1 Corinthians 9:16-23 and Mark 1:29-39.
Church, I like the irony of the Mark passage being our story for today: the men of the household paralyzed by the “out of service” status of this unnamed woman when many of the women who are leaders in this church are away on retreat.
But there’s more I like from this story. Mark’s Gospel rushes along at a clip. His connector between incidents is often simply “immediately.” (In the translation Mike read from today, I noticed they also used “as soon as.”) That, I think, say something about Mark’s experience of Jesus, and a pace the church might aim for…
Another impression of Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story is how much healing there was. Read Mark’s Gospel aloud in one sitting — these stories (produced by an oral culture) are meant to be told and heard, not read silently. You’ll notice that there’s this effect Jesus’ has– people get near him, and they get better…
In today’s episode, Jesus is at Simon’s house where the family, like many of ours, doesn’t fit the someone else’s norm of a nuclear family. At least, a wife is never mentioned. Instead, Simon’s mother-in-law is the focus. She’s never given a name, (not that unusual for the women in the Bible), but she’s her own one-person Hospitality Committee.
But today she’s in bed with a fever, and can’t handle hosting.
Her duties in the home bring up a whole issue of how life can be fully human within the limitations that our worlds often impose on us. Beloved, our callings can only be experienced, lived out if you will, in the specific social context in which God has placed us. I don’t mean the patriarchy and sexism of Jesus’ time (or our own!) are ordained by God! I do mean this woman’s and the disciples’ and everyone else’s understanding of service, freedom, redemption– all these holy things could only be known in the vessel of the time and place where they were living. Ours is an incarnational faith. Bodies and material world as much as souls and spiritual world. That’s why we have to keep focused on justice.
Church, we can only do ministry in the real world through which God calls us. Your and my faith and practice — and vocations — are certainly as colored by the secularism and science of our day as Jesus’ contemporaries’ faith lives where contextualized by Roman occupation and the dominance of the Pharisees interpretations.
Another way of saying this might be: it’s awful hard to belong if you can’t find a way to use your gifts… a place to offer something socially- recognized & appreciated.
Jesus encounters this woman in her infirmity. But his recognition raises her back up to her rightful position and role. He restored her. Do we let Jesus’ recognition do as much for us?
The story doesn’t have Jesus do or say anything dramatic to this woman. Instead, he just reaches out and takes her by the hand. Touch, for all the bad name its acquired in a time with heightened awareness of how inappropriate it can be, is still a powerful action, especially when it’s gentle, signifying intimacy, presence and relationship. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ first healing is accomplished by reaching out and taking the woman’s hand. Do you use touch to work the things of God? God knows that we humans need emotional nearness. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love, a person who could touch and be touched.
Does it ever occur to you that you or our church may be for some people the only touch of Jesus they ever get? If that’s so, what would their impression be?
Touched, healed by Jesus, this woman turns the Sabbath into a sacramental day of service towards others. Following Jesus, she too breaks the prohibitions against work on the Sabbath.
Jesus barely gets his dinner down, and, immediately, the whole city, having heard of the recent healings he’s effected is at the door clamoring for their various needs. It’s after sun down now, so even the tame can carry their sick to Jesus to be healed. And he heals them.
Church, we’re at the very beginning of Mark’s telling of the holy story, and Jesus has already been in the wilderness, in a river, in a synagogue, and in a private home.
Next he gets up early, and goes out to a quiet place– not back into the wilderness, but to a place of refuge inside or just beyond the city, to pray. I like that it was a Sunday morning– like us coming to church form some prayer, reflection, quiet.
For any of you who aren’t so sure about or comfortable with formal prayer, consider that Jesus is making some space, getting some distance from all the people and needs pressing in upon him. He could be trying to figure out what to do next. Or wrestling with all the anguish and suffering he is facing.
But Simon interrupts, saying, in effect, “You need to get back to work, performing all these miracles, healing the sick. Can we find time away, for reflection, for finding ourselves in the midst of all the pushes and pulls of life’s demand? We deserve those moments of peace…
And Jesus’ response: a decision that he can’t stay any longer in Simon’s hometown. We can probably empathize with Simon when he doesn’t understand or agree with Jesus’ decision. Here begins the longer trajectory where Simon never quite gets it.
But Jesus moves on. These crowds are left behind, along with the expectation and assumptions. But there’s always more people and needs. Do you ever worry that Jesus is going to leave us behind in our needs and suffering too? Maybe leave us behind for someone else who’s needs are greater?
What’s going on. How’s Jesus plotting the path of his faithfulness? I think, ultimately, Jesus’ ministry isn’t about healing, at least directly or narrowly. And I wonder if maybe he wasn’t worrying, people were showing up for the wrong reason. For miracles, when he needs the Gospel to gather them instead.
As a pastor, I usually rejoice and trust anything that brings people to church, because I think that God can work through all things, and that if we let something open us up in expectation, we’ve made God’s work that much easier.
But maybe Jesus was worrying that it was all becoming too much of a circus?
The demons know who he is and what he’s about.
But his followers and the crowds he attracts, they are confused and misunderstand him and his mission.
Already everything is complicated. And moving so quickly. The spirit of God is on the loose, and Jesus and those who follow are being tossed and turned by its promise and demands.
But, I think, Jesus is getting it:
Some come for the show.
Others hoping against hope that their need will be met. (I can think of some things in my life I’d like Jesus to fix.)
But Jesus is starting to sort if all out:
There are these collateral improvements that come of his ministry.
But most basically he’s to stay on task, to keep from getting side-tracked and accomplishing less than God has asked of him.
And what is the main focus of Jesus’ life and ministry?
To preach the Good News.
To announce the Reign of God, a new way of living available, in God’s grace, RIGHT NOW.
It may not be the most popular thing to say from the pulpit at Old First, but preaching the Gospel is our first calling and mission and ministry too. And certainly, me standing up here like this isn’t the only or even the best way to go about it. I’ve always liked the insight that the best sermon any of us can
preach, and we all preach them, is the lives we lead.
Still, all the good works, food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, they’re the ancillary benefits, the fruits, like Jesus’ healings.
Healings, even miracles will occur in our ministry.
But most basically, the church’s job is to announce another Way.
And those healings happen in the grace that is allowed room as people recognize the choice, the freedom and the possibilities God has given them.
The way of living by God’s grace right now.
The flow, if you will, from which all those other good works come.
And, like Jesus, we can’t just stay put and claim we’re effectively preaching the Gospel. No matter how articulate a Gospel we can speak, we got to carry it with us too. Take it to those who’ve not heard.
What is Old First known for? Our history– being the mother church of the German Reform denomination (almost). Our diverse, downtown congregation. Our ministries to the urban poor, maybe this last one most?
But what if, instead, we were known for our Gospel? …how well we shared and taught and modeled the Gospel? It’s a fine distinction: are we known for our essence, or the effects that come of it? A fine distinction, but a crucial one, I think.
What if well beyond these hallowed walls, when Old First’s name came up, people responded, “have you experienced how that congregation lives and shares the Good News… not just on the corner of 4th and Race, but throughout Philadelphia and in the whole world?