Healed to Serve
A sermon on Mark 1:29-39.
[For an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Yasamine June on Unsplash.]
So, I am just going to start out by confessing up front that I have never liked the story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law.
It’s not a mother-in-law prejudice, I promise. I adore my mother-in-law. I seriously lucked out in that department.
And even if that were not true, I don’t believe that healing should have ANYTHING to do with whether or not we “deserve” it. Basic human needs, like food, and shelter, and health should just be available to everyone – regardless of “worthiness.”
And, it’s not even the whole story that bothers me. The healing is fine, great even! The scene of gentle care, of coming close and touching her rather than just speaking a word of power. It’s intimate and humanizing and beautiful!
Really, it’s just the last 6 words that have always gotten under my skin:
“and she began to serve them.”
I will own that my gut-reaction of tensing up at the image of a woman raised from her sickbed so that she can serve a house full of men is not objective.
I will freely admit that I am sensitive to the shades of sexism in anything associated with Christianity because of the damage I have seen and personally experienced from that pairing.
And as a result, I can get a little defensive.
Like, why include those last six words? Why can’t it just be: Jesus came, and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and then the fever left her. Period. End of story.
It’s a good story! Jesus heals her! Yay! That’s all we know about all of the people who were sick and demon-possessed in the rest of the city. Why do we need this detail about a woman with a familial relationship to an apostle being healed and then immediately serving him and his friends?
I never had a good answer to that question… until this week.
Because this week, I have a different framework for thinking about a healing story.
That framework is the experience of community… specifically our community here at Abiding Peace, as we prepare for our annual meeting, looking back at the last year and looking ahead to what God is calling us to do and to be going forward.
If my mind were not so occupied by the challenges that our community has faced in the last year, and by anticipation of the steps we will take this afternoon toward committing to the future ministry of this congregation, I never would have questioned the limited way I have always heard this healing story.
I have focused on the healing of one person, one woman¸ and the potential danger of equating her immediate move to service with an assumption that a woman’s only need to be whole and well is so that she can serve the needs of others.
But if I expand the view… if I think about what this story can teach us about the healing of a community… it’s a whole different story.
In fact, I think it’s our story.
It might feel a little uncomfortable to associate our congregation with a need for healing, but this past year has forced us to come to grips with the reality that we are, in some ways, at least weakened.
Our numbers gathered in person, where we can share the energy of community, have dwindled.
The budget has been scary, and while the generosity of our members came through and we ended the year with a small surplus after belt-tightening, the process to get there felt a bit like emergency medicine.
It has not really felt possible to generate energy for any new ministries with our staff and our volunteers all working at capacity.
We aren’t on our deathbed, but in bed with a fever, weakened and needing care… that feels like an apt metaphor.
And so does the process of the healing described in our gospel today:
The fist image is that of Jesus coming and taking us by the hand.
It’s an image of drawing near.
Not of a remote God issuing a call to be obeyed, but of God-with-us.
God’s Spirit inspiring (that’s the same root word, by the way: Spirit and inspire) committee conversations that were more creative and productive than I have EVER seen in 20 years of committee-heavy non-profit experience.
Ideas, and guidance, and resources coming unasked, seemingly out of nowhere.
God showing up in ways that change the way it has felt to have conversations that are anxiety-provoking, and symptom-exposing, but that are also HEALING because we aren’t getting caught in the fear.
And that, my beloved community, is a modern-day-miracle!
And then there’s the second image in this healing scene: the image of Jesus lifting us up.
When we started our long-term planning conversations almost a year ago, we were so tired and anxious.
We could diagnose the problems, but trying to imagine how we would find solutions and implement them felt… daunting.
But the last three Sundays, as we have gathered to discern how each possible model of ministry might empower us to fulfill our mission:
we have had to shuffle chairs to find a place for everyone to sit.
and we have felt brave enough to voice our disagreements, and ask hard questions, and also to dream of possibilities.
And individual members have gone out from those conversations and found resources for information we needed, without being asked.
And we have gotten familiar again with what our mission is, right? (making Christ known… welcoming all people… creating a supportive and accepting place…growing in faith… and serving God and our neighbor).
Even before today’s meeting and vote… without a final consensus and plan for the direction God is moving us, Jesus has already been lifting us up.
We have felt the strength of drawing together to think, and question, and commit together to actually BE Christ’s body in this time and place.
And from this perspective, it’s now obvious to me why the last image in the story of healing is an image of service.
Because of course it is! That’s the motivation that pulled us all together and pulled us out of the anxiety that was trapping us in weakness.
We want to serve our community. We want to share the power and beauty of our welcome, and to be the supporting and accepting place where everyone knows they belong. We want to grow in our faith and in our expression of it. We want to make the truth, and love, and grace Christ known to a world that has often only heard of a Christ who judges and condemns.
If the healing of our community were only for our benefit…
I don’t think it would be as powerful.
It wouldn’t be as inspiring.
It wouldn’t be something we want to commit to with the energy and attention that I have seen growing in our conversations over the last few months.
A healing that is only for the benefit of the one healed is just such a small view of healing…. And it’s not consistent with what Jesus came to lead us into.
The SALT project commentary offers a wonderful summarizing comment on this story that I hope we can all carry with us today. It observes:
“Jesus will be resurrected later in the story, but his life’s mission is all about resurrection (literally ‘standing again’) in the here and now. He comes near in order to lift us up into service, to reawaken us into dignity, community, and genuine health.”
He comes near… in order to lift us up… into service.
Thanks be to God.