7 February 2021
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
A synagogue. A house. A doorway. A desert. The neighboring towns. Where are you today?
A center of religious life…the core of daily life…somewhere else in the world…and the transition points in between.
Where is God in all of this? Everywhere. God is constantly active…moving…drawing us in…offering to lift us up…transforming us…and calling us into service…where we are.
We can get very attached to the places where we know God reliable shows up…a church…that special spot in nature…those “thin places” that people talk about…we can become so fixated on them that we can miss the other places…where God also is…in our homes…in a doorway…even in the next town or the next county…the next country over.
Jesus is in the synagogue…of course he is…where else would he be? God is in the places of special sacredness…the churches…the temples…the mosques…but God is not confined to those places…and neither are we.
“As soon as they left the synagogue they entered the house.” Jesus moves from a center of religious life to the center of daily life…and so have we. We’ve been living that reality for almost a year now. One of the great challenges—and great blessings—of the pandemic is this long experience that we now have of being connected to God—being with God and with one another—wherever we are…even when not physically at church.
Right now, I hope that all of you are experiencing a moment of connection with God…and with this gathered community where you are…and Mark is here to remind us today that houses are also places where God can bring healing, start new ministries, and generate new life.
God is present not just in church but where people eat, and sleep, and get sick…Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.
And just as he healed the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue, here in Peter’s house, “He [takes] her by the hand and [lifts] her up.” He heals her…but it’s more than that. Mark is in such a rush to tell the story that it’s easy to gloss over really important details. That term—“lifted her up”—it’s more than just healing…it’s also translated “raised up” as in “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised” (Mark 16:6)…it’s the same word. Jesus is not just helping her up…this is a sign of resurrection. She is raised up…to new life…with new energy…and new purpose. And her response is to act. But this is not a move back into some subservient work. Mark is signaling a revolutionary new type of ministry. “She began to serve them,” he says and—serve, in Greek, is the term from which we get the word “deacon.” Just as Mary Magdalene is the Apostle to the Apostles” and the first real preacher of the Gospel…(“I have seen the Lord,”)…Peter’s mother-in-law is the first deacon in the church.
This house…this humble, ordinary…probably messy house…is the first church, and she is the church’s first deacon. The service she springs into is not, in the words of one female scholar, “menial work under the domination lazy males,” but a “true messianic ministry.” She is raised up, and moves into service and joins Jesus, “in the radical announcement, in action, of the [reign] of God,” She becomes a model of his own servant ministry.
This transformation from ordinary people into servant ministers is something the male disciples won’t figure out until after Easter. They will resist being servants of one another, and will find it impossible to see how the Son of God came to serve and give his life for all, until much, much later. She gets it immediately, and immediately acts on it. And maybe she is doing the same work…but she is doing it from a life transformed.
And what happens? “the whole city gathers around the door,” Some older translations say “the whole world was pressing up against the door.” God’s presence, and one person being transformed by it, and responding fully to it…and this place, “becomes a household of God, a church, a gathering of those in need of healing and forgiveness.” [source]
One transformed person…acting in service…and the whole place changes. There’s this tremendous burst of energy. Healing, curing, serving…and that level of activity can’t be sustained forever, so early in the morning…Jesus goes out to a deserted place and prays. He does this a lot. It’s almost like he’s trying to tell us something real, and true and necessary about this pattern…this rhythm…transformation…action…contemplation…community…solitude…transformation…action…contemplation…community…solitude.
We need both. We must have both times and places to be together…and times and places to be a part. Times for action…and times for laying fallow. And getting that balance right is tricky, and sometimes we spend too much time in action and wear ourselves out…and get sick…and need someone to come and raise us up.
The hardest part of this gospel might be what happens next. The disciples go looking for him…presumably to get him to come back and do some more healing…But that’s not what he does. I imagine it would be tempting…to go back…I imagine the disciples are thinking…We’ve got an amazing thing here…we’re going to use this as our base of operations, I mean look at all the good we’re doing right? Right? I would be tempting to return to the most recent success…and keep doing whatever worked in the past…but that’s not what Jesus does…God is always calling us forward, and Jesus says, “no, let’s move on.”
Because he’s spreading seeds…because he knows that not only can God not be confined to a particular place…but that there is always more than enough of God to go around…there’s no need to try and contain it…because the love of God is abundantly and readily available wherever you are. At church, at home, in whatever transition point you’re in…and even in the places we would least expect it. It might be worth asking yourself…where are you today? Only a few of us are in church, most of you are at home…but you might also be on the threshold of something…needing healing, or being called to offer it…some of you might be in a desert…a fallow period…and even there angels are sent to minister to you. Wherever you are, God is there too. Calling. Acting. Serving.
And that, my friends, is very good news.