March 12, 2021
We are still in Chapter 1 of Mark. These short 10 verses this morning, give us a lot of information about Jesus and his ministry. Sometimes I feel pretty redundant in preaching the gospel. All love, reconciliation and redemption. The twenty-four hours depicted in today’s gospel are a miniature sketch of the entire ministry of Jesus. Upon leaving worship in the synagogue at Capernaum, (last week – where he exorcised the unclean spirit) he goes next door to a private home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. It is another healing; a much, more simple healing than that of releasing the unclean spirit – but a healing just the same.
I have been to the synagogue and archeological site of where the home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was; so that helps make it relevant to me. But if you go the village of Capernaum today; right next to the synagogue is a sign which reads; “Simon Peter’s House.” Scripture reads; “she had a fever.” That’s right, just a fever. Not the dreaded disease of leprosy (back then) or covid today; just a common fever. The scripture simply says; “Jesus takes her hand and raises her up.” It is the same word in Greek for resurrection. The fever leaves her and she begins to serve. She begins to minister.
She is the first active witness to what a resurrected life in Jesus looks like. Now that is part 1 of today’s text. Part 2 is that the word was out; Jesus heals many and casts out demons – and people near and far have probably now heard that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is sick, and they are all wondering if he will heal her too. So, the whole city is gathered around the door of the mother-in-law home. And part 3: Jesus leaves her home while it is still dark, long before dawn, and goes to a deserted place to pray. (It is important to note that throughout the scriptures Jesus does this – after healing or performing miracles, Jesus slips away to a quiet place alone to pray. He knows it is not he that does the work. And he needs to get himself rejuvenated and give thanks to God his Father.) And part 4: When the disciples come to round Jesus up, and bring him back to Capernaum; Jesus says; “no let us go to a neighboring town so that I may proclaim the message there – for that is what I came out to do.” And so, they do. They move on to another town.
Healing the sick – and similarly the possessed, was central to Jesus’ earthly ministry. His gift of physical and spiritual healing (like he did for the man in the synagogue, and Peter’s mother-in-law) restored human beings to full participation in their communities. Healing and deliverance is a fulfillment of Isaiah 61; where no one goes hungry, the ill and grieving are healed, and those in various kinds of prisons are set free. Over and over again in the gospels we hear Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecy as he “went about healing many who were sick or possessed by demons.
This snippet of the gospel is very meaningful to me, not only because I have been there, but also because of a message I heard from a preacher my first year at Pastor’s School. Our teacher preached on this 1st Chapter of Mark and his message touched the heart of what I feel my ministry and our ministry are all about. His focus was on the 2nd point I made earlier, that everyone in town was gathered at his Mother-in-laws house; scribes, Pharisees, sinners and disciples – but the interesting point he made was that those who went into the house with Jesus to observe the healing – were the sinners – and those who stayed on the outside looking in (not wanting to be seen with the sinners) were the followers of the law, the scribes and Pharisees. The Pastor and colleague of mine, reminded us that if we today, were truly the church of Jesus Christ we would have about 9 (that is the number he used) members or people attending worship on Sunday mornings. If we truly are ministering to the destitute, widows and orphans, hungry and diseased (you know, those who have no money and hang out in the bars and have bad reputations and poor hygiene), few would want to come to our church. But instead, our churches main concern is money and numbers. New members and tithing. With few exceptions. That is my job! (not my ministry). I myself was “raised up” years ago now, from poverty and abuse in order to serve. That is what happens when we make our ministry about serving. People are healed and saved – in order to be lifted up to their feet, raised, resurrected – to be able to go serve.
Although ordinary; there are three parts to this scripture. One public, one personal, one private; each part invites us to eavesdrop on Jesus’ spirituality; how he lived, and the faith he practiced even with the demands of people living in an overwhelmed world. Jesus’ day to day life could not be more jam-packed, even if he were a politician giving a stump speech at every whistle-stop. First, there’s a high-profile public synagogue healing; then we follow that today with his personal encounter with the healing of a sick woman at her bedside; and we see him pull away for some private moments of prayer, as he spends time alone with God. Perhaps Jesus was remembering the words that were read from Isaiah this morning saying; “Even youths will faint and be weary. And the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, tey shall walk and not faint.” I suspect that is what Jesus was up to as he sequestered himself in a deserted place to pray. Perhaps by tending to his prayer life, he found perspective above the fray; almost like the wings of an eagle, looking over the woes and foes of the world.
