purple stained glass of cathedral

Epiphany 5 Sermon

Sermon text: Mark 1: 29-39

In modern day Capernaum there is an odd-looking church, St. Peter’s Church, a Catholic Church, and it is elevated off of the ground, above the excavated remains of the ancient city.  The architecture reminded me of a spaceship floating in the air, a UFO, and in the center, instead of a laser beam, there was an observation port where you could peer down and look in on the remains of Peter’s house.  That’s the site of today’s story, this modest structure where Jesus will perform is second miracle of this busy Sabbath Day.

Last week we read of how Jesus performed an exorcism in the synagogue.  This week, Jesus will demonstrate his authority over creation as he heals Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever.  But Jesus is doing more on this day than simply healing and casting out demons.  He’s not healing for healing’s sake.  It’s not because he’s a kind and compassionate man.  Jesus is healing and exorcising to restore the people—to help them back into their naturally intended state.

Let’s take a look at Peter’s mother-in-law.  She has a fever, and in a world without antibiotics and IV fluids a fever could be deadly.  Even with those modern day inventions fevers can still be deadly.  You know how you feel when you have a fever.  Even a low grade one can make you feel absolutely miserable.  The chills.  The sweats.  As the temperature rises it feels like your brain is swimming, that you’re moving in slow motion.

We don’t know how bad this woman’s fever was, but it is bad enough to keep her going to the synagogue.  We read how upon entering the house Jesus is immediately attentive to her.  Perhaps Peter had been talking about her earlier.  Jesus goes over to her and takes her by the hand, and immediately she gets up and begins the process of putting out food.  It is a true miracle.  There’s no recovery time, her health bar goes instantly to 100, and she begins to fulfill her vocational role.  She entertains and serves.  She is freed to do what her illness had stopped her from.  In her health she provides welcome and hospitality.

Jesus heals the woman.  In fact, he does more than that, he lifts her up, he resurrects her.  That’s the word that’s used by Mark.  Jesus is freeing her to live a life spared from the burden of illness and she responds with faithful service.  That is the mark of resurrection:  being able to return to the work you love and want to do.

Twenty years ago Zion carried out its most recent capital improvements campaign.  It was called the New Century Renovation Project.  That’s a pretty snazzy name for a campaign happening at the turn of the century and it took on a lot of projects in the church.  The scope was large.  The office was reconfigured, the parlor was redone into the current chapel, and the sanctuary was completely redesigned to what we see today—new carpet, new paint…a whole new aesthetic.  One of the more unnoticed projects was the stained glass windows in the church…they were all cleaned and restored.

It’s amazing how much dirt, dust, and grime can build up on stained glass windows after 50 years.  Immediately after the cleaning there was a tremendous amount of detail that seemed brand new.  I was fourteen or fifteen at the time and I remember discovering new images that were previously obscured.  Most notable for me was in the Resurrection Window—where Mary Magdalene and Jesus meet on Easter morning, and in the middle right of the window there sits an empty cross.  Before, it had been so dark that that detail wasn’t very visible.

That cleaning brought new life to these windows, and they were able to continue in their vocation—telling the story of Christ through their beautiful and vibrant images.  The same holds true with Peter’s mother-in-law.  She was restored to fullness and was able to continue in her cultural vocation of hostess.  She serves. 

New, resurrected life is made possible for us when Jesus makes us whole, whether that be through expelling our demons or healing what ails us.  Jesus has the power to lift us up so that we may respond with the true mark of discipleship.  Service.  It is a theme that we will witness throughout the Gospel of Mark, a theme that Jesus speaks later in Chapter 10, verse 45:  I came not to be served, but to serve.

Jesus will spend his ministry exemplifying the service he received from angels after fasting in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  He will lift us up to new life.  His service reunites disciple after disciple to their community.  We see that after the sabbath is over when all of Capernaum will turn out, asking Jesus to heal any problem that is faced.  Later Jesus will take the show on the road, for this type of brokenness is a universal problem.  He could have stayed in Capernaum, become a local superstar, but instead he expands his service to the whole of Galilee.

As Jesus’ disciples we know the gift of restoration that comes in Jesus’ name.  We all have at least one story of how Christ has lifted us up, bound us together, and helped us to move forward in the newness of life.  Can we be so bold as to be like Peter’s mother-in-law?  When we feel that wholeness, can we do the holy work of service?

Service is a mark of discipleship.  We all have benefitted from Christ’s service to us, and now he gives us the same opportunity to help bring life out of death as we use our hands and hearts.  We have all been gifted with the fruit of the Spirit.  We, together, have a cornucopia of ability to make a difference for each other, the community in which we reside, and the world at large.  Service is our language of love as the church.

We show our discipleship when we deliver soup and casseroles.  We spread Christ’s love when we send cards, prayers, and care packages.  We serve when we provide companionship, when we help with tasks that have become difficult due to age and ability, when we grieve with the bereaved, and when we sit and listen.  We serve when we provide solidarity in the face of bullies, when we advocate for just causes, and when we tend to the earth.  We serve when we welcome the stranger, when we tear down walls of prejudice, and when we provide hospitality. Many years ago the ELCA got it right when it adopted the slogan, “God’s work. Our hands.”

Jesus shows us, time and again, that new life is possible.  And when we receive that life, when we feel that resurrection of body and spirit, when Jesus lifts us up, let us respond and help cultivate more life from the jaws of death.  That is what Jesus service has done for us.  That is what our service can do for others.  AMEN

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