First Congregational Church
Sunday, February 7, 2021
5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I tucked away some yokes for this morning that are more like puns. For instance, a chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math destruction. A dog gives birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
This morning’s scripture passage has nothing to do with chickens, rubber bands or dogs, except that maybe there were chickens and dogs that the writer of Mark thought so inconsequential as to not include them. The passage is, however, a direct continuation of last week’s passage and of the week before: John the Baptist and Jesus baptizing in the Jordan River, calling James, John, Andrew and Simon, aka, Peter, and going to Capernaum to preach and heal a man of a crazed spirit.
Jesus Heals Many
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Thank you, Rick. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t necessarily need every detail to appreciate a situation or story. But sometimes it would be so much more rich if we had some. Remembering that the writer of Mark is the one who was more to the point of matters, it’s possible that Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law had an exchange of words, even if it doesn’t say so in the text. Or maybe it was a construct of the anonymous saying, “preach at all times, and if necessary, use words,” which is not biblical, albeit practical.
Since we could paint a picture of possibilities until the cows come home, I think it more useful to take a step back and look at what might be summaries of each paragraph.
The first paragraph, verses 29-31, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. The second paragraph, verses 32-34, Jesus heals other people, even strangers. The third paragraph, verses 35-37, Jesus heals himself, so-to-speak, by taking some time for himself and praying. The fourth paragraph, verses 38-39, Jesus takes the guys with him to continue to preach the Good News away from home, as Christ continues to heal those they encounter. Healing, mother-in-law, home folks, self, world.
Last week’s message touched on the idea of the Kingdom of God not being a “somewhere out there” time, but a present reality that is ours to assist in shaping, or to practice, as physicians, artists, chefs and all those who work to make this world a better place are want to do with their crafts.
There was a page in The Jesse Tree devotional booklet we used for Advent, written by Debra Grant, that had this. “My father owned a boat with his friend Sam. Mind you, this craft was no large vessel. Just big enough to manage the rolls of the open sea on a good day. Just small enough for two regular guys to afford. Just sturdy enough to hold their haul of flounder and fluke.
Every winter it lived in our garage. The boat was wooden-hulled and every other season had to be scraped of barnacles, sanded, refinished. How beautiful it was underneath a fresh coat of finishing oil. Placed back in the ocean, it moved through the waters like one of those graceful flounders. When Samuel took a horn of oil to anoint one of Jessie's sons as the new king of Israel, it would not be the only time David would need oiling. The anointing was meant to set apart and purify. Like the boat, David would need a fresh coat now and then for the journey ahead.”
When I read that, the neon sign in my brain flashed bright and bold: Communion!, which we celebrate on this day in the season of Epiphany, the season of light and revelation.
And I know there are more than a few folks needing reminding that - despite the grey skies that kissed the earth with snow this past week, Christ’s light is as close as a breath and as quick as a thought. That light is the kingdom, and that is what we practice each and every day, regardless of the weather. (Okay, so Mother Nature sloppy, slobbered the earth in the midwest this week, but that’s a different topic.)
I was caught up in the 78 episodes of the Canadian tv series, Heartland, earlier this winter, and it occurred to me that no matter how many times the bronco rider lasted eight seconds, how many times an individual won a dressage jumping contest, there was still the need to practice the next day. No matter if a whole team of people win a Super Bowl, the next season requires the same amount of practice that got them there. If you think about it, no matter how many times a person gets behind the wheel of a car, the drive is never perfected for all time. There is always an element of practice involved.
A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie. A backward poet writes inverse. (Inverse means backwards.)
There is nothing backwards about the table at which we all sit today, at which Jan Richardson says so well. “And the table will be wide. And the welcome will be wide. And the arms will open wide to gather us in. And our hearts will open wide to receive. And we will come as children who trust there is enough. And we will come unhindered and free. And our aching will be met with bread. And our sorrow will be met with wine. And we will open our hands to the feast without shame. And we will turn toward each other without fear. And we will give up our appetite for despair. And we will taste and know of delight. And we will become bread for a hungering world. And we will become drink for those who thirst. And the blessed will become the blessing. And everywhere there will be the feast.
Today we get to practice being at that table once again, with healing elements that are diverse and yet one. The symbol of bread, nourishment, life, crushed grain remade into sustenance. The symbol of the cup, replenishing, love, crushed fruit remade into richness and value. The table, coffee, chair-side, communion, sideboard, holders of the simple elements that mean so much more than what they are. The gathered body, near and far, young and matured, connected by a name stronger and greater than any other - that of Christ.
Just as our scripture pointed out the breadth of healing that accompanied so much of what Christ did, so do we recognize this day the length and breadth and height and depth of a love for each and every individual that brings it’s own unique healing.
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
As we come to the time of practicing our Lord’s Supper, I’ll invite those here in person today to go ahead and open the bread end first, because otherwise, you know, Murphy’s Law. And then I suggest that you wait to open the drink side until right before you partake. Because, you know, Covid.
We are reminded, when holding the bread, that Christ held bread that last night, gave thanks for it, blessing it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body for you.” (eat) And then he held the cup, gave thanks for it, blessing it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take and drink, because this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” So, too, we are reminded with Paul’s words, that “Every time we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again.” All are gladly received at this table and welcome that is wide and free. Ministering to you in Christ’s name, practice taking in such love.
Let us pray. Holy God, thank you for those barnacle removing moments, that we can see once again the beauty of that which you created in each of us through your love. Sometimes we struggle with such healing, sometimes we can’t possibly see how it can be accomplished. And yet, we’ve come once again, because the thought of it is a part of our DNA. May each of us, in practicing living in your kingdom this coming week, recall that ours are not solo journeys, that we are all practicing until that day when our work on this side of eternity is complete. For all the glimpses we get into your glorious kingdom of love, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.