(listen along for a more enhanced sermon experience!)
29 As soon as[Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Good Morning Our Redeemer’s!
I bring you greetings from the fair city of Houston, Texas! Well, from the inside of the Hyatt in downtown Houston, anyway, which is about as much of it as I got to see. I had the privilege of being the on-stage host for the annual gathering of 1000 Lutheran youth workers. That’s right, 1000 millennial-aged, or at least millennial-minded people who normally are surrounded by middle and high school youth, freed from the shackles of impressionable eyes, left to their own devices. … Oh yes, there were shenanigans. But there was also prayer, and singing, and deep deep thought and concern about the future of the church, and particularly the hope that the youth of the church bring. Mixed in with more shenanigans – and a few beers.
The theme of the weekend was “Finding Forward,” and it took an honest look at the church as a whole – the ongoing decline of the last 50 years, and the hope of the future. We spent a lot of time imagining what we need to let go of, or change, in order for the church to gain some forward momentum and continue to be the great body of Christ that the world needs.
One of our speakers, Marlon F. Hall, is a pastor in Houston, and a filmmaker, and an engaging, funny, hyper-intelligent prophet of a man. He said many amazing things, but the challenge that he laid that sticks in my mind is this: We live in a time where it is risky to stay safe, and it is safer to be risky. (repeat that) What I gleaned from that was this: We live in a time where our first instinct is to take shelter – to lay low and hope that all the conflict and hatred and dis-ease that has become so marked in our country in the last few years will all just blow by and it’ll magically be 1992 … 1981? 1975. 1962? 1946! …again. Because that would be better? If we can just wait it out and stay safe, everything will work itself out. But what if this is the riskiest thing we can do? What if by attempting to stay safe, we lose everything?
What if instead of staying safe, we as the church start to take risks and venture out? What if we said bold things OUT LOUD like “Transphobia is real and evil!” or “I stand with my Muslim neighbor!” or “Black and brown lives do matter!” or “Jesus’ love is for all people, not just the ones like us!” What would it look like for the church, or even this church, to take up risky behaviors in the name of love and in the name of God? What does that even mean? So often folx outside the church only hear what Christians are against, or what they fear. What if we could be a loudspeaker on the corner talking about what we love, and who and what we are for? I mean, it’s nice that I’m here telling you all. But you’re already here! You’re inside. It’s nice and safe in here, right? But what if it’s safer to be risky – what if the future of the church in the world depends on us taking the risk?
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Simon. Here’s how the story goes in the GATG (The Gospel According to Gretchen). (clear throat) Ever since James and John started following Jesus, he’d been running them all ragged, healing people and praying and drawing a crowd everywhere he went. One day, James said to Simon, “Hey – aren’t we close to your house? I hear your mom makes a mean sandwich. Can we pop in?” Andrew looks up, “Dude. I could totally go for a sandwich.” And so Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Jesus went to Simon’s house. But when they got there, Simon’s mother-in-law, let’s call her “Barb,” was in bed with a fever. James: “Oh man! Now who’s going to make us a sammich?? …I know, I’ll tell Jesus! ….Jesus! Barb is super sick. Do you think you could help her? Please??” Jesus cocks an eyebrow and says, “James. This isn’t about a sandwich is it?” “No, Lord! No! Just healing. And …maybe a sandwich.” Jesus went over to Barb, and took her hand. He raised her up, and the fever went away. So she went out to the kitchen to make those poor boys some sandwiches. – This is the word of the Gretchen, thanks be she’s done.
Now friends. This story, at first blush, makes my feminist eyeball twitch. I mean, if someone was stricken in bed with a fever before the age of antibiotics and was miraculously healed, I would think that rather than hopping back in the kitchen, instead there would be a celebration in order! Or at least maybe one of the boys would make HER a sandwich, right? So I decided to do some digging into the vocabulary this story. It turns out, the word that is used verse 31 translated as “lift?” It can also be translated “raised” and it’s the same Greek word that is used when Christ is resurrected. In the ears of early church folx hearing this story over and over, that word would have implied more meaning that just getting up or being helped up – it would have implied conquering death. After all, you have to be dead to be resurrected, right?
And then, the word, “serve.” It’s the word “diaconia” in Greek. It’s the same root word as deacon, or diaconal ministry. It’s not about servitude, or serving out of obligation – which somehow is kind of implied because “Barb” is Simon’s mother-in-law, right? Diaconia is a responsive word – service out of gratitude, or awe. Service in response to faith.
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, professor of New Testament at the seminary of the southwest, says this:
Meaning both to serve at a table and to do ministry, the verb diakonein is used of the angels in the wilderness who “serve” (translated “waited on” Mark 1:14) and of the women who followed Jesus and served him (translated “provided for” Mark 15:41) Serving epitomizes Jesus’ 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). She is an icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.
For a minute, I want you to imagine that you are Barb. Laid up, held back, unable to do the thing that is yours to do. What is that like? What are you thinking to yourself in your confinement? Maybe you have resigned yourself to this. …Now how would it feel to be released?
Like Barb, I think each of us has a need to be healed. Each one of us has something that holds us down, that keeps us back, and that is equivalent to death. We all need a resurrection, and a new chance at life, but – and here’s the tie in: … Are we willing to risk it? What if being raised up out of whatever is keeping us safely mired in our sickbeds is terrifying? Too risky! If I let go of this thing that’s holding me down (read: keeping me safe), then I might be called to serve. I might be called to change and grow and give of myself in new, different, challenging ways! It’s so RISKY!
But my friends, so is staying in the bed, dying for lack of new life. So what’s it going to be, church? Stay as we’ve been, and hope that tomorrow when we wake up it’s 1955? Or risk being raised up to something new and a life filled with service and hope? I choose hope. I choose resurrection. I choose life!