What Are We To Do?

February 07, 2021
Mark 1:29-39; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

BP – before Pandemic, I didn’t dream much. I mean I did dream a lot before kids but then I stopped, at least I stopped remembering my dreams. But now, DP, during pandemic, I have begun remembering more of my dreams. The other night I dreamed that I ran into a high school friend at a rest area along the highway. In real life, this friend always wanted to be a doctor and in fact she did become an anesthesiologist. In my dream I asked her how her work was and she said she was no longer a doctor but now was a crime reporter (with blue hair) – and very rich. Those of you who do dream work are probably wondering what is going on in my life: going from putting people to sleep so they feel no pain to waking them up with truths that will scare them and possibly create pain.

When I woke up from this dream all I could think of was my friend’s trajectory in the dream in comparison to Jesus’. (I know, I know, get a life.) Jesus also starts his “career” healing people but as he gains notoriety he stops the healings and starts preaching. At least that is how Mark’s gospel tells it. Jesus does not become a crime reporter – he is branded a criminal. And not a rich one.

Here in this season before Lent we get to spend some time in the gospel of Mark. Mark is compact compared to the other gospels. You can read it in an evening, I dare you! One of the well-known features of Mark is how things keep happening “immediately.” As the earliest gospel, it does not feature a birth narrative like the later gospels of Luke and Matthew. Instead our introduction to Jesus is story after story of him healing people and casting out unclean spirits.

Last week, we heard about Jesus casting out a demon from someone “in their synagogue.” After the episode in the synagogue, immediately news of Jesus spreads throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

And so the new disciples, Simon and Andrew, take Jesus home to meet the family. They are starting to travel in a pack; the other new disciples, James and John, come too. When they get to the home they see Simon’s mother-in-law, sick in bed. Perhaps this illness has been going on for some time and it is the whole reason they want to bring Jesus to their house in the first place. Or maybe they just need a place to escape after the synagogue incident. In any case, here she is, the mother-in-law, in bed with a fever. “Immediately” the brothers tell Jesus about her. Jesus walks right over to her, with no worry that the fever might be contagious. He takes her hand and helps her stand. Just like that she is better and begins to make lunch.

At this point I can get a bit snarky. The woman, unnamed, known only by her role as the mother of the unnamed wife to Simon, has been sick in bed, we don’t know for how long, and the first thing she does is get up and serve them, these men? Can they not cook for themselves for once? Or is she so glad to feel better again that it is out of gratefulness that she cooks a meal to celebrate? Or maybe her serving is an example to all of them as to how they should behave, servant leadership and all that.

It is a passing comment – “then she served them” or  (in the egalitarian translation) “then she went about her work.” If I can let go of my 21st century gripes, maybe this is just evidence of Jesus’ healing power. It only takes a touch from Jesus and she goes from laying ill in bed to fever free and energetic. And it illustrates that Jesus’ ministry and power is public – at the synagogue – and private, in Simon’s home.

If Simon and Andrew’s house is an escape, it doesn’t last long. By evening, the news has spread that Jesus is there and more people who are sick and possessed by demons are brought to the house. Jesus heals them all.

Jesus knows himself well enough to know that he needs some time alone. So the next morning, before starting to heal all over again, he heads out by himself. When the disciples finally locate him – in the lonely place he has escaped to – he is ready to get on the road. He wants to go to neighboring villages and share the Good News. As uncomfortable as it may make us in the 21st century, there is something about this Good News that is related to not only healing but casting out demons, expelling unclean spirits.

This first chapter of Mark may not tell us about Jesus’ origins, but it does lay out what Jesus is all about. It shows us who he is by his words and actions. He says, “This is what I have come to do.”

I wonder what it is that we are to do, as Hyattsville Mennonite Church. What good news are we being called to preach, to live out?

