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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Good News For the Faint - 02/04/2018

We are winding down in our season of Epiphany … to measure our time in the calendar of the church year. Next week is Transfiguration Sunday – the literal mountaintop experience of what this season reveals to us about who Jesus is … what an astounding gift it was that came to us from God only six short weeks ago in that tiny and humble little palace of a manger scene.

This season of Epiphany, set in motion by the arrival of the magi from far off eastern places, is meant to bring our attention to the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry – those days and weeks following the baptism by John in the Jordan … when Jesus set the tone for his message, when he called those first disciples, when he began healing the sick and casting out demons. The season of Epiphany holds these stories up for us like beautiful and rich gemstones we can peer into to catch glimpses of how we know that Jesus is the Messiah – the One who has come with the purpose of breaking sin's hold on all of humanity and bringing salvation to God's creation; the One who nourishes us well at the Table of the Lord to be citizens of the Kingdom of God come near.

Our gospel text today continues to lead us down that gem-strewn path.

And we also have this beautiful passage from Isaiah, written for a time when the Israelites were under Babylonian rule. Their city and temple were sacked and they were scattered to corners of the word they'd never known before. They were losing hope and their sense of self, and they were turning away from God in that confusion and despair. So the prophet is there to remind them of who they are and whose they are. “The Lord does not grow faint or weary” in this struggle, the prophet reminds them, even if they do.

So I'll borrow from Isaiah today as a way of opening up this last of several tightly packed and powerful scenes from the first chapter of Mark.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God's understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:28-31)

You have a little insert of these verses in your bulletin that you may want to keep handy.

Our attention is drawn first in this story to the scene of a sick bed. This healing story has and continues, unfortunately, to be used in some places as proof that Jesus wanted women to be subservient to men. But there is really nothing to support that in Jesus' teachings. Jesus pretty plainly teaches us that no one is subservient to any other in the Kingdom of God come near … regardless of how that typically plays out in the human world.

Also, I think we can glean that this is not a teaching supporting the subservience of anyone from the language used, especially the word we hear and read as “serve,” as in “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (1:31)

This is the Greek word διακονέω/diakonéō (dee-ak-on-eh'-o), amd it means to serve, or to minister. You may hear the word “deacon” or “deaconess” in it, a word we use for a minister today in English. Just by knowing the word and the definition, we begin to get a larger sense of what it means “to serve” like Simon's mother-in-law.

This is also a word the writer has used once already in the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. He was driven out into the wilderness and tempted by Satan and “the angels ministered to (or served) him.” So Simon's mother-in-law is in some pretty amazing company here in her act of serving.

And we will hear this word a few more times in Mark, like in this mic drop statement in chapter 10: Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (10.45) Good company indeed.

So I think if we minimize what it means for this woman to rise up and serve as though it were only for the purpose of getting a tater tot casserole in the oven, we also minimize what is being revealed to us – it's a much larger response than we might initially understand.

Through this interaction it is revealed again that Jesus is a great healer, even for something as frightening and potential deadly as having a fever or infection in first century Capernaum.

And it is also revealed that Jesus continues to call people into discipleship and ministry – even the faint and weary old woman with no one to care for her but her daughter's husband.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God's understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Another Epiphany revelation we hear today is this … Jesus had sought out some solitude to pray and then “Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’” (1.36-37)

“Everyone.”

“Everyone,” Simon says as he catches up to where Jesus is in a deserted place, praying and listening to God in the quiet of the wee morning hours. We might imagine Simon breaking into a full stride run when he finally spots Jesus in the “hunt,” while Jesus looks out over the region that spreads out from there in all directions.

To Simon and the others “everyone” was Capernaum. We heard it in the story. The need was great. The crowds were thick. The demons were many. “The whole city was gathered around the door.” (1.33)

But I'm pretty sure Jesus had an entirely different vision of “everyone.”

“ ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (1.38-39)

As Jesus' reputation for healing and teaching, for going into places and to people others would not touch becomes known... as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the lid on the power Jesus possesses … as trust in him builds and people begin coming from all corners of Capernaum … Jesus can see that this activity cannot be contained in just Capernaum. It must go much, much farther and deeper than that, reaching into all the corners of Galilee, to all the places and people that grow faint and weary.

And thanks be to God for that expansion of “everyone.” From there Jesus' ministry does go even farther, outside of Galilee and then to all the corners of the globe and even through time to us here today where his encounter with Simon's mother-in-law and the message Jesus he proclaims – The Kingdom of God has come near! Repent and believe in the good news! – lands squarely in our lives.

It wants to break into every corner of our lives, every place where we are broken or wounded; every moment that feels heavy with fever and fog, every situation that cause us to grow faint and weary.

Read with me, please, from Isaiah:

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God's understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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