The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany  /  February 5, 2012  /  Also known as ‘Super Bowl Sunday’

Text:  Mark 1: 29 – 39  /  Message by Rev. Carol Haynes Kniseley  /  Title:  Super Bowl…or Bust!

Well Super Bowl Sunday is finally here!     And for many it is the game they have been waiting for all year long.    Two teams battling it out for the ultimate prize in professional football is every football fans dream.     The draw being not just the game itself…but the million dollar commercials…the spectacular half-time show…the hype that has everyone trying to pick which team will be this year’s Super Bowl Champs.    It’s enough to draw a crowd, that’s for sure.    And if seeing the game is anything like seeing Jesus in action…then no wonder Mark’s Gospel has everyone crowding around Simon Peter’s door.

 Today’s Gospel lesson picks up right where last week’s left off.    Peter’s mother-in-law is suddenly stricken with a fever, which is no small matter in Jesus’ day...often times leading to a much more serious condition…and possibly death.        Since early in the morning, he has been in the synagogue teaching and casting out demons and now, as he enters into the home of Peter….he suddenly finds himself in demand.      

 After all, even he sees his task as that of the Great Physician…restoring people to health whenever he possibly can.    You see, that’s what the people have come out to see.    That’s what will keep the crowds coming.   As long as Jesus can keep up with this pace….surely everyone who comes will be drawn in.   

And the truth is…they do come.     Just 33 verses into Mark’s Gospel…and already the entire city is gathered around Simon Peter’s front door.      After all, who doesn’t want to be healed?     Everywhere Jesus turned…people were coming to him with all kinds of ailments.    Name it…and before the day was over…he not only saw it, he cured it!

Talk about a great way to start one’s ministry!    Jesus must have been feeling great!   People liked him and he was making a real difference in people’s lives.      Boy oh boy!    Being a disciple with this Jesus is going to be great!     But then, Jesus goes and does something that makes absolutely no sense.        After the crowds go home at night…and everyone else has gone to bed…Jesus gets up very early in the morning, even before the dawn, and according to the original Greek…goes out…into the wilderness to pray.    

Does this story sound familiar?   It should.    It wasn’t long after his Baptism in the Jordan…that he was driven by the Holy Spirit (where?)…out into the wilderness…to be tempted by the devil.    Three times Jesus was presented with an opportunity to take advantage of his God-given powers.     Knowing full well who Jesus was, Satan relentlessly tempted him to turn his allegiance away from God.     And three times, Jesus said no.   

And now…just as everything seems to be going so well…there is no doubt that Jesus is feeling tempted again.     This time the approach is different.   This time, instead of appearing himself, the tempter comes in the form of one of Jesus’ own disciples.       Beginning at  verse 36:    

‘And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 

(37)  When they found him,

 they said to him,  “Everyone is searching for you.”

In other words, “Jesus…man, you’re a hit!   Come on back and wow this crowd with a few more miracles.”

What the disciples were voicing out loud…is probably what drove Jesus into the wilderness to pray.    Was he to revel in the success of what had just taken place?    Or was he to set his sights toward the future ministry to which God was calling him?

As Christians, you and I are called to a vocation of following Jesus.    But in our vocation as well, there is always the temptation to rest on yesterday’s laurels…rather than boldly move forward.    The temptation, for us, is to stay on the mountain and admire the view.    As Mark portrays it, the temptation is not unlike what Jesus was facing early on in his ministry…as people began to set up and take notice.    

People were first drawn to Jesus because of what he could do for them.     He could heal their lives in ways that no one had done before.   Physically…emotionally…mentally….spiritually….you name it, and he could do it.    But…according to Jesus, as nice as all of that was that isn’t why he came.

Again, looking at verse 38, we hear Jesus say:

          ‘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.’

Sometime during the night, it would appear that Jesus seems to reject his call to heal and insists that he must proclaim throughout the villages and towns of Galilee the message he came to deliver.       That proclamation, or announcement, continues to be in both word and deed as Jesus goes forward.     In Mark 1:15 we heard that message from Jesus:  “the reign of God has come near.    Repent…and trust the good news.” 

We have seen in the story of the man possessed and of Peter’s mother-in-law how good that good news truly was:  part of God’s reign is the casting out of demons and the turning aside of illnesses;  it has to do with restoration of those oppressed to a renewed role in their communities; it has to do with creating a people “raised up” to serve each other.    

And yes, people do still come out in numbers, trusting that Jesus will heal and restore.      And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it all really boils down to?      Isn’t that what we, like the people in the crowd that day, really come out to see?    The kingdom of God has drawn near in the person of Jesus Christ.    

Compared to watching the Super Bowl…which would you prefer to see?    Amen