Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons
God Above Us, God Amongst Us
Sermon Preached at St Michael's, Sutton Court
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers
Have you not seen? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
When I first looked at the readings for today I was struck by the contrast between that reading from Isaiah, which is all about God the Creator, God the all-powerful, and the reading from Mark’s gospel, which includes the small scene of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. How does the might, majesty, dominion, and power of God the Creator, as proclaimed in Isaiah’s poetry, relate to Jesus ministering in the midst of human need in the Gospel of Mark? And how do these readings relate to our Christian lives here today?
Writing in around 560 BC, Isaiah needs to awaken new hope in a dispirited people. It was all too easy for the exiles in Babylon to be so overwhelmed by the splendour of the capital city and the wonders of the Babylonian civilization that they forgot what they had been taught about the God of Israel. Isaiah encourages the people to look up, to behold the night sky, isn’t it impressive? The heavens stretched out like a curtain, each star in its place, each one named by God. Can the splendours of Babylon really compare to all that beauty? And doesn’t a person feel small in comparison to such overwhelming majesty?
I don’t know about you, but the snow this week has made me look around again at the beauty of creation, I’ve noticed anew the shapes of trees and the lie of the rolling landscape. I’ve appreciated the covering of white everywhere, the hush of peace, and the sense of awe. I’ve realized how powerless we can be in the face of the elements. How tiny a person is on the face of the earth. The snow melts but the heavens remain. Take a good look sometime.
Isaiah reminds the people that the God who called into existence the heavens is the God who called into existence all peoples. Not only does this God order the celestial beings, he also orders human rulers. The God of Israel, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who brought them up out of Egypt, is the God of all creation and the God of all people, including the Babylonians. This God cares for justice and this God gives strength to those who long for justice, proclaims Isaiah.
The ancient Israelites, like us today, expected immediate answers and instant solutions. We expect the roads to be clear and the trains to be running on time, snow or no snow. The Israelites expected to be brought out of Babylon immediately. Yet Isaiah reminds them, and us, that the ways of God are beyond our human understanding. We are called to patience, persistence and not growing weary in well-doing. We are called to ‘wait for the LORD’, to trust in the amazing God to whom all the glory and majesty of creation witness. Those who wait for the LORD will be sustained in their earthly journey, whether they feel like they are flying on eagles’ wings, or merely walking on their own two feet.
When we turn to Mark’s gospel, we find Jesus, the Son of the Creator God, plunged into the midst of human need. We move from the cosmic scale to the human scale, from the general to one very specific woman in need of healing.
We don’t know how long Peter’s mother-in-law had been in bed suffering from a fever. We don’t know how long she had been waiting for the LORD. We don’t even know her name! Mark does not waste words in his Gospel. He is precise and to the point. Everything happens ‘immediately.’ So we read, ‘as soon as’ Jesus and his disciples had left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon Peter, where ‘at once’ Jesus was told about the sick woman. Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.
Peter’s mother-in-law may not be named but her response to the touch of God is exemplary: upon being healed, she immediately began to attend to the needs of those gathered in her home. She served Jesus and his disciples Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. Yet those disciples did not notice her actions, or maybe they just failed to see the significance of them. For later on, when James and John ask for power and prestige, for the top places in the kingdom, Jesus has to remind them that true discipleship is embodied in service: ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.’ Service is the name of the Christian game. Some people in the Kensington Episcopal Area offer themselves to serve as Deanery Licensed Ministers.
Straight after this incident, Mark records Jesus following the woman’s example by tending to all who come to the door: ‘the whole city’ gathered around. The people seek Jesus for his healing power, for what they can get out of him. They are not interested in who he is, or why he has come, nor are they willing to wait to hear his teaching.
Even the disciples fail to understand. The following morning they hunt for Jesus and demand that he returns with them for they insist, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ Searching, but not waiting. Meanwhile, since before dawn, Jesus has been waiting on God in prayer, regaining the divine perspective, remembering the primary focus of his vocation. Yes, he can perform miracles, he can heal the multitudes, but that is not why he came. Jesus came to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God. That is his primary task. That is the context within which the healings gain their true meaning.
Jesus concentrates on pursuing his own vocation. It may be good and pleasant and popular for him to heal large numbers of people, but his real vocation lies elsewhere. Jesus refuses to be distracted from his calling. He moves on to the neighbouring towns to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God there also.
All Christians are called to a life of loving service. We are called to proclaim our faith in God through our actions, and we should be able to give an account of the faith that we hold.
Some people are called to be Deanery Licensed Ministers: people who exercise a ministry as a deacon or priest in their local area. People who have a deep and searching faith. People who desire to share their faith with others. People who can see further opportunities for ministry in their local community. People who may have thought about ordination before but because of family or work commitments felt unable to respond at the time. Sometimes they are people who have been identified by their friends and colleagues as being suitable ministers.
What do I look for in potential Deanery Licensed Ministers? I look for people
- who can appreciate the beauty and majesty of creation, people who have experienced a sense of awe and wonder, who both know and praise the God of all creation, who wait on God.
- who have been touched by Jesus, who have been healed by the Son of God, who have had a personal encounter with the living God.
- who are already serving Christ in their daily lives, who are recognized by those around them to be servants of the kingdom of God.
- who have a sense of vocation, who have a clear vocation to live out their ministry as an ordained person in the Church of England in their local deanery.
If that applies to you then please speak to me after the service!
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
As with any sermon, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I am particularly indebted here, however, to Leslie Houlden and John Rogerson's Common Worship Lectionary: A Scripture Commentary, Year B (SPCK, 2002). I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.