Unnamed and Healed-February 4 2018 Sermon

February 4 2018 Sermon

Isaiah 40:21-31

40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;

40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.


Mark 1:29-39

1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.

1:34 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.

1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

1:38 He answered, “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.”

1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


Please be seated.

Before I preach this morning, there are three questions that I want you to keep sort of hanging out on the back burner. These three questions can be used when looking at any biblical text-they’re especially helpful when the point of a story or parable isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be.

  1. What is this saying or showing us about God and Jesus?
  2. What is this saying or showing us about ourselves and humanity?
  3. What is this saying about the relationship between God and humanity?

We’ll make use of these a bit later on.

The opening chapter of the gospel of Mark is a whirlwind of ministry taking place throughout the Judean countryside. The gospel’s opening overture is the declaration of John the Baptist that one far greater than him is on his way. John the Baptist is out in the wilderness declaring that the Messiah is on his way and folks need to get right with God soon. He’s calling for a baptism of repentance in addition to being ritually cleansed in the Jordan River. On the heels of John’s Ministry is Jesus showing up on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized. The baptism and the Spirit of God leads to Jesus being driven into the wilderness for a time of trial and tribulation. Some say it was this time in the wilderness that Jesus got clarity about his call to ministry and his theological education alongside the angels who were serving him.

Because John the Baptist was putting moral pressure on the Herodian family with his preaching, it’s no surprise that John was put in prison and later executed. John’s arrest marks the start of Jesus’ Judean preaching tour. He has one sermon. I’ve been told the average United Methodist preacher has three sermons that show up in different forms and stories, but they’re basically the same three sermons. Nonetheless, Jesus’ one sermon is really good. The kingdom of God has come near. That was and remains the gospel message: God’s reign is as close as your own breath. And if God’s reign is at hand, then nothing can stay the same. Your individual life, your family, your sense of calling in the world, and the domination system that oppressed and oppresses can’t stay the same. The reign of God reorders all of it.

In recent weeks, we’ve been walking through this whirlwind first chapter of Mark along with millions of brothers and sisters of faith following the lectionary. We’ve all heard the imperative of Jesus. Come, follow me, and I’ll lead you to fish in new waters. Follow me, and I’ll lead you to abundant life. James, John, Simon, and Andrew are called quickly and directly into this new ministry. They leave boats, entrepreneurial fishing enterprises, family, and their local community behind to be part of Jesus’ public ministry. Not long after they’re called, they witness Jesus’ direct encounter with a man with an unclean spirit in the local synagogue. The spirit knows who Jesus is and Jesus casts the spirit out leading the man possessed into freedom. The disciples haven’t yet started casting out unclean spirits and teaching on behalf of Jesus in towns dotting the map. They’re seemingly bystanders most of the time as Jesus’ ministry picks up steam.

When you start casting out demons, you quickly make a name for yourself! News spreads like wildfire. After Jesus and the guys wrap up conversation at the synagogue, they head over to Simon Peter’s home presumably for dinner and rest after a busy day. When they get to the house, Jesus is told that Simon’s mother in law is sick and in bed. She is suffering from fever. Jesus goes to her side, took her hand, and raises her up. Once she was healed, she began serving her family and house guests. Before the dishes and dessert are cleared off the table, the whole town is pressing in at the threshold of the door to be healed by Jesus of Nazareth. He’s cast out demons and raised up a woman suffering from fever. Perhaps he’ll heal me too. We’ll come back to the healing-we need to diverge for a moment.

Does Jesus heal Simon’s mother in law so that he could serve her family and house guests dinner and desert? I think we can assume that when Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue after a busy day of healing ministry, they thought a homemade meal would be waiting on the table. And of course if Simon’s wife and mother in law knew they were going to have company, they would be adequately concerned about the need to provide hospitality and maintain the honor of receiving guests. But with illness, hospitality and honor are on the line if Simon’s mother in law can’t serve her guests.

