Sunday’s sermon: Secrets, Secrets, Secrets

secrets

Texts used – Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

  • Everyone has secrets – secret stories, secret passions, secret fears, secret wishes, secret struggles. And secrets are a funny thing because when we have a secret, we are both driven to keep it to ourselves (for this is, indeed, the nature of a secret – “something not known or not meant to be known by others”) … we are both driven to keep that secret to ourselves and to share the burden of that secret with someone else – to lighten our own load, even if just by the smallest margin – by sharing our secret with another.
    • Quote from Italian poet and essayist Fausto Cercignani: “A secret remains a secret until you make someone promise never to reveal it.”
    • PostSecret Project[1]
      • Started as a community art project by Frank Warren in 2005 à handed out 300 blank, self-addressed postcards to people on the streets of Washington, D.C. and invited people to anonymously send him a secret
        • Also invited them to decorate the front of the postcards
      • Featured on CBS Sunday Morning a number of years ago
      • Has received over a MILLION postcards from people all around the world
      • Created PostSecret Community
        • Blog – new mailed-in secrets shared every Sunday
        • 6 PostSecret books, all of which have hit the NY Times Best Seller list
        • Traveling interactive theater production – “PostSecret: The Show”
        • Raised over $1,000,000 for suicide prevention
      • The beauty and the intrigue of the PostSecret project is the wide variety of secrets that people send in.
        • Some are raw: “I’m jealous that my sister got to donate her kidney to our Dad!!”
        • Some are sweet: “I have been sending uplifting anonymous cards to random people in the phonebook. I hope they have helped in some small way.”
        • Some are painful: “I can’t pay my bills anymore. My credit card made a nice postcard. I wish I wasn’t in debt.”
        • Some are ordinary: “It’s cold outside. And I wonder what I’m doing in a place like this.”
        • Some are humorous – most common (according to Frank): “I pee in the shower.”
      • All of these postcards are ways for people to anonymously relieve the burden of their secrets … because even though we all have them, that’s what secrets often become: a burden.
        • Created to be a relational people – to build and strengthen our bonds with others and to grow and thrive off those bonds → part of building and strengthening those bonds is sharing with one another … but the nature of secrets hinders that sharing, that bonding. Secrets can often isolate us and even imprison us in our own thoughts and struggles.
    • Over the last few weeks – talking about Jesus, Man of Mystery: how Jesus continues to insist on maintaining secrecy about his identity (mostly in Gospel of Mark) and yet continues to reveal who he is through his actions → Today’s passage is about Jesus and his secret, but it’s also ultimately about the secrets of those whom Jesus heals and how he sets them free of the prisons that their secrets have created.
  • [READ GOSPEL PASSAGE] → Once again throughout this text, Jesus is both trying to maintain the secrecy of his identity and at the same time, revealing his true nature through his actions – healing, casting out demons, teaching in synagogues. And people are obviously starting to take notice.
    • Dichotomy illustrated pretty succinctly in our text: That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.[2]  → This is exactly it. In his actions, Jesus is revealing more and more about his nature as the Son of God, about the goodness of the Kingdom of God, and about his mission and purpose among the people. And yet, he continues to refuse to let anyone spread the word.
      • Spent quite a bit of time throughout this sermon series talking about Jesus and his secrecy as well as that sense of urgency/immediacy that is so prominent in Mk’s Gospel → today’s passage is no different
        • Scholar: We feel that urgency in the swift healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and in the pressing of the crowds. Jesus’ time is limited, and yet the Gospel repeatedly tells us that not even the people closest to Jesus really know who Jesus is.[3]
  • So today, instead of focusing on Jesus, we’re going to take a closer look at those whom he has healed – those whom he has set free – and how that interaction with Mark’s Jesus – a Secretly Urgent Man, as it were – changes their lives.
    • Something incredibly important and incredibly telling about the first person that Jesus chooses to heal in today’s passage: Simon Peter’s mother-in-law
      • Woman without a name
      • Woman without another mention anywhere in Scripture
      • Most pointedly: a woman → We have to remember that in Jesus’ time, women were regarded as property. First, as the property of their fathers or, if their fathers died before they came of marrying age, the property of an older male relative – a brother, an uncle, etc. Once they had reached marrying age and indeed were bartered into marriage (always arranged and little more than sold for some cattle or a parcel of land), they were the property of their husbands. And if their husband should pass away before them, they either became the responsibility of another male relative (again, a brother or perhaps, if they were lucky, a son) or they were forced to live lives of destitution on the street, begging for whatever they could get to help them survive and harvesting the leftover grain from the fields once the fieldworkers had completed their task.
