When the Spirit Says “Move!” 5th Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23 February 7, 2021 Mark 1: 29-39
Several years ago, a church in South Africa split. The pastor left, and took most of the members. Those who remained couldn’t afford to maintain the facility, much less pay a pastor. But then, God led John to them.
Pastor John asked his new flock (of fewer than 40 members) to consider what God wanted to do through them. They felt led to focus on the massive black squatters’ camp nearby, a camp that this Caucasian church had previously ignored. In this camp, unemployment was widespread, diseases were epidemic, and a high percentage of the residents were HIV positive.
The little church began by meeting the most pressing basic needs of the residents, gradually expanding to include:
- Distributing AIDS medicines;
- Food and clothing pantries;
- A furniture bank;
- Skills and nutrition training;
- Childcare instruction;
- Medical care;
- And a radio station!
The church was soon filled with new members, folks who were excited to be part of a church that was MAKING SUCH A DIFFERENCE!
Then, the U.S. launched a campaign to combat AIDS in Africa, including grants to groups that were already dealing with the problem. More than 400 groups applied for this money, but only two were approved. And the church was one of them! The U.S. government began providing $450,000 per year to support their AIDS effort!
***This once “insignificant” little church is now being used in a mighty way, because they stopped to consider what God wanted to do through them!***
Well, our Scripture readings for today have this central question at their core: What does God want me to do? Or, to restate the question, “How responsive am I to God’s Spirit?”
We read earlier that Paul made himself, as he says, “a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” And, in our Gospel reading, Jesus (fresh from his prayers) tells his disciples that it’s time to move on, even when he is having great success right where he is.
The question of “What does God want me to do?” is central to Paul’s choice to do whatever God asked of him, and it forms the crucial decision-making process that Jesus did every day.
So I ask you, both as individuals and as a church, to consider what God wants to do through you. And, I want to ask the question, “Are you willing to let God intrude into your life?”
An Invitation to Intrude
Think for a minute about prayer, and what happens when we pray. There was a fellow named John Howard, and he would have described himself as someone who had no prayer life. But one day, John took a shortcut to work, one that took him through a neighborhood. He saw a sign on someone’s front lawn, a big sign that said, “Pray for Baby Layne.” John did not feel close to God, but he found himself daily praying for Baby Layne. He gradually developed a closeness to God, and one day felt led to stop and meet the family he had been praying for. He got to know them, got to know Baby Layne—and eventually, he and his wife became like second grandparents to Layne! As he invited God to intervene in someone else’s life, he discovered that God was also interested in his life!
Prayer is a reaching-out to One who is beyond to act within our sphere. It’s an acknowledgement of our limits—the limits of what you and I can actually do. It’s an invitation to God to “intrude” into our lives and the lives of those who have a need.
When William Willimon talks about prayer, he asks, “Are we open to the possibility of a power unleashed among us that is not controlled by us?” You see, he knows how some folks view “religion”. They think it is okay, as long as it is “reasonable.” As long as it runs according to the rules of their “reality.” Willimon says, “If we can convince ourselves that our efforts are the only efforts, and our acts the only actions, then we can run the world as we please.” (And you’ve seen what happens when we run the world!)
But, when we invite God to intrude, then we are also inviting God’s interruptions. Here’s an example:
In the movie “Doc Hollywood”, Michael J. Fox plays the part of a medical school graduate who is heading for a lucrative practice in California. He gets detoured and trapped in a small town along the way—“interrupted”, we could say—and he discovers there a new life that is different from the plan he had made. And it was a BETTER life!
This 1991 film illustrates that interruptions (both small and large) are often God’s way of getting us to where we need to be.
Friends, IF we ask for God’s help, we are inviting God to intrude into our lives with God’s agenda, with God’s purpose. (So, be careful when you pray!)
The World Tries to Guide Us
In our Gospel reading, Jesus gets up early and spends time in prayer. When the Disciples find him, they tell him, “Everyone is searching for you!” In other words, “The people here want more of what you have been giving them!”
You see, friends, the world says “Capitalize on your success!” But Jesus wasn’t interested in anything the world had to offer. He had spent time in prayer, seeking the Father’s guidance. And he told the Disciples, “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 was making his “mission statement”—Proclaiming the Message is what I came out to do.
Did you know that our church has a “Mission Statement”? It’s on the back page of your bulletin. “The Mission of Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church PC (USA) is to present a living witness to the Kingdom of God in the Spanish Springs community and beyond. Our mission calls us to active participation in the ministry of redemption by caring for all of creation and extending to every person an open invitation to fellowship, so that, together, we may become a new creation in Jesus Christ.” Most churches, and most companies and institutions, have a mission statement. It acts as a “filter” through which countless good ideas must be run as we make decisions regarding our actions and priorities. Having a mission statement helps us resist the world as it tries to mold us into its view of “success.” (Jesus said, “Not as the world gives do I give to you.”) The church’s plan is to involve God, to invite God’s intrusion into everything we do. We are NOT relying on just ourselves, but on God’s presence and power. We affirm that God knows best—and that God wants the best for us.
Our God Is Able
I want to finish by remembering a line from Ephesians 3, “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Yes, I know—sometimes we are too “sophisticated” to imagine very much. But when we invite God into our lives, God can help us to develop an imagination, to develop the capacity to dream God’s dreams for this world! In prayer, we invite the uncontrollable power of God into our mess. And then, when we observe God’s amazing power we say, gratefully, “It’s a God thing!”
So, what does God want to do through me—and through us?
To what extent am I willing to let God “intrude” into my life? How responsive am I to God’s Spirit?
Prayer: God, help us overcome our fear, our self-confidence, our need to be “in control.” We invite you to intrude into our lives, as individuals and as a church. Do your will in us and through us. In the name of Christ, amen.