Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 8, 2015
+In the Name of God, who creates us; Jesus, who befriends us; and the Holy Spirit who empowers and sustains us. Amen
The season of Epiphany is well named. It can be an eye opener, offering us our own “epiphany moments” if we’re paying attention to the scriptures. In the Gospel selections from Mark, we are privy to revelation and manifestation of just what Jesus is all about and what he wants to do for us. And we are invited to keep on the lookout for the way Jesus shows up in our lives and in our faith community.
The ministry of Jesus is principally one of healing, transformation, restoration, and the removing of obstacles or barriers that prevent anyone from knowing a richer and fuller life in God and the experience of God’s all embracing, unconditional love.
Today his newly enlisted disciples ask him to help Simon’s mother-in-law who is burning up with fever. In his time, a fever was not only debilitating for a few days; it was a symptom of a larger illness that often led to death.
We don’t know anything more about this fever—its duration, its intensity, its origin—except that it was preventing a valued member of the family and community from being able to do her work. What Mark does not tell us is that any illness came with a heavy cost: not only would a person be unable to contribute to the well-being of the household and village, but their role in the community would be greatly diminished. Women were already undervalues; an ailing woman would be almost invisible.
Jesus not only broke the fever for Peter’s mother-in-law. He restored her to her social circle and restored her sense of purpose in life, being needed by others, being a valuable member of the community, offering her gift of hospitality. So the first “epiphany” I see here is the important wok of restoring those who are ailing, aging, or isolating to life in the community.
It’s a very relevant concern for this and every church community. We are blessed with a number of members who have given so very much of themselves to the building up of God’s kingdom here and have ministered faithfully to this community for many years. For some, the “fever” of age and illness has become an obstacle to their full participation in our life and to their ability to give of their time and energy as they so loved to do.
We must be intentional about letting them know that they are loved, valued, and need and that their days of being more actively engaged in church life are not forgotten and are deeply appreciated. Life without community and calling is bleak indeed. We must reassure them of their calling as wise, faithful, informed elders of the church who carry its history for us even as we include them in every aspect of our community life they are able to enjoy.
Now there is another “epiphany” surprise in this Gospel. It’s rather disconcerting at first glance. Imagine walking into your place of employment and being accosted by half dozen or so coworkers with, “Where have you been? Everyone’s looking for you!”
How does that feel? What do you say to that? What do you do?
My guess is that we’d try to disguise the surprised or somewhat guilty expression off our face and figure out with whom to check in first. But that’s not what happened in this story. When his friends tell Jesus that there are lots of people lined up waiting to be healed, he just picks up and moves on. Does that at all surprise us?
And before he travels on he gets up super early to be by himself and to pray. What about all the work he had to do? Those people waiting for him to show up? Couldn’t he have opened the office a little early that day and skipped the prayer time? Did he have to leave so abruptly?
Can you imagine if Jesus had been a rector? Do you think he would have gotten away with that? Seriously? Can you hear the chatter at coffee hour? He’s on another vacation? She took two days off to go on a retreat? What do we pay him for? What does she do all day?
What Jesus is doing here is teaching us an invaluable lesson. As important as his ministry was, it could not become so large, so consuming, so overwhelming that he didn’t have time to take care of himself. And, if he recognized that need and models it for us, we need to do follow his lights on this.
Clergy persons, as well as others in the helping professions, are especially privy to stories of pain, hardship, broken hearts, and loss. They need to take care of themselves in order to carry the weight of all that in a healthy, self-nourishing manner.
Each of us, in no matter what position we find ourselves in business, in our home, in the church, have important work to do. None of us, however, is called to be the savior of the world. Even the Savior of the world needed a break—and took one, actually several.
Jesus didn’t tell us we had to do it all. He just told us to get out and start doing it. Sometimes we need to move on. Sometimes we need to stop and rest. That’s a totally contra cultural way of thinking in a world that promotes more work for less compensation more hours in an office than our lives are made to accommodate and greater attention to business than to friends, family, and our self care.
The way Jesus handled the “Everyone’s looking for you” question may be a bit disorienting yet it reminds us that the world does not revolve around you or me or any of us. We are more than the jobs we do. We are God’s beloved and we are a consecrated people called to a new life in God in this community. For life without community and calling life is bleak indeed. We are truly blessed to have both.