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empty Posted July 2002
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
Unexpected Blessings
Mark 1:21-31

by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ
Chicago, Illinois

Have you ever been engaged in your normal routine when all of a sudden the Lord stepped in and blessed that situation beyond your wildest dreams? I like to call those instances the times of unexpected blessings.

The biblical record is replete with instances of unexpected blessings. In Genesis 21, Abraham and Sarah, who were way past the childbearing years (she was ninety, and he was one hundred), experienced one of God's unexpected blessings: a child. Sarah said: "God has brought me joy and laughter."

In Exodus 3, an African prince who was guilty of murder and was a fugitive from justice, lived in exile far away from the scene of the crime and way out of the jurisdiction of the court, with arrest warrants out on him and the statute of limitations passed in another time, in another country, in another life. With a new identity, Moses was happily married to a raven-black beauty and had several children. One day as he was tending his father-in-law's sheep on the back side of a mountain in Midian, he ran into one of God's unexpected blessings: a bush on fire and not on fire all at the same time. A voice unlike any other voice ever heard, coming from a God with a name as mysterious as the voice, was compelling him to lead his people--an unexpected blessing.

In 1 Samuel 1, a woman named Hannah prayed boldly for a child, but not just any child, "as long as it's healthy." Instead, she was bold in her praying and told God she wanted a son. The prayer was answered, but far beyond her expectations. The boy she was given was to become the last of Israel's great judges. The boy who was born became the bridge between a judge named Samson and a king named Saul. The boy who was born (Samuel was his name) was the one called by God in Eli's house. Samuel was the one chosen by God to anoint and ordain the first two monarchs of the United Kingdom of Israel. Samuel was the one for whom all of Israel mourned for twenty-five years. Samuel was more than Hannah expected. He was an unexpected blessing.

The biblical record is replete with instances of unexpected blessings. Solomon prayed for wisdom, and God surprised him with unexpected blessings: more wealth, more treasure, and more fame than any king before him or after him (See 2 Chronicles 1).

A preacher named Isaiah, who was just doing his job up at the church house in the year that King Uzziah died, became the recipient of an unexpected blessing. You expect to be near God when you come into God's holy temple. You expect to feel God's presence when you cross over into holy precincts. That's because he promised that "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there..."1 But Isaiah was blessed by the unexpected. He saw the Lord, high and lifted up, sitting on his throne with his train filling the temple. Isaiah saw the seraphim on fire with six wings--two covering his face, two covering his body, and two keeping it hovering in flight. He heard them hollering "Holy, holy, holy" back and forth with voices that shook the foundation, and he felt a hot burning coal taken from the altar and placed on his lips--cleansing, but not burning. Isaiah on an ordinary day up in the Lord's house was met in an extraordinary way and blessed with unexpected blessings beyond his wildest dreams.

The biblical record is replete with instances of unexpected blessings--folks following their normal routine, doing what it is they usually do, when all of a sudden the Lord steps in and blesses in ways that could not have been imagined. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in the first chapter of Mark's Gospel there is one more instance of the Lord stopping by with unexpected blessings.

First, the passage says, "They went to Capernaum," the prophet Nahum's village, and the place where Jesus made his home away from home. He was originally, you'll remember, from Nazareth. But the folks in Nazareth were like the folks in our hometowns: they knew Jesus when. Because they knew Jesus when, they would not let him be what God wanted him to be. Not in their town. So he moved to Capernaum. We find him in this passage on the Lord's day in the Lord's house. And I like that. Jesus went to church. A man--all man--in church.

Jesus Demonstrates the Importance of Worshiping at Church
Jesus went to church to worship God. In verse 35 of this chapter he is out all by himself, alone and praying. But this passage begins with him in the church. In fact, verse 30 says that wherever he went, whatever town he was in, the Lord's day found him in the Lord's house.

And when you read all of the biographies of Martin Luther King, that's one thing they omit. They talk about his training in Boston, his training at Crozier, his training at Morehouse. But King was a preacher. He went to church.

If Jesus went to church, don't you know a whole lot of people are on their way to hell believing that "you don't have to go to church." That's only half right. Let me give you the other half. You can worship God away from the church. You can worship God wherever you are. But you don't do one to the exclusion of the other. It is not either/or; it is both/and. You worship God both in the church and when you are away from the church. You don't stay away from the church and call yourself a follower of him who, wherever he was, went to church. No. It doesn't work like that. If Jesus went to church, who in the name of all that is holy, do you think you are? Are you better than Jesus?

