Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 1:29-39

Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House

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 sunset, 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.

A Preaching Tour in Galilee

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.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts,  be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Let me begin by asking you “why Jesus?” “Why are you a follower of Christ?” Seriously, if you and I met on a train, bus, or plane and struck up a conversation, would you be able to tell me why? Would you be able to share the Good News with me in a way that I could receive it, or at least be open to the possibility? This is a tall order for most Christians, even for those of us who have the benefit of a seminary education and a call to church work.

This week’s lessons invite us to ponder vocation, call, commitment, and boundaries. Whether we find something that resonates in us from the Isaiah “eagle’s wings” passage, or from Paul’s explanation of his approach to ministry and evangelism to the folks at Corinth, or in the gospel account of how Jesus does ministry and life, I can assure you that something will speak to you if you ponder and pray with these lessons.

This year, in reading a gospel lesson not to unfamiliar to me, I was drawn to the identity in Christ and the role of the priesthood of all believers on which Martin Luther was so passionate. Just what, then, is our role, as bearers of the Good News to a hurting world? Every one of us is gifted for ministry: God equips us, Jesus leads us, and the Holy Spirit works in us so that we can share the Good News of a different way of living and being. Whether your vocation is minister, teacher, accountant, retail sales associate, or front-line healthcare worker, let these lessons marinate in your heart and nudge you into deeper discipleship.

Let’s take a look at some of our lessons today: Isaiah—Burnout is real, friends. Many of us are probably reeling from burnout or are dangerously close to it, thanks to altered lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The prophet reminds us of exactly who God is and why we are not God. The point is that we’re all going to fall prey to exhaustion and overwork. The solution is to keep our focus on the Creator of the Cosmos through whom we will soar like eagles, run without exhaustion, and keep on walking. Our proper response to God’s goodness is to wait for the LORD, to remain in Christ, and to trust that in doing so we will find refreshment and renewal when we need it the most.

Mark—We might rename this passage “How to do ministry, Jesus style.” Look at what we learn about effective ministry in just 10 short verses:

  • Do your best to restore people’s abilities and encourage others to use their gifts and talents. Jesus restores Simon’s mother-in-law to her role as host and household manager.
  • Do your best work, but do set boundaries for your own good. Jesus heals a whole lot of people in Capernaum, but he won’t let the cast-out demons to speak or hold sway.
  • Take time for your own spiritual nourishment and time to be with God. Jesus gets up early in the morning and finds a quiet place to pray. More on that later.
  • Know your purpose and be clear about it. Jesus is quite clear about what he has come to do, and he avoids being sidetracked or dragged into other endeavors.

After healing a man of an unclean spirit in the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus and his four disciples (at this point) enter the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever, which was a more dire situation at that time than it is today. Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up, and then she began to serve them.

A couple things here first to start off with: 

  • Did anyone know Simon was married? Gold star for those who did, not usually something that comes up in VBS 🙂
  • Another thing how could Simon’s mother-in-law atleast have a name? She’s family of the first disciples. Really, c’mon Mark you’re better than that. 

Ok, just some questions that popped out to me in the context.

Here’s something that’s a little interestingly, the verb used by the gospel writer Mark is that Jesus “raised up” her. Mark later uses this verb to describe Christ’s resurrection, and the verb is used on several occasions in the gospel to describe Jesus’ healing of individuals. 

In all those circumstances, the person is restored to their community or to a close relationship. When someone is brought low by unclean spirits, illness, or death itself, Mark says Jesus raises them again to fulfill their valued role in the community.

This woman serves the men after being raised up. That “serving” is the same verb that Jesus later uses to describe his own ministry in Mark 10. It is the word used to describe the disciples’ ministry: they are called to serve. The woman literally served the men food in her house. In a deeper sense, this woman is the first example of true discipleship in Mark’s gospel. She has been raised up by Jesus, and that experience leads her to fulfill her valued role in the community, which is (for her and all disciples of Christ) a role defined by serving. She does all of this, and again, we don’t even know the woman’s name

So you might be thinking, “ok pastor, Jesus served and so should we even if people won’t know our name.” Yes, but as amazing as Jesus’ healings were in my mind he did something even more impressive. Jesus also prays. He actually takes time to pray, to withdrawal and tend to his own spiritual life. This is way, way too easy for us to forget. And I don’t mean to add it to your “to do” list – “make time to pray!” – but rather to remind us that breathing, resting, renewing, connecting are good things, however you may choose to do that.

Another pratical thing for us to recognize, and I find it fascinating in Mark, that we are told “they brought all who were sick” and that Jesus “cured many who were sick.” I don’t know if this contrast is intentional, but it strikes me that even Jesus didn’t seem to cure them all. Which is something we can learn from. 

What I mean by that is we so often can focus on who we’ve missed, what we’re not doing, where we’ve fallen short, when it might help tremendously instead to focus on, and draw strength from, who we’ve reached, what we’ve accomplished, and where we have moved more fully into the calling we’ve received from God. This is important for us to hear as I know how easy it is to become discouraged in life, especially now it can seem overwhelming, and yet to look and see who has been positively affected by our ministries can encourage us in our faith, life, and work.

Ask most Christians, like I asked you in the beginning, “Why Jesus?” and you will receive many different answers, but probably most will focus on his salvation for us through the cross. But in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus plainly stated that his reason for coming was to preach. Being too famous, or letting people know who he was too early in his ministry, would have distracted from what he actually came to do: proclaim how the kingdom of God is at hand.

In the days before Covid-19 (and hopefully after!), when a band released a new album and went on tour to promote it, most fans just wanted to hear the old classics that made the group famous. Jesus was wary that he would become famous for working miracles or even being the promised messiah, and that no one would be interested in hearing his re-interpretation of the law and his new teachings. So he shunned the spotlight and didn’t proclaim who he was at first, at least according to Mark. I wonder if, today, our idea of who Christ is to us prevent us sometimes from really hearing and taking seriously what Jesus said.

To be sure, Jesus didn’t refuse to heal people or perform miracles. He did that wherever he went. But Jesus kept his focus on the real reason that he came: teaching about the kingdom of heaven that was breaking into the world in a radically new way. 

The challenge for us, then, is to take Jesus at his word—that the reason he came was to teach. Scripture is a rich library, and there are many different perspectives on Jesus’ life. This is a treasure, let’s embrace it and share it with others. So let us, this year at least, sit with Mark’s Gospel and consider Jesus’ words in the red letters (atleast in some Bibles) as the reason for his coming.

I want to bring this all full circle with my original question: Why are you a follower of Christ? Do you have a clear, concise answer that you can adapt to share, to meet folks where they are? If not, may this week’s lessons give you some ideas, some courage, and some confidence that you can share the Good News at any age and stage of life. 

We all have names and we all have stories, even if we don’t always get noted in someone’s book.