This year we are re-doing our mission statement. This is sort of the modern equivalent of Jesus saying, This is what I have I come to do. What are we to do? Not all churches are alike, we know that. And not all churches are called to live out the good news in the same way. So what are we, as Hyattsville Mennonite Church, to do? Our old mission statement, written more than 30 years ago, starts like this:

We are an urban Christian congregation committed to making Mennonite traditions and beliefs relevant in the cultural setting of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Central to our corporate faith are:

  • the primacy of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ;
  • Anabaptist values and beliefs;
  • a commitment to congregation-based decision making and leadership

This statement may feel outdated but it was what we needed as a congregation in 1990. We were trying to define ourselves as we looked at a potential building renovation (which finally happened 22 years later.) We had been through some difficult internal conflicts and we were on our third pastor in 10 years as the mission statement was being created. It is no wonder that it is inwardly focused, that it reads more like a statement of preservation than a statement of “good news for neighboring villages.”

You can correct me if I am wrong, but my sense is that now in 2021 we are pretty secure in our congregation-based decision making, in following in the way of Jesus, in making our Anabaptist understandings relevant to our lives. We have gotten much clearer and more explicit about who we are as a community of welcome and hospitality. We have experienced what it is like to draw near to the reign of God – and have that called into question by the conference and denomination. We have grown in numbers and in our understandings about faith and the role of questions. We are active in the local community in some very concrete ways.

We have Good News to share: many of us have experienced healing in mind, body and spirit. And we are learning to be honest about the real difficulties that are part of our lives – fears, anxiety, depression, addictions… For sure we still have more to learn in terms casting out demons – like systemic racism, unchecked wealth, unjust health policies, unfair immigration practices, dangers to the environment and the many “unclean spirits” present in the world.

What do we want to say, in 2021, about who we are and what we are to do? What is it about how we are church, how we relate to neighboring villages, how we live out our faith, how we share good news – and with whom we share good news, that you would want included in our new mission statement?

This gets complicated and we may be closer to Jesus than we think. Jesus says he wants to take the Good News to neighboring towns. My friends, we here at Hyattsville Mennonite Church represent a lot of “neighboring towns.” From what I can gather in the online church directory, we are from:

  • 12 towns in Prince George’s County, MD
  • 8 towns in Montgomery County, MD
  • 3 towns in VA
  • 2 towns in Howard County, MD
  • 1 town in Anne Arundel County, MD
  • We are from over 20 households in Washington DC
  • and 1 household in Delaware

And that is BP – before pandemic. Now, DP, during pandemic, we also have people as part of the congregation in Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Utah, Washington, Kenya, Canada. And I may have missed some of you, I am sorry. Please put your location in the chat if I have missed you.

What does it mean to share Good News as a congregation when we are spread out like this? What are we to do, how do we find our shared mission, when the zoom boxes are close but our actual homes are miles and miles  – even countries, apart.

We are quite familiar with executive orders in DC. It is a way to make things happen – almost immediately. But it can also be reversed, immediately. I think Jesus was on to something with his travel from village to village. Those with big vision and very little power must go village to village, bringing new vision and possibilities as they go. Jesus seems to know this, he certainly lives this.

It is one thing for us to have a mission statement as a congregation; it is another to take that mission with us into our own “villages” and live it out. Thank you for living out your own faith wherever you are, with the people from this congregation who are near to you or perhaps with others who you find with similar dreams and vision.

In terms of our collective mission statement, what is ours to do, there is a sub group from church council that is working with the input that was collected last fall at the congregational meeting. They are doing good work so far –  and if you have something you want to make sure they hear, please pass it on to me, soon. We hope to have something to share with the council and then the congregation in the next few months.

Meanwhile, pay attention to your own dreams. Listen to how you describe this congregation – or if you talk about it at all. What do you hear yourself saying? What is the Good News that you wish we would share as a congregation? What is the Good News that you yourself have to share in your own village? How do you share that and with who?

And remember when it gets to be too much, when you get overwhelmed, even Jesus took breaks. Even Jesus went somewhere so that he could be in alone, in silence, to pray and regroup for the next thing. We can too, in fact it is advisable.

It is not always easy to find what is ours to do. It can be even harder as a group. But we have each other and most days we do have Good news. Let’s find what is ours to do. May it bring joy and healing to our villages, may it bring joy and healing to the earth and to us as well.