Healed to Serve

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147 Part One, p. 869 VU; Mark 1:29-30

I’ve always had something of a mixed reaction to the story from Mark’s Gospel. The first is: Seriously? The first thing she does when she gets out of her sick bed is start cooking? My feminist self rebels. There’s a saying that for someone to be treated like a doormat requires one person to lie down and the other to do the walking. It’s easy to see Simon’s nameless mother-in-law, as just that kind of person – the person who is ready to do anything for anyone at any time, no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what the cost to herself. I came across a list this week called “the Rules for members of The Coronary and Ulcer Club”. They’re written for the traditional businessman, but they’d be easy to translate for the homemaker or the tradesperson or the volunteer. They go like this: 1. Your job comes first. Forget everything else. 2. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays are fine times to be working at the office. There will be nobody else there to bother you. 3. Always have your briefcase (or laptop or tablet) with you when not at your desk. This provides an opportunity to review completely all the troubles and worries of the day. 4. Never say “no” to a request. Always say “yes.” 5. Accept all invitations to meetings, banquets, committees, etc. 6. All forms of recreation are a waste of time. 7. Never delegate responsibility to others; carry the entire load yourself. 8. If your work calls for traveling, work all day and travel at night to keep that appointment you made for eight the next morning. 9. No matter how many jobs you already are doing, remember you always can take on more. (Bits & Pieces, January 7, 1993, pp. 9-10) Yes, it’s very easy to see this hard-working woman as a candidate for the Coronary and Ulcer Club. But I expect there’s more to this story than that. I’m going to give her a name, because it doesn’t seem fair that Jesus and Simon and the disciples all get names, and she doesn’t. Let’s call her Naomi, after the only other ‘mother-in-law’ whose story we read in the Bible. Naomi is clearly deeply loved. This is not the nagging Hollywood version of the mother-in-law we’re so familiar with; this is a woman beloved by her son-in-law, who asks his new-found mentor to take time out from his demanding ministry to care for her. Jesus went into Naomi’s home, took her hand, and lifted her up. There’s a lovely echo in this story of the passage we just heard from Isaiah, in which God promises, “I will raise you up on eagle’s wings”. Jesus raises this beloved woman up, from a fever that perhaps might have killed her – and her response is exactly the response that Christians have had over the centuries to our experience of Jesus’ healing power. “Naomi’s” response is to serve: to serve Jesus, and to serve those who gather around him. She served in the way she was able. She probably washed their feet, gave them water and towels to wash off the road dust, cobbled together a meal and served it to them. She found those tired men a place to sleep. She did what she could, out of gratitude for her healing. She gave them a refuge, a home. When we look at our readings today, there’s a good picture of the rhythms of Christian life. Sometimes we find ourselves flat on our backs, looking up from the dust, peering out of the dark, needing healing and hope because we cannot find it for ourselves. Sometimes we need the loving power of God to lift us out of the dust, lend energy to our weary bodies and peace to our troubled minds and hearts. Sometimes, that’s what we need. Even Jesus, we see, had to take time out in prayer to rejuvenate his ministry. Imagine the emotional and spiritual energy it would take to spend one’s days healing those in deep emotional, spiritual and physical pain! Imagine the toll that would take on one’s spirit! Jesus, too, had to go away to pray, to reconnect with the One who sent him, who lived in him, who was the source of that healing and hope. When it was time, when he had received his rest, he responded to the call to serve once again. This is our rhythm, our life as Christian people. Sometimes we are the ones who need restoration, who need care, who need to be fed and cleansed and healed. Sometimes we are the ones who need to offer what others need, to serve in gratitude for what we have ourselves received. The mistake is when we join one club or the other and refuse to budge. The problem is when we are always the ones who serve, or always the ones served. The problem is when we want to spend all of our Christian life in rest and restoration, or all of our Christian life in working or serving. In times past, the United Church has been known for its active service in the world. We have been known for being public advocates for a more just and peaceful society, and as workers for God’s reign in hospitals, educational institutions, development projects, environmental groups, soup kitchens, unions, and more. More recently, many have been following our society’s interest in the inward life, and have turned to an exploration of prayer, meditation, discernment, healing ministries, and so on. It’s been interesting to see the distrust with which some whose feet have been firmly planted in our older model of being church greet the emergence of this pursuit of the inner life. It’s also been interesting to hear words like “works righteousness” thrown around in regard to the older way of being, by those drawn to the inward path. When a recent moderator of the United Church called folk at a General Council meeting to spend a good deal of time in prayer and discernment, there was a public protest outside the meeting of many others, including former Moderators, claiming that the United Church had lost its way and needed to get back to the work of justice and social action. I was at that meeting, and I was rather shocked that people I admired and looked up to would have such a view of what that General Council was trying to do. The truth is, if we pursue only the inward path, we can indeed become “navel gazers”, as those protestors implied: stuck looking only at our own development and well-being. But if we pursue only the external path, then we can not only become prime candidates for the “coronary and ulcer club”, we can lose the source of life and healing that is needed to sustain our work for the world. The story from Mark today reminds us that we are healed to serve; that we serve to offer healing to others; and that sometimes we need to be the recipients of that healing and restoration ourselves. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you?” God does not grow weary, and God lends us divine strength, to follow our calling in the world. How do we access that strength? We ask. We follow the inner nudging of the divine Spirit; we look to others whom we believe have a deep spiritual life and we ask them how they connect with God. There are many websites, many books, many speakers and workshops and resources available to those who seek the wisdom of others as to how to experience the restoration promised in Isaiah’s prophecy. I’m going to attach a couple of links to the bottom of this sermon as a start. Trust me when I say to you that the promise of Isaiah is true. In God there is hope, there is rest, there is renewal. Rest in God’s powerful love; reconnect with that Spirited energy; trust that there is healing and wholeness available to us all; and then – let us serve. Amen. http://www.explorefaith.com/livingspiritually/a_guide_to_spiritual_practice/index.php http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/ http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/your-prayer-life-is-better-than-you-think

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