The Executioners Are Coming–John 21:18

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”–John 21:18

John gospel iconDo you want to get older? Do you want your body to decline in all its powers? Nobody does. Getting older is something that, especially in our society, we fight against. Older people don’t have the cachet of wisdom that they do in some more traditional cultures, and if you don’t gain respect for wisdom (or don’t gain wisdom itself) as you age, then I’m not sure what you have to look forward to.

All you have to do is watch sports to realize that physical activity is a young person’s game. Baseball players tend to living on borrowed time at 40. Most football players do well to make it into the mid-30s. Gymnasts, especially female gymnasts, are pretty well washed up by 20.

Of course we will see people with good genes and good habits who can achieve great things as they age. I went to Israel with a man who, at over 70, grew impatient when our tour guide would not allow him to walk up the trail to Masada. Gene bolted from the group at the top of the hill and walked down. At the bottom, he had plenty of energy to do a human flag on post at the bottom.  A few years after that trip, Gene was diagnosed with cancer. He declined very quickly and died having accomplished a great deal and living a rich life.

The lesson is that we all will wind up like Peter in the verse above. Jesus explained to Peter that he would decline in both his physical powers and his independence. In that particular case, Peter would be led away by executioners. But then we’re all being slowly led away by executioners, whether they be Roman guards, cancer cells, atrophying heart muscle, or general wear and tear. Our executioners might be internal or external, near or far, but they are coming.

But look at what Jesus had to say about those executioners. He didn’t say “panic” or “run.” He had just finished telling Peter to “feed my sheep.” I don’t know when or how I will die, but I will, unless Christ returns, surely die. The executioners are already on their way. The only question for me to answer is how I live between now and then.Will I do my best to keep the executioners at bay or will I hurry them along? Will I feed the sheep or will I feed myself?

Get the Word Around–Mark 1:32-33

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door.

Last Sunday evening, my church performed a Christmas musical, directed by your humble correspondent. We had offered this work twice on the previous Sunday morning in lieu of our normal preaching services. Both of those morning services had been well attended. Had we been depending on our normal Sunday-morning attendees–just the ones who hadn’t made it the previous week–to fill the pews for the evening, we might have had a hundred or so people present. Instead, we saw a nearly full auditorium with many faces that I’d never seen before.

The idea, apparently, had worked. After those morning performances, we told the congregation to invite their friends and family to pack the place next week. Sure we could have squeezed a few more people into the seats, but we sang and played to a nice crowd Sunday evening.

Let’s consider the goings-on in Capernaum on that Saturday early in Jesus’ ministry. In the morning, Jesus went and taught in the synagogue. After that, perhaps at noon, he walked over to Peter’s house and healed the mother-in-law. After that, after sunset had come and the Sabbath had ended, the word got around town. Before long, everybody with a stomach ache showed up at the door ready to be healed.

Today, I’m not as interested in what Jesus did as in what these people did. They responded to the blessing that Jesus brought onto Peter’s house by coming and seeking a blessing of their own. They didn’t wait for Jesus to come to their house. Instead, they sought him out and brought their petitions with boldness.

How often do Christians see the blessings that come into other lives and sit back wishing those blessings would visit them? Perhaps we see a life enriched through service or prayer and wish that somebody would ask us to do some neat job or that we could be prayer warriors.

God’s blessings, for whatever reason, do not fall on all believers equally. Perhaps after this life, we’ll understand why that is. But I am convinced that many blessings that you and I should enjoy go unclaimed because we don’t go to the door where Jesus is staying and ask for them.

 

Get Well and Work!–Mark 1:31

So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

As I read today’s verse, I’m sitting in my office in a secular college, surrounded by a host of feminists, many of whom I consider friends. Still, I wonder how they might spin this healing to conform to their ideology. “Obviously Jesus only healed Peter’s mother-in-law to preserve the patriarchal hierarchy and put her in her place as servant rather than served.” Of course, the reason that Mark records that reaction of Peter’s mother-in-law is to provide evidence of the healing. This was not some healing in the mind–“Yes, I do believe I’m feeling better.” Jesus healed this woman so thoroughly that she could hop up and start handing out whatever one handed out to house guests in the first century.

On the other hand, as the father of three daughters, I don’t want to be seen as perpetuating the gender roles in place during Jesus’ day. I’m perfectly comfortable with women playing a broader role in our society than simply staying in the house except to run down to the well and hoss water back on their shoulders.

The real message in this healing, I believe, has little to do with gender roles, feminism, or anything that Gloria Steinem might have advocated or resisted. Instead, I’d like to draw our attention to the response of Peter’s mother-in-law to  the blessings of God’s Son. Lying there, burning up with fever, she was physically delivered by the touch of his hand. And her response? She got straight to work serving Jesus and his followers.

Many years ago, I was healed from a much more serious illness, one that would result not in physical death but in spiritual death. Christ touched me, through no real actions of my own, and healed me of the curse of sin. I’d love to say that I immediately jumped out of my illness and got to work serving him, but that would be an exaggeration. My gratitude, while always present, has not always been at the front of my mind. My ministry, while never closing down, has not always been as selfless and dedicated as it should be.

Imagine what the Christian church could look like if ever redeemed person, got up and starting serving the cause of Jesus with the enthusiasm and energy that we imagine this lady showing. We’d be overflowing with home visits and evangelism activities. Classes would never lack for teachers. Budgets would never lack for dollars.

We don’t know anything more about this woman than what Mark tells us here. Perhaps her enthusiasm waned. Perhaps she rolled her eyes when Jesus and the boys strolled into the house in the future. Really, that doesn’t matter to us. Our fever has been cured. We should jump up and serve.

 

Immediate Missions–Mark 1:29-30

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.

When my pastor has the good sense to wrap up his sermon at a decent hour, I can avoid bolting out of the building like the anti-social person I really am and still make it to my favorite restaurant before the masses fill the place. There, I can share the morning’s gossip with my family before shuttling home to see how badly the Chiefs are being beaten. Once the ball game is over, I’ll lounge about the house for a few hours. If I have to go back to church for some meeting or other, I’ll do that, but often I get to relax my way all the way to bedtime. Sundays are marvelous.

That being said, I have to confess that today’s scripture makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. It seems that Jesus, upon leaving the synagogue, did not head for Cracker Barrel. He didn’t even care who was winning the football game. No, Jesus, “As soon as” he left the synagogue took himself to the mission field. And when did the two pairs of brothers mention the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law? “Immediately.”

How often do we walk out of church and then allow the world’s demands to sweep us away from the things that we should do. We get swept into the ads for flashy electronics or the latest movie-of-the-decade. We watch the Chiefs lose or the rest of the family snooze. Back in the pews, we had great intentions to visit the afflicted and pray like crazy, but once we arrive home, things…change.

The point of a worship service is not to give us our religion fix, to fill us up like we do our car at the gas pump. Or maybe it is. Maybe we worship together in order to be able to drive off and actually go somewhere for God. You’d never consider filling up with unleaded on Sunday afternoon and then pulling away from the pump and leaving the car idling until the gas gauge read “E,” would you? That would be pointless and wasteful.

How much more pointless and wasteful is it to “fuel up” on Sunday morning only to idle away our time through the week. Instead, let’s leave church and launch into mission–immediately.