This sermon was delivered on February 4th, 2018. Enjoy!
–Grant, The Nerdcore Theologian
After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.
Imagine one day you’re on vacation, and you’re out on a boardwalk near the ocean.
Close your eyes and join me there. The sky is crystal blue. The sun may be warm, but not hot. The wind is cool, salty. All around you are people milling about, dipping in and out of shops and restaurants. To your right, you see the beach; to your left, businesses and boardwalk venders. The landscape is dotted with people from all over. You hear conversations weave in and out of each other as you walk by. Some children are laughing as they splash in the water. A seagull swoops down 5 feet in front of you as you walk near a fish and chip stand.
As you walk, your eyes skip from vender to vender: this one is selling seashell jewelry, that one selling tacky tee shirts, and every other store seems to be selling the same tourist-centered souvenirs as the next, but only slightly varying.
Eventually you come to an art vender; an older man is standing at an easel, and a woman is behind a counter attending to customers.
You see that the man is almost done with the prep work, and is ready to begin painting. You’ve never seen a professional do this before, so you figure you will watch for a while.
As he begins to paint, unrecognizable shapes begin appearing on the canvas. The man makes quick, small movements with a brush, in a way that seems deliberate, but what he produces doesn’t look much like anything. After a few minutes of watching, he moves to another part of the canvas, and makes a few more different-colored shapes, again, unrecognizable. Soon, you get bored; what he’s painting looks nothing like the rest of the things at the vender table where the woman is. This must be simply his hobby, and they outsource all the actual art at the table from other local artists, because right now it looks like garbage. You decide to go into the burger shop a few feet away and get something to eat.
After a delicious mushroom Swiss burger, you come out of the shop and see the man still painting, except now what he’s painting looks radically different.
You blink in disbelief. You examine his work–this looks nothing like what he was painting twenty minutes ago! This is a beautiful landscape whereas before, it was just a series of unrelated blobs!
But then you squint a bit more and see that, no, this is the same painting. You recognize what was once an indistinct blob as a rock, and over there, a line that seemed completely alone was now a tree. A forest emerged as if from nowhere, and a lake, and a mountain–all where blobs were before, now fully realized.
You begin to understand now that where you only saw a blank canvas with blobs and lines, the artist saw the true ending. He knew where he was going, and what he wanted to bring to life, and he knew that to begin, he needed to mark out the idea before he could fill in the details. The broad strokes were needed before the fine work could begin. What’s more, he didn’t need any reference point in front of him to do it, because the painting was all in his head beforehand. He had his eye forward to the end, and all you had was what he hadn’t done yet.
It’s been something of a long held belief of mine that God is very much like an artist, with a design all his own.
What we see is perhaps zoomed in too close to see the bigger picture; perhaps to us, it seems like a series of randomized shapes, blobs and lines. But everything from the grandest mountain, to the smallest phytoplankton, is a part of God’s design. The same goes for Jesus’s ministry. We may not quite understand it all, but that isn’t important. What is important is our faith that God has something in mind, something that will may seem far larger and grander than what God may be doing now.
Bogged Down By Details
When we read scripture, it’s easy to get bogged down by the details, and pretend we know what the plan looks like better than God does.
This scripture is a great example of how that can be accomplished. Taking place immediately after Jesus casts out a demon in the middle of a synagogue, already an auspicious start, he then follows Simon to his mother-in-law’s house. From there, he continues his miraculous works, this time on a woman, to balance out the narrative–Jesus doesn’t just cast out demons, or work with men. Jesus can heal people’s sicknesses, and will take on women as well.
Already we begin to see a certain pattern occurring with Jesus’s healings. Jesus heals, sometimes without warning or expectation. Jesus heals almost anyone who asks for it, or comes to him for help. And, most importantly, Jesus does it free of charge. He was far from the only faith healer in that day and age, and almost every one of the healed for a fee. Jesus did it with no expectation of financial compensation. What he did expect, though, was faith, and belief. More than that, he expected devotion, and reciprocation of love.
