Epiphany 5, Year B, 2012

Listen to the sermon here.

Imagine it. A pint sized University of Southern California cheerleading uniform, complete with a maroon and gold pleated skirt, the letters USC proudly emblazoned on the front, and pom poms with a full head of extremely shakeable maroon streamers. When I was five years old I owned this very uniform and on one fine fall day, I was going to wear this uniform to Kindergarten to participate in a play. I dreamed of this day for weeks. I was going to enthusiastically shake those pom poms as long as they would allow me. I was going to embody the spirit of both my parents’ alma mater and cheerleading in general. The day was probably going to be the peak experience of my academic life.

And then, of course, I got strep throat. As I watched the mercury rocket to the top of the thermometer, the tears began to well up in my eyes. A fever meant no school. No school meant no cheerleading uniform. No pom pom shaking. No proudly cheering on an imaginary team. My best day ever dissolved into resting on the couch, weepily watching cartoons, feeling sorry for myself.

Being sick is no fun. While we often focus on the physical symptoms of illness—the pain, the exhaustion—perhaps the most difficult part of illness is the dislocation a person experiences. While it was sad that my five year old self did not get to fulfill her role as a cheerleader for a day, I did manage to overcome that developmental obstacle. But what about kids that are so sick that they miss weeks or months of school. What about adults that are so ill they cannot keep up with their work and have to go on disability? What about parents that are so sick, they can no longer take care of their children?

Think about all the roles you occupy on a given day. You are a worker, a friend, a daughter, a parent perhaps. You are a customer, a teacher, a volunteer, a pet owner. Now imagine you were no longer able to fulfill those roles. Imagine that you no longer had the strength to leave your home; that all your time was taken up with doctor’s appointments and treatments. Imagine other people coming in to do your job, to clean your home, to nurture your children, to walk your dog.

Would your deepest grief revolve around the pain you were experiencing, or suddenly losing so much of your identity?

Simon’s mother-in-law was ill and she did not have the hope modern medicine offers to us. She lay in her home, unable to fulfill her role as matriarch.

Now, I have to admit, this passage always makes me laugh a little. Jesus has just left the temple, to go to Simon’s house. He is probably starving. I imagine him looking at Simon and asking, “What’s for lunch?” And Simon saying, well, usually my mother –in-law would make something really delicious, but she’s been sick lately. . .”

But, let’s be clear, that is just my imagination and is NOT what is going on in the text here!

Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever and this fever has knocked her out. The fever is severe enough that the people in her household are very concerned about her and tell Simon and his friends immediately upon their entry into the home. Now keep in mind that Jesus has not healed anyone yet. He has sent some demons flying, but the people in this house do not know there is a healer in their midst. They are just concerned about the health of this woman.

Jesus goes to her bedside, holds her hand and lifts her up, healing her. Jesus does not heal her and then tell her to stay in bed and get some rest. No, his healing is so complete, she is immediately fully restored to health. Jesus lifts her to her feet and restores her to her place in her household.

In my sermon last month, we talked about how God brings order out of chaos. Jesus demonstrates this in the first chapter of Mark. By exorcising demons and healing the sick, Jesus is ordering what is chaotic in his followers’ lives. He restores the order of Simon’s mother-in-law’s life and her household.

Now, we might be made uncomfortable by the woman’s servile response, but the text does not say, “And Simon’s mother-in-law got up and made them a delicious lunch because she was a woman and that is all women are good for.” The text says that she served them—the verb here is diakoneo—the verb from which we get the word deacon. This word is only used twice in Mark. Once here and once in Mark 10:45—For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”. Her service is holy service.

When Simon’s mother-in-law is healed by Jesus, her response is to serve Jesus. She is restored not only to her role in her household, but has a new role, as a servant of God. Even though some of his disciples are right there with him, they will not be able to live out this type of response to Jesus until after his death. Simon’s mother-in-law understands what it means to follow Jesus, long before her son-in-law and the other disciples do.

We in the church still believe that Jesus is in the business of healing and restoring us to our rightful places in our lives. We offer healing prayers in the Unity Chapel every Sunday, trusting that God hears our prayers and acts in our lives.

Now, the Kingdom of God is not fully realized. Just as mercy and justice are not fully present in our world, the full healing of God is not completed in our world, either. So we may pray our hearts out for our own health or the health of someone we love and not see any results. We may stay sidelined, unable to live out the roles we were called to live.

So, why do we continue to pray for healing?

We pray because our illness reminds us we are not as in control of our world as we thought we were. We pray because we know God knows all the roles we fulfill, and desires us to be our full selves. We pray because we believe God will heal us, that we will be restored to our full selves, even if the healing will not happen until we are in our resurrection bodies. We pray because we believe Christ’s healing is a sign that points to the fundamental nature of who God is—that our God brings order out of chaos and wholeness out of brokenness. We pray because we believe the Kingdom of God is in process of coming to fruition and we want part of that life with God. We pray because we want to be healed and we want to joyfully serve our God.

Where are you in our story today? Are you ill? Have you been dislocated from roles in your life because of sickness, estrangement or unemployment? Are you feeling consumed by the chaos of your life?

Or have you experienced the blessing of God’s healing? Are you ready now to serve our God?

We are all somewhere in this story.

During our communion hymns, I invite you to spend some time praying about where you might be in this story. If you would like healing prayer for yourself or someone you love, please join us in the unity chapel for prayer. If you feel ready to serve, pray that God might show you where you can best serve him.

We are all part of God’s story. No one is too ill, too sidelined, too unemployed to be without a role in God’s Kingdom. On the other hand, no one is too healthy, too important or too rich to have a role, either. All of us are necessary parts of this church and the greater Church. Each of us has something to contribute.

Jesus extends his hand to you, inviting you to get up. Will you take it?

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