Jesus took him away from the crowd by himself and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.
At least one theme that runs through Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ preference for small sanctuaries.
This week, Mark gives us two stories of healing: one that occurs in a house, and one that happens on a small side road, away from the crowds. Both times, Jesus eschews the large stage in favor for the smaller setting.
Time and time again, especially in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus shows up in powerful, healing and life-altering ways in small settings.
Let’s call this just one more way Jesus’ kingdom isn’t like Caesar’s.
When Caesar is going to show how important he is, how powerful he is, how he is going to change the world, he looks for the biggest stage possible. He fills basilica’s and throws parades and plasters his name in large gold letters on everything in sight.
Not Jesus. This little rabbi traffics in small spaces, smuggling in God’s way through every nook and cranny he can find.
If you’ve ever joined Jesus in ministry, you know this truth deep in your bones. Odds are, if you’ve been in ministry with Jesus long enough, you’ve even been frustrated by this holy quirk of his. You spend all week planning for the big stage…writing a sermon…planning worship…strategizing for a meeting, and then Jesus tips his hat to that all toiling and moves immediately into the small spaces of people’s lives.
It turns out, healing rarely happens on the big stage with Jesus. It happens in the intimate spaces of everyday life, where he sanctifies small sanctuaries like hospital rooms where broken bodies lie, living rooms where shattered relationships reside, coffee shops where friendships are forged, side conversations that pop up after worship or in parking lots after committee meetings.
Signing up to change the world with Jesus means volunteering for life on the small stage.
Repenting From Being Big
Perhaps this should be the first thing we say to church planters.
Over the past 40 years, we in the church planting business have all too often pined after the large stages. We hold conferences and hire speakers and buy programs that help our churches create and maintain the largest stage possible.
We judge our success by the size of our sanctuaries.
We even find our worth there.
Lord have mercy
The result was that we became a consumptive movement, who saw crowds as opportunities for us to claim our own importance and we viewed our neighbors as potential members who could become our loyal subjects. We emphasized the very spaces that Jesus avoids, and we neglected the very spaces that Jesus inhabits.
Christ have mercy
What we are left with is burned out pastors who are continually having to produce something worth consuming and disenchanted members who instinctively know that there must be more to life with Jesus than just showing up to watch the big show.
Lord have mercy.
Let’s call this, “not the kingdom of God.”
Instead, let’s remember who we are, especially as the people called Methodist, who have as our method a bias towards the small.
We prefer our discipleship to be located in small classes (no more than 12).
We prefer our worship to be practiced in chapels (which seat not much more than 200).
We prefer our mission to be embodied by small cohorts engaging in the mission of God in their neighborhood.
This does not mean that we myopically focus on our own little church and neglect the crowds around us. Rather, it means that we reach the crowds by creating countless small sanctuaries, led by deeply called and formed Christians who are repairing and celebrating communion with their neighbors.
Healing in our day, from our racial, economic, spiritual and physical brokenness will only happen as the body of Christ inhabits and sanctifies the small spaces where relationships reside.
The Gospel from Mark this week: forget the big stage.
Follow Jesus onto the small side road and be healed.
- Who is God calling you to develop to be a leader of a small group in your community? How can you emphasize with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness their leadership?
- How can your community seek to create many small sanctuaries in homes and offices and schools instead of one large central sanctuary?