Preached online for All Saints, King City, Anglican
Diocese of Toronto, 7 February, 2021, the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany.

Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm
147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39

“Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I
may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mk 1.38).  

Today I want to talk about how Jesus’ message is simple:  God seeks to heal us, and in healing we find
our restoration to community, which is community with God and with one another.

Humans measure time by rituals attached to special
days, and perhaps the strangest of those last week was the world waiting
breathlessly for a large rodent to tell us how long winter will remain with us.
 For some of us, one of the rituals of
February 2nd is watching the 1993 film Groundhog Day with
Bill Murray, about a vain and unpleasant TV personality who is trapped in a time
loop where only he realizes that the day repeats endlessly, resetting itself
each morning at 6 AM.   This year a
number of commentators have cited the film as catching the spirit of the
pandemic, where we seem to be trapped in a stasis where nothing really seems to

However, the film’s message is that people can
change.   Over the course of countless
repeating days, Bill Murray’s character learns evolves from a conceited, celebrity-seeking
jerk to a man who learns to love and serve the people around him.    Like Dickens’ Christmas Carol, the message
is that living death is isolation from our fellow human beings, while healing
and redemption come from being in community with others.   While the film is totally secular, its
director, Harold Ramis, said that he was inspired by the Buddhist idea of the
slow perfection of the human soul over time. 
It’s an interesting example of how a commercially successful film can be
a vehicle for profound truths about the purpose of life.

There’s another connection with February 2nd
– in the life of the church it is
known as the Feast
of the Presentation, commemorating the day when Mary and Joseph brought the
infant Jesus to the Temple in keeping with Jewish law and custom for the
firstborn, as told in Luke’s gospel.  Luke
tells us how the infant Jesus is recognized as the Messiah by the aged prophets
Simeon and Anna as the Messiah. 

Simeon thanks God  that

…– “…my eyes have seen your salvation,

31   which you have prepared in the
presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles

   and for glory to your people
(Luke 2.30-32).

Simeon’s words
have come to be known in our liturgy as the Nunc Dimitis, the prayer of the
faithful at the end of the day before we take our rest.  Perhaps because Simeon recognizes Jesus as
the light of the world, this day also became known as Candlemas,
because of the custom of blessing the candles to be used in the church
that year.   The faithful would also be
given blessed candles to remind them of the light of Christ in the depth of
Thus Groundhog Day brings us to Candlemas brings us to Jesus,
the light of the world that shines in the dark, which lightens the winter of
our souls and brings us to the light and life of God.

However, in the
pre-dawn darkness of a deserted place outside Capernaum, that light that Simeon
hailed is not easily found, as the disciples frantically seek Jesus.   It’s the morning after a busy day in Capernaum,
a day whose beginning we heard about in last Sunday’s gospel.   Unlike the film Groundhog Day, where twenty-four
hours endlessly repeats, Jesus has no intention of being trapped.   Time passes quickly and relentlessly in Mark’s
trademark style of piling one event on the next:  As soon as they left the synagogue,
they entered the house of Simon and Andrew” (Mk 1.29).   Jesus has done a lot here in just a day,
healing Simon’s mother-in-law and many others, but now he tells the disciples, “Let’s
go, I’ve got to bring my message to the next towns, that’s my job” (Mk
1.38).  In just thirty-eight verses, Mark
has thrown us into a whirlwind of action as we try to keep up with Jesus, and
here we might ask, what exactly is Jesus’ message?  Has Mark actually explain it?  Am I sure that I understand it?

During those 24
hours in Capernaum, Jesus’ message is seen almost entirely in action.   Mark tells us that he began the day teaching
in the synagogue (1.21), but his driving the unclean spirit out of the man is
what eyewitnesses seem to recognize as “A new teaching – with authority!”
(1.27).  Right after this, Jesus cures
Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever, and then at the end of the Sabbath day there’s
a crowd outside his door and he “cured many who were sick with various
diseases, and cast out many demons” (1.33).  
Finally, all that Mark says about his tour through Galilee is that Jesus
went “proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (1.39).   Whatever  the words are in this preaching, they don’t
seem nearly as important to Mark as Jesus’ actions, and all of these actions
have to do with healing and restoring people. 

Just after his
baptism, Jesus summarized his message very simply:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of
God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” (1.15).  Or, as a contemporary translation puts it, “Time’s
up!  God’s kingdom us here.  Change your life and believe in the Message”.
 The good news, the message, seems tied
to the nearness or even the presence of the kingdom of God, and the kingdom is
seen, not just in the healing and curing of the people, but in restoring them
to community with God and with one another.  
Freed of the unclean spirit, the man in last Sunday’s gospel can properly
enter the synagogue to be in community with God’s people and give thanks for
his healing.  Healed of her fever, Simon’s
mother in law can return to her vocation of hospitality to her guests. 

We might think
it sexist of Mark to give her a name, and to think that her only role is to make
sandwiches, but in Mark the word “serve” is vitally important.   The Greek word, diakaneo, is the origin of
word “deacon”, one of the three holy orders with a specific focus on ministry
to others.   Jesus himself uses the word
diakeno to describe his mission: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but
to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).   In our culture, the words “serve” and “service”
can often have a menial connotation – think of how little prestige we attach to
jobs in the “service industry” – but for Jesus, the kingdom of God is about
service as a vocation, about a purpose in life.   Healed, Simon’s mother can resume her proper
vocation which includes offering hospitality to her guests.   Hospitality and service are what makes
community and communion with others possible.  
The people from All Saints rightly see preparing meals for the CrossLinks
residents as part of their vocation.

Finally, Jesus’
focus on service to others explains why he is so shy of publicity, the
so-called “Markan Secret”.  He could have
stayed in Capernaum and basked in the gratitude and adulation of the people he
cured.  Instead he hides in a place so
deserted that the disciples have to hunt for him, and when they do find him, he
says it’s time to move on.   Jesus has an
aversion to fame and celebrity that seems totally remarkable in our society
today where people are famous for being famous, and yet how many celebrities can
we think of that have been chewed up and spit out by the fame factory?  Whereas Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog
Day has to learn to let go of his desire for celebrity and attention, Jesus
from the very beginning knows that the one who truly knows and understands him
is God the Father, which is why the disciples find him in prayer.  Jesus’ identity is firmly rooted in his
relationship to God and in his ministry to others.  He needs nothing else.

Jesus in Mark
is thus revealed as someone who wields so much power that demons fear him, and
yet he used that power to heal and restore.  
Jesus’ message is that we see the kingdom of God most fully when we are
in community and communion, with God and with one another.   In
this communion that we find our healing, and our saved from the forces that
would refocus us selfishly on our needs and our desires, a kind of possession
that can only lead us to the despair of our inadequacies.    At
the end of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character, now totally changed, exclaims
that he wants to stay in the small down that he despised at the start of the film.   True communities, whether Capernaum or Punxsawtaney,
is where we find our true identities in love and service to God and to one