The story and expectations are steeped in 1st century culture in which honor and shame in a male dominated world are driving forces for social behavior. Illness stands in the way of this unnamed woman fulfilling the expectation of hospitality. The physical suffering is compounded by her guests arriving and being unable to serve them. Once she is healed, she is restored to the position of host and fulfills the high calling of service.

I don’t want you to see and hear this story as a justification for the subjugation of women in the home or in ministry. It’s already been used that way before. It’s bad enough that Simon Peter’s mother in law is only known in relationship to a male relative. She has no name In the gospels. Simon Peter’s wife isn’t even mentioned but surely she is there. There are elements in the gospels and Paul’s letters that when poorly read and poorly preached have led to or sustained the invisible or secondary role of women.

It’s not too far of a stretch for arrogant and chauvinistic preachers to claim that Simon’s mother in law is fulfilling her rightful place in the home. It’s the same root claim for why some say women shouldn’t be allowed to preach or get a theological education. Pastor John Piper just recently made this comment that the Bible doesn’t allow women to be pastors so obviously they can’t be seminary professors either. Women can make church dinners, sing in the choir, organize mission events, take care of kids in the nursery, etc. These rightful roles are right along in the vein of what we see Simon Peter’s mother in law doing when she’s resorted to health. Service to the benefit of dominant men.

What I said about women not serving in ministry was a line of reasoning that we see play out in other churches and other strands of the Christian tradition. It’s not what I believe and not the way this church or the United Methodist Church does ministry. I was educated by some of the brightest theological female minds in the American academy and taught how to be a fruitful pastor by some of the best female pastors in this conference. But I want you to see how poor readings of scripture can get you to ludicrous claims that keep women invisible, powerless, dependent on men or male relatives for status, and in subservient roles. It doesn’t take many more steps to get from women being subservient, invisible, or powerless in the biblical narratives to a toxic climate in which girls, teens, and women no matter their age are taken advantage of by men who have no regard for their dignity.

I don’t think Jesus had chauvinistic or sexist motives when he healed Simon’s mother in law. I think he heals her because it’s who Jesus is. The nature of God is like another story we’ll see soon when Jesus is moved with compassion, his guts are stirred up to heal a demon possessed man. Jesus restores the man to health and community because that was his most pressing need. After Jesus heals her and the family and friends are served, those who had heard the quick spreading news about Jesus gathered at the door. Their most pressing need was to be healed, set free, restored, brought out of the bonds of captive powers.

And Jesus meets them their in their need. After a busy day of preaching and healing, maybe when he should have been resting or taking time for Sabbath, he keeps on healing into the night. By morning time, Jesus has made haste to get out of town for a bit-to retreat, until Simon, Andrew, James, and John literally hunt him down until he’s found. Jesus, the need is great, the suffering is rampant. Folks need healing. They need you!

And Jesus tells them, let’s move on. He keeps preaching and healing while on the move, but there’s something disconcerting under the surface. Why didn’t Jesus choose to stay and heal the entire community? He could have cured every ailment in Capernaum couldn’t he? Was he tired of seeing and helping those folks who were searching for him when he was just trying to find some time to pray?

Let’s ask it another way. Why are the gospels filled with stories of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah among us, healing folks, setting them free from all sorts of bodily and spiritual burdens all the while Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is full of children and parents praying for miracles? Couldn’t God choose to restore those families to health and wholeness as easily as Jesus took Simon Peter’s mother in law by the hand?

I wish Jesus Christ would walk up those back steps through those doors and take some of you by the hand and raise you up, to free you from the heavy burdens you carry in body and spirit. I’m not sure why healings and sometimes miraculously unexplainable reverses in health happen to some and not for all.

Regardless, we, the church, the living body of Christ shall act like James, John, Simon, and Andrew searching out for Jesus on behalf of the suffering crowds reminding Jesus he is needed. We should act like Simon who brings Jesus into proximity of the ones he loves so Jesus can change their life.

We’ll end the same way that we started.

  1. What is this saying or showing us about God and Jesus?
  2. What is this saying or showing us about ourselves and humanity?
  3. What is this saying about the relationship between God and humanity?


Share This: