Sermon for Epiphany 5
Love and serve all people following the example of Jesus Christ.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we start to live and act as Jesus’ disciples we discover that Jesus leads us to speak with grace and to act out of love. That, I suppose, was central to his teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum that we’ve been reading about these past few weeks. It begins with hearing God’s word and promise -- the good news of God’s kingdom — and responding with faith and trust in God and God’s will and purposes. The first expressive response of faith is simply getting up and following Jesus.
That is as good an entry into reading a Gospel, like the Gospel of Mark, as there might be. When we read the Gospel we follow Jesus — hear what he says, see what he does — understanding that this is to strengthen our faith and kindle our love and to serve as a guide for what will be our words and actions.
In the reading for today, we follow Jesus out of the assembly of faith and back into our own household — it’s actually Peter and Andrew’s house, and Peter’s mother-in-law is living there, too. She is sick in bed with a fever. This is not the house of a nuclear family, but an extensive household. Jesus heals her immediately, and she begins to serve them It is Sabbath and there are many in this household, and their fellowship is growing because Jesus is there. That night, when Sabbath has ended and new week has begun, the sick and demon possessed of the town come to the door in search of healing. Mark tells us that whole town turned out.
Now surely the whole town wasn’t sick or demon possessed, were they? There must have been friends who took sick friends or relatives who took struggling, suffering family members … and, as always, I’m sure there were the curious onlookers.
When we are reading a Gospel, though, the Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see things we wouldn’t normally notice. So maybe it is accurate to say the whole village showed up, and they were all sick or possessed … because I wonder if we aren’t all ill or wrestling with our demons, even today.
It’s common for us to speak of our demons: those forces that vex us and drive us to despair, keep us from life, make us feel or act less than human. As long as we can manage the demons, keep them at bay … we are ok. Or if the demonic is socially acceptable and culturally endorsed … the demonic powers go unnoticed. When they act out, flare up and become unmanageable, though, we experience a crisis. It is here in the crisis and in our suffering, that we cry out to be set free. Yet freedom and healing means change. It means we are changed, and we have to continue to live in the difference that God gives us as freedom and healing.
Maybe that’s why people who have their illness well-managed and their demons under control don’t actively seek freedom or healing. The price of change seems too much for us. There is certainly plenty of solid information about what makes a healthy and life-sustaining diet and there are certainly plenty of groups and resources to help us change the way we eat and even how we relate to food, but none of that seems real until our health and life is threatened. The fear of death can paralyze us, but it can also motivate us to finally cry out, “save me!” It can motivate us to seek help and to do the hard work that’s involved with repenting and living a new life. It’s amazing what we will do to keep ourselves from dying.
Is that why so many people showed up at the door of the house where Jesus was saying? Because they knew, they sensed, they trusted, they hoped, that Jesus could keep them from dying.
I have also dreamed what that would mean for this congregation, if we had the power the to keep people from dying — magic hands, healing energy, ritual powers, potions, cures — I wonder how many people would be at our doors? Ever do often, somebody will have a vision of saint and testify to the healing power of the apparition. Then many sick and desperate people will gather at the place, hoping and praying for that will receive the same gift. It must have been a sight to have all of the town’s sick and possessed standing at the door, waiting and expecting healing.
I have to admit, the power to heal is the power I would most want … a power I have prayed for. When I was a seminary student, doing my chaplaincy in the hospital, I would talk to people who were very sick and with some people who were struggling with their demons … and that was making them sick … and I would ask God, if would be possible if may be this touch and this prayer might be a cure. I did not want them to die.
If only Jesus were here today … they certainly would not die. And yet, that evening in Capernaum Jesus did heal many, and he cast out many demons. … and yet, they are all dead now. Some of my colleagues have visited the foundation of the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught, and they have toured the ruins of the village that Jesus healed that night.
What happened to the those people who were healed? If healing did not keep them from dying, then what’s the use?
And that was the true gift God has given her … life. The gift was life, a renewed life … a life with God in Christ.
That is Jesus’ message, the good news he proclaims in word and deed, with gentleness and with power. That in him is life and it is ours as a gift, flowing from God’s grace and love for you. Each healing is a sign and foretaste of the enduring life Jesus gives through his death and resurrection for us.
The people Jesus healed that evening are certainly all dead as far a we can see, but we Jesus lives, even now. Jesus is alive and his resurrection took away the sting of death and gave us life out of death. And so, I suppose it really isn’t accurate to say that those who were healed in Capernaum are all dead … they are most certainly alive in Christ …as is that woman I knew who was healed so many years ago … as is our hope for life as well.
And maybe that’s why the quick story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law that opens our Gospel today is truly the key to understanding what Jesus gives when he heals. She is sick with a fever. Jesus raises her up, and the fever leaves her. She then begins to serve him. It’s easy to concentrate on the healing part of the story. How amazing it is that Jesus heals her, but what happens next is just as important. She begins to serve them. The good news of her healing is not that she doesn’t die, but how she is set free to live.
That is in a very general sense, our story. We may not notice the importance of her service because for too long we simply have chalked up her life of service to the fact that she was a woman, but that’s not it. All of us — men and women — are called to love and serve and minister to Jesus … to give of ourselves for the sake of God’s mission in the world. That is what Simon’s mother-in-law does with the gift of life she receives from Jesus. She returns to life and her life has now been taken up into God’s life-giving mission for the world. Simon’s mother-in-law … and the disciples … show the town what it means to live as baptized members of Jesus’ household. They become a visible sign of God’s kingdom coming into this world.
And so maybe this is a truth that can guide our words and deeds, as individuals and as a community of Jesus’ people: That we always speak and act with grace in love or that we give gifts that serves, sustains and enhances a real and authentic life. That is what we mean when we vow to love and serve all people following the example of Jesus. That is what our lives are for. That is what our work is for … for the glory of God and the benefit of others and God’s creation. No place do we see the illness of the demonic in our world today than in the many ways God’s children are driven to work for the powers of greed, violence and death. That is not us or our mission.
At the end of our reading, Jesus and the disciples strike out to share the good news in other towns and villages. The disciples follow him out. That is what they do, but the house and the household and the healed people of the village stay behind to live a life in the fullness of the kingdom of God that has come near … they live by faith now, free and healed and whole. The village is changed. Life for many in the village is changed. That morning when the sun came up, they went back their work … but it was different, I’m sure. The same work … done by a transformed person and done for God’s will and purposes. That is the gift we’ve been given too. That is what we mean when we thank God for "the healing power of this gift of life.”
So, what’s next for you today … this week. What will you do and where will God lead you to love and serve this week? I wonder, what new possibilities for living has God given you today … in Jesus name? Amen.
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