Sermon for Proper 1 – Year B Sunday between 3 and 9 February inc

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1: 29-39

NB:  I preached this sermon on 9th February 2003 so some references are topical and may need updating.

“Let’s go to the neighbouring towns” says Jesus “I want to proclaim the message there too; for that’s what I came out to do”.

“If I proclaim the gospel” writes Paul I’ve no reason to boast, for it’s an obligation laid on me, and woe to me if I don’t proclaim the gospel! …. I’m entrusted with a commission”.

Jesus and Paul: men with a mission to proclaim the gospel, the good news, to the world around them. And we, too, are entrusted with that same commission to proclaim the gospel to our world. We’re commissioned to proclaim the good news that

“God’s kingdom has come on earth in Jesus
who shows us the love of God –
the love that can overcome death itself.”

The good news that there is another way for us to travel other than along destructive paths of selfishness, greed and anger.

The good news that we can be free of resentment, hatred and jealousy.

We can be healed of deep wounds, addictions and weaknesses.

We don’t have to live in a world where love, peace and justice are just dreams – there are other ways of doing things.”

This is our good news and this is a good time to renew our commitment to proclaiming it. Indeed, I believe God is renewing our commission to proclaim it and he awaits our response, our “yes” to his insistent calling.

We live in a very different world from that of Jesus and Paul. We live in an age of technology and knowledge beyond any of the wildest dreams of the people who listened to them but we have this in common:

We’re all humans trying to live our lives among other human beings, struggling with issues of identity, relationships and justice. Maybe our worlds have more in common than we think and our gospel is good news to all human beings of all times.

Good news to all of us who have the lonely, aching need to be accepted and loved.
Good news to all who’ve been treated unfairly, oppressed and abused.
Good news to all who’ve been downtrodden and rejected.
Good news to all victims of violence, terrorism, war and cruel dictatorship.
Good news that our world needs to hear.

Jesus and Paul both went out to spread the good news round as much of their world as they could reach. Our commission is to spread the good news in this parish, in this part of Taunton and wherever we encounter other people.

Around us are people who need to hear and to experience our good news that God is with us now.

  • There are people in need through poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, mental illness, bereavements or family break-ups.
  • There are people who are searching for help and healing, for a chance to belong somewhere.
  • There may soon be people among us who have come from abroad, seeking asylum in a country they believe has respect for human rights.

They may come to us in their need as people hunted for Jesus. There are people out there searching but with no idea where to look. And there are people who’ve given up searching in despair of ever being rescued from their particular hell.

For them we need to do more than just be here in this building each Sunday.
They need us to go out there and look for them.
God needs us to go out there and look for them.

That may sound scary and uncomfortable but let’s look at how Paul goes about it.

Reading from the contemporary language version of the New Testament “The Message” [1]:

“Even though I’m free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I’ve voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized – whoever.  I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ – but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”

What Paul is saying (I think) is that we live out the gospel rather than just talk about it or preach it. We live out the gospel by following the example of Jesus who came to be with people, among all people no matter who they were, loving them and leading them into wholeness.

We, too, need to be with people, among people, loving them and travelling with them in their journey into wholeness out of whatever is broken in their lives.

Perhaps that’s not quite so scary as believing we have to stand on street corners or on doorsteps bible in one hand and fist waving!

We can all learn to be alongside people. We can all learn not to make hasty judgments about the lifestyles of others. We can all learn to hear other people’s stories so that we understand what life is like for them. And once we understand people they’re no longer the enemy or the threatening stranger. They become our brothers and sisters in need and together we can build bridges which unite and strengthen rather than walls which divide and destroy.

I wonder if, as a church, we’re being called to recognise afresh the obligation laid on us, our commission to proclaim the gospel, to be God’s people as a church reaching out to God’s people around us, people who need to know that He’s with them, alongside them, loving them and bringing them to wholeness.

I wonder if we’re being called to a fresh vision of our church as a living open community of people entrusted with a commission to love and serve our neighbours for the sake of the gospel. Now is the time and it’s a good time for renewal, a time when the threat of war hangs over us but also a time when the promises of spring and new life are around us.

I’ve seen those signs of spring this week.

Buds are just beginning to form on our cherry tree, daffodils in our front yard are about to flower and an old friend of mine, who lives abroad, has written to me to say that she’s just been able to admit she’s an alcoholic and is going to seek help for her addiction.

God promises resurrection and new life

Let’s say, with Paul,

“the obligation is laid on us
to proclaim the good news of God’s promise
and woe to us if we do not proclaim the good news.
We must proclaim the gospel
so that we may share in its blessings.”


[1] “The Message” by Eugene H Peterson. Navpress (1993/94/95)