Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
| Centering Prayer |
It must be difficult to be a VIP
(Very Important Person).
I have bumped into celebrities on a few, rare occasions.
It always feels awkward.
Beyond a smile of recognition,
What do you do?
Do you say hello?
Shake their hand?
One doesn’t want to offend or bring undue attention.
I met Jim Kelly eight years ago.
He was with people I assume were his family.
I was with my parishioners.
We were in an ICU waiting room at Roswell Park.
No. I didn’t ask him for his autograph.
The sorrow in both of our eyes filled the void
where words might have been.
Intrusions into privacy as the result of fame,
Must make it difficult to navigate through daily life.
Just going to the grocery story or pharmacy must be a burden.
This season of masks probably comes as a big relief.
Strong is the celebrity who does not become jaded,
Who responds with grace,
Appropriately acknowledges fans, and
Doesn’t mind staying long to sign autographs.
Living like Jesus begins with
In the Gospel of Mark
Our author does a marvelous job of
Recording Jesus dancing an increasingly difficult tango
With his skyrocketing popularity.
Jesus goes from a private place to a public place,
Back and forth,
Alternating between concealment and secrecy,
And, publicity and proclamation.
The pendulum swings between messianic secrets
And our post-Epiphany theme of manifestation and revelation.
Jesus makes his public coming out,
Wading into three years of Galilean ministry,
At the same time,
He swears his followers to secrecy and
He is prone to slide away to a quiet place to pray.
Christ is able to remain engaged in ministry
Because throughout Mark
He follows up ministering to the crowds
With retreats into privacy
For spiritual recovery,
For time to pray.
(Preaching the New Common Lectionary, Year B, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany. Craddock, Hayes, Holladay. Pg. 149-151)
This rhythm is healthy;
A good discipline for all followers to emulate.
To live like Jesus
Is to dance a similar rhythm of
Engagement in servant ministry
Followed by restorative rest and prayer.
Living like Jesus
Brings healing to the world.
In every community Jesus visits
The more popular he becomes,
The more difficult it gets
To achieve success proclaiming the message.
He is forced to itinerate.
He must move on.
Jesus was in the public synagogue
Where he preached Good News with authority
And cast out an unclean spirit (with that same authority).
He cast out this unclean spirit from a man
Who publicly identified him and challenged him.
The narrative continues.
Jesus leaves the public venue of the synagogue
And goes to the private home of Simon and Andrew.
Simon’s unnamed mother-in-law lived with them
In this multi-generational arrangement,
Common in the time of Jesus.
Jesus takes James and John with him.
It is not a long walk from the Synagogue.
Archaeologists suggest the distance is
Only a few hundred yards.
They told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.
She was sick in bed with a fever.
Use your mind’s eye to create the scene:
Excavations reveal that housing density was high in Capernaum.
Imagine crowds of people,
“The whole city,” reports Mark,
Filling the streets,
Gathered around her door.
Think of people peeping through the windows,
Hanging from the gutters,
Looking down through cracks in the roof.
Her private residence had become a public spectacle.
We do know
Women often outlive men.
She was one senior generation older than Simon and Andrew.
There is much we don’t know.
What was her name?
Was she a widow? Or divorced?
Did she support herself or was she dependent on her family?
Was her fever an illness that would have made her contagious or unclean?
Some diseases like leprosy rendered a person unclean, others did not.
What we do know is that her fever was serious because
“They told him about her at once.” (Mark 1:30)
There was an urgency here;
She was experiencing a health crisis that demanded immediate attention.
The newly called disciples turn to Jesus because
They experienced his preaching with authority.
They had just seen Jesus using the same authority to cast out an unclean spirit.
If Jesus had that kind of power and authority
They believed Jesus could
Heal and bring back this woman from near death, too.
The Gospel of Mark lays the groundwork for the Good News:
Trust in Jesus.
Lean into the mercy of Jesus.
Tap into the power of his resurrection.
