February 8th, 2015 “Healing Community 2” Rev. Heather Jepsen
This week we continue where we left off in the gospel of Mark. We are still in the first chapter and everything is happening at a rapid pace. Jesus has just begun his ministry. He called his first disciples by the Sea of Galilee and then he headed into Capernaum to begin teaching. He worked his first miracle, healing a demon possessed man in the synagogue, and now he heads to the home of a friend to spend the night.
Jesus and the disciples enter the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law is there and she is ill with fever. Jesus takes her by the hand, the fever leaves her, and she gets up to wait on the guests. By evening word of the healing has spread, and the whole town clambers around the door for Jesus’ attention. Many are healed.
In the morning, Jesus is nowhere to be found. He has gone off by himself to spend a few moments in prayer. Frustrated, the disciples head out in search of him and when they find him their exasperation is evident, “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus rejects the attentions of the folks of Capernaum, and instead declares that he has set his sights on other horizons. It is time to move on.
Just like last week, we find that today’s stories center around healing; specifically the healing that Jesus offers and the healing that takes place in the community. In today’s story we find that the healing has extended from the worshipping community out into the home, and yet it is still tied to our relationships with each other.
I have to tell you that the story of Simon’s mother-in-law used to drive me crazy. I could just imagine the scene as the men return home after a long day at the synagogue. They are hungry and tired. Like most men they are eager to put their feet up and chow down. The primary woman of the house is unwell so there is no food to welcome them home. “Come on, Jesus” I imagined Simon saying, “Heal her so she can make us some dinner!” As soon as the woman is healed she pops up and begins waiting on the men. Most of you can guess where I stand on issues of feminism, so it is no surprise that stories like this really make me bristle.
It wasn’t until I had grown a bit in my faith, that I could revisit this story with a new understanding. The men come home from church where there has been a miraculous healing and much talk about who Jesus might be. Simon’s mother-in-law is not well, and the temptation would be to avoid her. Sick people are unclean, and fever was commonly associated with demon possession. That’s why Mark writes that the fever “left her” as if it were a person. The men would have probably avoided her in the home, or perhaps they would have left the house altogether.
But Jesus approaches the woman. He reaches out and touches her hand, which is unclean, and he offers her healing. In gratitude for what she receives, Simon’s mother-in-law is eager to serve her Lord. The Greek word used in this passage is diekonei, from which we get our word deacon. Simon’s mother-in-law is the first deacon, and she is an example of service to us. We are healed in the community, we are made whole, and we celebrate that new life by giving and sharing with others.
Once again we come face to face with the importance of healing happening in the community. Last week I reminded you that you can’t go it alone; you can’t have a life of faith outside of the church. It is imperative that we gather together in worship. That message is underscored by this reading today. The church community comes to the one who is not able to be there, and it brings the chance for healing with it.
Lest you think I am making this up, I want to share something with you that I read last week. In his article in Feasting on the Word, theologian PC Ennis discusses a recent experiment which was designed to test the efficacy of prayer. He writes . . .
The members of one group, located on the east coast, were each assigned the name of an ill person on the west coast with whom they were not acquainted and instructed to pray every day for the person’s health. The members of the other group were each given the name of an ill person whom they knew personally and who was a member of their own church. Similar instructions were given, to pray for the ill people every day. The patients who had no personal relationship with their prayer partner showed no significant difference in improvement from the general public, whereas members of the group who had developed a social relationship with their prayer partners through the church, indicated a decided difference in improvement and quality of life.
So one could say that it is scientifically proven; healing, spiritual growth, and wholeness all happen here within the church community.
So, you may be asking, if community is so great then, why does Jesus wander off to be by himself? Because he too needs time to heal, and he certainly needs time to focus on his own relationship with God, his own spiritual life. This is such a powerful reminder for pastors and others who serve. Those of us who are “on call” all the time need to remember that Jesus took time outs and Jesus took breaks. We need to remember that Jesus took care of himself.
It is difficult to say whether this was a time of rest and renewal for Jesus, or a time of struggle and discernment. Jesus had had a busy day at the synagogue and a busy night healing the city of Capernaum. Perhaps he just needed some quiet time for centering prayer. Or, perhaps it was more. Mark says he was in a deserted place, which is the same root word for desert. We know in the scriptures that the desert wilderness is a scary place, a place of wandering and suffering, a place where things are not clear. Perhaps Jesus was in a time of searching, asking questions about what shape the future of his ministry should take.
It is clear that he has made a decision when the disciples arrive. They are annoyed that he has been gone for so long. The text says that the disciples hunted for Jesus, but it doesn’t convey the true sense of the Greek verb katedioxen which is to pursue in a hostile sense. This is the same verb used when Pharaoh’s army is chasing after the Israelites. The disciples are frustrated and annoyed and they are hunting down Jesus. They are angry with Jesus for leaving the city when he had such a successful following there. They are thinking that now is the time to set up a base of operations, while Jesus is thinking of something entirely different. This is the first of many times when the disciples misunderstand the one that they are following.
Jesus has decided it is time to move on into the next city. He has not come just to heal and care for the people of Capernaum. Instead, he has come to preach the gospel in faraway regions. The disciples are frustrated, and Simon’s comment to Jesus “Everyone is looking for you” is a chastisement. Jesus and his followers are gaining power in Capernaum, if they leave now they will have to start all over again.
This portion of the reading also contains a powerful message for pastors and others who serve the church community. So often we are tempted to try to take care of everyone, to try to respond to everybody’s needs. While it may seem a worthy cause, it is actually a failing. When we do too much, we don’t serve anyone well, and we neglect our own self-care. (I’m not just preaching to the choir today, I’m preaching to myself!)
It is so interesting to see Jesus walk away from the community that seems to need him. The reality is that they don’t need him, they need each other. They have heard the message, they have experienced healing, and now they can minister to each other as the community of faith. Jesus is free to move on to share the gospel in other places, because his work in Capernaum is done. It is now the community’s responsibility to offer care for itself. It is not something the disciples, or I would imagine the needy people of Capernaum, find easy to understand.
So, once again we are back to the message that healing happens in community. We are going to have an excellent opportunity for healing today, as we gather around the communion table. This table is a physical manifestation of our faith. It is a reminder that we are one when we gather in the name of the Lord. Not only are we united as this church, First Presbyterian Church of Warrensburg, but we are united with all Christians of all times and places. We are a part of the one great big healing community.
When we gather at this table we experience healing. We are made whole as a body of faith and we are made whole as individuals. We are nourished by this meal, we are reminded who we are, and we are reminded how deeply our God loves us. From this table we are sent out into the world to serve. Like Simon’s mother-in-law we will rise from this feast renewed and we are called to take that healing out into the world in service.
And so again today, I want to thank you and praise you for coming to church this morning. This is the place you need to be. This is the place where we experience healing and where we are fed. And from this place, we go out into the world to serve, following after our servant Lord, Jesus the Christ. Once again, we say thanks, that we are part of this healing community. Amen.