Rev. Pamela McNeil Date: Feb 7, 2020
Text: Isaiah 40: 21-31; Mark 1: 29-39 Mission: Serve in community
Perhaps like me, you have spent many evenings outdoors under the blanket of stars as described in the reading from Isaiah. – maybe you remember playing well into the evening as a kid, or you sat with a group of friends outside on a summer night, hearing the sounds, smelling the campfire, and feeling small under the great expanse of stars. This image of a starry night is especially appealing and I am inclined to think that this is probably as close to creation and the creator as one can come.
This passage was particularly resonant with people of Bible times. The picture painted by Isaiah is of God who ‘sits above the circle of the earth’ stretching the dome of the stars across the cosmos – a God above and greater than anything. These words kind of gave criticism to the Israelites who were in exile because of their lack of loyalty to God the creator.
You see, the people of God had slipped into habits of honouring stars and worshipping sun and moon gods. But the image presented by Isaiah reveals there is nothing greater than God – not stars, or any other cosmic being. The universe unfolds perfectly in God’s plan.
This image of God’s greatness – God’s omnipotence – is important to keep in mind as we explore the work Jesus does when he leaves the synagogue and enters the home of Simon Peter.
Peter’s mother in law, whose joy and pleasure is to greet people in her home – her domain – is unable to welcome and attend to Jesus and his companions. She is ill with fever.
This is not a simple cold. I’m told that the original Greek word describing her illness indicates that it was very severe – a condition that usually resulted in death. The account of Jesus’ ministry to her is touching. Jesus ‘raises her up’ – this woman who is un-named in scripture is physically and spiritually lifted up by Jesus – Her fever immediately leaves her and she is able to get up and resume her role of greeting her guests, serving them and welcoming them to the table
Now some may protest the subordination of placing this un-named woman in the role of a meek servant, doing the bidding of others. And here is where a true point of this account comes to light:
Women are frequently the ones in scripture who take on the role of Christ-like living, but this is not about the woman –
In fact, this un-named woman is far from being a meek, unliberated person. She is the first person in the gospel of Mark to embody true discipleship.
This is about being a servant. It is about Jesus’ role as a servant. It is about how the things that Jesus does show us personally the greatness of God who stretches the heavens out like a tent over creation.
The healing of the woman is living proof of a gracious God who, even in greatness, is not above caring for us.
This account is also about community. The woman’s encounter with Jesus ‘lifted’ her – removed her burdens, and filled her with strength. The woman is returned to her guests and her community where she is able to contribute and has a position of worth.
The woman’s healing is followed by many healings that evening. All in the community who were ill and possessed by demons were brought to Jesus. The people are nameless, and their being healed is evidence of God’s power and loving care. The community was enriched by the restoration of its population.
Jesus comes to restore humanity’s relationship with God and with each other.
I thought about community when I received the family Christmas photo from our son. The photographer placed the parents behind a waist high limb of a tree. It is a hefty limb, so all 4 children are sitting on it. The 1 year old sister is sitting at the highest point – the branch is on an angle so she is hanging on to her eldest brother’s shoulder for dear life. The eldest brother, to keep from being knocked off balance by his sister is holding on to the middle brother’s arm with a death grip. The middle brother is body slammed against the youngest brother for stability, and the youngest brother is at the lowest point in the slippery sloping branch and he ‘white knuckles’ his mother’s hand tightly as she holds him from sliding off. The entire group of course, is held safely by the parents. I love how they are all connected, physically and spiritually to each other. That is community.
As part of a community, when things go off balance, others are there for support; when a neighbour begins to slide, they can rely on the community for support; when someone is sad, they have a community to grieve with them. We live in a wonky uncertain time, and being part of a community is strengthening and more important than ever.
The young people who were confirmed this past summer commented on how weird it felt to be the only young person in the congregation on random Sunday mornings. In other words, they missed that part of the community that is like them. How do we need to be lifted up to see they are part of the community in a different way?
A church community that works together is able to accomplish great things. Lone single believers can speak of God’s greatness, but as evidenced by our parish and congregational projects, together we are much more effective.
So, this account of Jesus healing the woman is also about the value of community where each person has a role and has value.
At the end of the passage, Jesus leads his disciples to the next community to teach about service, to restore community, and this is done as a witness to God’s greatness.
We are the people in the next community. We are blessed by Jesus’ presence in our lives every day. How does this blessing stir us to serve, to be community and to witness and marvel at the mystery of God’s greatness?