Living like Jesus
Transforms disciples from passive observers
To active, engaged, productive partners in ministry.
What is immensely helpful to me,
And I hope is insightful to you, too,
The message that Jesus brings
Is more than mere words.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than talk,
Casting out demons and healing people,
Bringing the afflicted back into the land of the living.
Jesus makes an incursion into the shadowland
of sin and evil, of illness and death,
to mercifully bring light, healing, deliverance, and wellness.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a pastoral sermon on the mount,
It’s answering the summons
To come to the aid and assistance of neighbors in need.
For the Gospel to speak,
One must act.
Living like Jesus
Demands a life of service.
The moment the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law,
She began to serve.
The verb “to serve” is a key term in Mark’s Gospel.
Is interpreted as a response of faith.
It is found at three other locations in the Gospel of Mark:
- The angels in the wilderness serve Jesus after he was tempted by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights (Mark 1:14).
- The women who followed Jesus served him (Mark 15:41)
- Serving epitomizes Christ’s own ministry, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
Simon’s mother-in-law became an
icon of resurrection and a
paradigm of Christian ministry.
(Thanks to Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean, President, Professor of New Testament, Seminary of the Southwest, Austin TX, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3547)
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law
Tells us what Christian discipleship looks like.
Yes, there is a message to be proclaimed,
But there is also servant ministry that needs done.
If you’re a lover of the prophet Isaiah,
You might call it social justice.
Others from a more Christocentric point of view
Might call it kingdom building.
Yet others, using the latest hip language employed by popular church authors,
Might consider it relational evangelism with a missional response.
I call it living like Jesus.
When we live like Jesus
We reveal to the world
Christ manifest within us.
We demonstrate to the world
This is an Epiphany of light for a world living in darkness!
Living like Jesus means living an authentic, transparent life.
How does this make a difference?
What does this mean for you and me
On our journey of faith?
Living like Jesus
Begins with relationship;
The relationships you keep
And the relationships you make.
Invest in the relationships you have.
God has placed people in your life for a reason.
Take the time and effort to meet and exceed the needs of others
Before meeting your own needs.
Try to expand your social circle.
Seek new friends and learn their stories.
The only motive for making friends is to be a friend.
Never let ulterior motives poison a friendship.
Suppress motives and temptations of money, power, size, and status.
Don’t allow personal opinions or ambition to spoil the pot.
Don’t judge, lest ye be judged!
Consider every neighbor as a potential friend.
Listen with respect.
Consider their wellbeing.
It’s a privilege to be a friend
Serving in Jesus’ name.
Serve simply because of the joy of serving.
Intentionally reach out to those who have no friends.
Reach out to those who have been cast aside by society
And left for dead.
Make it your purpose to love the difficult to love,
To serve those who are difficult to serve.
If they are unclean, clean them up.
If they are possessed by a demon, cast it out.
If they are sick or injured, heal them in the name of Jesus.
Our compassionate behavior,
Our ministry with the authority of Jesus,
Completes the message
That he came to proclaim.
Like Simon’s mother-in-law,
Serve simply as a response to the faith
That is developing and deepening in your life.
Living like Jesus means serving like Simon’s mother-in-law.
Jesus recognizes the necessary next steps that he had to take.
His message is God’s message to the world,
Not to just one demon possessed person, here,
Or one needing healing, there.
Jesus needed to expand from the individual to corporate,
From single store to the franchise,
The Gospel scales.
The potential is only confided by our imaginations.
God so loved the world.
The Passion of Jesus Christ
Takes redemption, restoration, and healing beyond the personal
To the universal.
God so loved the world.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Takes salvation and eternal life from something personal
To God’s global grace.
God so loved the world.
… That the world might be saved through him.
Trust in the power and authority of Jesus.
Trust in his capacity to rescue one from the edge death or the margins of life.
Trust in his ability to heal and in the power of his resurrection.
The message of Jesus is spoken in the language
Of both words and deeds.
This is what Christ came to do.
Go, and do likewise.
Live like Jesus.