Twelve years ago I suffered a life threatening illness. From a fractured tooth came an abscess, and then the abscess infected the bone in my jaw. The infection followed the nerve in my jaw, leaving me unable to feel most of my bottom lip and teeth. The infection then travelled up the side of my face. All of this developed over the course of one week, taking me from a dentist who thought I had TMJ to a hospital room and a team of doctors including a surgeon, an internist, and an infectious disease specialist. At first the hospital attempted to cure me with IV antibiotics. But 48 hours later, with the infection increasing, I was prepped and waiting for surgery. Following surgery to drain the infection I remained in the hospital another week and then, because the infection was in the bone, I went home with a pic line so I could apply iv antibiotics myself, four times a day for the next 9 weeks, until they were certain that no infection lingered in the bone.
As we hear in our Gospel this morning, Peter’s mother in law is sick with fever. Having a fever was no small matter in the ancient world – people knew that fever carried a high potential for death. Then, Jesus comes into the home and into her room, and heals her. Upon which she immediately rises from the bed and begins to serve her guests. “Being raised up” is how the Gospel describes this healing, using a verb, egerio, that is common in the Gospel of Mark. This verb suggests that a new strength has been imparted to an individual laid low by illness in order that they may rise up and take their place in the world.
Think about that – a new strength imparted to one laid low in order that they may rise up and take their place in the world.
The same verb “To serve” is used in Mark to describe both the actions of the mother-in-law AND the actions of Jesus – both are called to serve in the same way. Using that same verb for the woman and for Jesus indicates that serving is a call from God, to serve is holy. Apart from Jesus she is the first person who is described with this verb – making her the first disciple of Jesus, doing God’s work in the world by serving others. Only later is the verb used to describe the ministry of the other twelve disciples.
Following this story about the mother in law we find Jesus healing many others. We see Jesus in action, serving others, as an agent of God’s healing love in the world. It’s as if the door of the woman’s house, where she was healed, becomes the doorway where all in the city are healed.
However, it’s important to note that being healed and being cured are two different realities. Being cured is what the doctors did for me, cured me of an infection. Being cured comes from medical intervention or the body’s own natural immune system. Healing however is an expression of God’s power, grace, love, mercy, and compassion. Healing happens deeper inside, in the realm of one’s soul. Because healing comes from God, one might be healed even though one is not cured of the disease.
One of the primary ways we access the healing that God offers is through prayer. Jesus takes time out for stillness, to pray, to reflect and from it he finds his direction.
One of the primary purposes of Sunday morning worship is to offer us this time for stillness and prayer, a time to be lifted up out of the concerns of our lives and be reminded of who we are and whose we are. Walter Bruggeman, a biblical scholar, has studied the Psalms and written extensively on them. The Psalms were the foundation of worship for the ancient Hebrew people, they were prayers sung during worship. Bruggeman speculates that worship for these people found its anchor in a theological understanding of God that began in Genesis 18, the story of the strangers who appear to Abraham and Sarah and tell them that Sarah will have a baby, even though she is old. It is a story that articulates the primary belief of these people, that nothing is impossible for God. That belief continues throughout the Hebrew Bible, from Judges to Jeremiah, to all the prophets, through most of the Psalms, and into the New Testament, from the Gospel stories that end in resurrection to Paul’s letters to the churches, and even in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The primary tenant of faith, proclaimed throughout the ages is, "nothing is impossible for God.”
Of course today we are practical, learned, modern people and this belief probably sounds naive to many of us. Or at the very least we may give it lip service but we don’t really actually believe it because there is no empirical evidence to support this belief. No tangible proof that God can do anything. I mean, look at the world we live, at the divisiveness, the anger, poverty, violence, the seeming decay of every institution, if God could do anything, why doesn’t God fix this mess?
As Christians we learn that God intervenes in the world through us, through human beings. The incarnation, the birth of God’s Word made flesh, and the calling of people to be disciples of God, is the calling of each of us to partner with God to bring forth God’s kingdom in every age and every time. God is seeking to raise us up, to work with us and through us.
How can we possibly know how God is trying to use us if we don’t take the time to be still and listen, to avail ourselves to God in prayer?
Next week Ken Shuman from Faithwalking will be us. He will lead the vestry retreat on Friday and Saturday, preach on Sunday, and lead an adult forum. Faithwalking is an ecumenical group of Christians who are working to be healed from the trauma’s of life, physical, spiritual, or emotional trauma, the kind of trauma that hold one back and keep’s one from living a full authentic life, from being our true selves. In being healed, Faithwalking raises up individuals and communities to their true mission, their true calling from God - healed and raised and sent out to serve others, partnering with God to bring forth God’s love to every corner of world, living in the most authentic way.
Because nothing is impossible with God.
a reflection on Mark 1:29-38 for Epiphany 5B