Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 8 February 2015
(Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39)
“God’s Work, Our Hands!”
Of all the sports I played in high school, football was my least favorite. Looking back, I’m sure I only played football because that was the easiest way to hang out with the cheer leaders. But I never really liked it. And what I liked least was when the coach told me I didn’t hit hard enough. “Allwein, hit harder! Allwein, hit harder!” is what I’d hear over and over again! To my way of thinking, if I blocked a defensive tackle and got in his way that he could not get to the runner with the ball, I saw no need to hit him a second time, knock him down and jump on him. But the coach saw it differently. “Allwein, hit harder!” I heard over and over. And so the coach had a system that whoever wasn’t playing to his fullest potential, had to help carry the extra equipment off the field at the end of practice. I carried that five-gallon cooler of Gatorade off the field more than any other player on the team.
I’ve often thought about that over the years. . . . how “messing up” on the playing field brought on a punishment that ended up serving the team. It didn’t make sense to me then, and it makes less sense to me now. In class, we were learning how imperative it was to serve others (remember I was in a Catholic school), so why did the reprimand by the coach end up serving our team, by helping to get the equipment off the field at the end of practice? If “serving others” is our highest calling, should not it have made more sense, that the person who always hit the hardest and had all his blocks perfectly executed, be rewarded by being the guy to carry the five-gallon cooler off the field?
The passage we hear from Mark’s Gospel picks up right after the temple scene from last week. Jesus had been preaching in the temple, and the man with the unclean spirit called out, and Jesus healed him. But now, Jesus has put in a full day, and he wants to go relax. So Peter says to him, “Come to my house—kick back, get dinner. My mother-in-law is probably cooking right now, and despite how I sometimes complain about her, she actually is a great cook! And we can relax, play some WII bowling I just got for my birthday. Come on, Jesus. You worked hard all day. You deserve it!”
And they go—Jesus and his disciples make the trek to Peter’s house, but when they get there, there is no tempting smells coming from the crock pot. In fact, the house is quiet; so Pete calls out, “Hey, anyone home?” And he immediately disappears. In a few minutes he returns, a little apologetic and a little sheepish, and says: “Look, my mother-in-law is really sick. We’re on our own tonight. I know I promised you, but she hasn’t been out of bed all day.”
But Jesus interrupts…..”Where is she, Peter? Let me see her.”
And when they get to his mother-in-law’s room, Jesus looks at her, smiles, and “…takes her by the hand and lifted her up…and she began to serve them”(1:31).
Now the tough part. I know the first hundred times we hear this passage, we think to ourselves, “Well, of course, Jesus healed her—they needed someone to make them dinner! As if Jesus is saying, “What do you mean she’s sick? We can’t have this! Where is she? I’ll have her up and cooking in no time!”
Sometimes we read this Gospel and think how self-serving Jesus’ miracle was—he healed Peter’s mother so she could serve the men. As much as some may want to go there, I think such an interpretation is irresponsible exegesis.
You know I’m preparing you to take you in a different direction. Let’s go back to the room for a moment. Jesus take’s Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up—the fever leaves her and she began to serve them.
Three places in Mark’s Gospel he uses the Greek word, “diakonia.” Here is the first. “…..she began to serve them” (1:31b).
The second is when James and John are fighting over where they will sit in the kingdom. Then the other disciples begin to get into a shouting match with each other. Finally Jesus says: “……the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…..” (10:45).
The third time is right after Jesus died on the cross and there are women looking on from a distance, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. “These women used to follow Jesus and provided for him (served for him)……” (15:41).
Please note: in all three of these places, it is women who understand the honor of what it means to serve others!
In the Gospels the result of wholeness and healing is always service. Serving others is at all times an honor. To be healed and made whole is to grow in our service to others as the most authentic response to the love of Jesus.
This is the part of this Gospel story that we sometimes struggle with because this is not how our world works. This is where Jesus blows this world’s ideology right out the window, and shows us that to be touched by Jesus is to be raised to the highest calling—to serve others.
This is where the theme of “hands” enters my sermon: “Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up…..and she began to serve them” (1:31).
Think of your hands. Take a long, loving look at your hands. Think of the most unforgettable hands you have known—your father’s, your mother’s, your grandparents. Think of the hands of a new-born child—of the incredible beauty, the delicacy, the perfection.
Think of all your hands have done. Almost all your early learning comes through your hands—turning yourself over, crawling, balancing, learning to hold something, feeding yourself, washing and bathing, dressing. At one point your greatest accomplishment was tying your shoe.
Think of the tiredness and aching they have known, the cold, the heat, the tears they have wiped away. Remember the hurt, anger, gentleness, tenderness and love they have expressed. They have made the sign of the cross, extended a welcome, waved good bye. The mystery and mastery in the hands of a doctor, a nurse, a brick layer, a, piano player, an artist.
And surely, hands can be used as instruments of destruction and violence and abuse, and for those times we ask forgiveness.
The tag-line for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is “God’s Work, Our Hands!” God’s Work, Our Hands—hands to be used for the greatest honor there can be—hands to be used in service to others, doing God’s work.
So, no matter what God’s Work may look like in your life—where/how you are serving, by running a sewing machine, by running a ski lift, by waiting on tables, by carrying a five-gallon cooler of Gatorade—may you always know your highest calling is to serve, and may your hands always be used as instruments of God’s love. Amen.
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany 8 February 2015