|A day in the life of .....
St Mark 1:29-39
I don't know if any of you have ever read any of those books or articles that focus on the minutiae of one day in someone's life and through that device reveal a huge amount about the person. One of the most famous is probably Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". This is the story, taken of course from Solzhenitsyn's own personal experience, of 24 hours in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet Labour camp. Because you effectively live the whole day, almost in real time, with Ivan, you get a far better appreciation for the misery of that existence than you would ever get from some more reflective longer term view.
At a more banal level, the Sunday Times magazine has for years run an article on the penultimate page called "A life in the day of.." which purports to be an individual walking you through a typical day in their life and thus give you a valuable insight into that individual's persona. It ranges from the great and the good through to the frankly ordinary. Today's which I have just picked up is for ....
The thing that always amuses me about these articles is their feigned honesty. If someone came to you and asked you to outline a typical day to the readers of a national Sunday newspaper, it seems to me unlikely that you would outline one of those pretty normal winter Wednesday's where you went to bed at the end of the day wondering whether you had actually achieved anything.
Far more likely that you would embroider it a little so as to suggest that the trip to Sainsbury's to buy a bag of cat litter had, in some small way, contributed to the greater good of mankind. So I am a little cynical about these Day in the Life or Life in the Day stories. But there is one Day in the Life story, however, that I am not in any way cynical about and we heard it today in the gospel. It was a bit short and sharp so I thought I should remind you of it and, in true Sunday Times fashion, elaborate on it. Mark tells us about a day in the life of Jesus. Like a good Sunday Times colour supplement editor, he doesn't choose any old day but a particularly active one.
I'm sure Jesus spent plenty of days that were of less journalistic interest - one of the 40 in the wilderness spring to mind as being tough to enliven for a tabloid audience and so Mark chooses this day in Capernaeum for us when lots of things are happening.
One of the problems with lectionary readings is that they chop up the bible into bite-sized chunks and in so doing you lose the narrative thread. Today's reading does that by plunging us in part way through this day in Jesus' life so I will go back for you to give you the full picture. Prior to where we came in with Jesus going to Peter's house with the other disciples, he started the day walking along the Sea of Galilee and asked first Peter & Andrew to follow him - you remember "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men". Then he collected James and his brother John. They did as they were told and followed him and the five of them walked into Capernaeum and, this being the Sabbath, they went to the Synagogue and Jesus taught.
It says in Mark's gospel "They were astonished at his teaching for he taught as one who had authority and not as the scribes." This wasn't some dry and dusty theological debate this was good stuff, real passion and meaning.
Then, while they were still there in the Synagogue, a man came in who was filled with an unclean spirit and he started to rant and rave at Jesus:-
"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth"
"Have you come to destroy us?"
"I know who you are, the Holy One of God."
Jesus, knowing that he was listening to the evil spirit and not the man shouted back,
"Be Quiet! And come out of him!"
And the spirit left the man and he was calm. Well that did the trick. Good preaching is one thing but this was real fireworks and Mark tells us that "At once, his fame spread throughout all the region of Galilee".
Now, we get to where our reading comes in - Jesus has already recruited his first disciples, taught with astounding authority in the synagogue and banished an evil demon and we've only got as far as lunchtime. Makes my Sunday's look like real underachievement. Well, after all the excitement, Peter, one assumes, suggests that they might like to go back to his place for a bite to eat - which they do.
Just as an aside, in case you are wondering why, having only been recruited that morning as a disciple, Peter should be inviting this stranger home at lunchtime, the answer is, of course, that Jesus was no stranger to Peter or the others. They had followed John the Baptist's teachings and had met and spoken to Jesus often before but this day marked their formal recruitment.
Well when they got to Peter's house, they encountered their next problem, as we heard in the reading. Peter's mother in law, matriarch of the house is ill with a fever. You can imagine the scene as they enter the house with Peter apologising that the catering might not be up to scratch as mother in law's in bed with flu.
Jesus reacts by going straight to her, taking her hand and lifting her up, healed of her fever. Her response was to go straight to the kitchen and get to work on lunch, which can sound a bit strange to our modern ears.
Reading superficially, it sounds like Jesus was addressing a labour shortage and that Peter tells Jesus about her to get the problem sorted. The reality is quite different. Peter only told Jesus of her illness by way of apology for the catering and the initiative to heal was Jesus' based purely on compassion and love. She wasn't that ill, her life was not in danger but Jesus felt moved to help.
So, our day moves on. After a more relaxing afternoon spent at Peter's house, evening falls and sunset marks the end of the Sabbath. Freed from the travel restrictions of the Sabbath, all those people who had by now heard of Jesus actions earlier in the day arrived at Peter's house bringing with them people in need of help. "He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons."
