Our son Alex has come to expect his Grandpa Clark to greet him as he comes into the kitchen in the morning, “Ah, you’ve restored my faith in the Resurrection!” he would say. That was particularly true when Alex was younger and could sleep until pretty close to noon, though now his biological clock has adjusted to a commuting teacher’s timetable. This morning Alex and Meredith are with their Grandpa Clark, holding on to that faith in the resurrection, as the cancer in Russ’ body is advanced and he’s ready to join his beloved June.
Jesus “came [to Simon’s mother-in-law, who was sick in bed with fever] and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” He lifted her up, just as Jesus was lifted up [it’s the same word] on Easter morning. I believe in, I have faith in, the resurrection. Everyday its power surrounds us. At any moment, we may be lifted up.
“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. The Holy One 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.”
In JRR Tolkein’s epic series, “The Lord of the Rings,” Gandolf the Grey Wizard has been defeated and left for dead at the top of an unimaginably tall tower by the wicked Saurumon. He opens his eyes to see a butterfly fluttering around his head, and summoning every ounce of strength he has left, he reaches out to it and blows on it. It is transformed into an eagle, which lifts him up and carries him off the tower, so that he is able to rejoin the fight.
It is a powerful image of resurrection, actually layer upon layer of metaphors–the butterfly, the breath, the eagle–and is but one scene of many that depict the struggle–in this case, the battle for Middle Earth–but which we engage in every day. It really does take great courage to live life fully. One of the great privileges of this vocation as a pastor is being allowed a glimpse into others’ lives, the battles they wage against self-doubt, loveless relationships, challenges with and worries about children and grandchildren, with parents, abuse and neglect, illness and disability, financial pressures, anxiety over jobs; fighting the battles that our way of life draws us into, with its pressures and isolation, its fast pace and overwhelming choices. Epics like “The Lord of the Rings” lay it out on a grand scale, but everyday we “run the race,” or stumble along the path–“Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.”
The readings from Mark last week and today portray a “day in the life” of Jesus and his companions–a Sabbath day begun in the synagogue where Jesus teaches and astounds people with the authority with which he speaks. Then the man with the unclean spirit enters and Jesus commands the spirit to come out; and in today’s reading, Jesus and his small band then enter into Simon Peter’s house, or compound really. Archaeological evidence reveals a good-sized compound of living quarters, next to the synagogue in Capernaum, big enough for an extended family to live in, plus large gathering spaces.
Peter’s mother-in-law was clearly the one responsible for hospitality and the day-to-day running of this household, a role of honor. So when she is “in bed with a fever,” she is not only ill, she is without purpose or meaning for her life. Without meaning or value, we are not really alive, we just exist.
Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” Through his touch, through his entering into relationship with her, through his presence, Jesus mediated the power of the One who “does not grow faint or weary, whose understanding is unsearchable,” and he lifted her up, resurrected her, and she began to serve them. Jesus would spend the next 3 years of his life trying to make his disciples understand what it really means to be his disciples: not power but service. (Beverly Galenta, Texts for Preaching, Year B, cited by Kate Huey in “Samuel,” 2/5/12) Peter’s mother-in-law, yet another unnamed woman in the Bible, was one of the first to “get” that.
Of course, word travels fast when someone is healed and restored to life like that–witness the number of self-help books and claims for ways to “transform your life!” that are pitched to us. And so, “that evening, at sundown [when the sabbath was over], they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” It was still too early to identify Jesus with the Messiah, the Holy One of God, because so far he was just a miracle worker, very powerful folk healer and exorcist. The story wasn’t over yet, but it had been quite a day.
“In the morning, [Mark tells us] while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” This is an essential part of the rhythm of Jesus’ days. The power and authority that moved through him, that healed and taught and cast out demons and “lifted [people] up” did not come from him. It came from the everlasting God, the Holy One who does not faint or grow weary, whose understanding is unsearchable; the One who gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” To be a vessel for that power and energy, Jesus had to return to the Source, but Simon and his companions didn’t get that. They thought they had found the energy Source in Jesus, and they wanted him to come back to Capernaum and continue healing there until all were healed. Think of it! We could set up in our home, we could even build a healing center, maybe call it a “church.” My mother-in-law, whom you lifted up, could arrange for hospitality and even run the place. We could be known as a place for healing, the place where demons are cast out, and you would be honored and even worshipped. “Everyone is searching for you.”
“Let us go to the neighboring towns,” Jesus said, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” That’s the rhythm of our days, Jesus said. Pouring ourselves out for healing and proclaiming the good news of God’s reign come near; returning to the Source, to God, to have our strength renewed and lifted up; then going out once more to serve. Life, death, resurrection. Then new life, being utterly poured out, then being lifted up once again. That is the shape of Jesus’ life. That is to be the shape of our lives, if we are to follow him, to embody him. “Love not expressed,” observes PC Ennis, “love not felt, is difficult to trust. Theologically speaking, that is the reason for incarnation. God knew the human need for nearness. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love which makes it all the more demanding (if frightening) to realize that for some people, we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.” (Cited by Huey, op cit.)
“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.”
Our brokenness is made whole in this bread. Our strength is renewed in this cup. God will lift us up, as on eagle’s wings. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is good news!
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark