Yesterday’s message …
- Launched a series inspired by Professor Joseph Okello of Asbury Seminary with whom I had a lively interaction about “points” preaching or “pointed” preaching back in October of 2019;
- Leaned heavily on the pacing of the early sections of Mark’s Gospel;
- Led to an invitation for prayer requests via Facebook Live and the Good Shepherd website;
- Landed at this bottom line: No problem is too small for his attention.
Sometimes in thinking about the bible and Jesus and faith, I find it very helpful to consider what the bible DOESN’T say and what Jesus DIDN’T do. Looking at it that way highlights even better what he DID say and what he DOES do. Some easy ones (AV). Like the bible doesn’t say FOR GOD SO LIKED THE WORLD, does it? Loves the world. It doesn’t say THE LORD IS MY SHEETROCKER, does it. Shepherd. It doesn’t say I HAVE COME IN ORDER THAT YOU MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT MORE AVERAGELY, does it? Abundantly.
The first sentence of the bible isn’t IN THE MIDDLE GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. Nope. It’s In the beginning. And just last week we celebrated how none of the four Gospels of Jesus, not MT, MK, LK, JN ends with AND THERE HE REMAINS IN THE TOMB TO THIS DAY, FOREVER DEAD. Nope. The bible doesn’t say & Jesus didn’t do any of that.
And in the same way, we’re going to start the No Problem series by looking in on a brief story – a brief story that will be our home for the next three weeks – in which what Jesus DOESN’T do and DOESN’T say highlights what he DOES. Here’s the scene: it’s Mark 1 and you just need to know that Mark himself is in such a hurry. Check out Mark 1:1:
No Xmas story, no Jesus at 12, no genealogy, no “in the beginning,” no preliminaries, all LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY. The whole beginning of Mark is dominated by words like “immediately” and “at once” and “as soon as” … and remember, writing was both backbreaking labor AND very expensive in ancient times, so when an author like Mark repeats the same phrase so often, he means for you to notice it.
And our story picks up in 1:29 – yet Mark has been in such a hurry that just 29 verses in and Jesus has already been baptized, called his entourage, and had an EXORCISM – exorcism! – in the area synagogue. It’s as if we arrive at 1:29 out of breath, trying to keep up with Mark the author and Jesus the rising celebrity. This breathless pace and dizzying speed is by design, it’s on purpose, and it’s brilliant. Because it highlights ever more starkly what happens over the next few verses. Because coming right out of the synagogue ook what happens in 1:29:
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.
“As soon as” – there it is again! Can’t we just catch our breath? Apparently not.
The group go with James and John to the home of Peter and his brother Andrew. A little bit of a red flag to me – yo Pete, why are you living with your brother … was your parents’ basement not available? — but much more common for them. But then in 1:30, an already crowded house gets even more crowded:
30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever,
Uh oh. His mother-in-law is there? Is it her house too? GULP. Living with brother, with wife, with wife’s mother … no wonder at least one of them is sick! In this case, it’s the mother-in-law who has fallen ill.
In bed with a fever. My mind starts racing. What KIND of fever? Saturday Night? Scarlet? Cat Scratch? Or even this kind? (AV, SNL clip). Well, we don’t know because Mark doesn’t tell us. But whatever kind of fever it was, in the ancient world, fevers were fairly serious and even attributed to a godly or heavenly fire. Yet having said that, in times then and now, can we admit there are a lot more serious conditions than fever? There’s leprosy. Amputation. Cancer. Male pattern baldness. Smallpox. All deadly, all more serious than an unspecified fever, all lethal. In the grand scheme of thing, a mother-in-law with a fever is relatively small & insignificant. Especially in light of how famous Jesus is becoming and how busy he is. He would be excused for saying, “thanks but no thanks. I’ve got other things to do. I can’t be bothered right now.
You may feel like that. Like your problems are so small. It’s pretty often when I visit in the hospital and will ask people how I can pray that they’ll answer, “for all those worse off than me. My needs are small, down the hall is some serious stuff; pray for them. I broke my arm but they have cancer; remember them!” Or your child who is struggling in school, and it’s a problem, but it’s not like your friend and her kid because her kid got arrested. And THAT’S a problem. Or you’ve hit a marriage bump but it’s nothing compared to the friend who bump led to an explosion and an ending. Or even me, the preacher. Go through seasons where I think the church has plateaued, that it’s not reaching its potential but it’s not like the place that other guy serves which is on the verge of closing. Yeah, so often in the grand scheme of things, our problems seem small, Jesus is busy, so why even bother in the first place?
But I love what happens next because it is SO MARK. Look at the next part of 1:30:
and they immediately told Jesus about her.
READ they IMMEDIATELY told Jesus about her. There is RUSH RUSH RUSH and HURRY HURRY HURRY and IMMEDIATELY IMMEDIATELY IMMEDIATELY and what happens when Jesus gets told about Simon’s m-i-l is extraordinary for what he DOESN’T do or say. He doesn’t say, “Oh my celebrity is growing and I’m super busy; can one of my assistants deal with it? He doesn’t say, “I created everything visible & invisible. All things were created by me and for me. Her fever will likely take care of itself.” He doesn’t say, “Pete! What are you doing living with your brother AND your mother-in-law? Get a grip, my man!” Instead, time slows down, the pace slows down and Mark’s delicious attention to detail shows us when and why.
Look at 1:31:
31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up.
The verbs! “Went, took, help.” Meticulous, plodding (no longer swift!), purposeful. And Jesus does it all. Mark is brilliant and Jesus is beautiful. You combine all that he DIDN’T DO with the massively small things he DOES DO and here is such a helpful truth that I heard a pastor say once: No problem is too small for his attention. What he did in the flesh then, he does by the spirit now, and he’s not too busy nor is he too taken with his own celebrity to get involved. He still will slow time down, move in meticulous ways, live into his verbs, and pay the closest of attention to the smallest of problems. No problem is too small for his attention.
Here’s how it has been working with me. Y’all know I pray before the Sunday sermon. You see me do it. Lord, pour out a fresh anointing from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. It’s my Main Event, it’s my Super Bowl, it’s the biggest moment of the week! Anoint me! Well, you know what I realized a couple of years ago? Why would I just pray that way on Sunday? Why do I just need anointing for the sermon? What about the counseling, the meeting-leading, the administrating? Doesn’t that “small” stuff matter? Absolutely! So I started praying for an anointing to get through hard conversations and to lead LifeGroups well. Makes a huge difference. No problem is too small for his attention.
It’s like Francois Fenelon said:
Tell him your troubles, that he may comfort you; tell him your joys, that he may sober them; tell him your longings, that he may purify them; tell him your dislikes that he may help you to conquer them; tell him your temptations, that he may shield you from them; if you pour out all your weaknesses, needs, and troubles there will be no lack of what to say. Blessed are those who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God.
You know why this matters? Because every big problem you have now started out as a small problem. Every. Single. One. Like it was just a little porn. A tiny bit of binging and purging. A few office supplies you “borrowed.” Just a little credit card debt. A small amount of rebellion in that teenager. Big problems have a beginning and that beginning is always small! How much better to lay those small matters at Jesus’ feet and adjust your life to his intervention and his attention before rather than after? When in some degree of calm rather than riddled with crisis? Lord, I love it when he prevents crisis and I just accept it when he helps me manage them. I know that praying this Proverbs 1:7 pray each time before college homework kept me on the rails when it was tempting to go off them! No problem is too small for his attention.
Now … when you ask Jesus to pay attention … don’t expect it to be comfortable. Like Luke 22:61 in the immediate aftermath of Peter’s third denial:
61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Oh, that “looked straight at him” must have been withering. Unless it was heartbroken. Mostly both. But it was not comfortable. When Jesus pays attention to your small problems, he may remind you that YOU’RE the problem in the problem. Or he may let you know that you’ll actually have to address the issue with that problem child, mate, friend. It may be the kind of thing he won’t do for you because he needs to do it with you. It may even be that you realize he loves you WAY TO MUCH to let you keep getting away with what you have been getting away with. No problem is too small for his attention.
Because did you notice how the little vignette ends? After Jesus pays attention and goes and takes and helps (verbs!), Simon’s MIL “began to wait on them.” Now: don’t read what’s not there. That waiting on them? The highest honor. Hospitality was so valued in that day. This serving is not servile but sublime. Her restoration is her initiation into God given significance. And that’s because Jesus is good, reliable, determined and he wants your best. He longs to bring you the best. Oh, Lord, no problem is too small. Not your health, not your child, not your marriage, not your potential, not your finances. None of it.
I guess what I’m saying is that we need to be a bit more like what happened at the small church where they had a young whippersnapper preacher who during the prayer portion of Sunday morning would go on and on and on. With fancy words like sanctification, propitiation, lamentation, procrastination, that kind of things. Finally, as he was pontificating, a little lady saint in the church goes up, grabs him by the sleeve, and says, “Just call him LORD and ask for something.” Just call him Lord and ask for something. Not a bad plan. Why not? No problem is too small for his attention.