Sermon: Hold on, not down (Mark1:29-39)

There’s a wonderful irony to putting this particular moment in Jesus’ ministry at the heart of our worship today. 

On Annual Meeting Sunday, our congregation gathers in a way we rarely do, and we speak and listen according to procedures that in most years, we only impose upon ourselves for this single gathering. 

There is a formality to how we do things that we tend to shy away from in most of our church life.  

In a way I really love, it’s profoundly Congregationalist that here and in most churches ours, even a four year old will call the pastors “Max” and “Shawn”…but God help us if we tried to run the Annual Meeting without formally establishing a quorum or without having Brenda read the “Certification of Congregational Usage.” 

If that happened, we’d have forty hands shoot up at once to put a stop to the anarchy.  

In many other denominations, that’s just not how it works. 

You’ve got to love that.

For a long time, well before I was ever here, I worried about it a little bit. 

I worried that it meant that churches like ours were ok with being loosey-goosey when it came to talking about Jesus, but by the book when it came to talking about money. 

I worried that it said what actually mattered, and that the answer was not “Jesus.” 

That’s not how I experience it now.      

It is of course true that, in so many ways, a church is most fundamentally a people of God, and its ongoing life is expressed in relationships with one another and with God.   

Yet in other ways, a church is also an institution, with an ongoing life that is expressed in resources that can and should be measured.  

With that dual identity in mind, it would be incorrect to reduce the complexity of ministry, witness, or even our understanding of stewardship to a series of entries for income and expenses on a balance sheet.  

But let’s not denigrate balance sheets or hold that money and assets are somehow beneath us as Christians to talk about.  

There is no question that budgets are moral documents. 

Read thoughtfully, budgets point to our commitments and to our diligence in keeping the promises this people of God has made over the course of its history. 


And so we come to this morning’s Scripture, in which Jesus more or less refuses to take the path of institution-building when it seems so clearly to be beckoning.  

He’s seized people’s attention with his preaching and his healings. 

Mark tells us that “the whole city” is gathered at the door of the house in which Jesus is staying.  

When Billy Graham used to lead a crusade in a particular place, he worked out very carefully ahead of time how the momentum of his visit would then carry people into a long-term relationship not just with Jesus, but also with particular churches in that place.  

Jesus could have done that, too. 

Or better yet, he might have stayed right there. 

For example, he could have become the Great Healer of Capernaum.

Something like that had to occur to somebody.  

All throughout the Greek world, there were temples to Asclepius, the God of Medicine – these were places of healing, often with lovely groves, and placed near springs thought to have healing properties. 

A couple of weeks ago, we heard about Jesus’ visit to the synagogue, and how challenging it may have been to hear his preaching for all of them, not just the man with a demon who is the one who actually cries out.  

They’d all been muttering as they listened to Jesus preaching.    

But later that very same day, once the healings started – once the crowds came – I wonder if the fathers in the synagogue were prepared to forgive and forget whatever it was that had raised their eyebrows that morning.  

It’s hard to argue with results

And Jesus certainly has those.  

Roll the tape back for a moment.  

Right after Jesus gets back from the synagogue, where it’s everybody muttering and one guy screaming, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. 

We don’t know a lot about her. 

Most of us think of the disciples as all male and all single, which a closer reading of Scripture complicates. 

We also don’t think of them as crashing at someone’s house, much less someone’s mother-in-law’s house, much less Peter’s…but whatever.   

There she is.  

As I said, we don’t know a lot about her, but she must have been one of those people who gets up from being sick and gets right on the phone because—boom!—by sundown, every sick person and every possessed person in town is outside the door.

That alone gets people’s attention.  

Look what happens when Jesus heals two people in the morning.  

So what’s going to happen when now all these new people and their families and their friends start posting to Facebook?   

If you look on the edge of the crowd, you’ll notice plenty of folks standing there, wondering that very thing. 

The disciples are.  The town fathers are. 

You can’t argue with results.  

People have been waiting a long time for something to change.  

People have been trying to hold on to hope for ages now.  

People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But now this has happened.  

Jesus has appeared.  

If you’re watching it, you have to be thinking “this guy is going to put Capernaum on the map.”  

And if what came out of it was a nice little grove or a colonnaded spring where people could gather, well, you know, that’s o.k., too.   

Baking stuff for Coffee Hour is going to be taking everybody all week.  


You know, though, I don’t blame them for dreaming. 

Those moments when God touches down are like that. 

Those moments when a new breeze starts to blow are like that.  

The Gospels tell us about many of those.  

Next week is Transfiguration Sunday, when Jesus goes up a mountain and uncloaks in all his glory before three of the disciples, and Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here.  Let us build three dwellings: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Peter doesn’t want to stop at building one church – all of the sudden he wants to build three

But Jesus resists that then, just as he resists in this earlier moment at Capernaum, when he might have launched Jesus, International, LLC, and somehow refuses.  

It’s not that he doesn’t love churches or see the need for institutions.  

It seems as if John the Baptist had no time for those.  

However, for his part, Jesus goes into synagogues all the time, and eventually he goes into the Jerusalem Temple, of course. 

If he thought nothing of value was happening in such places, it’s hard to see him bothering.  

Even more than John the Baptist, Jesus didn’t need institutions to do his particular thing.  

To review: he could stand in the doorway of his friend’s mother-in-law’s house, and the entire city would show up.  

But where else is it, exactly, that people come together to talk about the wonderful things that God has done? 

Where else is it that a person can sit in a pew on the day of her granddaughter’s wedding, and remember standing where her granddaughter is now standing, while her own grandmother, now long departed, looked on with a face full of love? 

Where else is it that a family brings a newborn, and a roomful of strangers makes promises to live better lives so that they might serve as a better example and a more reliable friend to that child? 

Where else is it that when we find ourselves broken by life, suffering loss, feeling the weight of everything, that an old hymn can spring from the organ, and two measures into it, we remember…oh right: God isn’t finished yet? 

Somehow, even though (whew)…somehow, in God, there is a way forward.  

Where else is it that we learn to stand for the dignity and worth of all people, to bless the goodness of all loving, and come to live with the discomfort and sacrifice this may ask of us? 

Those things don’t just happen on their own. 

They happen when and where Jesus appears and tells people – reminds people – that we are God’s people, and that a new breeze is set to blow. 

It’s one thing to try to hold on to God.  

But there’s no such thing as holding God down.  

That’s why Jesus did not tarry in Capernaum.  

That’s why, even though the people there were on fire for him literally overnight, he was on his way just after dawn.  

Because God will not be held down. 

The life of faith demands that we seek after God with open hearts all over again each morning. 

If the house of God is ever to be more than a shrine to where God appeared once, long ago, we must watch in faith for the flame to be lit anew.   

And we must go where it leads.  


So in a little while, we will regather this morning to discuss God’s business here at the Second Congregational Church of Greenwich. 

We go about it in ways that are different than our usual ways.

We try to describe the work of our church community at some of its most granular.  

Our leaders will talk about when and where they see the Spirit moving, and the charge they believe this lays upon us now. 

May we always prove open in our seeking and fearless in our following where God would have us go.  


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