5th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the most important one. Amen
What’s the point?
This question kept popping into my head this week
as I spent time with our readings,
it’s a question that changes ever so slightly
based on context and inflection.
In the mouths of a teenager arguing with authority
it’s a rebellious question: “what’s the point?”
coming from one who is overworked and underappreciated
it’s a question the spells defeat: “what’s the point?”
Asked by a teacher it’s a test: “what’s the point?”
now you’re all thinking okay pastor,
is the reason for fixating on this question?
It’s because what this flexible question indicates
is that while we know some things in life are more important than others
we also know it’s easy to get distracted
by the many important but not most important things in life
and often we need to be reminded both of what the point is,
and to ask the question
and we find this in all of our readings for today.
the people have begun to ask the question using the defeated tone,
they are in exile separated from the promised land,
under the control of their enemies
the prophet is reminding them that God is everlasting,
creator of the ends of the earth
and everything pales in comparison to that fact,
the people momentarily in power,
even the wonders of creation all are less than God,
God who never tires or gets defeated,
God who has promised to renew those who wait for the Lord,
to be with the people through their suffering,
to raise them up again.
God is the point the prophet reminds the people
and sure we as people may not understand
what is going on in the world at this exact moment,
but God does
and God will help us through,
stay focused on the most important thing, God.
But it’s so easy to get distracted,
the new disciples discover this in our gospel for today,
remember Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry,
he has been baptized and revealed as God’s beloved,
he has been tempted in the wilderness by the devil
and now he has begun his public ministry
by announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near
and enlisted disciples to help him spread that good news.
The disciples and the congregation at the synagogue in Capernaum
just heard him preach with authority and rebuke unclean spirits,
and we are told that his fame starts to spread around the region.
As we join them today
Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue
and go to Simon and Andrew’s house to spend the night,
when they get there they find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever,
Jesus heals her
and word obviously spreads
because by the end of the evening
the whole town is gathered around the front door
and they’ve brought everyone who needs any kind of healing to Jesus,
who cures and casts out demons from many of them.
It would be really easy for Jesus to get distracted at this point,
his teaching has been praised,
he’s gathered crowds and people are excited to have this healer in their midst.
It seems like Jesus could really make a name and career for himself in this town
if he spent some time there continuing to do good, important work.
The temptation to remain is strong
but early the next morning
before even his disciples can begin to make demands of him
Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray,
to wait for the Lord, to be renewed,
to be reminded of what the point is
and so he is ready when the disciples find him,
“everyone is searching for you!” they exclaim
ready to take him back to Capernaum
to pick up where he left off the night before,
but 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.”
Jesus will not be distracted from his mission,
nor will he allow his disciples to be distracted
even if it means leaving a place of success.
Now it doesn’t mean leaving these places abandoned,
all along the way Jesus will call followers
each to their own mission,
some will continue to proclaim the good news,
some will pick up with the healing,
some will serve the last and the least
and in this way the kingdom of God will continue to come near.
But Jesus knows what the point of his time on earth is,
and he will remain faithful to his mission,
all the way to the cross, his ultimate point,
his death for the sake of the whole broken and distracted creation of God,
his resurrection affirming once and for all that God has the last say.
This is Jesus’ mission, his purpose, his point
and in fulfilling it he gave us new life and purpose.
And because God knows that we will get distracted along the way
God gave us the gift of baptism,
a moment in time we can point to
when we look at our lives and wonder what’s the point?
What’s the point? God says,
the point is that in the words spoken at your baptism
I claimed you once and for all as a child of God
and gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit
to help you along the way
in the water I washed you clean
to give you a fresh start to live out your purpose,
helping to bring about the kingdom of God
using the particular gifts I have given you.
This is who we are, children of God,
this is the answer to the question what’s the point?
And yes, along the way we will get distracted
whether it is by despair like the Israelites in exile,
success like the disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
or a debate over who can join in
and how they should act once they do,
that’s what Paul is dealing with in our second reading,
the early church that Paul was a part of
got distracted by debating who could become a member of their new community,
could gentiles join in?
And if they can, do they have to act like Jews?
Can poor people become a part of the community?
And if they can, will they be expected to contribute the same amount as the rich?
What about the weak in faith, if so how weak is too weak?
Do the strong in faith have to accommodate their weakness?
This is what Paul is speaking to,
even as he seems to be bragging about his abilities as a disciple
and setting the impossible standard of being all things to all people,
his point is that the message of Christ and the kingdom are what matters,
not who hears it or how they hear it,
in fact different groups of people will hear it better
when communicated in different ways
and Paul is willing to do that in service of the good news of God
he is willing to set aside good and important things in service of the gospel.
It’s so easy to get distracted from the most important one, God
and yet God keeps reaching out to us,
through prophets and apostles
who remind us that spending time with God will renew us and keep us focused,
through water and word
that remind us who we are and whose we are,
through communities that gather together to praise God,
and at the table where through words of promise
bread and wine become body and blood
And Jesus joins us to himself once again,
forgiving and renewing us
then sending us out once more to proclaim the good news
“the kingdom of God has come near”
this is the point beloved children of God,
may we alway keep it before us,
and when we get distracted may we always be brought back to it. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.