        • All to say that women held no status whatsoever – no importance, no significance, no power → And yet we see Jesus choose to heal this woman. Again and again, we see Jesus choose the women – for healing, for teaching, for disciplining. Women play a more prominent role in Jesus’ ministry than they ever have before, and in Mark’s Gospel, that role starts with Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.
      • Her response to that significant encounter = service
        • Scholar: Now that her healing is complete, she arises and begins serving. She demonstrates for those disciples present and for millennia of future disciples the proper response to an encounter with Jesus’ gospel. We respond to the gospel by sharing it. We respond through ministry. The woman’s ailment robbed her of an important ministry role – that of showing hospitality to friends and strangers.[4]  → Through his healing, Jesus allows Simon Peter’s mother-in-law to once again live freely – free from burdens, free from illness, free from whatever limitations her mysterious ailment imposed.
    • But Jesus doesn’t stop there – text: That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.[5]  → Again and again and again, people brought their friends and loved ones literally to Jesus’ doorstep for healing. And while we aren’t told much about the diseases that were presented to him, we know that according to Jewish custom, most if not all of those brought before Jesus would have been considered unclean … untouchable … unwelcome in “normal society.” And that is to say nothing of those who were presented as demon-possessed – those who were most likely suffering from a wide variety of both physical and mental illnesses that we have names for today: epilepsy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on.
      • People who had to live their lives and struggle with their illnesses in secret – forced to the fringes of society, to live on the margins → secrets of their darkest days caused them to be incredibly isolated and trapped
        • Isolated from all who knew and loved them for fear of making others unclean
        • Trapped in a cycle of unhealthiness – in mind or in body – that they were powerless to escape on their own
      • But then came Jesus’ healing.
        • Freed their afflicted bodies
        • Freed their troubled minds
        • Freed their broken spirits
        • Instead of condemning and shunning them because of their infirmities, their imperfections, their inabilities, Jesus acknowledges them … touches them (possibly the first touch many of them had felt in a long, long time) … and sets them free.
  • Friends, we know well that there are all sorts of things in our lives that hold us captive: illnesses, injuries, prejudices, fears, compulsions, addictions, obsessions, relationships, grief, pain, brokenness, distrust, contempt, apathy. We all have something that holds us back from living our lives to the fullest – something that makes us hesitate, something that pulls us away, that makes us want to hide ourselves away, that tries to convince us that even the love and grace of God are not powerful enough to heal our brokenness and set us free.
    • OT Scripture this morning reminds us just how all-encompassing and all-reaching the love and grace of God can be – text: Why do you say, Jacob, and declare, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, my God ignores my predicament?” Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. His understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted.[6]  → Even in the face of the deepest, darkest struggle … the most painful grief … the most appalling secret … the most isolating inner dialogue, God is greater. God is stronger. God is understanding. God is loving.
      • Scholar: What secrets are keeping you from living fully? Is shame keeping you in the shadows? Jesus understands and can bring healing. Freed from all that holds us back, we can connect to one another and live fully in community and openness.[7]  → This is why, in a few moments, we’ll come together at Christ’s table – a table that offers wholeness in the face of whatever brokenness you bring to it, not because we have earned that wholeness by coming but simply because we come seeking it.
        • Table that reminds us that Jesus died to set us free – free to live in loving relationship with our God
        • Table of healing
        • Table of abundance
        • Table of grace
        • And so we come to the table, bringing our whole selves – all that we are, all that we’ve been, all that we’ve done, all that we hide – into the Light of Christ. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] https://postsecret.com/.

[2] Mk 1:32-34.

[3] Marianne Blickenstaff. “Mark 1:29-34 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 40.

[4] David Michael Bender. “Mark 1:29-34 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel: Mark. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 40.

[5] Mk 1:32-34.

[6] Is 40:27-29.

[7] Theresa Cho. “Epiphany Series: Jesus, Man of Mystery – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Secrets, Secrets, Secrets” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 99.

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