Below is my sermon from Sunday, February 4, 2018, better known as the day the Eagles won the Super Bowl! We had a fun time at church with the references to eagles in our Isaiah reading and in “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Andy even led us in a rousing rendition of Fly, Eagles Fly on the organ! And congrats to everyone who participated in the ELCA World Hunger Big Game Challenge. Team Philly pulled out a close win, and together with New England we raised almost $36,000 dollars to help fight world hunger.
The sermon focuses on Mark 1:29-39, the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Did you know? The readings we use in church are on a three year cycle, and they were all laid out in 1994. So the fact that we have a reading about eagles on this Sunday must conclusively prove that God is a Philly fan. And I’m betting a lot of churches in New England left off that last verse of Isaiah this morning.
But anyway, I digress. I wanted to start with a story about my mom. I called this week to ask her for permission to share this story, and she agreed, although she couldn’t see why it was anything special. When I was in tenth grade, my mom was walking our dog one afternoon, and she slipped and fell on some ice. She landed pretty hard, but she was about a mile from home, without her cell phone, so she had to walk all the way back.
When she got home, she took some ibuprofen, then proceeded to drive to me to my piano lesson. While I was at piano, she cooked dinner for our family and picked my brother up from football practice. When I left my teacher’s house, I found my dad waiting for me.
It seems, that three hours after falling, walking a mile, shuttling two kids around and cooking dinner, my mom decided to go to the emergency room. She had been doing all of these things with a broken wrist. And still to this day, she doesn’t think it was that big of a deal. “It wasn’t until I had a chance to stop that I really felt the pain anyway,” she told me.
I thought of my mom, and that day she broke her wrist, when I read this week’s gospel from Mark about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. It made me wonder why, even when we’re sick and hurt, it seems we have to keep going and keeping up with our busy tasks. It applies to all of us sometimes, but it also seems that women are particularly likely to put their own needs aside.
And at first it made me a little mad and frustrated with Simon Peter, and with the other disciples. Couldn’t they have made their own dinner, this one time? Fevers were a serious business back then, and people died from them all the time. Couldn’t they have given this poor unnamed woman a few more days of rest? We need to ask those questions, because people have used stories like this one to keep women out of leadership roles in churches for far too long.
But then I came to realize that that’s not really what this story is about. We’re not meant to look at this story and see examples of gender roles, but instead see an example of discipleship. Far from being a pathetic, un-liberated, subservient woman, Simon’s mother-in-law is an example of discipleship for us to follow.
Jesus has restored her, not just to health, but to a calling, to a purpose. Showing hospitality in Jesus’ culture, welcoming guests into your home was a way of showing honor, and respect, and love. It was an incredibly important job.
Later in the gospel, Jesus will tell his disciples that he came not to be served but to serve, and they don’t understand. Simon’s mother-in-law understands. She is one of the first people who gets it. She has been freed from her illness and made healthy again, not just for her own benefit, but for the benefit of those she will serve.
Her service is not simply waiting on her son-in-law and the men with him, but welcoming others in need of healing into her home. Having been healed herself, she can now extend compassion and hospitality to others in need. The word used for the service she offers is diakonia. She is a deacon to them, someone entrusted to care and support the body of Christ. We won’t hear her name, ever, but she’s mentioned again, on Good Friday, when Mark tells us that some women, who had served and provided for Jesus in Galilee stayed until the last.
Last week, when we heard the story of Jesus casting out a demon, I focused on the ways God wants to set us free from the things that hold us back: whether they are internal or external demons: addiction and depression, prejudice, racism and sexism, nativism and xenophobia. These things keep us from being the people that God intends for us to be, from experiencing the wholeness and joy that God intends for us. That is the work of God, and Jesus continues it this week, healing and restoring all those who are brought to him.
But God doesn’t set us free simply that we might enjoy ourselves, or bask in that freedom. God sets us free so that we might live into our God-given identity and potential. So that we might claim our calling as children of God and join God in the mission to love and bless the world.
Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian theologian and author, is quoted as saying: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where is that place for you? Where is the place where God is calling you—where your gladness, your skills and passion, your gifts can meet the needs of a hungry world?
For some it might be their jobs, but for others, our callings are found elsewhere. They might be found in family—in caring for others, whether they are young or old. That is a calling. They might be found in justice work—in advocating for fair treatment for the disenfranchised. That is a calling. They might be found in our relationships—in bringing needed compassion and empathy to others. That is a calling. They might be found in welcome and service—in providing hospitality. That is a calling.
We all have callings, only often we don’t see them for what they are. We might dismiss small actions as insignificant, or just what a good person does. But callings come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s claim ours. Let’s celebrate the ways that we are able to be part of what God is doing in the world.
Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord God Almighty is at work in you, with you, and through you to care for the people and the world God loves so much. Amen.