But then what happens? We know it all too well; “the distraction” the interruption – actually, the Greek word means they “hunted him down” to go back to Capernaum again and the demanding cycle reboots. But he doesn’t follow the disciples, he instead leads them saying; “Let’s head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I have come.” Sounds like he had the kind of clarity that comes out of one’s deepest identity – which finds its source and sustenance in God. The question for us; is how often do we feel the need to stay where accolades are given; where it is comfortable and secure? Or do we do what we came to do – and then continue on our way? Do we follow our calling? Do we need to move often, move on to another town, another place, different people – who need our assistance – rather than stay where everyone is reveling in our good works?
We may not know her name, but the mother of Simon Peter’s wife, is a model for our own servant ministry. Touched and healed by Jesus, she becomes a minister of healing herself. Se gets up from her bed and presumably begins to feed people.
The very next encounter (and in fact there are 10 consecutive accounts of healing in the gospel of Mark), but next he touches and heals a leper. And the upshot of this story is that the leper is told to keep quiet about his healing, but he can’t and he doesn’t – he must tell the whole world. From here on out Jesus can’t even enter a town without being besieged. The world is desperate (then and now) for being raised up – healing. In all ten stories, there is an indication that there was a hunger for healing!
I want to give you just another little nugget before closing. The healing touch that Jesus gave to Simon Peters mother-in-law (according to the way it was written) was Jesus took her hand and raised her up. He encouraged her with a compassionate touch. I want us to understand that it can be that simple. Our compassion is needed. In an encouraging touch. Nothing more. I will never forget when I offered to pray for my Drama coach and professor at Dakota Wesleyan University (Darrell Patton). He used to come to the Black Hills and reenact the Badger Clark story). He excused class because he was not feeling well, and I stayed behind and asked him if I could pray with him. He said yes, so I put my hands on his shoulders and I silently prayer. When I stopped, he said; “it lifted the minute your hands touched my shoulders.”
Our touch can be predictable, or unexpected and surprising. Touch can be the water on the head during baptism, or a spoken word whispered in someone’s ear. The touch is bread in our hands and wine on our lips. The touch is in holding hands around a hospital bed, and in the blessing of a prayer. Touch is in an affirming word which frees a troubled teenager. Or the spoken words of the gospel that assures us of the promise of being risen as on Easter, as well as for a loved one who has died. The touch is the welcome embrace of an outsider and a refugee into our family’s circle – and it is known in the fingers at work, on drill bits and computer keys and kneading bread and kneading shoulders. The touch imprints numerals on a check, put into the offering place, for church mission and ministry at home and around the globe. The touch comes through speaking a word of encouragement to someone who is discouraged. And is exercised in advocating social justice for the misused, the abused; the neglected and the oppressed. The touch of a hand can heals, restore, and exorcise our demons. Michelangelo used this powerful image of the life-giving touch when he painted Creation – as God reaching out a hand to Adam, offering life.
After Jesus’ teaching and touching, seeing all the pain in the world, Jesus empowered the disciples to “do far greater things than these” and he sent them out to share the good news and a healing touch. We often say that; “Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.” Ow do our hands serve as instruments of healing, and help to raise others to new life? Where have you met the healing hand of God? Where his that hand, gloved in human flesh, reached out to lift you up, feeding you or soothing your troubled soul or cooling your fevered brow or shaken you awake to an even greater awareness of the lonely soul of the suffering mob just outside in our streets – and in that you were empowered to serve? Just as Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was touch and raised up to go and serve. Touching is not some fragment of history to be remembered. The touching goes on today, because Christ lives and is present among us. His body the church, is alive in our world to share his touch. For we are lifted up to serve.
Let us pray: O Lord, healer of our every ill, we come to you in our weakness, in our uncertainty. Just as your friends in Capernaum looked to you in expectation and hope, we come to you now, asking you to heal us, to free us from the unclean spirits that haunt us. Because we know that you can, dear Jesus. we know you are able to do more than we can imagine. We know you can fix what’s wrong in us. So, stretch out your hand and touch us, Lord. Heal our brokenness of body, mind, and spirit. Make us whole. And then, Lord, help us to keep following you. Don’t let us turn back to our old ways of trying to cope. Help us to keep trusting you, even when you lead us into the dark unknown territory of going wherever you go. Because we want to serve you, Lord, with the same gratitude and dedication Simon’s mother-in-law showed. We want to join with you, Lord, in the work of establishing your kingdom here on earth. And we want to stay with you, Lord, showing others the way through their own darkness, leading them to you. We pray these things in your Holy name. Amen.
Rev. Jil Jennewein