United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“What is Important?”

 February 4th, 2024

 Rev. Rebecca Migliore


        I could have titled this sermon—“The long day” because the day started with last week’s reading—Jesus going to the synagogue to teach and then to heal.  As I thought about last week’s sermon, I thought it was a perfect example of living out the greatest commandment--Love God, Love neighbor.  There is Jesus going to synagogue, to shul, to lift up prayers, to hear Torah read, to dance, to sing.  And being Jesus, also to teach “with authority.  And then, immediately, Jesus is faced with one in need—a neighbor who was beset with an unclean spirit and he exorcized him!

The day continues with this week’s reading.  I do find this unusual in the gospel of Mark’s universe—where Mark seems to be rushing, rushing, rushing, to the next story, to the next place, immediately!  But maybe at the beginning of the story of Jesus Christ, the son of God, Mark wanted to give us a notion of what “a day in the life” meant for Jesus.

        After all the excitement of the morning (day?), Jesus does the 1st century equivalent of going back to his hotel room—he goes over to Simon and Andrew’s house.  But even here he doesn’t get any “down time.”  Simon’s mother-in-law is ill, she has a fever, she is lying down (instead of rushing around like Martha to serve everyone).  And Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”  Then they got to eat.  But by evening, by sunset (the end of the Sabbath), people were out and about, bringing everyone and their brother to be healed of disease, and to have demons cast out.

        Finally, Jesus gets to have some sleep.  But early in the morning, while it was still dark, he goes to a private place to pray.  And when his disciples, his companions track him down, they are eager to get back to healing their community.  But Jesus says:

       “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do.”


Whew!  It makes me tired just reminding you of what we’ve read.  What a day!  And I can only imagine that it wasn’t an extraordinary day with Jesus.  Why does Mark go into all this detail?  What did he see in this 24 hours that was important for us to know?  And was it just about Jesus, or was it about us as well?

The more I thought about it, the more this chronicle made sense to me within the “Love God, Love neighbor as yourself” framework.  Loving God was a focus of last week—both by worshipping in community, and by meeting people in their need.  This part of the day really focuses on loving your neighbor as yourself.  So let’s take a closer look at the four things that Mark tells us Jesus did after worship.

He heals Simon’s mother-in-law.  This healing is very different from the loud, explosive, public exorcism in the synagogue.  There is a gentleness that feels different.  Jesus isn’t crying to the heavens that the illness leave this woman.  He doesn’t have everyone in the house come and lay hands on her.  He isn’t intent on showing his power.  He comes to her (as opposed to many coming to him).  He takes her hand.  He lifts her up.  And she is healed (in fact, she feels so good, she takes her place as the one serving the meal).

What is important here?  Is this a reminder that we not forget the ones around us who might need our care?  Is it a picture of doing good works, not just when others can see, but also in more intimate settings, maybe just between you and me?  Is it a portrait of how we should react to healing—getting back to doing what we like to do or want to do or should do?  Is this the difference between exorcism and healing in Jesus’ world—with one a fight against the powers of darkness (who know who Jesus is, and want to name him), and the other, a gentle touch, a holding of a hand, a smile on the lips, a tug away from illness and toward wholeness?  Whatever it is, this is a beautiful, quiet, moment of grace towards someone in Jesus’ personal circle.


The healing of many in the sight of the community.  From the personal and intimate, we are back in a crowd scene.  But Mark doesn’t have to show us what Jesus is doing—healing and casting out demons.  We have already heard about this in the man with the unclean spirit at the synagogue and Simon’s mother-in-law.  We can see, in our mind’s eye, Jesus’ tender touch to heal, and his fierce authority to cast out unclean spirits. 

What is important here?  Loving neighbors isn’t just for show, or just for our personal group—it encompasses everyone, in the community.  And by the end of our reading, the whole region.  And by the end of the gospel, the whole known world.  Loving God, loving neighbor isn’t something that we do just in church, isn’t something that we do just when we go to “do good works.”  Loving God and loving neighbor becomes something that is in everything we do, every moment of every day—like the air we breathe.  That is what it means to follow Jesus.

Stealing away to pray.  Loving God and loving neighbor cannot be sustained without love of self, without self-care.  Sometimes we get wrapped up in our Martha-like agendas, and forget to take a moment to sit at the feet of Jesus.  Sometimes we think that prayer is something that we do in the moment of extreme urgency, or something that takes place in a worship service, instead of a continuing conversation with God.

Jesus felt prayer was important—so important that he gives his disciples a template, The Lord’s Prayer, that we use to this day.  Prayer was a lifeline to Jesus—he drew strength from his prayer life, even in the anguish of his final moments.  So what is important here?  I think Mark wanted to highlight the times that Jesus was off-camera, and underline it.  Jesus gets up before he has to, before anyone else, and finds a place to commune with God.  Maybe to hear again, “You are my beloved.  I am well pleased.”  Maybe to fine tune his vision.  Maybe to lift up all those he had touched.  Maybe just to sit in silence with all the wonders God has made.  God wants us to honor ourselves as we honor God, as we honor neighbor.  Sometimes, we forget to care for ourselves, to allow God to care for us.


      We are like a cell phone, and God is our charging station.  But if we never plug in, our battery may run dangerously low.

Moving on.  Mark tells us that Jesus doesn’t stay put, doesn’t rest on his laurels—he wants to go to the neighboring communities, to proclaim the message, to do God’s work.  Why is this important?  I don’t think it is Mark’s way of saying we all have to be wanderers for God’s sake.  What came to me, as a personal message, was that we have to stop thinking we have to do it all, that we have to keep on keeping on, in the same vein, until the task is done (in our mind).

They do say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  What I heard from Jesus moving on is that sometimes we need to keep going forward.  Sometimes there are things that will not be solved in our lifetimes.  Sometimes there are issues that are really for someone else to address.  We need to do the work God has called us to do, and then leave some room for others to pick it up and do what God calls them to do.  For we are part of a communion of saints, thank goodness, it does not all rest on us.

So what is Mark telling us is important?  Within the framework of living our lives with God and one another—

--We shouldn’t forget to be gentle with those around us.  They need healing too.

       --We shouldn’t forget our neighborhood circle is ever expanding.

        --Prayer is not a luxury, but a necessity.

        --We cannot constrain ourselves by expecting we need to do it all ourselves.  A day in the life of Jesus.  An example for our life.  A high bar to meet, but with God’s help, may it be so, Alleluia, amen.