Rev. Diane K. Hooge Mark 1:29-39
Our story in today’s Gospel lesson is made up of four segments of stories that are hung together and it seems to be up to the reader or listener to sort out the weaving. The first story lets us know that a group of folks have been to the synagogue and have witnessed Jesus healing of the man with the unclean spirit, which was our lesson from last Sunday. They left the synagogue and have gone to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew. James and John are with them. We then learn that Simon’s wife’s mother is in bed with a fever, and their concern for her is pressing in on the family. In that day fevers were considered to be a demonic force. So, they take Jesus to her bedside. Jesus takes hold of the woman’s hand, lifts her up and brings her healing. She expresses her gratitude through service…by getting up and offering hospitality.
When I first read today’s lesson, it may not surprise you that I got a little agitated thinking, OK, Peter’s unnamed mother-in-law seems to be near death, she gets healed and then she gets up and heads for the kitchen to serve all the men. But, then I flashed on a past era of my life…and experienced the text in a new way.
When I married into a German Mennonite family it took me some years to adjust to the Mennonite culture. Ken grew up in Dallas Oregon where there were three strong Mennonite Churches. And, every time we went to Dallas, there was an expectation that we would stop and visit with various relatives…of which there were many. Hospitality has been a core value of the Mennonites. One of the long standing rituals of the women of the older generation is that of baking on Saturday, in order to have plenty of food on hand to serve on Sunday for guests who would drop by.
When we would drive into Dallas in the early years of our marriage, we would park our VW bug at the curb in front of Aunt Eurana and Uncle Jake’s home, look at each other and agree that number 1. We would just stay for a short visit. 2. We would not get caught staying for a meal 3. We’d get back on the road in order to not get home too late.
Now, as soon as our car stopped in front of the house, Aunt Eurana, who would have been at the kitchen sink, and spotted our car. She would have dialed her sister-in-law next door to alert her that we had just pulled up. Eurana would then head for the refrigerator, pull out the ham from Sunday noon, grab a bag of zwieback (German rolls), would stop to plug in the coffee, as she quickly reached for a jar of her homemade preserves and would head for the table. As we reached the porch, Aunt Tine, would round the corner from her house next door, loaded down with a loaf of Brugabrot (?) the German dark rye bread that she had baked the previous morning, along with a fruit salad and whatever else she could juggle. As the front door opened and we were welcomed by Uncle Jake, Aunt Eurana would hand Ken a jar of pickles for him to open as we were then invited to sit down for Faspa…what Mennonites referred to as Sunday Supper.
Hospitality for Aunt Eurana and Aunt Tine was a way of life…it was their gifts that held the family together and created the glue that kept the younger generation in the fold. Service was the essence of who they were. They took the time to offer a table of belonging. It was how they put service to God into action. Service was how Peter’s mother-in-law lived out her life. And, upon her healing, she lived out gratitude in action.
The text tells us that by that evening, the word had gotten around the neighborhood that the place to bring those in need of healing was the home of Simon where Jesus was staying. As I mentioned last week, I always find it challenging to know how to respond to the healing of the demon possessed. However, some years ago I was moved by the move “Grand Torino”. It gave me a whole new way of viewing this text. I remember that I wasn’t sure I was going to appreciate Clint Eastwood who plays the lead in “Grand Torino”, however, I found that his depiction of a former Korean vet who still carries the demons of war to be extraordinary. While watching the move, it triggered memories of the Vietnam era movie, “Coming Home”, where the viewer witnessed the demons of war at work. As a nation we have had to deal with the increase in military suicides. The Department of Veteran Affairs gave us the shocking statistics that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. And young male veterans under the age of 30 are three times more likely to commit suicide when compared to civilian males in the same age bracket. Some of our closest friends whose son returned from Iraq wounded was found by his wife hunkered down in his closet fighting the demons that come with post-traumatic stress.
Last week I talked about the justice that took place the end of January for the Friendship Nine. The nine former students from Friendship College who were jailed for sitting at an all-white lunch counter and 54 years later sat before the nephew of the judge who had sent them to prison and received an order vacating their convictions.
During this Black History Month, I was reminded of another story from the 60’s. Every time I’ve viewed Congressman John Lewis from Atlanta on any news show, I always think about how his civil rights days are quite literally etched on to his face.
In 1961 John Lewis was in a South Carolina bus station during a protest. Elwin Wilson, a Klu Klux Klan supporter aligned himself with a white gang that began jeering Lewis and then attacked him and left him beaten on the ground. Wilson was public with his racism. He was the kind of guy who hung a black doll from a noose outside his home.
