, Jesus and his disciples would have continued in the presence of others, those in the neighborhood whose homes shared walls with theirs and those who doubtless trailed Jesus through town, given the remarkable thing he had done with the man possessed of an evil spirit. The home of Simon and Andrew would have gathered many in and around it after worship, especially with Jesus there. And in the midst of that community, they immediately told him of Simon’s mother-in-law, and he took her hand and healed her. Then, after sundown when the sabbath was over, Jesus went on to heal many that night.
We often speak of unexpected events and otherwise unexplained occurrences as “acts of God,” as if God intentionally makes trees to fall on cars or storms to destroy property by wind and rain. I would argue that the healing acts that proceed from the study, devotion, and companionship of Christian worship are the true acts of God. They are the product of God’s relentless fidelity to us and our willingness to surrender to the divine will in caring for others. And that service, in turn, lead us back to prayer, just as it led Jesus. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
Mark’s Gospel, by recounting Jesus’s own actions, offers us a model of Christian discipleship in which the discipline of prayer follows naturally and essentially upon our service to others. His description of Jesus teaches us that caring for God’s beloved should lead always back to prayer, to the individual, intimate, and reflective conversation with God who has inspired us to serve, quite literally putting the spirit of holiness in us. Building directly upon our service on behalf of others, we return to God in prayer – prayer in which we bare our souls in humility and hear God’s ceaseless words of gratitude and the assurance that we are beloved – infinitely and eternally valued by God – in spite of all that we know is undeserving.
These disciplines – communal devotion, service to others, and personal prayer – while challenged in specific ways by the realities we face today, are inherently connected. As Mark’s Gospel shows by so often connecting them with the term “immediately,” they are both sequential and consequential, adaptable to every context and obstacle we might confront. In spite of the restrictions of COVID-19, we gather today in devotion and study by internet technology. In spite of the isolation of COVID-19, we all have innumerable opportunities to minister to those in need, to serve in the spirit Jesus and of Simon’s mother-in-law, using whatever gifts and abilities we have. And regardless of where we are or what our situation, God awaits our personal prayer with undivided attention, ready to hear and to assure, to love us and be loved by us.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio