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Epiphany 5B Sermon
Mark 1:29-39
February
7, 2021


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Mark 1:29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Let me ask a rhetorical question … why do you want this pandemic to be over? It may seem like a stupid question, but I am serious - why is everyone in such a hurry to defeat this tiny virus that is so unpredictable that it only makes about 1% or fewer of the people infected seriously ill, but it has killed nearly half a million people in our country so far? Why? If we were to be honest in answering that question it would have to do with going back, returning to what we call, “normal.”

Think of all that we have missed because of our current situation. In addition to those who have become seriously ill or died, we have had increased mental health issues and suicides in our world these last eleven months. Our elderly in care centers feel isolated since their families and friends cannot visit them. Unemployment and underemployment have become exacerbated to the point where some people are in financial holes that they will never dig out of, and of no fault of their own. On top of that, celebrations have either been delayed, cancelled or changed into virtual “gatherings” over Zoom. Sports have been cancelled, postponed, or look very different than they used to. And many of the arts totally disappeared, from high school to professional concerts and productions. We want them all back, and we want to get together in nice big groups and we want to do it without masks on!!

I wonder what Simon’s mother-in-law’s life was like before she caught this life-threatening fever that prevented her from getting out of bed. I am sure she was like most women of that time and location - married young, had at least one daughter, enjoyed extended family, worked hard at keeping up her house. I wonder if she sang while she worked, or was a good cook or could mend clothing well? I wonder if she was bright and cheerful with a terrific sense of humor, or if she was quiet, reserved, or even a “Debbie Downer?” She must have certainly been loved by her family - everyone told Jesus about her right after he healed the man of the unclean spirit in the synagogue. I imagine that her condition had everyone worried and this new healer was right across the street, so they thought. that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have him take a look at her, especially since she was the relative of one of his new followers. The entire healing is captured in one verse - he came, took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them. Even though it is but one verse, it is rich with meaning. What our Bible version translates as, “lifted her up,” many others translate, “raised her.” Jesus raised her. Mark uses resurrection language, not merely language of a physician curing a fever, but of a spiritual guide raising someone to new life. Whatever she had been like before - whatever personality or disposition she had - she was now raised to do and be something more … special. She has experienced the “holy” in her life and has been set apart for something special by God.
The holy life for which she has been set apart is servanthood. When the fever left her, she didn’t just cook Jesus and those with him a meal. She served them, she helped them to share God’s love as they were called to do. The word for serve used here - diakonia - is more than just becoming a cook or housekeeper; it means that however she was able to use her gifts, she did so to bring glory to God. She may very well have felt so rejuvenated that she made a meal for Jesus and the others, but she did so with a new appreciation and gratitude for what God had done for her in raising her up to this new, holy, “set apart for something special,” life! And then, she just kept serving.

Let’s return to our plight, then. What if we were to say that we are anxious to move past this pandemic in order to experience what God has in store for us next? I know, I know, we all miss the pieces of our pre-pandemic life and wish we could get it back. I am not saying that all of that has been permanently left behind. What I am saying is that we seek not only healing but resurrection from God in the midst of this pandemic. We need to grieve the people and the ways of life that may never come back in the months and years ahead; and we are called to prayerfully ask God, “What is next?” What is next for each of us individually and for our society? I am certainly not saying that this pandemic has been a gift to us, but I am saying that God’s healing and resurrection power presents a gift to us that we need at this point in our history. What is next? Status quo? Business as usual? Or new joy-filled life filled with grateful people who see new opportunities to love our neighbors with the same love that Jesus showed when he healed, preached, died and rose again.

This year our congregation celebrates one hundred years of worship and ministry in this community. The congregation itself was organized in 1921 and began worshiping in a room in the southwest corner of the Clinton Height School building. That building used to sit right across the street, on the same property as Clinton Elementary sits today. Maybe eight to ten years ago that building, known at that time as “The Annex” was torn down. While that little group of less than fifty adults and children were growing together in faith, they were able to purchase the land on which I am now standing, and on March 26, 1922 the original church building was dedicated. According to records, they had three services that day - Clinton Heights’ pastor, F.O. Schuh preached in the morning, O.G. Gerbich from the next closest congregation at the time, St. Luke’s Lutheran, preached for the afternoon service, and C.W. Pflueger of the Inner Missionary of Columbus preached that evening. The pastors and lay people of this church have gone through a lot together. There have been celebrations and tragedies, conflicts and collaborations. We have laughed and cried together. But I would venture to say that never before have we faced such a challenge as we have these last eleven months.

As we look back this year at who we are and who we have been as a congregation and as Christian people, we are called to continue to pray for Jesus to heal us. Jesus, be with us as we celebrate our past; Jesus, be with us as we morn those people and ways of life that may never return. Jesus, be with us as we experience your healing power and dream about what is to come. Jesus, raise us up to new life so that grateful servanthood may be our defining characteristic as we live into the next one hundred years as a family of faith. Amen.