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“Jesus’ Accommodation Challenge”

Feb.5, 2012 Annual Congregational Meeting Mk.1:29-45


Today’s Annual Congregational Meeting should be a particularly interesting one, as 2012 presents our fellowship with a challenge we’ve not had to deal with in the over-ten years of our existence: the closing in June of this school where we’ve consistently met over the course of our history. It should be an interesting discussion as we share thoughts in response to the seven big-picture questions the Trustees & Property Committee has drawn up.
    But challenges are not necessarily a bad thing. Remember that ‘Natural Church Development’ saying about change and challenge? “Healthy churches grow; growth produces change; changes challenge us; challenges force us to trust God; trust keeps us healthy; healthy churches grow...” (etc.) A challenge needn’t be a set-back; it may simply be God’s way of nudging us on to the next step in our development.
    Accommodation challenges are nothing new for the church. After all, it’s adapted over the centuries to meeting in all kinds of different spaces, from courtyards to catacombs to cathedrals (and even, when dozens of believers in Beijing’s Shouwang Church routinely over the past year have been carted away from their agreed-upon meeting space in a public park, they meet in police stations!).
    As we begin a look at Mark’s Gospel, we find Jesus Himself faced an accommodation challenge. His powerful teaching and marvelous miracles caused congestion wherever the crowds found Him. In vv32-33 they clogged up the streets of Capernaum: “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.The whole town gathered at the door...” Later, after a man healed of leprosy starts blabbing it about, Jesus can’t even find shelter in a town any more: v45, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” Jesus had His accommodation challenges, too!
    A couple of questions to keep in mind as we look at this passage: How did Jesus get there? That is, what factors brought this about? And - as for us, in our current situation - if the old architectural mantra holds true that ‘form follows function’, what does Jesus’ ministry style suggest should inform us as we make decisions about what sorts of new space we should be looking for? What functions is the ‘foot’ (the church) involved with that would determine the kind of ‘shoe’ that suits, if you will – do we need a rubber boot, or steel-toed workboot, or light-and-ready sandals, or a hiking boot? If God calls us as a body to go swimming to rescue souls, I’d rather flippers than workboots!


First, let’s put things in context before we hop in halfway through the first chapter. Back up a bit and recall what’s been going on up to now. Mark prefaces his gospel or ‘good news’ with mention of John the Baptist, a messenger who has come to prepare the way for Jesus the Christ. Vv2-3 cite the prophet Isaiah, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" - "a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Fundamentally, the gospel is about access to God, getting rid of the sin-roadblocks that get in the way and would trip us up from ever having fellowship with a holy God. Ephesians 2:18, “For through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then (since we have a great high priest) approach the throne of grace with confidence...” Accessibility to the Lord is a priority.
    Interesting that, as of 2012, the provincial government is phasing in new ‘accessibility standards’ for organizations. Right now the emphasis is mostly on how we serve people with disabilities, but before long there will be new laws dealing with property requirements ensuring anyone can physically access the various corners of our meeting and ministry places. As we check out new options, let’s keep accessibility in mind – not just for people in wheelchairs, but with other special needs.
    Mark emphasizes that Jesus is an Agent of the Holy Spirit. V8, John predicted, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” V10, at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Him like a dove. V12, “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert...” Luke may have written the book of Acts, which could be dubbed “the Acts of the Holy Spirit”, but Mark is very clear from the outset that Jesus is an Agent of the Holy Spirit – baptizing with the Spirit, directed by Him, putting in action the Spirit’s impulses. Too many church buildings are closing today across the countryside because they have become empty tombs, devoid of life – people quit coming because the Spirit did not find voice in the preaching or Biblical worship or resonance in the people’s spiritual lives. Our form as a congregation - perhaps as til now a combination of house-meetings and rental space for Sunday mornings and youth events - needs to be flexible and adaptable enough to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ - where He’s moving, what people-groups He’s drawing to the Son.
    Next, Mark presents Jesus as One who Announces the Kingdom and Admonishes Repentance. Listen carefully to the initial notes of His proclamation in v15: “The time has come...The kingdom of God is near.Repent and believe the good news!” We ought to be announcing both Kingdom-news and repentance: God’s claims on people’s lives, His offer of forgiveness through the cross of Jesus, AND their need to turn away from sin in order to experience the power and healing of a relationship with Him.
    If you think back over the history of our congregation, you’ll realize a major factor in our start-up was our unwillingness to compromise with unbiblical doctrine about behaviour that’s sinful. Churches that accommodate to the culture too much lose the very message of the gospel that would offer saving help to people trapped in bondage to sinful habits that culture promotes. How does this relate to meeting -space, physical accommodation? As we consider partnerships with other agencies in rental agreements, for example, let’s keep our ‘spiritual radar’ alert for arrangements that might be ‘convenient’ but would entangle us with groups that may not be Kingdom-compatible. (For instance - not a good idea to share space with the Freemasons!)
    And another aspect of Jesus’ initial ministry as Mark presents it is His Amazing Authority and Advance against Evil. Vv22 and 27 in the synagogue at Capernaum, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law...The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching— and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him."” Jesus’ authority - His originality - was striking. Most rabbis reinforced their teaching with appeal to other rabbis, whereas Jesus spoke with a forcefulness that came from who He was in His relationship with the Father - God’s own underlining, as it were. The Author Himself was speaking. For us, this may mean a caution not to let programs and property and fundraising and administration and paperwork get in the way of what matters most, a direct relationship with God; don’t let space concerns sap energy from our congregation’s worship-life, small groups, and disciple-making. That’s where the bulk of our energy needs to be budgeted.
    Jesus was Advancing against Evil: freeing a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit, v23. Will the course of action a Property Committee proposes help us be more effective in confronting and combatting evil in our area and across the world, OR will it get in the way, for example by diverting resources into bricks and mortar? Let’s not become a church that just exists to maintain its building, or the living costs of a ‘paid professional holy man’ (though I be one!). Let’s reserve our best resources for helpful forms like small group meetings where people sense support to overcome addiction or loneliness or brokenness, and finances to genuinely help out those in a short-term economic crunch. We’re a group led by Jesus on a mission to stand against the gates of hell! Let’s stay keen for the Kingdom, able to make a difference in society that counters evil spirits and structures.
    So, that’s a quick summary of the first half of chapter 1 - some ‘keynotes of Christ’s campaign’ that point to what this Christianity project ought really to be all about as we move ahead.


