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Epiphany 5B Sermon
Mark 1: 29-39
February
4, 2018

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

I find I get stuck in the first half of our Gospel reading wondering at Simon's Mother-in-Law and her immediate response to Jesus' healing. I get stuck there, I suppose, because even though I have never experienced illness or injury which threatens my life, I have certainly witnessed this in others with whom I have spent time. Even my relatively minor aches and pains and the very occasional bout with the flu or a virus gives me little insight into her experience. She had been ill - ill to the point of death, apparently. Why else would the disciples have been so quick to bring her suffering to Jesus' attention? And then suddenly … she wasn't. And her first response, at first glimpse – seems to be to get back to a 'normal' life. To resume all those things she had missed doing so easily before she was taken down by this fever. She served because, no doubt, it was what she had always done. It was probably what she knew best. And yet, I believe that there was a difference in her serving, post healing. This time, I think she was able to do so as grateful response to what she had just now so miraculously received, and no longer as a way to please those who are around her.
This is a wonderful witness for us today because I fear that healing rarely is experienced or reacted to like that. Even after a minor cold or cough which had us down for weeks is gone, we tend to return to the same old routine … eventually. The people I have prayed alongside while they recovered from serious illness or traumatic injury often get impatient while waiting to ‘go back’ to life as usual. Sometimes it is hard to say if the healing will ever be complete. When I was a senior in the seminary I spent the better part of one Christmas Break down and out with pneumonia. Even halfway into the next semester I was struggling to get my voice back into shape. Once during a Worship and Chanting class at the Josephinum, the teacher asked if I was feeling well. I told him I was, but for some reason wasn’t back to full strength even though I had pneumonia some three months previous. He said that answered everything – it takes longer than that to fully recover, even for a healthy 26 year-old. One of the things I often pray for with people in the hospital is patience.
It is for this reason that the news of this woman's healing quickly spread so that pretty soon 'the whole city' was gathered outside the front door with all their ailments and woes in tow. It is no mystery at all that people desire to return to a time when things were better. To ‘go back’ to how it was … before I fell … before the truck slammed into me … before I was diagnosed with cancer and started chemo …before my marriage fell apart … before my loved one died, before ... any brokenness.

Did Simon's Mother-in-Law lay in a fever desiring that her life would return to the way it was before? Probably. But the wonder and joy of this healing miracle is that she has not been restored to how she was before; she has been made new. She has experienced something which, though it will not yet take her life, it has taken something still and has replaced it with something altogether different --- if nothing more than an acute awareness that she never had before. For her and for that great crowd gathered outside her front door life would never be the same again, for they have experienced both the depths of despair and the height of hope and the wonder of life renewed in a way perhaps they never have before.
In our Old Testament reading, Isaiah is speaking to people who have been in exile for 50 years or more. Many of them never knew their homeland. Many liked life in Babylon – they had married, gotten good jobs and settled in. Going back wasn’t really an option they liked. But God is promising that by returning to Israel, they are not going back, but they are going forward, being raised to something new. There is something more than life before they were carted off to this place. There is new strength for the weary, new hope for the desperate. They are about to have their strength renewed so that they shall never weary of loving God and each other.
When my mother had the massive stroke that would take her life, we really had hopes of her returning to health. At first it was not thought to be that bad. The doctor described a procedure that he was going to do, to fish a tiny claw through her artery to her brain to capture the clots which threatened her life and abilities to function. It would be the miracle we all desired! Then we were told that a piece of the claw had broken off during the procedure, and was blocking an artery close to the brain. All the while my family and I still thought that she was going to come through it, and we prayer that she could return to what she knew before. Then we found out that it was a much more serious stroke than we first knew, and that her aorta had a hole ripped in it. We were at the time to let her go. Of course, we experienced no miraculous healing, at least not in the conventional sense. She was not taken back to life before the stroke. But there was a different kind of healing where my family and I have been taken forward to something new. We have been brought to a new place of appreciation for the preciousness of human life, relationships, and the gift of laughter that mom gave us. We experienced the wonder of community through all of you and others who shared that time with us in about a thousand different ways. This congregation walked with me and my family showing me how to accept generosity and spiritual care in our own time of spiritual weakness. I’ve been taken to a new place where I can appreciate the gifts that God has given to me for ministry and life which were nurtured and encouraged by both of my parents. We all have been taken not back, but forward to a new understanding of the presence of God in our lives, and of a faith that did not die when it came up against some of the worst that life can hand us, but rather carried us through it all.

I wonder if Simon's Mother-in-Law and all those gathered around the door that night and all those who encountered the healing hand of Jesus in that town experienced something of that as well... at least in the immediate aftermath of their respective miracles and their return to their seemingly 'old lives.' I wonder how many of us appreciate that we have been taken not back to our old lives, but forward to something new. For Jesus didn’t just take her hand and lift her. In the original Greek language we read that he RAISED her - language of resurrection, of being brought out of desperation to new life.

How is Jesus raising Clinton Heights up and forward? How is God calling us not to return back to our old ways, but ahead to new and joyous life? If God does provide a miracle and our congregation suddenly would see an influx of new members until we are bursting at the seams, is it so that we can go back to church as it was in the 1980s, 70s or even the 1960s? No – it will be so that we can be healed of our illnesses, be raised up and start to serve Jesus alongside each other into the coming years.
And if, for some reason, our numbers are not increased and our congregation’s life comes to an end in 10 or 20 years, can we do so with such a witness that this community will know that the presence of the loving, gracious God has been here to serve Jesus as we have had breath in our bodies? Or if the most likely scenario happens, and we continue along as we have, sometimes struggling to be faithful and sometimes being shining examples of Christian discipleship can we recognize do so with appreciation and joy in what God has brought us to do? No matter what happens may the healing hand of Jesus raise us up, not to return but to advance onward in faith and love toward God, toward each other, and to the whole world. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.