Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
Reading: Isaiah 40:25-31; Mark 1:29-34
The last few weeks we’ve looked at our faith through the lens of six different call stories. This week, as we move towards Lent, I’d like to shift our focus onto Jesus’ ministry so we can begin to better understand our own call as mutual ministers of this church.
You might have noticed that today's gospel message comes on the tails of last week’s where, Jesus is in the synagogue teaching and casting out evil spirits. The people there were amazed. They had never seen or heard anything like him before. In fact, the only one who recognizes his divine authority is the unclean spirit who calls him the “Holy One of God.”
In Mark's gospel, Jesus begins his ministry saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” So it should be of no surprise that the first step to becoming a follower of Christ is invite Christ into your life and let him cast out all the unclean spirits within you. But then what? What are we to do next? Well Mark gives us all the clues we need to answer that question.
Again, the story immediately moves from the public worship space of the synagogue into a private, much more intimate space of Simon’s home. Look at what Mark writes, “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.”
Notice the multiple use of the word "immediately." Immediately he leaves the Temple, and immediately they tell him about her. With his disciples in tow, Jesus hits the ground running. He has come with a purpose. Perhaps there is urgency to his mission because he knows his time with us is limited. Or perhaps Jesus, who is always faithful to God, simply acts as God does. We also begin to see those who follow him will react just the same.
When God acts, it is Immediate. As soon as the words are out of God's mouth, it instantly is real. So when God says let there be light, there was light. God said, let the land divide the waters, and it was so. (Remember John tells us Jesus is the word of God.) So when we ask Jesus for God's mercy and forgiveness, we do not have to wait around for a decision to be made. What's the old saying? "God does not form committees, sinners do." As soon as God speaks it, it is so. God’s grace works instantaneously. Even though it might not always seem that way.
One of my favorite Simpson’s episodes is when Moe transforms his dank, smelly bar into a family friendly restaurant. Homer isn’t too sure about this. He likes his bar just the way it's always been. As part of the remodel Moe purchases a gigantic deep-fat fryer from the Navy. He informs Homer that it can fry anything in only 30 seconds to which Homer cries, “30 seconds, but I want now!
In our culture that wants everything instantly, it might seem like God doesn’t act so quickly. And I get that because I am a bit like Homer Simpson (and not because of my hair...or my belly!). I like things to happen in my time. I Google a lot because I like instant results. Yet I have to constantly remind myself I don't live in my time. I live in God's. And God’s time has no beginning or end. The only place to be with God is in the now; right now in this present moment. God is here. Because God has always been here. God is immediate because God is always present. So the question then is, “Are we always present with God?”
In "our time" it might seem like God is making us wait, but when we understand that we live in God's time then perhaps it is our faith, or lack there of, that is dragging its feet. To faithfully follow Jesus means we must constantly live in the immediate presence of God. For it is here our faith finds its strength. God is Immediate.
Now inside the house, “Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” There is someone in the house who truly believes Jesus can heal this woman. We don’t know who it is, only that he or she is also in a hurry. Perhaps there is reason for us to worry. We know that fever can be a life or death situation.
We also know when Jesus touches the woman... she is healed. This simple gesture is a wonderful example of how God is intimate with us. Through Jesus' action, we see how God is with us even in our most private places; for there is no place God won’t go to be with us. God is not only immediate, but God is also intimate. God is intimate because God is always present. And God is present because God loves us and longs to be with us.
It saddens me to think that this wonderful characteristic of God is often overlooked. Too often God is portrayed as an angry, distant supreme being that has no use for humans beyond smiting us with plagues, droughts, and fireballs from the sky. There are many Christians whose personal actions perpetuate this stereotype.
For example, do you remember those guys who would picket the funerals of fallen soldiers? They held signs that read, “God Hates (blank).” I say blank because they use derogatory words to describe particular types of human beings they disagree with. Still those words are not as bad the first two on their signs...“God Hates” This is derogatory to God. The God I know personally. The God I love. The way I see it there is no sin that could ever be greater than God’s covenant love for all human beings. Who are we to put limits on God? And who are we to claim his love exclusively as our own? God’s love is endless...and limitless. This is the kind of intimacy we are to focus our faith on.