In today’s passage, we see the Lord continue to flesh out what it means for people to come into contact with God’s Spirit and become His people, together - the Church. Simon’s mother-in-law in vv29-31 illustrates “Recovery for Ministry.”
    A sidebar here about the storyteller: when it talks about them going to Simon’s home, probably Mark the author would have heard Simon Peter tell the story firsthand himself. Papias, an early Christian author about 140AD, quotes an even earlier source as saying Mark was a close associate of Peter. Recall when Peter miraculously escapes from prison in Acts 12, where does he go? To the house where the church is meeting and praying for him - the house of Mary the mother of John Mark (Ac 12:12). So, when Mark tells these stories, it’s likely as if we’re experiencing it through Peter’s eyes. He was right there!
    Also, a stylistic note: Mark’s gospel is full of action; there’s energy, a lot happening. One of Mark’s favourite words is “immediately”: it occurs 47 times, or on average at least 3 times each chapter. Here we find it in vv29 and 30 and 31: so although you may see it translated in various forms “As soon as”, “immediately”, “then” - this is a way Mark the editor keeps the account moving, perhaps a reflection of Peter’s fast-paced story-telling style.
    V30 finds Jesus accompanying a group to the home of Simon and Andrew; note - Simon is married and his mother-in-law lives with him and his wife, along with his brother - quite a few in the household! But his mother-in-law, v30, is “in bed with a fever.” John MacArthur comments, “That she was too ill to get out of bed, coupled with Luke’s description of her fever as a ‘high fever’ (Lk 4:38), suggest that her illness was serious, even life-threatening.”
    What happens? They ‘immediately’ tell Jesus about her. V31, He goes to her, takes her hand, and helps her up (kind of intimate, personal contact). Does she put her feet up to convalesce? No, “she began to wait on them.” The Greek root is diakonia, ministry, to serve. She’s so healed, so well and full of energy, she’s empowered to serve her guests and show hospitality.
    What might we take from this today? The church is people who serve, not a place that sits. “Building a church” is foremost about building people, equipping us to share our spiritual gifts in the world. Depending on the individuals in the church, that may be most effectively done through a suitable space (eg Soup-and-More); but if individual Christians are already fully deployed in their spare time ministering in other ways, that midweek physical structure may not be necessary. We are Recovered to Minister.


Next Mark tells us in vv32-34 that, once the Sabbath was over, people started to bring to Jesus the sick and demon-possessed. Didn’t even wait until the next day!  The text says Jesus healed “various diseases” and “drove out many demons”. He had a great ministry of healing and deliverance. Is that happening in our church? Does that have anything in particular to do with how we’re accommodated space-wise?
    A woman was sharing with me and her husband how one Sunday she briefly dropped in to our worship service, but had to leave again because she was overcome with emotion. God used the worship-song we were singing to somehow lift a weight she’d felt from her childhood. This burden sprang from a sexually abusive step-father, a complicit mother, and resulting complications including abortion. All her life this woman carried the weight of that, but somehow that morning the Lord used our worship to heal her of that burden. Jesus is still active in His church to heal and rescue from oppression!


