First Congregational Church
February 8, 2015
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A pastor known as a healer came to a local church. There was a long line to see him. It was a young man’s turn in line and he said it was his hearing. So, the healing Pastor grabbed his ears and said a prayer. The Pastor let go and asked, "hows your hearing now’'. "I don't know; it's not till Friday," replied the boy.
Our scripture passage this morning isn’t one you’ll find on Top Ten Most Famous Bible Passages. It’s one that I’m sure some of you - and I know I - have read a number of times, and not thought much about it.
The writer of Mark has just described John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, the calling of the first four disciples and last week, we heard about Jesus driving out an impure spirit from a man.
Mark 1:29-39 NIV
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.
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 Myra. Somewhere in my memory bank, I recall someone saying that for many of the stories in the New Testament that deal with a male, there is a counterpart to a story that deals with a female. Our passage today would seem to be an example of such a pattern; last week’s being about a man healed of an evil spirit and this week’s woman healed of a fever.
One of the commentators I read this week suggested that a big deal about this passage was the healing that allowed this woman to go back to her “job” of serving. “The fever left her and she began to wait on them.” It was a way she could thank Jesus for what he had done, and I’d glossed right over that point, because I’d like to think that at least in this place, we don’t need to justify the equality of men and women and our “jobs.”
Then this past Friday evening, 9 and 10 News did an update on news anchor, John McGowan. John is famous for Sports Overtime and introducing northern Michigan to some of his favorite restaurants. If I remember rightly, he did a show from our own Crescent Bakery. As many of you know, John’s life was turned upside-down on September 26 when he had a stroke. Mr. McGowan said that he was at the 9 and 10 studio, doing a mock newscast, to see about the possibility of going back to work.
It was both John McGowan and Matt Skinner from workingpreacher.org who focused the spotlight - not on gender or serving - but purpose. Mr. Skinner said that all of Jesus’ preaching and proclaiming goes beyond words and messages, because what he is really after is making God’s kingdom known and observable. He said, “His preaching activity, the full range of his public ministry, is performative and effective: it demonstrates what God’s reign looks like, and it has real effects as it delivers people, heals people, restores people to community, forgives people, and speaks truth to power.” The dim light turned into a bright spotlight on one part of that last sentence: “restores people to community.”
I don’t remember the exact words from John McGowan’s interview, but there was something that he said near the end of the article on Friday evening, about him wanting to get back to serving the people of northern Michigan. He could retire after forty years of broadcasting, but he really wants to spend one more Sports Overtime season in viewers homes before adding retired to his resume. Although it sounds like - if that didn’t happen, he’d be okay with it, there is a great life force in being of service to others.
In Jesus’ day, “Illness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them. “ Having the flu back in those days was not so simple.
Some of you have heard me mention David Lose before, also of workingpreacher.org. He commented on this passage from the idea that “there are two kinds of people in the world: people who need help, and people who need to help.” He started his comments with a quote from Mark Twain, "There are two kinds of people in the world, people who classify the world into two kinds of people, and people who don’t." Mr. Lose also shared a wonderful quote from his son. “"Dad, there are three kinds of people in the world: people who can do math, and people who can’t."
Mr. Lose’s point was that while Simon’s mother-in-law, whom he named Esther, was at one point a person who needed help, after her encounter with Jesus, she immediately became (again) one who needed to help. Yet another commentator, Sarah Henrich, added that the word used for Jesus taking “Esther’s” hand suggested that new strength had been imparted to the woman laid low by illness….so that she might again rise up to take their place in the world.”
I don’t know about any of you who have seen it, but I sure could see John McGowan’s desire to “rise up to take his place in the world” on Friday evening. I’ve seen that desire in other people who have had strokes, heart attacks, mental breakdowns, and afflictions of all kinds. For any one who has had to endure “unwell” before becoming well again, we can get Esther and John McGowan.
Any time I really start thinking about this idea of healing, however, I think of Mabel. I don’t remember her last name, and she passed on to eternal life probably 18 years ago. I never heard her voice; I never knew how tall she was because she had grown into a very plump ball with arms and legs all tucked in. In the two or three years I worked with her, she never changed; I never knew how long she’d been that way.
Even though she’s long gone, Mabel continues to teach me - and maybe others - that regardless of what our bodies do - or don’t do, of what we do can do - or can’t do - our spirits don’t die, even if they seem to have had their voices silenced. Despite her inability to rise to her place in the world in her last years, Mabel’s “healing” gave reason for others to rise to their place in caring for her.
We get a paper cut and it may sting like crazy - even for a couple days. But it heals. We break bones and most of the time they heal fairly well. We get the flu, and depending on the variety, we get medication - or not - and we get better. And all of us ultimately “heal” when we enter into eternal life, but there are so many healings that happen on this side of eternity, and God takes our hand and lifts us as much as Jesus did for Simon’s mother-in-law - even if it doesn’t look like it. For that care and love, let us pray.
Great Physician and Lover of Souls, we thank you for those times when we need help those you send those that can help. We thank you as much for those opportunities that we can be the helper, regardless of the absence or presence of thanks or appreciation. For those who are in need, shed their sorrows and pain, and help them find comfort; each wound made whole in you. Help all those who need - to rise up and take their place in the world with joy, strength and hope. Help each one of us serve others with purity of heart and with joy of purpose in whatever ways come to us. For the blessings of your prayer answers, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.