At Port Campbell on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, I spotted this hand-written note in a shop window, "Our mission is to analyse the situation, and, through foresight and advanced planning, avoid or circumvent problems before they arise. Should the unexpected occur, then our aim is to arrive swiftly and efficiently at a workable solution However, when you are up to your armpits in crocodiles, it's difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp."
I doubt that crocodiles were a first-hand experience from life down there! Yet the quote highlights the issue of why we are here - and the very pressing and unavoidable distractions from our central task.
It's a problem that faces the Christian church. There is so much that calls to be done in the world. But why are we here? What is Christ's call on us individually and as a congregation?
Jesus was in Capernaum. On the sabbath he went into the synagogue and began to teach. As he taught, a demon-possessed man in the synagogue called out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" (Mk 1.24) Jesus ordered the evil spirit to come out of him and the man was healed. The people were amazed and began asking, "What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him" (v. 27).
"As soon as they left the synagogue" - so it was still the sabbath day - they went to Simon and Andrew's house where Simon's mother-in-law was sick with fever. Jesus "went to her, took her hand and helped her up" and she was healed (v. 31).
Word spread rapidly about Jesus and "that evening after sunset" - the sabbath now properly over - all the sick and demon-possessed people of Capernaum and environs were brought to him and he healed them (vv. 32-34).
Why had Jesus come? We are told that, following his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went into Galilee "proclaiming the good news of God" - "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (vv. 14,15)
He called the four fishermen to follow him so he could make them "fishers of men" (v. 17). Later, when James and John were wanting prime spots in the Kingdom, Jesus said that "even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (10.45). Following his encounter with Zacchaeus, he said, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk. 19.10).
In today's reading, we see Jesus getting up early next day and going to a solitary place to pray. When his disciples found him, they told him, "Everyone is looking for you!" (Mk 1.37) To this Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come" (v. 38).
As we read the gospels we see that healing and deliverance were a major part of Jesus' ministry. Divine love was moved by human need. Yet his central mission wasn't healing ministry. When people started following him for that reason, it was time to move on. As he went on, healing was still an important part of his ministry, but was secondary - "So he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons" (v. 39).
Harold Taylor writes, "Healing is an expression of the Kingdom which has come in Jesus, and is a present reality in the world. It is a sign that God's power has entered into the world, and people can experience the presence and power of God in their lives, bringing healing and restoration. However, it is also apparent the full blessings of the Kingdom are not yet present, and will only be fully revealed at the end time. This means that some healing is to be experienced as a Kingdom blessing here and now, but complete healing will not be possible until the Kingdom is fully established" (Sent to Heal, pp. 31-32).
In a real sense, healing is never total in this life. After all, Lazarus, raised to life by Jesus, died again. Not all are healed in this life. The healings that do occur are a sign of the presence of the Kingdom and a foretaste of heaven itself where "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev. 21.4).
That is why preaching the gospel of the Kingdom was the major focus of the ministry of Jesus, causing him to leave whenever people began following him to see more of the miraculous - whether feeding the multitudes (Jn 6.14-15) or healing the sick (as here). His compassion reached out to people in their need. Yet he never allowed himself to be manipulated or diverted from the ultimate purpose of his coming. Listen to this -
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (Lk. 9.51-55).
We read that in Luke chapter 9 - not so very far through the story, really. His mission would lead him to a cross. There was much to be done - all in the space of some three-and-a-half years! His top priority was to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.
Coming to Home Hill this morning, we are very conscious of the progress in building the new church hall. The major work this week has been the roof and the removing of tiles in order to join the new building and its roof to the church - disturbing the layers of black cane trash since cyclone Aivu! In the middle of it all some welcome rain has begun to fall - not torrential, but we have still hoped the whole roofing procedure has been water-tight! It's over two years since the fire partly destroyed the old hall.
Essentially, the "church" isn't a building, but the people who trust in Christ as their Saviour and who together seek to fulfil the mission he has given them. That isn't a complete definition by any means, but I hope it gives us a clearer picture of who we are. And what is that mission? Jesus' final words before the ascension were, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt. 28.18-20).
The specifics have to be worked out in terms of our time and place, but that is the grand plan which we forget at our peril. There will be many calls on our time and effort which are important but not directly or closely related to the core of our mission - the "crocodiles" that must be dealt with so that we can get on with our real task of "draining the swamp", as it were. There are also valid and important Christian ministries that need to be fulfilled, but in the context of our core goals.
Most important, however, is our own commitment to Christ and our availability for his mission. This morning, as we come to Communion, we are being challenged to take for ourselves the words from the old Covenant Service - "I am no longer my own, but yours. Give me what task you will, assign me with whom you will; give me work, give me suffering; let me be busy in your service, or set aside in your service, made great for you or humbled for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have plenty, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly give all things to your pleasure and control."
Jesus completed his part of the mission. His cry from the cross, "It is finished!" (Jn 19.30), signified the victorious completion of his work of salvation. He is now counting on us to get the message out. Let us commit ourselves afresh to this task, assured of his continued presence with us always.
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