We don’t know when the remorse began to make its way into his soul, but it came to a head during the presidential campaign and the inauguration of President Obama. Wilson read an article in the Rock Hill, South Carolina Herald which featured former Civil Rights leaders who were reacting to President Obama’s inauguration. It was an “aha moment” for Wilson. He was stunned to learn that the man he had attacked was now a congressman. A meeting was scheduled. He and his son made the trip to Washington. They met in John Lewis’ Capitol Hill office. As Elwin Wilson put it, “I just told him that I was sorry.” He began crying as did his son. Congressman Lewis was deeply moved and through his own tears, expressed appreciation for the kind of “raw courage” it takes to be willing to step forward and apologize. He offered Wilson forgiveness. And, it was the first time Congressman Lewis has ever had anyone involved in the dozens of attacks against him step up to apologize. As Wilson expressed it, “…if just one person comes forward and gets the hate out of their heart, it’s all worth it.” They ended up sharing a few events together modeling the non-violence leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who taught that the capacity to forgive moves one towards reconciliation. Elwin Wilson died in 2013 at the age of 76. He died having done the hard work of releasing the racist demons from his own life. He died having done the hard work of seeking reconciliation.
The power of the house church featured in our scripture lesson was the incredible gift of having a place of hope to bring those suffering illness and stress with all of their aches and pains and various forms of demons. It had to have created incredible energy and hope to be a part of such a movement.
I suspect that Jesus was up late tending to all those who came to Simon’s house seeking help. But, the text tells us that Jesus woke up early and “…while it was still very dark, he went outside and stole away to a deserted place where he started praying.” The gift of this time is that it enabled him to stay grounded and focused on God. There was a whole community who looked for his return back to Simon’s house. His followers had established an agenda for him. They were probably already lined up at the front door waiting for the next day of healings to take place. However, Jesus is clear in his knowing that it is time to move on. His role, his focus, is on building transitional communities…places where people are enabled to be healed, transformed, empowered and then they, like Simon’s mother-in-law, move on to do the serving…creating a deeper community.
To go back to the comfort of Simon’s home was not what God’s invitation was. God’s call was to move Jesus on into the larger world. God’s call was to heal, yes, but also to teach and help people understand what the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God was all about. Jesus’ role was about empowering others to heal, serve and live out God’s invitation. To have gone back to Simon’s home would have kept his work small…his call was much larger.
So Jesus left the comfort of having a permanent house church. He left behind a community of people who were grateful for their healing. And, he left behind Simon’s mother-in-law who lived out her gratitude through service.
Jesus modeled the importance of community. The early House Churches provided places of belonging. It was a place where those who had experienced healing could pass on the gift of providing a safe place for others who sought to deal with the unfinished business of their lives.
It was a community that modeled reconciliation. And, Jesus taught them by example that prayer must be a part of their practice. Just as he did not do the work on his own power, so they needed to set aside time and discipline to enter into prayer in order to discern God’s leading and guidance.
Jesus modeled that even though your closest friends can develop an agenda for you, one has to be listening for the still small voice of God to determine one’s authentic direction. We are reminded today with the John Lewis story of how long change can take. And, we are reminded that when one’s heart is changed…hope is born anew
All of this reminds me of the book we’ve been reading in preparation for the weekend we will be spending with Diana Butler Bass. The Heart of her book, Christianity after Religion is taken from how Jesus taught his Disciples. Community must come first—before practices and before belief. The gift of this church is that every Sunday we have people coming through our doors who are seeking a place of belonging. But, in order to do the work that is required to tend to one’s unfinished business, there must be a place of safety. We are called to be a safe container for the work that each one of us is called to do. And, we are to offer and support practices that enable folks to have a connection with God. And, we are called to remember through Jesus actions, that we must be willing to open oneself to new challenges and to not get caught up in thinking and acting too small. Our gifts our needed in the world. It is the faith community that is needed to embrace and affirm the gifts that are built into each one of us. It is through the power of a prayerful community that we can band together and take the kind of collective actions that we can’t take individually. Collectively, we can take on climate change.
Collectively we have more power to take stands against domestic violence and child abuse.
Collectively we can stand with the people of Honduras who are daring to speak truth against an oppressive government.
Collectively, we can continue to grow in our understanding of theology. We can continue to challenge ourselves to expand our knowledge and language and move to new ways of understanding God.
All of this is about expanding and living into the Reign of God. In this season of transition we have been honing in on what our values are. You have been generous in giving your feedback, to the Search Committee. The profile has been developed, and now comes the search for the new settled pastor who will lead this community. It behooves us as a church to hold this in prayer on a daily basis. The Search Committee needs to be united in discerning who they will present for your vote.
Remember these words from Isaiah,
But those who wait upon God 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. God is still speaking. Amen.