Jesus remained faithful to God’s call for love. In fact, he upholds the highest level of love known to us when he willing gave over his life for the wellbeing of others. God enters into our life with intimacy. With just a simple touch of human contact we see how God’s grace and mercy heals all wounds. We possess God's healing power because God is within us. A gentle touch of kindness can go a long way heal our wounds and scars.
When God gives grace, it’s immediate. When God gives love, it is intimate. And when God sent down his Son to be with us, God initiates the first step in our healing and restoration. God is immediate. God is intimate. And God initiates.
So how do we respond to God’s plan for us? As mutual ministers what are we called to do? Mark gives us yet another wonderful clue. Just after Jesus heals the woman notice what she does. She gets up and begins to serve them. She doesn’t let another second of her life go to waste. Instead she immediately gets up and goes to work, serving others in the most basic yet intimate way she knows how...through hospitality.
Notice also no one tells to do this. No one demanded to be fed. She initiates this action on her own accord. Instead of falling to her knees and worshiping Jesus like we might expect ourselves to do...she shows her gratitude by doing what Jesus has called us all to do. To serve others. This nameless woman is the first to recognize that "service" is the key to both the call and pursuit of Jesus. To live faithfully in the presence of God means we too are called to give unselfishly of ourselves. Many of us do this very well.
Here is how Mark is laying out a workable template for our mutual ministry... We begin to see it means more than just simply gathering for worship in our church. It also means we are called to welcome Christ into our homes. We are called to intercede for the sick and weak. And we are called to serve others without expecting to be served by them in return.
It is this insightful woman who understands Jesus' radical new ministry. She gets it when all the others don’t. She is the one who gets up and begins to fill glasses with wine, and puts out plates of cheese and bread on the table; she set out bowls filled with olives and dates, humus and tabouli. She immediately initiates her part in Jesus' ministry. What she does...might not sound like a big deal, but have you ever tried to make tabouli?
It would be a mistake to write off her service as menial or as woman’s work. She realized God gave her a new lease on life...And she showed her gratitude by transforming her kitchen into a new kind of worship space. Her table becomes the Altar where God is truly present. And on that altar she sacrifices the best foods to him. The house fills up with pleasant aromas that rise up towards heaven. It is here in this new sanctuary where people gather together to break bread...as a new kind of family. Because she took the initiative and immediately set her faith to work the intimacy shared around her table...and this meal will follow Jesus throughout his ministry. And after his resurrection, the home itself would become the first Church as we know it today.
As I was preparing this message, I feared it might fall on deaf ears because this is something most of you already get ...and are doing. (And don’t stop.) I can’t tell you how blessed I am to be a part of a church that gives so unselfishly of their time and talent and resources. The parsonage is just one amazing example. The deacon’s discretionary fund is another. There is the playground, the choir and joy bells, the overhead slides. There are so many who volunteer to make sure the building is maintained and our children are safely cared for. From the Boy Scouts to the Secret Sisters of Christ, the ministries of this church is impressively long. But what is more impressive is you do it, not for your glory, but for God’s. Imagine a world made up of this kind of spirit.
Sometimes we forget the simple joy of hospitality. Sometimes it feels like a burden. Sometimes we just want to sit there and be served. And that’s okay. We all have days when we need to be cared for too. But what Mark is showing us is God is active in our lives, and God has called us to be active too.
If we are to faithfully follow Jesus’ radical and selfless ministry, then we must also follow the example first given to us by this impressive woman, who quite possibly is the first Christian, and the first Deacon to be recorded in church history. For it is her selfless service that helps us understand what it means to stand in the presence of God as a part of this new family in Christ.
And the most amazing thing is...we don't even know her name.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”