Sunday, February 5, 2012

Raised Up to Serve (Feb 5 2012)

Homily:  Yr B Proper 5, Feb 5 2012, St. Albans
Reading:  Mark 1:29-39

I spent the past few days in Toronto, attending a conference called Vital Church Planting.  It’s a conference held each year for people who are involved with starting new churches, and since that’s kind of where we are, I figured that it was worth a few days to hear the stories of people who were doing similar things, and maybe learn something that might be helpful to us here at St. Albans.

And I did learn some useful things.   And some things that surprised me.  One of the things that was most striking to me was the advice given by one of the speakers.   His big thing was planning.  Rather than being in a hurry to do something new, you have to slow down, plan, listen, and reflect before you actually did anything.  In fact as part of his presentation on church planting, he put up a chart which showed a period of 3 ½ years was needed before you would even have your first church service.

And then I read today’s gospel.  There in ten verses, in the space of 24 hours, Jesus enters the home of Simon and Andrew, heals Simon’s mother-in-law and is served by her.  Then, the whole city of Capernaum gathers around the door and he cures the sick and casts out the demons.  Then, after a short night’s sleep, Jesus is up early, goes to the wilderness and prays, and when his followers find him, he announces that his mission in Capernaum is complete, a mere 24 hours after it started, and it’s time to move on to neighbouring towns.

3 ½ years vs. 24 hours.

There is a sense of immediacy in the Gospel of Mark.  We talked about it last week.  It’s as if even time itself collapses in the presence and power of Jesus.  It’s how Mark portrays God’s time invading our time, God’s space breaking into our space.  The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.

But in our lives, sometimes things take a little longer than they do in the Gospel of Mark.  When Jesus says to the fishermen follow me, they immediately leave their nets and follow him.  That’s what repentance looks like, that’s what it looks like to change your life, that’s what it looks like to respond to God’s call.  But for many of us that process can take months or years!  And that’s okay.

Last week we talked about the power of God to liberate us from things that oppress us, things like anger and resentment and addiction.  In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus confronts demons, he casts them out right then and there.  But we know that the battle to overcome addictions and a host of other things that can oppress us can take a long time.  That’s okay too.

And in today’s gospel, we read that Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.  When he’s  told about it, Jesus comes and takes her by the hand and raises her up.  The fever leaves her and she begins to serve them.

I want to work this text with you for a few minutes this morning.  “Jesus raised her up and she began to serve them.”  This text needs a bit of work in order for us to get the point.

I know that some of us, when we hear this text, our first reaction is along the lines of “isn’t it terrible that this poor woman was expected to serve the men.”  We, as 21st century feminists, we object to women being forced into the role of serving in a patriarchal culture.  I want to acknowledge that reaction, that objection that we might have.  But now I want to ask you to set it aside.  On the one hand, this text isn’t reinforcing gender roles.  It was actually a man’s role to serve the Sabbath meal.  And Jesus, when he reaches out and takes the sick woman by the hand, is actually breaking down gender barriers.  But these things aren’t the point of the text either.

The point is that when Peter’s mother-in-law serves, she is doing what God calls her to do, she is doing what Jesus came to do, she is doing what Jesus will ask his disciples to do.  Later on in the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus will make this explicit.  When his disciples are arguing about who is to be the greatest, Jesus tells them “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant . . . for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”

Simon’s mother-in-law is being held up for us as an example of someone who gets it, someone who is responding to God’s call and is living out a vocation of service.

But that’s not where the text begins.  The text begins with her sick in bed with a fever.  The fever is preventing her from doing what she has been called to do.  Can you relate?  Has anything ever prevented you from doing the things you wanted to be doing, the things you should be doing?  As soon as Jesus hears about this, he comes to her, takes her by the hand and raises her up.  Literally, he resurrects her.  It’s the same word in Greek that will be used by Mark for the resurrection of Jesus, for the raising of Jesus from the dead.

Jesus raises her up and she begins to serve.

Jesus raises us up for a reason.  The liberation that we talked about last week, that we’re talking about again today, is for a purpose.  God liberates us from the things that oppress us so that we can then respond to God’s call to serve.

You may have noticed that Mark has done the time thing again.  In today’s gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law is raised up and immediately she begins to serve.  Now we know that in our lives, that whole process doesn’t always happen in the blink of an eye.  The raising up can take time.  Responding to the call to serve can take time.  Relax the time scale if you must.  But have no doubt.  God is in the business of raising us up so that we can serve.

One of the things we talked about at the Vital Church Planting conference is something that George Bush once called the “vision thing”.  About how when we want to start something new, it’s important for us to have a vision for what we’re doing and where we’re going.

And part of the vision that I have for this new thing we call St. Albans is that this will be a place and a community where God raises us up and liberates us from the things that oppress us so that we can respond to God’s call to serve.

Each of us is on a spiritual journey.  And although there are twists and turns and surprises and setbacks along the way, the basic story line of our spiritual journey is this:  We are raised up so that we can respond to God’s call to serve.  Now that’s not a one and done thing.  We are raised up, we serve, we get knocked back down and we need to be raised up again.  All that will play out as part of our story line.  And a community such as this one is a place where those spiritual journeys, where our individual story lines, overlap and intersect and are played out together.

Each one of us is somewhere on that journey today.  In fact, at the risk of oversimplifying things a bit, I believe that each one of us here this morning is in one of two places:  Some of us need to be raised up and some of us are ready to serve.  I want you to think about where you are this morning:  do you feel like you need to be raised up, or are you ready to serve?

Some of us here this morning need to be raised up.  We could be stressed out, or ill, or afflicted, or sad, and we come here this morning longing for Jesus, for someone, to reach out, take our hand and raise us up.

Some of us here this morning are trying to figure out how to respond to God’s call to serve.  What am I going to do with my life?  How do I respond to the love God has shown me?  What’s my vocation?  How can I serve?

Can you see where this is going?  How amazing is it to be in a community where some of us need to be raised up and some of us need to respond to the call to serve?  Do you see the potential for a connection here?  Because the work of raising people up is not just Jesus’ work, it’s not just God’s work, it is our work too.  Those of us who by the grace of God have been raised up are called to raise up others.

I know this is a bit of risk, and I’m asking for a bit of courage on your part, but I’d like to know where you are this morning.  

Now, if you’re one of the people here this morning that feels that they’re in a place where they are ready to serve, I’d like you to raise your hand. 

If you’re one of the people here this morning who feel like they need to be raised up, for one reason or another, I’d like you to put up your hand.  

Do you see the opportunity to serve we’ve got, right here this morning.  Do see what God is calling us to as a community?  Those of us who are ready to serve can start with those who need to be raised up.  We might not have all the answers, but surely we can offer a kind word, a hug or a prayer.

When the disciples told Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever, Jesus went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up, and she began to serve.


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