Sermon: “Between the Lines” (Mark 1: 29-39)

This morning, I am remembering the first few months of 2009, when our daughter Grace was a newborn, and Liz was home on maternity leave, and we were new parents for the first time.

There were so many firsts. If you’ve spent any time with new parents, you know how they will take the smallest and most random thing, and somehow manage to see it as some sort of triumph for the whole human race.

Well, we were like that.

It took us a long time to get over. I remember the day when we actually called my parents to share the exciting news with them that Grace had tried peas for the first time—and liked them!

All I can say is that, at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense. We’re grateful that our parents and so many others were so patient with us.

Your world shrinks in those first few weeks with a newborn—certainly, our world did.

But, like the old song says, “there were trains to catch and bills to pay,” and before long…actually, well before Grace was actually eating peas, I was already back in the thick of it at work, and I was arriving back home at dinner time, wondering things like, well, what was for dinner, and the particulars of diapers and naps and how Grace’s tummy-time had gone that afternoon seemed less consuming than it had before.

In some ways, of course, that meant that my world was kind of getting back to normal…or so it seemed.

Because, of course, the fact was, whether I chose to be attentive or not, my world had permanently changed.

Where before I had been one person going through whatever his day held, and bringing that home for processing with a loving and thoughtful spouse, who then had a turn—well, now there were three days to go over—and the days were very different in character from one another.

I had views about things that I’d read about in the newspaper on the train to work, as I always had.

But to my surprise, Liz wasn’t quite up to speed in her usual way about the matters of the day – frankly, she hadn’t read a newspaper in a month and a half—although she knew anything and everything about that woman who was the “Octomom,” because the Octomom was all over daytime t.v.

And so delightful as those first weeks and months were—and of course they were—they also had their own challenges, and required their own series of adjustments.

And I am telling you about this today because one day, on my way home from the train, walking along the streets of Pelham, I realized that I couldn’t walk in again with news of the latest frustration from the Council of Department Chairs meeting—that I couldn’t walk in hungry and tired and sorry for myself for being so busy, again.

And I realized that I had to go over to the church I was serving and hand over as much of my own typical day stuff as God would be willing to collect on my behalf.

I realized that I owed it to my wife and child, frankly, to be a nicer part of their day.

For a while, I had to do that every day before I went home.

But it was only slowly that I realized the truth of that old saying, that I was no longer the most important person in my own life, anymore.


I’m telling you all this because it is my own way into this morning’s gospel—this story of Jesus being discovered by the crowd at Capernaum.

Mark tells us that the crowd comes to the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, where Jesus and some of the disciples are staying, and the sick and the possessed start banging on the door and beseeching him for help well into the night.

It seems like one of those situations where a cynic might say, “well, you asked for a ministry, Jesus, and hey…looks like you’ve got it.”

And in the press of it all—the hands reaching out for him, the wounds they thrusted at him, the shouting to get his attention—maybe Jesus had a moment when he felt the full weight of what it was not to be the most important person in his own life, anymore.

Maybe it was then that it really sank in about the difference between relying on your own power and seeking the power of God.

Because that is what Jesus does – he seeks the power of God.

Mark reports that early the next morning, while it is still dark, and the coast is clear, Jesus quietly slips out of the house and goes to a remote place, where he prays.

And if that has shades of Easter morning for you, when the women slip out before sunrise to go and prepare his body for burial, well, you’re on the right track.

It is a particularly holy moment—a moment when, perhaps, the world we think we know is poised to realize that it has been permanently changed—a moment when it’s about to become clear that something transformational is happening.

That’s what’s happening in the early morning light of Capernaum.


Do you ever look back on your own transformational moments and get a sense of where the Holy Spirit was present?

Sometimes, we feel that presence very clearly in the moment; other times, it’s only clear later where the holy was dwelling.

Writing about the dawn of the modern world, Virginia Woolf once observed that, “On or about December, 1910, human character changed.”

She was kidding—but only sort of.

It’s probably right that whether it’s human character, in general, or our own lives, sometimes a particular date for when everything changed is very clear—and at other times, the changes are slower and quieter.

Sometimes, God’s presence seems so very clear—and at other times, it’s only later that the ways God was nudging us along the road seem to emerge.

And that seems to go for Jesus, too.

It’s so different than when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

This time, Mark does not report any doves descending from Heaven or any voices being heard proclaiming that Jesus is God’s beloved son, in whom He is well pleased.

In this moment, it is as if he truly sees for the first time what ministry will be like for him—what the scope of human need will be—and how people will respond when they find out that he is the hope they have been searching for.

According to Mark, it’s finally Peter who finds Jesus and says, “Everyone has been searching for you,” and I think Mark wants us to hear that not only as a plot detail, but also in spiritual terms—that they are all searching for Jesus this morning because they realize that Jesus is the one they have been searching for all their lives.

And maybe on some level, it isn’t until this moment that Jesus realizes that, too.

Maybe it isn’t until this moment that the full weight of what God will ask of him, and accomplish through him, descends on his shoulders.

And so the moment, for me, in this whole thing, is that moment that happens between the lines of Mark’s account—what happens between when Peter runs up the hill and says: “Jesus, everyone has been searching for you” and when Jesus responds, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (v. 38).

It’s the moment, for me, because Jesus finds something—he grasps something—some portion of God’s plan, or some sense of God’s presence becomes clear to him, and he is now ready.

What was in some sense a meandering journey through Galilee now takes on the character of a deliberate campaign that leads to Jerusalem—and to the cross.

Between the lines of the story, in this transformational moment, the Holy Spirit descends, and the future God intends for Jesus, and for us through him, descends also.


What are the real transformational moments in our lives?

Few would argue that the moments we treasure most are the moments of recognition and accomplishment – our graduations, promotions, big closings, and all that stuff.

It’s more likely that the transformational moments in our lives are the moments when we realize that somebody else has a claim on our life—a claim on our time, our energy, our attention, our “best” (whatever our best may be).

We are transformed most deeply, and most permanently, by recognizing that we are not the most important people in our lives, anymore—the moments when we realize that yet-someone-else needs us in a way that we know in our hearts we must respond to.

We are transformed by the realization that the Holy Spirit hovers over those moments, whenever and wherever they come.

In ways large and small, God hands us some portion of His world in sacred trust, expecting that we will work for its well-being.

And the good news of God may be that, in your hands, or with your help, the hearts of children all around the world are healed.

It may be something else entirely—the patient care of a parent, or the work of justice for many, or the faithful doing of a difficult job that nobody else much seems to want.

Or maybe it is finding the wonder in one small person’s discovery that she likes peas, and celebrating it with anyone who will listen.

To sense the depth and power of the claims that people have on us is daunting.

Today’s Scripture suggests that it was probably even daunting for Jesus.

But if you and I learn to read between the lines, we learn that the Holy Spirit hovers over those claims.

As we learn to say yes, our meandering journey becomes a road to travel, and a life to live, and a vision of the good to pursue.

We learn, at last, what is to say yes, not only to the outstretched hands of the needy, but to say yes to the outstretched arms of God.


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