Set Free to Serve

Mark 1: 29-39

Directly following our assigned gospel reading from last week, in which Jesus drives out an unclean spirit from a man possessed in the synagogue, our gospel for this weekend continues in the story of Jesus fighting against that which we could describe as “evil”.
From the synagogue, to the home of Simon and Andrew, he begins by healing Simon’s mother-in-law from the fever that has left her bedridden. Then, once the sun has gone down, he goes out into the town of Capernaum healing all who are sick and driving out demons from those who were possessed. And then, after a time of solitary prayerful reflection, he moves throughout the greater region of Galilee, preaching and driving out more demons that he encounters along the way.

With all of this, today’s gospel is a difficult one for us to relate to, maybe even one that appears to be irrelevant to our lives. Miraculous healings of large proportions, people possessed, exorcisms, and the casting out of demons… All occurrences we have likely never experienced for ourselves other than in books, or on TV or in the movies… All occurrences that likely don’t fall on the list of ways that we have experienced Jesus for ourselves…

So how do we make sense of the words that our gospel writer presents us with this weekend? How do we make sense of miraculous healings, demonic possessions, and exorcisms? What does it all mean for us, living in a world in which these things aren’t a part of our experience? Where is the Good News in a story we seemingly can’t personally relate to?

    Contextually, in the time which today’s gospel takes place, illness bore great social cost. If a person were ill, like Simon’s mother-in-law and those in Capernaum and region of Galilee whom Jesus healed, it meant that they couldn’t earn a living or contribute to the well-being of the household and their community. That their proper role in the world, their calling, was taken from them… in many ways, life was taken from them…

So Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. Mark explains that he took her by the hand and helped her up, literally translated, “he raised her up” or “resurrected her”… her fever left her and she began to serve them… Through Jesus’ healing, new life was given…
On this experience, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, Sarah Henrich writes,
      “It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. …healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life.”

    As Mark describes the “demon-possessed” in vs. 31, he uses the Greek word “krateoo”. Literally translated into English as “seize”. It is the same word that is used when John the Baptist is arrested by Herod before his execution and that is used for what the Chief Priests want to do with Jesus prior to going before Pilate and being hung on the cross.
With this, our Gospel writer makes it clear, that those people possessed by demons are literally “” by their evil spirit… they are seized by them… under complete control… imprisoned by them…
As Mark continues, he uses the word, “ekballo”, meaning “cast out”, in order to describe Jesus removing the demons from those who are possessed. Those once imprisoned, now set free… those held captive, given the opportunity for new life… Like Simon’s mother-in-law, their lives and roles within the community, restored…

Maybe today’s text isn’t so difficult for us to relate to… so irrelevant to our world today as it first appears… My guess is, that we have all encountered “evil”. And too, that each of us here today have had moments in our lives when we have been unable to engage in our calling because of forces out of our control… moments when have been unable to do the things we were made to do. When we have felt imprisoned by life’s circumstances or cutoff from community… at times because of illness, at times because of possession… anger, addiction, fear, selfishness, the list goes on…

As with Simon’s mother-in-law, our call is the same. Once “raised” she “serves”. Throughout our gospels, the verb “to serve”, is the response a person is to have to their faith, as it is what Jesus came to do himself. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” His call and ours as well.
And too, as with Simon’s mother-in-law, we have received the healing touch of Jesus. When we are touched by the waters of baptism, as we take in bread and wine, his body and blood, during the sacrament of Holy Communion, and in the many other means of grace that we experience through the people around us that make up the Body of Christ.
Today’s gospel is one that invites us to look for experiences of resurrection in everyday life in whatever form they may come. Those moments of restoration and new life that allow us to live a life of faithful service in whatever way we are called to do. When we are sick and cared for by others… when we grieve and are lifted up… when we are possessed, consumed by demons, forgiven by those we hurt, and set free… when a solitary prayer is offered on our behalf… when the Good News of Christ is proclaimed in a time in need of hearing… when the call, not to be served, but to serve is lived out…
As author Anne Lamott reflects, Again and again I tell God I need help, and God says,
“Well isn’t that fabulous? Because I need help too. So – you go get that old woman over there some water, and I’ll figure out what we’re going to do about your stuff.”

So it is with us.

As we turn to God for help, God sends us out to serve those in need, that through this service, our own healing would take place. This is the resurrection life of which Mark offers us this day. The life that is given to us, not only in the Kingdom to come, after this one comes to an end, but in the here and now as well. The life that comes to us when we are overburdened and overcome, frees us from that which imprisons us, and sends us forth to do the same for others. For the world Jesus came to save, that which he died and rose from in order to restore includes us as well… It’s with this that we go forth renewed and restored… that we are raised up, filled with new life, and called to serve… It’s with this that we offer our thanks and praise, and all God’s people say, Amen.

~Pastor Andrew Geib



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