So we find Jesus in Capernaum, in the Lord's house, on the Lord's day--Jesus in church. And then look at what happened. A man with an evil spirit came into the church.

The Devil Comes to Church, Too
The devil comes to church, too. I tell the folks at my church all the time, "The devil ain't got no other way of getting to church except we bring him." He came with this man in verse 23. Don't you know the devil will ride in your BMW, ride in your Mercedes Benz, get on public transportation right along with you, and when you get inside of the church, he'll break out all over the congregation. And you'll be wondering, "How did the devil get in the church? He came with y'all. That's how.

Dr. Martin Marty, one of my mentors at the University of Chicago told of a young white pastor and one of his old black female parishioners (the pastor pastored in a black community). On some Sundays this old woman would say, "Reverend, you sure did teach today. Umph, umph, umph!" Then on other Sundays she'd say, "You sure did preach today. Umph, umph!" One day this young pastor asked her, "Sister, what do you mean when you say I teach, and how is that different from when you say I preach? The old woman said, "Well, Pastor, when you teach, God has given you something  that you give me, and I can use it for that day and later on in the week, and get through the week--when you teach." She said, "When you preach, I can just feel God's presence, and he's hugging you real tight and he's pleased. You don't necessarily give me nothin' I can use, but I can feel God hugging you, and through you I can feel God hugging me. That's when you preach."

Then Marty said one Sunday when this pastor was severely upset by some political situation, he came and vented his spleen in what he thought was an excellently articulated exposition of God's will for that particular existential moment. At the door, this old woman said, "Reverend, I could feel God hugging you real close today, but I don't think he was pleased. In fact, it felt like he was crying while he was holding you tight." That's another way of saying the devil does come to church, sometimes with the parishioners and sometimes with the preacher. However, the devil comes, he does come.

You see, the church is the primary recruiting station for the devil (a lot of church folks don't understand this). The devil does not need to go to a cocaine party. He's got those folks. He doesn't have to go there! Here's where folks are in danger of slipping away, so the devil comes to church and gets real busy.

"Just then," the Scripture says, "while Jesus was teaching," giving folks something to hold onto, something they could use in their lives, something to make a difference in the way they approached each day...while he was teaching like no one else ever taught (even the officers sent to arrest him said, "No man ever spoke like this man!"2), just then (verse 23) a man with an evil spirit came into the church.

Oh, the devil comes to church, all right, but he is no match for Jesus. Jesus can whip the devil every time. When Jesus gets in you, and you get in Jesus, in the Spirit, on the Lord's day, what does the Bible say? "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."3 When you get in the Spirit and the Spirit gets in you, the devil acts like he's seen a ghost. And he has. He's seen the Holy Ghost. The devil is no match for the Spirit of Christ Jesus. The church folks say this man has authority to give orders to evil spirits and they obey him. The devil may come to church, but he's no match for the one who is Lord of the church, the one who said, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."4

Taking Jesus Home
Immediately after church Jesus, his disciples, including James and John, left the church and went straight to Peter's and Andrew's house. Can you imagine taking Jesus home with you after church? There's some good news here in this passage for the married folks and the single folks. A lot of us like that part about being in the Spirit on the Lord's day, in the Lord's house, but at benediction time, too often for us, it's, "Later on, Jesus. Catch  you next Sunday." This passage suggests something new for some of us to try: taking Jesus home after church. Are you married like Peter? Take Jesus home to where you live--up close with somebody who knows all your warts and flaws and to where being a Christian ain't all that easy. Or are you single like Andrew? Take Jesus home to see those private places that we keep so well hidden from the probing public. Can you imagine what it would be like to take Jesus home with you tonight? Would you have to straighten up the place? Or would you have to straighten up your life?

Imagine Jesus sitting at the table with you, watching you serve roasted preacher and warmed-over gossip. Imagine Jesus browsing through your books and your magazines, even the ones that you keep hidden. Imagine Jesus turning on your VCR to see what it is you watch when the children are asleep. Jesus standing in the kitchen, listening to you talking on the phone; Jesus hearing all you say and seeing all you do. Not up here, where you've got all your holy hats on, shouting "Praise the Lord," but at home, when your hair is down and your shoes are off, and the real you is just hanging all out.

