February 4, 2018 – Epiphany 5 A
29As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He 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.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Do you ever just have a day where you are ridiculously productive? You know, the kind of day where you’re just knocking stuff off your to-do list, one right after the other? I just had a day like that this week. It was magical. At the end of one of those days, don’t you just feel awesome? And the best part is that it doesn’t even have to be that what I’ve gotten done isn’t really even that hard. Sometimes, all it takes for me to feel productive is that I get the laundry folded and don’t have a sink full of dirty dishes when I go to bed.
Well, we’re hearing about one of those productive days for Jesus today. But instead of getting caught up on laundry and dishes, he’s driving out unclean spirits and curing people. Our gospel today comes right on the heels of our gospel last week. Jesus is preaching at the synagogue in Capernaum and then goes and heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then most of the sick people in the city. Do you know what I do after preaching? I go home, eat lunch, and then sit on the couch in a sort of half-awake, half-nap state of consciousness. Jesus goes and becomes a one-man mobile hospital unit.
But, interestingly enough, I don’t believe that Jesus is actually the focus of the story in this passage. He’s certainly the center, he’s the one who takes the initial action, but he’s not the one we really need to focus on right away. Simon’s mother-in-law is not given a name in the gospel, but she is given a story and she gives an example. She’s home with a fever of some kind. And whenever you’re sick, you feel isolated, don’t you? Sometimes it’s self-imposed, because some people don’t want to be touched when they’re sick. But there is almost always a hesitancy for people to visit because they don’t want what you have. But Jesus, when he hears, immediately goes to her house, grabs her hand, and lifts her up. The word for “lifts up” in our Bible (ἐγείρω) is actually the same word we’ll see at the end of the gospel, when Jesus is raised up from the grave. In essence, Jesus resurrects her, raising her up, and through his touch gives her back her health and her life. And her response is one of service, grateful for the gift of her health back, not as a wage for the gift.
The second focus, I believe, is the townspeople who were healed. The following day, when Jesus is praying, his disciples tell him that people are looking for him. We see this other parts of the Bible, too, where Jesus heals or feeds people and then they come looking for another miracle. Like “Yesterday, they were healed from whatever disease they had, maybe today, he can fill my bank account or give me rock-hard abs or something.” Instead of going to them, Jesus leaves town. This, I believe, is more than a coincidence. Jesus healed those people, knowing that they would all eventually get sick again, but if all those people responded like Simon’s mother-in-law, even those who became sick again would have people around to serve and help them.
It seems there’s a difference between looking for Jesus and following Jesus. The townspeople were looking for him, but not following his example. Simon’s mother-in-law did not go looking for him, but instead did follow his example. Following Jesus means passing on the gift of presence and love that we’ve received already. But what does this look like, because the last time I visited someone who was sick and took their hand, they did not get better. I can’t serve like Jesus, so how am I supposed to follow him?
This, I think, is what Paul was writing about in our passage from 1 Corinthians (9:16-23). He uses the word “become” a lot in that passage, but what he became was who he always was. He was a Jew, under the Hebrew law, but he was born Greek, outside the Hebrew law. He was already what he became. I think maybe a different way to think of it would be this: he chose to embrace being Jewish, being under the law, being outside the law, and being weak. He had to learn to embrace every part of who he was because the gospel doesn’t make you become anything. You’ve already received it. The gospel does not make you change but, in knowing who you are, your gifts, needs, talents, weaknesses, strengths and brokenness, you are changed. And every aspect of who you are, even the parts of us that we like to hide or deny, is loved and can be used by God to bring about the Kingdom of God. This, I believe, sets Simon’s mother-in-law apart from the rest of Capernaum. She received the grace as a gift and then worked to show others the same kind of love with whatever she had available to her. She followed Jesus into service.
Now, I want to say now that there is nothing wrong with looking for Jesus – that’s why this church stands, so that people can look for Jesus here. And we see him here, I hope, in a number of ways – the water of baptism, the bread and wine of communion, the forgiveness, the music, and the readings. You may learn and experience love and grace here that you might not get anywhere else. But the love that I pray we experience here is not meant to bring us back, but to send us out. We come back to renew our strength, which we use in service the rest of the week. We come to hear God’s Word, receive forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love, witness God’s work in creation, and celebrate all that has been done by Christ on the cross. But then we go, we serve, we support, we encourage, and we follow Christ to those who are broken, hurting, sick, and isolated.
We each do this in our own way. And this feels like a great time to say that if you are interested in how you can do this with our home communion team at church, come and see me after the service. But we each do this in our own way, with our own gifts. We do not become anything, but embrace who we already are and trust that the love we’ve received already uses who and what we are to make the world a better place.
We put a lot of emphasis on service, sometimes, but I hope you know that service is a reaction, a response, to what you’ve already been given. You have already been given the love of God, the love that drove Jesus to the cross and lifting him up from the grace, and that love is what drives us. Love, God’s love, is the only thing that is more powerful than our fears and our hate. And it is given to you, it is yours, freely and unconditionally. The question is not, “Do you accept it?” but rather “What do you do with it?” I hope and pray that we follow Jesus, with Simon’s mother-in-law, to the places in our world that are hurting. Because God is at work there, and that is where God calling us. Amen.