In the end, it's about transformation

We are still only in the first chapter of Mark, and already Jesus has become something of a star.  He has taken up the mantle of John the Baptizer and begun preaching in Galilee.  His power is so great that his simple command “follow me” caused Simon and Andrew to abandon their fishing business and James and John to walk away from their fleet at Jesus’ beckoning. 

Jesus has dazzled the crowd as he taught with unique authority in the synagogue and had an epic showdown there with some kind of a demonic spirit.  He has amazed everyone with his words and deeds, and people are mobbing him with their needs and their needs and their needs in response.  The whole town has come out to him, bringing their sick and demon-possessed (whatever that means) family, friends, and neighbors for him to heal and restore and make well.  His actions and his words have been very public, and often very noisy, and certainly spectacular.

And in the middle of it all, he has a quiet encounter inside a house with an unnamed woman, Simon’s mother-in-law, sick with a fever and unable to perform her calling to provide hospitality to her guests.

It’s easy to skip over this part of the story in favor of the screaming demons and thronging crowds gathered at the door, and to dismiss it, as many have, as a story that perpetuates gender stereotypes.  You know, that Jesus and some other important guys come to the house and the old lady there is sick, so he makes her well so she can go to the kitchen and make them a sandwich.

But let’s not gloss over this little 2-verse story.

Back in the days well before Tylenol, a fever was thought to be an illness in itself, and so it was often said that people died of fevers.  Simon’s mother-in-law is perhaps on her death bed; at the very least, she is very ill and cannot receive her honored guests, which is her vocation as the family matriarch.  As soon as Jesus comes into the house, he is notified of the lady’s illness, perhaps to explain why she isn’t receiving him, as Jesus has not healed anyone from a sickness up until now.

But heal her he does.  He not only heals her but raises her up from her sickbed.  Mark uses the same word here that he uses when Jesus himself is raised up by God after his death.  She is raised to new life. Since this is the first healing Jesus does in this Gospel, it gives us a clue that the healings Jesus does and is going to do are not simply about releasing people from symptoms or illness - or even restoring them to their previous health - but transforming them.  Giving them a new kind of power based on his own Spirit-filled power.  The kingdom is very near to you, Jesus has been saying.  And he touches people and transforms them.

So you can be sure that the response of Simon’s mother-in-law is not to make Jesus a sandwich.  Our translation says she began to wait on them; but the King James and some other translations say she ministered unto them.  Mark uses the same word here that he used a few verses back to describe the role and work of angels in the wilderness, when Jesus was in the desert forty days and forty nights, and was tempted by Satan: he was with beasts, and the angels ministered to him. 

So Jesus has given Simon’s mother-in-law new life, and her response is to minister, yes to serve, as in to do what Jesus himself says he came to do - not to be served but to serve.  To do the work of angels, if you will.

There’s a lot of need in the world.  There’s a lot of need in our community of Williamsburg and even in our parish family.  There is need and need and need of all kinds - need of comfort for those who mourn, need of healing for those who are sick, need of shelter, need of peace, need of friendship, need of dinner. 

Some of you have those needs.  You need to be ministered to.

And others of you have the opportunity to minister yourself.  One of the things we do here at church is become equipped to minister to others.  Our worship and partaking of the sacraments here gives us strength and courage.  By virtue of our baptism, being sealed by the Holy Spirit, we are commissioned to ministry - not just the clergy but all the people.  That’s what the priesthood of all believers means.

So in light of this story about Simon’s mother-in-law, she who serves, who ministers as angels minister, I invite you to think about your own call to serve, to minister to the needs of others.

I know, I’ve already said that there is need, and need, and need.  It can be overwhelming.  And it’s easy to think that we can never do enough in the face of such need.

But we all have gifts to share, and that’s how ministry starts.  We begin to recognize our own calling by recognizing our gifts and seeing where we might use our gifts to minister to others.  We begin by recognizing that we have been empowered to use our God-given talents for the good and building up of the community.

Some of these gifts are huge. The people who designed this building, who wrote the music we sing, who found hospitals and clinics, who discover cures, who run ministries serving large numbers of people have given greatly.  Some of you have huge gifts to give.

But our gifts don’t have to be huge in scale to be huge in someone’s life.  See how in this 2-verse story between the large-scale action in the synagogue and the massive crowd just outside the door, Jesus simply takes the hand of someone in need and transforms her into someone who ministers the way the angels of God minister.

What might your ministry look like?  If you’re good with a hammer and a saw, our Bruton Builders team repairs homes.  Do you love to cook? What a gift it would be to our over-extended families for you to minister to them by providing dinner for the youth on a Sunday night. 

Are you a good listener?  There are some lonely people who need someone to talk to.  Can you pray? Check into the Daughters of the King.  How about knitting prayer shawls or starting a bread-baking ministry or community garden?  Can you shop for someone? Can you take your pet to visit someone who needs cheering up? How about reading Bible stories to children in Sunday School?  Not because we need somebody to fill a slot but because you have a gift to give.

Do you see how you can minister to others by offering what you know how or love to do, however big or small you think your gift is?  Yes, there are many people in our world who need care.  And there are also people who need TO care.

We need to care because we are in the business of transformation as we carry on Jesus’ work in the world.  Being cared for transforms and just as importantly, caring transforms, too.  We are all intertwined, a network of those who care and those who are cared for, and that network is like a web. It holds up the community, it holds it together.  We all have our part to play and we grow by playing our part.  We need to know what our calling is - and everybody has a calling.

And so it is not a little thing, to find one’s calling and to live it out in the community.  In the midst of national elections and the Super Bowl and international economic uncertainty, there are opportunities daily to do the work of angels on even a small scale.  To minister to others, to touch others, to transform and be transformed, powered by the great and small gifts God has given us to use where we are, here and now.

What is your calling?  What is your gift?  And how can you use it to transform the world?


Meredith Gould said…
Two years ago I had the privilege of hearing Bishop Eugene Sutton preach to a group of clergy (and their guests) about gifts and calls to vocation. Of course he asked, "What is God calling you do in the church?" I did not take this rhetorically but felt Spirit-moved to write down in my little, ever-present notebook, "I'm called to kick church butt." You tell me, do I have the right gifts for that?!?
Yes, Meredith, I believe you do.