“The Power of Staying Focused”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 1: 29-38
February 4, 2018
We all know how important it is to stay focused. Need proof? Try to text and drive. You’ll end up meeting people you never knew before because you will have crashed into them. Focus. You shouldn’t drive when your focus is lost.
In my former office I framed an advertisement I found in a magazine. It was a directional sign pointing with arrows in numerous directions each arrow labeled. Some of the labels pointing off to the right: 10:00 meeting, Travel for business, pay the bills, Annual Report due, Group Meeting at Noon. All of them pointing off to the right. There was one lone arrow pointing in the opposite direction. It read: Your idea. How life can strip us of our focus.
Jesus could have stayed. Folks were flocking to him. Imagine getting ill, having an infection. There were no Emergency Rooms, nurse practitioners or doctors. Get a tooth ach and the infection could kill you. So many needed healing. The need for Jesus had hardly played itself out. But this was not His purpose. Our text says as much: “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.” His ministry is our ministry. So we, too, are in the business of widening the circle of grace.
It’s true sometimes Jesus had to be reminded of this. Sometimes it seems that Jesus saw His ministry limited to the Jews. Remember the Canaanite woman? You might think that Jesus would be open to helping any human being. But it seems Jesus had to be reminded. The story is told in Matthew 15:21f.f. of Jesus passing by when a Canaanite woman cried out to him. Pleadingly she said her daughter was tormented by a demon. She came to Jesus. She knelt down in front of Him and said, “Lord help me.” What a pitiful sight. And do you remember what Jesus said? It wasn’t very kind or comforting. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Oh my Lord. I don’t know of a single pastor who wouldn’t be fired for saying such a thing. But she was not to be out done. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” And her daughter was healed that instant. The circle of grace grew larger that day. And this ministry never stopped. Paul takes the gospel to the Gentiles and brings them in. Missionaries carried the gospel to distant lands and brought folks in. Edwin Markham captures the contagious inclusion of love in these lines:
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
Whenever Christians seek to shut people out, try to limit God’s love, we shut Jesus out. This was His purpose, His focus. It must also be ours.
Some folks don’t like the word “evangelism.” It conjures up all kinds of negative images of a confrontational faith that pushes Jesus into other peoples’ faces. For some it connotes an air of superiority. “You don’t have what I have.” For some it is more about Hell than it is about heaven. So liberal Christians shy away from it. We’re far more comfortable taking about Church growth. But since Christianity is always one generation away from going extinct, Church growth is of necessity evangelism.
Having stated that Jesus’ focus was to expand the love of God, our focus should be the same. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Matthew 28:16-20 has Jesus commissioning His disciples to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is Jesus telling us to be about the work of evangelism.
Remember, this word “evangelism” has been hijacked by some who use it as a weapon of division instead of a means for inclusion. If you want to know how I view the word, it is summed up in this: “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” If your faith, if this church, has touched you in caring and profound ways, then share your bread with those who are starving.
The final reason for staying focused on the ministry of Jesus is love, like light, grows when it is shared. Too often Christians emphasize personal salvation at the cost of advancing Christ’s agenda. Being saved becomes not merely the beginning of faith but its end – the light Christ meant to be shared stays a private possession and religion becomes an escape from life’s harsh realities. We cannot start a fire if we do not share the light. So in my family, with those I have come to know and care about, I, a beggar, can tell them where to find bread. For it is here that I have been fed. Let us pray…..
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “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.”