After all of that, Jesus finally gets to bed but rises again in the wee small hours and goes out to a lonely place to pray so that he is ready to move on for another day in another place. Phew - what a day. A day of teaching, preaching and healing. A day in which Jesus, at the very start of his public ministry - remember, we're still only on Chapter 1 of Mark's gospel here, establishes his authority at every turn.
He preaches and teaches with the authority of God so that all are amazed at the passion of his words. He heals with the authority of God and uses that authority not only to drive out demons but to instantly silence them.
Jesus spent this eventful day showing to all the enormous power of God's authority but also making it quite clear that that authority, that power, was coming not from him but through him from God. That's why Jesus goes out to pray alone. To renew his relationship with the Father. To ensure no barrier to the flow of God's spirit through him.
Jesus wants us to see that we must act in the same way. He wants us to see that power comes to us and through us from God not from ourselves. That raises the question for all of us, how do we measure up as channels for God's power and authority? Let's sing while we think about that.
Hymn - Make me a channel of your peace.
Welcome back. I don't know if any of you have come to any conclusions about your ability to act as a true channel for God's power and authority but I'll give you a bit more time to think while I talk about something completely different. My mind has, I know this is sad, turned to pantomimes. Not because of our trip last weekend to Liverpool - and before you say it George, it's still a big no on the roller skates - great though that was. It's more to do with the fact that I keep getting knowing looks from Wendy and reminders that I should be thinking about next years (sorry - this years) script.
We've debated a number, there's Mother Goose, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty. The Wizard of Oz is gaining favour. Another one that I thought about was Snow White but I've dismissed that for a very practical reason. No - not because of the difficulty of finding 7 dwarves but because of the baddie. The baddie is, you will remember the wicked queen. The wicked queen had a ritual every morning - can you remember it?
PICK UP MIRROR
She looked into her mirror and said "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all" and the magic mirror would reply "You are your majesty, you are the fairest of them all". Until, of course that fateful day when the mirror has to say that Snow White is the fairest of them all and the wicked queen has been pushed into second place. The reason I can't see us doing Snow White is, of course, because our resident baddie is Michael and even in panto, it would be too incredible for a magic mirror to respond to his reflection with the message that he is the fairest of them all.
Now I don't know about you, but I have to confess that the thought of gazing deeply at my reflection in the mirror when I've just got out of bed in the morning seems unlikely - even more unlikely that I would fish for compliments on my appearance at that time of day. You've heard the expression "looking like a million dollars" well I reckon about 38p would be closer to the mark.
But even though mirrors usually show us an image of ourselves that we'd just as soon not see, it is very difficult not to look into them. We walk past reflective shop windows and sneak a look at ourselves, like the wicked queen we are drawn to mirrors almost in the hope that they're going to be nice to us and inevitably finding that they're not.
Worse than this, we all carry around inside our heads mental mirrors that are even more critical than the external mirrors. These mirrors don't tell us that we're "fairest of them all", they tend to be much more judgemental and nasty. We've been carrying these mirrors around for years.
When we were kids, the mirror was there telling us that no-one wanted to play with us in the playground because they didn't like us. When we were teenagers they were telling us that our acne was worse than anyone elses. Now they might be telling us that we are inattentive fathers or lousy mothers.
These are the mirrors that are always telling us "You look a right state, everyone else here looks really smart except you" They tell us "You've got so many problems and you're personality stinks - no-one's going to love you" They tell us "Yeah - you might think you're putting on a pretence of coolness, calmness and professionalism but it's not working. Everyone can see you're out of your depth, you're clueless, no-one respects you"
Mark told us all about Jesus' healing ministry and we in the church are the inheritors of that healing ministry and one of our tasks is to help heal the pain of people's internal mirrors. We need to help people to break away from the ,mesmerising eye-contact with our internal critical mirrors and to help people to polish their mirrors so that people can start to see themselves as God sees them. If we are truly to develop as channels of God's love and power then we need to be able to see what God intended in us.
Instead of believing in the messages of our internal mirrors we need to understand what God sees in us and through that what God would do with us once our vision has cleared. The greatest damage these talking mirrors do is to convince us that we have nothing to offer the world. That we have no gifts that are worth anything. If we see ourselves in God's mirror, a clean and perfect image then we can start to see what God might see in us. We can start to discover our gifts. We can start to employ those gifts in God's work.
When Jesus healed people it was so that they could do things with their lives. If we allow Jesus' healing power to work in our lives today, to polish our mirrors so that we start to see our real gifts then our gifts can start to grow and multiply.
This is a tough call. My mirror is pretty tarnished and I could do with help to polish it at every opportunity. How about your mirror. What is it showing you now? Can you clean away that tarnished image of your self and see what God sees in you?