When word got out that there was a healer in town, Jesus was immediately surrounded.
People came from all around Capernaum to receive healing and blessing, or exorcism. All the rest of that day, into the evening and the night, Jesus healed. No word is given if he taught at all other than what he did at the synagogue that day. No word is needed. It was almost like a modern day flash mob. Word of mouth acts fast in small towns. Everyone knew where to find him, and everyone knew what he did earlier that day in public. Jesus got swamped.
If Jesus wanted to set up in Capernaum, I don’t think any of his disciples would have blamed him.
In fact, they probably expected it. Why? Because why go far and wide around the country, when everyone can come to you! If the whole town came on day 1, then it is reasonable to expect even more from around Galilee, all throughout Judea and perhaps even further would come to see this miraculous teacher and healer. They could have a good, stable life in Capernaum, if that’s what Jesus wanted. But Jesus didn’t want that.
Instead, Jesus wanted to move on. Go to the next town, preach there, heal there. Why though? There’s already a crowd where he was! Why not do all they could while in town and not worry about elsewhere until things calmed down here?
The truth is, the disciples were short-sighted.
What they saw was a blob on a canvas. It wasn’t the full painting, but the beginning of one. And it was only one small part of an infinitely vast painting at that. Jesus was beginning to reveal the kingdom of God, and that is much grander, much more beautiful, and yes, much more different than what they could expect.
For the disciples, it looked like Jesus was painting a building. It was a nice building. It had sturdy foundations on healing, exorcism, and solid teaching. If it were that, the disciples were happy! But it wasn’t simply that. Jesus was starting with one small portion, and setting a foundation, and then moving on to another part of the painting. Maybe instead of a building, then, he would make a garden. Or a vineyard. Or perhaps even a city! But Jesus wasn’t making any of those, or at least, not only those. The disciples were thinking too small, eyes fixed on the details, and the here-and-now. Jesus had his eyes set forward, on tomorrow, and ultimately, a whole kingdom.
A kingdom is not built on a single building, no matter how fine it might be. A kingdom does not have one garden or vineyard, but many. And this kingdom would be unlike any other, so different that nobody could predict what it looked like.
Forward into Tomorrow
It’s hard to train your eyes to see like an artist. It’s even harder to see the whole picture of what God is trying to make.
Jesus was starting the only way it’s possible: not all at once, but piece by piece. He started disciple by disciple, Sabbath by Sabbath, healing by healing, town by town. He didn’t start by tearing down the walls and storming the gates of hell itself. He started with a handful of people. He didn’t get drowned by today. He always had his eyes forward.
Keeping our eyes forward takes practice, and it takes patience. God’s kingdom is near, but it’s not yet. Jesus got the ball rolling, and we’re keeping the ball rolling, but we are far from our destination. But don’t get overwhelmed by the ball. Don’t get worn down by the distance. Don’t miss the forest for the trees, or the kingdom for the building. God’s kingdom is everywhere. Perhaps this bit is more developed than that bit over there, but in the end of it all, it will look as if it was always there, just waiting to be discovered.
God’s not done with us yet. In fact, God may just be getting started with you. But to understand that, you can’t be dragged down by the past. We must always be looking forward, forward into that bright tomorrow, that beautiful kingdom of God.
Sure, it’ll take work. Sometimes it won’t make sense. And sometimes we’ll get frustrated, and tired, and we won’t want to go any further. But God has a plan. And God’s got it sketched out in God’s own head. We have to have faith that God is going to finish it, and finish us in the process.
We’re all works in progress. Nobody is completely perfect, not just yet. But we have to trust that God is always working with us. Nothing is hopeless, nobody is ever truly lost. God has your life in his loving hands, and will never let you go.
The present may be incomprehensible. But in keeping our eyes forward, always on what God is doing, perhaps we’ll begin to see the whole painting. We just have to have faith. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.