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Hunting for Jesus

San Williams

February 8, 2015
Mark 1:29-39

And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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As many of you know, I’ve recently returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine. One of the places we visited was the ancient city of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. I stood in the very spot where the events in today’s reading took place. Looking around Capernaum today, one sees the foundation stones of a first-century synagogue, the very one where Jesus preached and healed the man with the unclean spirit. Also visible are the crumbled stone walls of houses where the people of Capernaum once lived. One such remain has been identified as Peter’s house, because a first-century house church was found there with Peter’s name etched in the wall. This would have been the house in which Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand, lifted her up from her sick bed, and restored her to health. Standing near that house, one can imagine the crush of people suffering from all sorts of illness who gathered around the door begging to be healed, as indeed many were. Today, tourists and pilgrims walk among the ruins of Capernaum snapping pictures on their iPhones, and trying to take in the magnitude of what once happened in this small, out-of-the-way place.

Now, without question, to stand where Jesus stood and to walk where Jesus walked is a treasured experience.   But it was also apparent to me that Jesus was not there. Oh, he had been there, but that was some 2,000 years ago. The synagogue where he taught and healed was now nothing more than a vacated ruin. The houses where Peter and other villagers once lived are a series of crumbled walls today. And the sound of Jesus’ voice that once pierced the blue air of this Galilean village had long since been silenced by the passing centuries. In short, Jesus was no longer to be found in this ancient village where his ministry began.

For this reason, I find myself identifying with the bewildered disciples in today’s reading, the ones who were out hunting for Jesus. Mark tells us that, after a full day of teaching and healing in Capernaum, Jesus retreated to a deserted place to pray. When the disciples discovered his absence, they immediately sent out a search party. And the verb used to describe the disciples’ action denotes something much more intense than a casual search. They were hunting for Jesus, which is to say, they were searching high and low, and they were in a state of near panic.

After all, the events they had witnessed that day in Capernaum were nothing less than the Kingdom of God breaking in. People sick in mind, body, or spirit were made whole. They were set right, reunited with their family and friends. Those prevented from meaningful work and service, such as Peter’s mother-in-law, were restored to health and community. In other words, the fullness of life that God had always intended was becoming a reality, right there in the little village of Capernaum.

No wonder, then, that the disciples were concerned when they discovered that Jesus was no longer there. What if the one they had just given up everything to follow was gone for good? What if the astonishment the disciples had felt as he taught and healed was merely a flash in the pan, never to be repeated?  My instinct, and perhaps yours as well, is to join that search party of disciples who scampered over the Galilean hills shouting at the top of their lungs, “Jesus, where have you gone?”

Is that a question that still reverberates in our lives today? Our choir’s introit this morning was titled “Fix Me, Jesus.” That spiritual identifies a longing that’s lodged in every human heart. It is a plea to God to fix whatever keeps us from being the people we want to be, and doing the things we want to do. It offers a kind of prayer for Jesus to take away the fevers that threaten our well-being, and keep us from living useful, purposeful lives. Yes, we can read and appreciate what Jesus did in Capernaum, but how will he be manifest in our lives today? Is the power of God’s creative, restorative activity that was unleashed at Capernaum a mere historical memory, an event forever confined to a particular place and time?

Of course, what the disciples learned, and what we must remember, is that Jesus can never be associated with any one time and place. He simply refuses to stay put. He cannot be confined because he is forever on the move.   When the disciples finally located Jesus after their frantic search, he said to them, “Let us go on into other towns proclaiming the Kingdom of God, for this is what I came out to do.” The Kingdom of God he proclaimed in both word and deed is actually a movement of God’s Spirit, one that began in Capernaum, moved to other towns, and finally into all the world?

So maybe the hills around the Sea of Galilee are no longer the place to direct our search for Jesus. Some of you are familiar with the famous quote by Albert Schweitzer. At the end of his massive book called, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, he comes to this conclusion: “Jesus comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word, ‘Follow me!’ And sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts and the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.”

In truth, it’s futile to look for Jesus in some faraway place, because he is found in the community of those who are joined with him in fellowship and service. Jesus abides wherever the secret of the Kingdom of God is proclaimed and his ministry of love, peace and justice is embraced.

Just as Jesus embraced the suffering of his day and offered God’s healing, he sets us to this same task. No, we can’t fix everyone who is hurting, but we can be–and we are–engaged in a ministry that welcomes, practices hospitality, addresses needs, offers hope, and seeks to serve in Jesus’ ‘name.

Friends, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. It’s an experience I’ll treasure. But I can also report that I did not find Jesus among the ruins of Capernaum, nor did I come upon him in the Church of the Nativity, or at the Garden Tomb, or at any of the other sites associated with his life.

I do find him, however, right here…in this congregation…a living fellowship…breathing in Christ’s Spirit and showing forth his love.