In vv35-39 Jesus’ ministry takes a very significant turn. On the one hand, things seem to be rolling along very well. Capernaum was a major town, with lake access, and on a major road, complete with a Roman garrison. A prosperous fishing centre, it was a more important town than Nazareth. With Peter’s and Andrew’s home being there, some of the disciples probably would have been very happy if Jesus had chosen to make it His regular operating base. Crowds were coming; why not anchor the ministry at such a major regional centre?
    But when Jesus takes time early one morning in prayer, He receives guidance from the Father to take another tack. When Peter and the others come hunting Him down (remember, Mark’s getting this from Peter; this may be an early indication of Peter’s leadership tendency) - they exclaim, “Everyone’s looking for You!” “You’re in demand - You’re top of the charts!” But Jesus seems to run from popularity. God’s shown Him a vision for something different than a money-making Capernaum religious theme park. V38, “Let us go somewhere else— to the nearby villages— so I can preach there also.That is why I have come.” The mission was going mobile. The Kingdom wasn’t only for Capernaum, or even Galilee: it would spread to Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria (those half-breeds!), and even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
    What’s that suggest for LWCF at this juncture? That we shouldn’t be too alarmed we can’t stay cozy in our home in ‘Capernaum’ – complete with our own storage space off the equipment room, and speaker-wire under the stage? “You mean we have to MOVE?!” Maybe God has a broader focus for us than just Blyth, or even North/Central Huron. We’re already helping the Talbots in the Philippines. It’s been wonderful to have a part in making mission happen in Dublin Ireland and Romania and El Salvador and Haiti. This summer young people from Blyth are doing short-term mission in Michigan, and New Jersey, and Texas. Isn’t it great that we can be part of what God’s doing further afield?
    People were looking for Jesus to cater to them, but He wasn’t sidetracked by popularity. Being His Church isn’t about being ‘popular’ or impressive because you’ve got a nice new building in an ideal location on the outskirts of town (tempting as that is). When Jesus needed space for discernment, He withdrew to a remote place and prayed. Don’t let the noise of the machinery, of weekly church activities and programs (good as those may be) drown out the Spirit’s whisper – the need for retreat, and re-focussing, to hear where God’s calling next. Let’s be attuned prayerfully especially at this time so we’re Responsive to God’s Broader Mission.
In vv40-42, a leper kneels before Jesus and begs for cleansing. Jesus is filled with compassion, literally “moved as to one’s bowels” (which were thought to be the seat of love and pity). It was gut-wrenching we might say, He was torn up inside - then reached out and touched this man who’d been cut off for so long from any other person’s touch, on account of his disease. Jesus made contact with and cleansed the leper.
    How’s our ‘heart’ as a church? Does the community experience us as compassionate? The back page of the Annual Report lists several “Local Missions” expenditures this past year, including several “benevolent” gifts to families in need, and our “Good Food Box” initiative. Would having our own building interfere with being able to do that? Do we have enough resources that we can do both? What is God stirring in our heart to do; what desperate human condition in our neighbours is crying out, begging for His cleansing?
    Jesus does make a religious connection here - there’s continuity between the Old and New Covenants. He sternly tells the man to show himself to the priest and offer the stipulated sacrifice in order to mark officially that he’s been cured. Religion in its best sense (contrary to the viral video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”) has value: it’s the coming-together and collective teaching, working, and worshipping as a community of those whose hearts God has transformed. Disciples who gather around communally-accepted revealed truth to support and hold each other accountable as pilgrims pursuing God’s path for them. As a congregation, we can acknowledge and utilize the strength of our religious heritage. EMCC helps keep us credible and promises some thousands of monetary support whenever we do build, while offering us opportunity to strengthen the ministry of our sister congregations in Canada and through World Partners. The church (collectively), at its best - the Body of Christ - is the completion of the project God was driving towards in the Old Testament. We have a role to play in passing on Christ’s truth to the next generation – what structure will help us do that?
When God genuinely works in people’s lives, others who know that person take note of the difference Jesus makes. there’s a testimony, a definite trace. Vv44-45: “[Jesus said] ...go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news...the people...came to [Jesus] from everywhere.” Going to the priest with the sacrifice was a ‘testimony’ or witness, a ‘martyring’ (literally) to point out to others what God had done for him - releasing the leper from a life of shame, uncleanness, and exclusion. Back in that time, it was scarcely conceivable that a leper could be cured: once you had the disease, you were marked for life. It was felt that only God could heal such a terrible condition. So a healed leper provided a remarkable visible witness to God’s power and grace. This testimony was real, dramatic, and attracted the attention of multitudes.
    Church buildings can provide a visible witness to God’s goodness; they silently remind people that worship ought to be a priority. Whether that’s working very well these days is debatable: seems it’s falling on deaf ears! One wonders whether, if Jesus meant this to be our approach, He would have stayed in Capernaum and built a Crystal Cathedral. No, Jesus transformed people’s lives and that testimony of God’s redemptive healing and forgiveness is what caused the Kingdom to spread. When it comes right down to it, people are less interested in even the fanciest building than in the marvelous love and joy and peace the Lord has poured into our own personal lives. The demons He has driven out for us. The way He takes us by the hand and helps us up, to serve. Let’s pray.