1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
First Congregational Church of Anchorage : 4 February 2018
If you recall during Advent, an idea I came back to often was urgency. In multiple sermons, the theme of urgency and anxiety were compared against each other. Of course that is what one might expect during Advent. There is an expectation during that particular season; a pregnancy even. But that is difficult to maintain constantly.
Even if urgency is not the same thing as anxiety, and if being compelled to respond to God’s working in a particular way does not mean that it should cause us stress, it is still tiring. Following in the Way of Jesus can be tiring. To be honest, life in general can be tiring.
Maybe it is the short days that are not stretching fast enough. Perhaps it is being surrounded by a new place and new people, trying to take as much in as quickly as possible. I don’t know, but I am tired some days. I am a little tired right now.
I know that some of you are tired for many reasons. Health concerns never cease within a community. Age requires rethinking how much we can do. Jobs demand more than we should give. Time itself shifts. The world is changing, just as it has with every generation, and it may not always make sense to us why or where it is going. The things we understood yesterday may come under challenge tomorrow.
All of this can be tiring, even if it might be good. I am sure the disciples of Jesus felt the same way. They were not different than us. They had been working and living, and then this massive shift pulled them, maybe even directly from their boats, and tossed them into a whirlwind.
Our reading in Mark is full of expectation, but with no time to relish the results. I can’t help but think when I read it, that Jesus should have stayed for lunch, maybe played dominoes or a few hands of cards for the afternoon. Perhaps even a glass of wine as the sun is setting. I am sure he could find some water to work with.
If Jesus was showing people a new way to live, then why all the rushing around? Why the secrecy? This balance of grounding ourselves and responding can be tiring on a good day, let alone on the day Jesus had.
But I suppose urgency looks different depending upon who you are. Some of us have plenty of comfort, and some of us struggle every day to get through. For some of us, being tired is the normal, and we are rushing, trying to find rest. For others of us, we have plenty of time to relax.
Jesus saw the people around him, they were sick and often exhausted. Their way of life was under great pressure from rulers they had never met, and resting was not an option for most of them. Life was often a continued plight of toil and struggle with no clear way out.
Rest and comfort was for those who could afford it. Today is not that much different. A restful day depends upon who you are, whether you have enough to eat, or a warm place to lie dawn. For Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, being sick, unable to move and work, was a big problem. People depended upon her for their wellbeing. I suppose people depended upon Simon Peter for his fishing as well, but he left that for the time being.
But there is an urgency in Jesus that cannot rest until people are free. This drive was of course stressful and exhausting, but his people were stressed and exhausted already. This story is a prime example of people struggling for rest when it is difficult to come by.
—Retelling the story. Reread it yourself and then retell it to someone else.
- Healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, but her immediate return to inconspicuous behavior.
- Yet somehow people found out and showed up. The story says the entire town.
- Forbidding the demons to speak
- Leaving in the morning to rest, but being hunted for, and then just leaving.
Jesus attempts to find a few minutes of rest, but onward he went, heading somewhere.
Jesus is leading a movement from way out in front, which seems odd. If there is one thing I know about leading people, it is that you have to deal with them. Everything else seems negotiable, except that you have to at least acknowledge that they exist.
But Jesus rarely does this for most people. He just leaves. No thank you cards or text messages. He just leaves.
Of course, Mark is up to something with this story. At this point we are still getting started, and it is becoming obvious that Jesus is headed somewhere, to Jerusalem we know, and that he doesn’t want people to know too much yet.
However, the entire town could see what he was doing. They all knew, and for good reason they didn’t want to wait.
But there is this mother-in-law of Simon Peter’s. It is easy to imagine that after she is healed she goes about whatever she would have usually done. But that is only if you fail to see the signs that the people in the city saw.
She was lifted, but it would be better stated that she was raised up. It then says she served them, and this is where many people and preachers veer off course. It is easy to throw in a joke about mothers-in-law, or focus on the work we think women are supposed to do. But to serve for Mark is a big word.
The angels serve Jesus in the wilderness just a few verses earlier. In fact Jesus himself is portrayed later in Mark’s gospel as the one who came to serve.
As New Testament scholar, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge explains Simon Peter’s mother-in-law: “She is an icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.” I like that description. She, like many others in the Gospel of Mark are a sign along with Jesus himself of a new day coming, even if her name is not recorded.
Mark is creating models for this new community, how people are to act, who is lifted up, and who is lowered down. As Paul has it in our reading earlier in 1 Corinthians, This Way of Jesus transcends all of the differences we can imagine, and connects with people at the core of who they are, yet fully aware of who they are, the strength they have, as well as the suffering and inequality that they may have faced.
Simon Peter’s mother in law is often still caught in the mold of serving other people as women do whether they like it themselves or not. I wonder if that is in part why Mark’s language walks so close to the cultural expectation for women while possibly undoing it? It is as if he wants us to fall into the trap of expectation, and struggle our way out?
She serves, but not exactly as she was expected to serve. Or I suppose she serves just how God expected everyone, including Jesus, to serve.
Even if we get ahold of this idea, Jesus still just leaves. There is no moment to rest and think. There is no celebration that signals the end of the journey.
I still hold that Jesus is full of urgency. His life was surely stressful at times, but there is also a restfulness in doing what we are called to do. Urgency is not easy, but it is good.
And along the way, may we work with a Spirit that knows where we are going, but is never quite there, a life of restfulness bound in the bringing of comfort to others. May we heal the sick and raise up the downtrodden, not because they need us, but because we need each other.
And with great urgency, and a restful step, the people of God will adapt to this new day, and be who this new day calls us to be. We will rise up again and live into the restful urgency of the Gospel, following the one way out in front, always walking into a new day.