Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – February 4, 2018
So far, John has come baptizing in the Jordan. Jesus has been baptized and called God’s beloved Son. John has been arrested for his courageous proclamation, and Jesus has started his teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God come near. Jesus has called the first disciples and has already cast out an unclean spirit. And that only took 28 verses!
Jesus’ ministry is full of healings and exorcisms in Mark’s Gospel, but this one we hear about today is helpful in understanding our own callings. Simon or Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. While we don’t know what kind of a fever she had, we know from our own experiences that they knock you out. They are exhausting. They keep you from others, from work and play. In short, as Cynthia Briggs Kittredge writes, “A debilitating fever is equivalent to death if one cannot do what is human to do, to serve, to feed, to provide for.” And Jesus recognizes this danger immediately. He walks over to her, gently takes her by the hand and lifts her up. It actually says he “raises her up” and this same means of healing is repeated throughout Mark. What’s amazing is that it’s the same thing we will hear about Jesus himself on Easter morning: “‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”
The end of Mark’s Gospel sends the disciples back to the beginning, to Galilee – the very place where Jesus began to preach, teach, heal, and cast out demons. The same place he began raising people into new life, beginning with this unnamed woman. The resurrection of Christ – his conquering of sin, death, and the devil – points us back to his ministry, reminding us that his encounters with people brought forgiveness, hope, healing, and new life. They remind us that this healing is for us, too.
But this woman does something else that is more remarkable the more I study this text. Initially I heard the line, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” and think, “really? She just recovered and now she is expected to serve them?! They couldn’t make their own fish sandwiches?!” But this is not exactly what’s going on. She is serving them, but what she is doing in not only playing hostess or living out a gender role.
In the section of the first chapter of Mark we’ve skipped so far, Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. We are told, “He was in the wilderness for forty days …; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” The angels serve Jesus. They minister to him in his time of need. The same as this woman does after she is healed – released from a crippling fever. She is like the angels! Likewise, as Jesus breathes his last on the cross, we hear that there were others who served him and helped support his ministry: “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee…”
This word, diakonia, is the word we get “deacon” and “deaconess” from, titles used for ministries of service. And it’s not just for women or angels. It’s at the very heart of Christ’s ministry. In later chapters we’ll hear about a request from James and John – yes, the very same ones present at this healing – in which they ask Jesus to be the top-ranking disciples. They want to sit at his right and left when he comes in glory. Jesus responds to them and all the disciples, “…but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’” The life of following Jesus is to be one of faith and faithful service to God and others. This unnamed woman got it immediately. It sounds like James and John should have paid closer attention!
I think we hear about Jesus’ healings and we wonder if they are for us. I’m sure we have all prayed for healing for ourselves or others and wondered if it had an effect. That is a real question and, unfortunately, I don’t have answers. But I know that Christ is always present with us, no matter what we are going through. And when I think about healing in my life, it’s more expansive than just physical healing. I think about confession and forgiveness. I think about the moments where I had experienced the love and peace of God in settling into my heart where confusion, turmoil, grief, and pain had been. I think about relationships mended and the lessons I’m learning – always learning, sometimes again and again – about what is truly important. Where has that healing happened for you?
I think about those times and I know Jesus has taken me by the hand and lifted me to new life. He’s grasped a hold of me and led me to a new and different place. A life of following him and growing in grace. I think about that and I want to respond to God’s overwhelming goodness – not out of obligation, but out of love. That’s what Peter’s mother-in-law did. She became a disciple and responded with love, faith, courage, and service.
Our encounters with God elicit a response. For some that might look like serving on Council or on a Ministry Team. Some may serve by setting up or taking down chairs and tables, or preparing food. It might look like living out your vocations as a sibling, spouse, parent, child, at work, or in school. There are no limits to how God might call you to serve! Today we are celebrating Scouts who serve our communities and hearing from Stephen Ministers who walk alongside others with open ears and compassionate hearts.
I don’t know how exactly God might invite you to serve. Or how that might change over time. But I do know that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection bring healing and wholeness to all of us. If the whole city came to the door for healing, what would make us think we needed it any less? And Jesus offers it. For all those ways we have sinned and fallen short. For the unkind words we’ve said and the things left unsaid. The painful memories and experiences we carry with us. The struggles with illness and addiction. The way we keep ourselves in bondage by believing the lies the world, others, and we tell ourselves. For our selfishness, prejudices, and our participation in systemic sin. In all of that, Christ enters in, takes us by the hand and raises us to brand new life in and through him. Not just to stay there, but to serve others and be agents of that healing and wholeness for them in Christ’s holy name. So be raised up and serve with joy, sisters and brothers! Amen.