Peter and Andrew took the Lord home, and what they experienced was an unexpected blessing. Peter had a wife. After all, you can't have a mother-in-law unless you have a wife. And here is Jesus all up in the midst of Peter's marriage. I've often thought that one of the reasons Peter wept so bitterly, as it is recorded in the denial scenes,5 was perhaps because of his memories about Jesus' impact on his marriage and family life. It may be that Peter remembered a loving relationship with his wife who, like a good friend, understood his compelling imperative to leave home for a period of time and follow Jesus; he may have had that kind of love in his marriage.

Memories will bring tears to your eyes--memories of the kind of love that can only come when two people who are in love and, who because of that love, make a home together and grow from what each gives to the other. Those kinds of memories will bring tears to your eyes--memories of a love so deep that one of the African tribes has no word for it. They call this type of love a "hurting in the heart." This hurt in the heart is so profound that just talking to the person on the phone starts you smiling, grinning, and acting silly. And ain't nobody in the room but you. Memories will bring tears to your eyes--memories of a shared moment of silence, perhaps in an embrace when nobody says a word, and just a hot tear of joy from cheek to chest says it all; memories of how life has taught you that love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction

To have a reservoir of memories to fall back on when disaster hits is to be fortified against defeatism and despair. And to have Jesus as an integral part of your marriage, in your home, in your prayer life, in your plan making and your lovemaking...Lord have mercy! No wonder Peter broke down.

Peter had a good thing, and the Lord was the center of his life and ministry. He took the Lord home and experienced an unexpected blessing.

It is not recorded anywhere that Andrew had a wife. But neither is it recorded anywhere that Andrew was defective or disadvantaged. First, he was the one who brought Peter to the Lord; and second, Jesus in this passage is in his home just as much as he is in Peter's home. Peter and Andrew, married and single, took the Lord home, and what they experienced was an unexpected blessing.

When they got home, Scripture says, Peter's mother-in law was sick. No doubt she had been sick that morning when the others left for church. But they went to church anyhow. They had seen the Lord work in a marvelous way up at the church house, as the Lord will do every now and then. But then after church, they were going home and, if anything, the home situation had gotten worse. And isn't that how it is with us? Sometimes we leave home on Sundays, and things are in a turmoil. We meet the Lord at the Lord's house, and the Lord works in a mighty way in our souls, and we feel good; we feel great. Sometimes it feels like we've seen the seraphim that Isaiah saw. When we leave church, we can just feel the Lord hugging us and holding us, but when we get back home, things are no longer in a turmoil. They're in an uproar. Sometimes we hate to go home, because we know what's  waiting for us there. But when you take Jesus home with you expect the unexpected.

The Lord Can Do Anything, Anywhere
When the churchgoers got home, Peter's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. Somebody told Jesus about the situation. James Rowe composed a hymn about telling Jesus your problems. He wrote:

Just tell Jesus, tell him all.
Trials great and trials small.
He will share them, freely bear them.
Just tell Jesus, tell him all.

Elisha Hoffman put it another way in his hymn:

I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for His own.

When they took Jesus home and somebody told him about the situation, he went straight to Peter's mother-in-law, touched her, took her by the hand, and helped her up. One touch and the fever was gone.

Now this passage says at least two things that I want to impress upon you. First, it says the Lord works in your own house just like he works in the church house. If you meet the Lord here (in church) and take him there, he is as anxious to be with you there as he is to meet you here, and he will bless you unexpectedly.

The second thing this passage says is that Jesus is good for whatever ails you. The Bible does not say what the ailment was that had Peter's mother-in-law down. It doesn't say what the condition was that gave her a fever, and I'm glad it doesn't because in not saying,  what it is saying is that Jesus can relieve any kind of suffering.

If you're sick, Jesus can make you well. Even if you're dying, Jesus can make up your dying bed. If you're depressed, Jesus can get you up. If you're down, Jesus can pick you up. If you've fallen, Jesus can hold you up. If you're in sin, Jesus can fix you up. Tempted and tried? Jesus can give you the victory. Where you're weak and defeated, his grace is still sufficient. Stained from sin? His blood can still wash you. In need of a savior? He still saves from the guttermost to the uttermost. He is good for whatever ails you. It does not make any difference what your situation is. If Jesus touches you, he'll bless you in really unexpected ways. He'll get you up from wherever you are and fix you up in ways you never imagined.

Praise Yields Unexpected Blessings
But the key to God's using and giving unexpected blessings is lost when we let problems get in the way of praise. Think about how problems in your life cause you to say, "I don't want to pray. Lord, just leave me alone." But when you praise God in spite of problems, it is precious, and it is priceless, and God will bless you unexpectedly. Peter and Andrew went to church anyhow and praised the Lord, and the Lord blessed them. They had a problem at home, but they went to the church to praise.

