Sermon for February 7th

Old Testament Reading Isaiah 40:21-31

Epistle Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:29-39

Meditation: “Blessed to Serve”

As you may recall from last week, Jesus is beginning his ministry in the village of Capernaum which is along the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee. It was the home of the brothers, Peter and Andrew and apparently also of James and John. Jesus had called them to come and follow him and they had done just that – suddenly and without hesitation. They just left their nets and followed Jesus. Later, when he visited in the local Synagogue, Jesus had taught and then been confronted by the man with the unclean spirit we talked about last week. The Spirit is no match for the authority of Jesus and the man is restored to wholeness with a simple command. Now, as our reading begins, the service has concluded and Jesus has gone to the home of Peter and Andrew. But there’s a problem there too. Peter’s mother-in law is bedridden with a fever. Naturally they told Jesus about her condition as soon as he got to the house.

What happens next is a wonderfully tender scene as Jesus goes into her and takes her hand and in that simple act, she is healed and her strength returns. Jesus helps her up off the bed and she gratefully returns the gift of life and health by serving Jesus a meal. This healing was not as dramatic as the one just before where Jesus confronted the unclean spirit, no screaming, no convulsions. But it is equally important as a demonstration of the power, authority and compassion of Jesus. In these few sentences, there is much we need to note. First is the location: a home. This is the place of family and where friends gather. Further its the home of two of Jesus disciples, Peter and Andrew. Such houses would be the center of Christian worship for centuries afterwards.

How fitting that one of Jesus first acts of Authority would be in just such a place – the home of his disciples! This was not a formal sacred place such as the synagogue and a big fancy building. Yet these house churches would be the platform for the church’s worship and witness for years to come. From such places, the church would send missionaries all over the known world. Significantly its also one of the few spaces in that world where the women had stature and honor. This was uniquely their space as well.

That brings us to the second point to take special note. Peter’s mother-in-law seems to have instinctively understood things that it would take Jesus’ more visible 12 disciples years to figure out. It’s my basic point this morning in fact: The gifts of God are graciously given to empower us for service. Since we’re working from a text two languages removed from the original, we miss some of the drama of Mark’s terse, yet suggestive language. The word he uses – meaning “to get up” is the same that he uses for Jesus resurrection in chapter 16. But just as important as the wonderful act of Jesus is the response of the Mother-in-law. How did she respond to this act of grace in her life? She immediately begins to serve Jesus. She turns the Sabbath into a self giving day of service, just as Jesus would do so many times in his own ministry. She is not commanded or even asked, she just does it, It’s a matter of gratitude for the grace she received. And so she she demonstrates along with Christ the value of mutual service over the sacredness of the Sabbath.

Ladies, please don’t scoff and say, ‘how typical – she just got off her sick bed and is already expected to do women’s work – serving lazy entitled males’. Rather, I would offer you a much richer view. Peter’s Mother-in-law (unfortunately we don’t have her name recorded for us) is able to properly interpret the gift she has received. She becomes Jesus’ first servant – the first deacon if you would. She joins Jesus in showing the Kingdom that he preached in action, in loving grateful service! Contrast that with Simon Peter himself. Sometimes, as Mark will show us later in his gospel Peter could be so blind. He knew enough to follow Jesus at his command, but he was not nearly as aware of who he was as that demon in the man at the Synagogue.

Peter and the rest will often insert their own priorities and ambitions into Jesus’ ministry. It is to Peter, that Jesus will have to say “get behind me Satan” when he is unable to accept Jesus’ turn toward Jerusalem and the cross. While Jesus is healing and teaching and Feeding the multitudes, the Disciples will be arguing over just which of them will be the greatest in the Kingdom. How humbling to note that here, at the beginning, Peter’s mother-in-law is already exhibiting the ministry of service that Peter himself will take a long time to understand.

We might be tempted to remind him of the words we read from Isaiah this morning: “Have you not Seen? Have you not heard?” The Lord is the everlasting God… He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless”. That’s what was going on right there in front of him. But let’s not beat up too badly on Peter. I doubt that any of us would have done much better in his place. Instead, lets just take this moment to appreciate a beautiful heart revealed in grateful service and then go and do likewise with the gifts that we have received.

Indeed that’s what Jesus did. Word must have spread through that little town like wildfire – “Did you hear what Jesus did at the Synagogue today?”, “No – what happened, tell me!” How about Simon’s mother-in-law? I heard she was really sick with a bad fever and she was cured when Jesus took her hand.” “I wonder if he would do that for our family too, you know Aunt Mary has been sick for so long.” “I know, and Levi hasn’t been able to walk right ever since that accident in the boat accident out in the storm last month.” You can just imagine what happened next – just what Mark describes: (Mark 1:32-34 NRSV) “That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. [34] And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

You notice, they waited until after sunset – after the formal end of the Sabbath day. But then, they came in numbers – all pressed around the door of that little house. Just a word, if I might, about that house: It wasn’t very big, just a few rooms. It was a crowded little village as you can see from the ruins today. The streets were just big enough for a few folks to pass by each other. Imagine a whole such block packed with people and Jesus patiently tending to each. We then understand why the next morning, Jesus slipped out into the predawn gloom to spend a little time apart with his Heavenly Father. Jesus was fully human as well as God’s son. He also needed his father’s strength in order to serve. That was what he received at times like these, strength and refreshment above and beyond mere sleep. It was a time of rest and prayer in fellowship with God. We should learn from that example too.

Just imagine the scene the next morning as the sun came up and the crowd started to regather – more people seeking healing – but where was Jesus? Mark tells us that Simon Peter and his companions went out hunting for Jesus. Frantically searching most likely. THEY certainly didn’t know what to do with the insistent crowd. Jesus had not yet showed them that they too could be conduits for God’s blessing. They might have even started thinking about how they were going to need to build a bigger place to handle all the people that were going to be coming form miles around. Well, they did eventually find him, but when they did, he dashed those thoughts – he said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” [39] And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Kingdom is not to be limited to one special place, It is to be preached and lived out wherever there are people who will accept it. All through the ages, their have been multitudes who have understood the simple message of the Kingdom – come and be blessed so you can go out in the strength of God to Serve and bless others in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. – How about you?