5th Sunday of the year
Sunday 7th February 2021
There’s a story about a man – let’s call him Sam. Sam is walking beside a river (maybe the Yarra), he sees a man drowning. Without giving it a thought, he jumps into the water and drags the man to the riverbank and safety.
Then there’s a shout – a woman is also now floating by and needs help. Sam dives in again and duly rescues her – barely making it back to safety and another cry goes up – a child now is struggling to stay afloat. Sam rescues the child – what a hero!
By now the crowd had grown to quite a size, so when an eagle-eyed spectator noticed more bodies in the water – all eyes turn expectantly to Sam. But instead of diving back in the water. Sam calmly stood up turned his back on the river and started to walk away. Angrily, the crowd challenged:
“Aren’t you going to rescue those people?”
“You rescue them” he said,
“I’m going to find out who’s throwing people into the river.”
Today’s Gospel shows Jesus doing a good deed – he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. The news quickly spreads and people are soon gathering to be cured or present a relative or friend to Jesus to be cured.
Like Sam (in our story) Jesus could have spent his entire ministry in that one place (Capernaum) dealing with sickness and focussing on physical healing.
So, Jesus faces a dilemma – that is very important for us to hear also in 2021.
In the night, in the quiet, he reflects:
“What is the purpose of his life – was it to be based in Capernaum or was there a bigger picture.”
He was able to look beyond the immediate need and hear the Father’s voice about his mission. He understands that yes – he is a healer – but not just a healer and that he has a bigger base – not just his home town.
It’s a real skill in management to discern the important from the urgent – I know in my own life I have been distracted by the urgent matters – yet, we make decisions for good or ill weighing up needs and values. Like Sam – Jesus must decide on how he will best use his time.
Your new Vicar (and your locum Vicar) will have similar decisions to make – I know that from over 40 years as a Vicar (Parish Priest) many times – it has been tricky, wanting to be as Paul says “All things to all people.”
Let me give you a couple of examples
- About the Baptist Minister in my town in country Victoria. A wonderful man with a big heart. The Superintendent of Police got bad news – cancer. He was dying and the Baptist Minister was asked to Pastor to him – offer support. He was truly magnificent. He threw himself at the task, night and day he was there, for weeks, if not months. No-one could have done more. When the Policeman died, the Baptist Minister was roundly criticised for not caring for his flock and abandoning his duties. He was devastated. He was burnt out and he gave up being a Minister.
- One year early in my own priestly life, Christmas day fell on a Tuesday. I left writing my Sermon until Monday (Christmas Eve).
9am I made coffee, sat down at my desk and began working on my Sermon for 11pm that night – Midnight Mass. Then the phone rang. A person who lived in the Parish, unknown to me announced “I am about to commit suicide”. I was on the phone for a long time, got her address and promised I would come and see her straight away. I returned home completely spent about 8pm. No sermon – no preparations done and facing the full board of Christmas Services.
“What would Jesus do?” I don’t know. I’m not sure even what happened to that woman, except she didn’t die that Christmas Eve or Day.
I would love to tell you that she was healed and like Simon’s mother-in-law she served others. I suspect Mark tells us that tit bit of information to underline the big picture of Jesus’ ministry. He tells the disciples. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself for others.
The word ‘serve’ in Greek also can be translated ‘Deacon’ (the foundation of all ministry is service). ‘Being there for others’ is the title of a wonderful book on Pastoral Care. We had a stack of Deacons ordained yesterday at the Cathedral. I hope they value and learn the importance of this calling – to serve.
Remember how the disciples struggled with this. Jesus had to rebuke them because they were arguing about who would be the greatest. True greatness lies in being a servant.
But Jesus’ mission and ministry was global and so his words (and actions) we know were vital.
To preach or tell the good news. Paul felt called to do that in a masterful way. To speak with the elite, to preach in that amazing amphitheatre in Ephesus, on the hill called the Aeropagus overlooking Athens.
Others down through the ages have used other techniques – Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham; but I like St Francis of Assisi who counselled his Friars:
“Go out into all the world and preach the good news –
and use words if you must.”
One of our great hymns begins “We have a gospel to proclaim – good news for all throughout the earth.”
As a Church – we want to do well locally, and yes that’s urgent but we also need to keep our eye on this big picture. How is our Mission Action Plan going – are we on track with both words (rhetoric) and action (Service or Deaconing). It’s a wonderful document, a huge amount of vision, but lots of challenges. Plenty for your Parish Council to discuss at least annually as the document indicates.
A Mission Action Plan (MAP) is a churchy name for a Business Plan, we are not trying to impress our Bankers or even the Bishop, it is a working document that helps us put vision into action. Ultimately to sort out what is important to us here in Camberwell in 2021 and going forward.
And individually how do we escape being weighed down by the suffering of so many around us. So much sadness, anxiety, grief, addiction and more. We will all respond differently – but surely, we can listen and support, we can pray and be there, be present and try to be discerning.
As individuals we also need a plan, based on prayer, being in touch with God and reflecting the life of Jesus in our everyday world.
Jesus still needs each of us to be quality people, disciples– good at Service and wise in ministry.
Archdeacon Ray McInnes