Sermons

Isaiah 40:21—31; 1 Corinthians 9:16—23; Mark 1:29--39

There are several parts of this Gospel story from Mark that seem peculiar to me.  

Perhaps you noticed, too, that the very first thing Simon’s Mother-In-Law does after her miraculous healing is to set about to the work of serving the guests in her home.

Whenever I encounter this text, I always wonder why Jesus didn’t heal her and then give her the rest of the night off.  Maybe even ask her son-in-law Simon to wait on her for once.  But, of course, that’s putting my own current social lens on a first century CE cultural norm.

For the community in which the healing happened, and for the community who were hearing this story from Mark’s Gospel at the time it was being told, her healing means restoration. Her healing is about a return to wholeness; a return to her place of honor as host and provider. Healing stories in scripture are always about a return to wholeness.

But there’s more in this story that strikes me as odd.  

It says that Jesus cured “many who were sick.”  Many who were sick, but not all who were sick.  As word spreads of the healing and evening comes, the doorway of the house is crowded with people waiting their turn for a share in Jesus’ healing ministry.  I wonder, how did Jesus draw the line? Who was the next person in line who was told to come back in the morning?  Why heal many, but not all?

The third part of this story seems odd is what happens the next morning.  If those who were told to come back in the morning did come back, they would have found Jesus gone!  He is off praying while his followers search for him.  Jesus’ answer to them when he is found?  “Let us go on to the neighboring towns.”  And off he and his followers go.

Why does Jesus limit his healing, and why does he leave before everyone has been healed?  Those are hard questions to consider, for they force us to imagine a God who limits healing, who limits Grace, who is selective in who gets healed and who does not.

Perhaps this isn’t the first time you’ve considered those questions, though.  Perhaps you, yourself, have wondered why some people who struggle with the same thing you struggle with seem to have been healed, but healing has eluded you or someone you love.

Maybe you know how it feels to think God chose to let someone live, while another has died.

Maybe you’ve had the feeling that God skipped town on you before the healing was done.

Or maybe you’ve been on the other side of the healing divide.  Maybe you were the one who survived what another has not; the first to benefit from a new treatment others did not have the chance to try, and you don’t understand why.  

Or maybe you have another perspective on this story all together.  

Maybe you are like the person I imagine who watched this scene unfold from the upstairs window of a nearby house.  I imagine they heard Simon’s mother in law was sick, and that she told people she was, and word spread.  It was scary and unknown for awhile but eventually, she was made whole again, she was strong again, she was herself again.

“Okay,” the neighbor thinks, “that was terrible, but at least it's over.”  They sit down for dinner and hear the crowd growing in size and urgency outside.  They go back and look out and see that it wasn’t just Simon’s mother-in-law, but their neighbors on the other side of the street, and their butcher,and their children’s teachers, and people of import and the shopkeeper.  

All of these people are suddenly coming out of nowhere and they are talking about their need for healing, and it is overwhelming, and maybe they think it might be time for them to go into the street and admit that they, too, are in need of healing, but they are afraid, and they feel alone in the midst of the crowd.

And then Jesus is gone, and there are just all these people, everywhere it seems, when just a day before there had been no one.  It all started with one.

This perspective, the neighbor in the window, is the one with which I feel myself most closely identifying these days.  In the wake of the #metoo movement, the #blacklivesmatter movement, the DACA crisis and so many movements of truth telling and healing-seeking, it feels overwhelming sometimes.   And I wonder, “Where has Jesus gone?”

And like the person watching the scene unfold in the street below, we watch these movements unfold on the screens of our tvs and laptops and we wonder how the healing will happen.  We are bombarded with new revelations and accusations and, perhaps, they connect with our own stories in ways that frighten us or harm us all over again.

And, maybe, like those who came to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house in the morning, after Jesus had skipped town, you wonder how healing will happen for the rest of the multitude, how healing will happen for you.

And I think that’s precisely the reason Jesus leaves.  I don’t think Jesus packs up because he thinks he has healed everyone in need of healing, and certainly not because he thinks he has healed everyone deserving of healing.

I think Jesus leaves so that the crowd will understand that he isn’t the only one who can do the healing; that the community has the responsibility to heal one another until everyone who needs healing, gets healed.  The longer Jesus stays, the more the community will relinquish their own responsibility for the work that has to be done.

Of course, that means the community is also going to have to admit just how many people are broken, have been broken, and are longing to be made whole again.  

What Jesus did with his time in that town was to bring all of the pain, the illness, the brokenness out of hiding and into the streets, into the open where it could be acknowledged and then it could be dealt with so that healing might begin.

And that is where we find ourselves in our time in this country and in this place.  

A parishioner asked recently if we could be more explicit in our support of those who, as the #metoo movement reveals story after story of assault and harassment, might be feeling their own histories re-awoken, their own healed scars re-broken, and their relationship with the God and the church unsure.  

In a story in the New York Times, Rachael Denhollander, Larry Nassar’s first accuser, stated that, in so doing, she lost her friends, and she lost her church.1

And so let me assure you from this pulpit that there is no story, no experience, no truth you might have had or are having now, that will result in anything from this church but the unconditional love and Grace we understand God gives us.  That is our commitment, and we ask you to hold us accountable when we fall short.

And let me assure you that, if you feel like God skipped town before you had a shot at healing, you are not abandoned.  Because God gives us this community and so many more, to do that work for God, with God’s help.

We are to be the agents of healing and reconciliation and restorations God made us to be.

If Simon’s Mother-In-Law had given in to shame, she wouldn’t have told anyone she was ill, unable to fulfill her role as she longed to.  If she had stayed quiet, she would have died.

I think the same can be said of us.  Shame and fear and feeling alone keep us silent.  And silence keeps us from getting the healing God offers us through each other.  

Shame and fear and feelings of inadequacy also keep us from offering the healing to one another God needs us to give.

The views from our windows to the world can be overwhelming, the pained and broken crowd seems to grow by the minute and sometimes God can seem nowhere to be found.

But God is there.  God is in that crowd. Because that crowd that seeks healing from God is the very same crowd who will heal one another in God’s name.  

And that crowd is us.

AMEN.

 

  1.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/sunday/larry-nassar-rachael-denhollander.html

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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