Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; February 4, 2018, Year B
Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-11, 20c; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the one who lifts us up, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Everyone knows what it feels like to be sick. We are in the heart of winter, and so many people are sick. My boys have had perpetual running noses or a cough since November. About this time of year, when frostbite can occur in under 30 minutes, we wonder: Will spring ever come? We wonder: Will I ever be able to breathe out of my nose again?
There have been a couple of times in the past few years I have had a fever. As my body worked hard to fight off an illness, all I could do was lay huddled under blankets hoping I would feel better soon. Even if I wanted to get up and do something, or even get a drink of water, often I couldn’t because I was so weak. I had to rely on Jon or someone else to care for my children, or bring me soup. I hated it.
Sometimes I have felt crummy enough that it almost felt like I was going to die. Some of us have been that sick before; we become so weak or dehydrated that our mortality stares us right in the face. We start to think: maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad to die. At least I won’t feel this way anymore!
When we are sick we can hardly remember what it feels like to be well again. But eventually a fever breaks, or the fluid drains from our ears (JoAnne’s story), or we no longer need to carry Kleenexes in our pocket. We are given back our life again. And my God, it feels good. It feels like coming back from the dead. It feels like resurrection.
We don’t often think about our Gospel reading as a resurrection story, but it is. No, Simon’s mother-in-law was not 4 days dead in the tomb like Lazarus, but she was in bed with a fever. We can assume she was very ill, unable to receive her guests, or lift herself up.
Just after Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon being one of them, they go Simon’s home. Sometimes we have the perception that Jesus called all these single guys to follow him and they never looked back. In our reading today we hear that they go to Simon’s home, and he has a mother-in-law, which means he has a wife.
It was not unusual for a home to have multiple family members living in it, including in-laws, or aunts, or uncles, or grandparents, or cousins.
Also, houses would have been packed tightly together in villages, leaving very little space for privacy, which is why Jesus gets up in the morning and goes out to a deserted place to pray.
The proximity of houses would also allow for word to travel quickly when something like a healing takes place, which accounts for the “whole city” gathering at the threshold of Simon’s house that evening as soon as the Sabbath was over with the setting of the sun.
So Jesus enters Simon’s home and does what Jesus does: he sees whatever is keeping someone from truly living, and he gives new life. In this case, Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. He goes to her, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. Her fever leaves her and she begins to serve her guests.
Jesus is not simply helping her out of bed. He is restoring her health and giving her back her life. What gets translated “He lifted her up,” can also be translated, “He raised her up,” giving us more of a sense of resurrection.
Again, it’s not that she was physically dead or that I’m talking about THE resurrection unto eternal life, but rather, what resurrection can feel like in this life.
It’s hard to put language to resurrection or understand what it means. On Easter we talk about Jesus being raised, or resurrected, from the dead. In our confession of faith we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”
But what does resurrection feel like now in this life?
I’ve thought a lot about this because I know God cares about giving us new life right now, and not just after we are six feet under. Wherever Jesus goes he is healing and transforming people, he is offering a new way of being and restoring people to community, he is feeding and blessing people.
All of who we are matters to God, and God is always in the business of restoration and giving new life.
I came across a blog titled, Resurrection, written by an author named, Sarah Bessey. In her post she puts language to what resurrection might feel like in this life. She writes:
Sometimes resurrection feels like springtime when everything is a disastrous mess of mud and muck and left over salt on the edges of the roads. It’s brown and dead and ugly … And then one day there is one little snow flower that pokes up from the brown ground and you catch sight of it and point it out to the neighbours and to your children and you grin like a fool all day because look, a little flower is up!
Sometimes resurrection feels like walking slowly with a toddler. You have to stop and examine each new flower or leaf or blade of grass … It feels disorienting to be noticing everything, to be moving so slowly … but as we walk we find ourselves walking right into who and where we were meant to be all along, our lungs are strong and our feet are on the ground and a child keeps saying, “look!” and you are beginning to finally see.
Sometimes resurrection feels like growing up. You think it’s taking forever but then you’re out on your own in your grown-up life and you realise how short your childhood was really in the scheme of things and now you’ve got all of this life ahead of you as the person who you were always headed towards becoming.
Sometimes it [resurrection] looks like a therapists office and a box of tissues and learning to tell the truth … but then you next find resurrection in the prison handing out diplomas and in the hospital rocking babies and in the hospice singing “It is Well With My Soul” under your breath. Sometimes resurrection looks nothing like what you expect and sometimes it’s everything you ever wanted. Resurrection always surprises us.
I bet Simon’s mother-in-law, along with the whole household, was surprised when a stranger walked right to her bedside and took her by the hand and restored her health. Jesus, the resurrection and the life, raises her up.
And what does she do with the new life given to her?
Scripture tells us she begins to serve the ones who have come into her home, including Jesus. The word that gets translated “to serve” also means “to minster.” It’s the same word used when the angels minister to Jesus in the wilderness after his temptation.
It also gets used again later in the Gospel of Mark, by Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are arguing who’s the greatest, so Jesus needs to step in and try and teach them that if a person wants to be great, then they must become a servant of all. He then describes his own purpose: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Simon’s mother-in-law becomes a model of discipleship. She doesn’t serve everyone because she is a woman and that’s what women do, although plenty have made this argument from the pulpit before. Rather, she is made well, and her response is to use her able body to minister to and host Jesus and his disciples. Her home then becomes a continued place of healing, where the whole city gathers bringing their sick to be restored.
So what are you going to do with your resurrection life? What are you going to do with being made well after illness, or your sobriety, or your diploma or GED? What are you going to do with the breath in your lungs, and the rise of the sun on this new day God has given you?
May we all follow the example of Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus takes us by the hand, lifts us up, and we begin to minister and serve.