Dr. Charles Walker6 tells a story that illustrates this for me. He was holding a revival in New England and the man who was assigned to take him back and forth every night to the hotel was a man who could not speak the king's English. He spoke good African American English, but he couldn't speak the king's English. He never did say "revival" the whole week. He said "vavibal." He said, "Rev., that 'vavibal' blessed me." The last night, as they headed to the airport Charles remarked that though the man didn't speak the king's English, he had "money's mammy." He was driving a Lincoln that was so high that Charles said he couldn't even read those roman numerals. He wore a three-carat diamond pinky ring, Brooks Brothers shoes, and a three-hundred dollar suit. The man said, "Rev., you don't understand how I got this. I got it by putting the Lord first in my life and praising God in spite of problems."

Charles looked at him and the man continued, "See, folks see a car, they want to go get a car. They see a suit and a house, they try to get that. You know the Word says, Rev., 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these here things will be added unto you.' "The man said, "Let me tell you how I know that's true. Me and my wife been married over forty years. And during the depression I lost my job and we spent all of our life savings." And he said, "One Saturday night (both of us wanted to go to church the next morning and our church were eight miles away from where we lived, the bus fare were ten cents, and we only had fifteen cents to our names), my wife said, 'Honey, tell you what you do. What you do is you walk to church in the morning, and when you get to church you put a nickel in, and when you leave, you'll have a dime to ride back, 'cause it only cost a dime to ride in those days.

"And I got up, and I walked to church. I was tired, but it were a beautiful day, and as I were walking, I just felt blessed because I thought about people who didn't have no legs to walk. When I got to church, as soon as I stepped inside the sanctuary, the Holy Ghost said, 'Put the whole fifteen cents in.' And I started arguing with the Lord. I said, 'No, no. No, no. "Seek ye first" don't mean that. I done walked all the way here.'"

The man continued, "The choir started singing the processional. They were singing, 'How I got over. My soul looks back and wonders....' But all I could hear them singing was, 'Put the whole fifteen cents in.' When it came time for the offering, I lost the argument. I was rubbing my dime and my nickel together, and like a drum beating in my head, it kept beating over and over again, 'Put the whole fifteen cents in.' I put it in; I watched that offering plate take our last money in the world further and further away from me.

"But don't you know the Lord blessed me through the Word. The sermon that Sunday were, 'They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles.'7 When I left church I felt like one of them eagles. I was feeling good. I were ready to walk that eight miles back home.

"I got one block from the church and a strange lady stopped me. She said, 'Mister, I don't know you, and I don't know if you need work or not, but, here, take this address, and if you do need work they're hiring there tomorrow.' And I said, 'Thank you, Jesus.' I walked another block, and the Spirit of the Lord said, 'Look down.' When I looked down I seen a dime, and I said, 'Thank you, Jesus.'"

He concluded his story: "As soon as I picked the dime up, a bus were coming, and I said, 'Thank you, Jesus.' I got up on the bus, I put my dime in, and the bus driver give me back fifteen cents change. I said, 'Mister, I ain't give you no quarter; I give you a dime.' The bus driver said, 'Shut up, man, and sit down.' I said, 'Thank you, Jesus.'

"I got back home on the Lord's day, blessed by the Lord's Word, blessed by the Lord's work, blessed by the Lord with a job, blessed by the Lord with the same fifteen cents I left home with. And that job I went to the next day to interview, boy, I held that job for thirty-three years. Thank you, Jesus."

God will fix it for you. Won't he fix it? He's a good God!

I thank you, Jesus.
I thank you, Jesus.
I thank you, Lord.
Oh, you brought me from a mighty long way
A mighty long way.

I thank you, Jesus.
I thank you, Jesus.
I thank you, Jesus, I thank you Lord.
You brought me from a mighty,
A mighty long way.8

Notes
1Matthew 18:20, RSV
2John 7:46, RSV
3James 4:7, RSV
4Matthew 16:18, KJV
5Mark 14:66-72; Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:1-62
6Dr. Charles Walker is the pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
7Isaiah 40:31, KJV
8Traditional

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., is the Senior Pastor of  Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, IL. He holds degrees from Virginia Union University, Howard University, the University of Chicago Divinity School and the United Theological Seminary. 

Reprinted from What Makes You So Strong? edited by Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., copyright 1993 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, www.judsonpress.com.



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