‘And She Began to Serve…’

Serving…” Image by Max Wei via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Epiphany 5 | 02.04.2018 | Mark 1:29-34

This story has in it an event of healing. I say it that way purposefully. This is not a healing story.

…but it is a story with a healing in it.

I say that for a number of reasons. One reason is that if we reduce a story where a healing happens to only the instance of the miracle, we reduce the story to essentially a special effects movie; instead of a layered narrative, it is reduced basically to a Transformers movie – entertaining, but zero substance.

In fact, sometimes a miracle can actually distract us from deeper lessons in a passage – lessons which can often be more powerful than the miracle itself. A prime example is Jonah. Incidentally, I saw an instance of this saw this on TV this week. For whatever reason, the Jonah story came up on a late night talk show. The guest, confused, thought the story was only about Jonah getting swallowed by a fish but miraculously surviving (and many of us know that detail about Jonah, right? But does anybody know anything else about that Old Testament book? Neither did this guest). To the host’s credit, he said, Well, it’s about more than that. It’s about Nineveh—which is at the heart of the Jonah’s deepest lesson! Yes Jonah escapes the belly of a fish, but the story is about Jonah’s wrestling with the fact that God even forgives Jonah’s enemies, particularly in the town of Nineveh. Forgiveness of enemies is the heart of the lesson and we miss that powerful lesson because we all get distracted by the miracle, and Jonah is never remembered!

So, again, I emphasize that today’s story from Mark is a story with healing in it and not only a story about healing. There is more than just a magic trick going on here. In this short Gospel text there are some big things being revealed!

The healing is stunning and impressive, but what else is being revealed? This story reveals not just a divine physician, but the very character of God, the very purpose of Jesus!

Remember, this is still the first chapter of Mark. Jesus just showed up. And what is he already doing? Not holding parades, recruiting armies, gaining political power, fame, or celebrity, not putting on magic shows, but seeking out the suffering.

Jesus arrives and his immediate objective is to enter into the painful places of human existence. That’s what this story also shows us!—not just that Jesus can do miracles, but that Jesus “is not absent in sickness and death but in the midst of it.”[1] As it reads it in the text today—“He came and took her by the hand” (Mark 1:31). Jesus shows up. Jesus is present in times of suffering.

And that has greater meaning and is more powerful of a revelation than the miracle itself. Because sometimes healing and cures do not happen. Every single one of us knows that firsthand regarding our own bodies or the bodies of loved ones. And yet this story still has something to say in those instances: Jesus is present in the midst of hurt and suffering. A cure may never come, but Jesus will. And that, ultimately, is a promise of the gospel more relevant than the miracle itself. One scholar affirms, “The promise of the Gospel is not that hardship will be taken away, but that God is with us in the hardship.”[2]

What we have revealed to us in this story is not a merely a God who does magic tricks over the laws of nature, but a God who enters in and is present with the suffering, and those in their darkest moments. This is not just a story for “ooohs and ahhhhs,” but a story for you all who are not experiencing physical, emotional, or spiritual cures, revealing that despite all your pain, the divine presence is in your midst.

Now, one other point that this story reveals beyond the incidence of healing. Again, the healing is amazing, but what else does the story reveal? Look at what happens after the healing.

What comes after the healing and from the healing is just as beautiful and just as meaningful as the healing itself. The end of verse 31—“…the fever left her, and she began to serve.” Over-focusing on the miracle we might miss those spectacular last five words—and she began to serve. This is an enormous lesson.

Simon’s mother-in-law shows us how we are called to respond to any healing and any life that Jesus gives us. Whatever healing we experience—forgiveness, mercy, community, love, abundance, or health—we are not “only freed from something, [but] also freed for something, for lives of…service and generosity and more.”[3]

We read this story where the sick are healed by Jesus and what do they do? They get up, and they serve. So, a lesson from today’s story is not merely, “Jesus shows up for the sick,” but also:

Jesus extends grace, compassion, healing, and hospitality to us and therefore we are called to extend grace, compassion, healing, and [hospitality] to others.[4]

Some of you today need healing. And the gospel today is that Christ comes to you in your pain and shares it. You are not alone. Whatever comes next for you, you are not alone.

Some of you here have been healed or are healthy. And the story today says that in your health you have a calling—to use your health and freedom in love.

In pain we are not alone. In health we shall begin to serve. Amen.

     [1] Robert W. Brewer, “Mark 1:29-34 – Homiletical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 41.

     [2] David Lose, “Epiphany 3 B: Fullness Where We Least Expect It,” In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2018/01/epiphany-3-b-fullness-where-we-least-expect-it/.

     [3] David J. Lose, “Epiphany 5 B: Freedom For,” In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2015/02/epiphany-5-b-freedom-for/.

     [4] Brewer, “Mark 1:29-34,” 43.

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