February 8, 2015

Church of Peace, United Church of Christ

Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield

Mark 1:29-35

Longview of Healing

Today we continue our winter sermon series which follows Jesus’ ministry through the first chapter of Mark, and then asks, what does this have to do with our outreach ministry here at Church of Peace? I mean, are we supposed to be going through the towns proclaiming the gospel and casting out demons? Maybe so…

Our story today picks up from where we left off two weeks ago and tells what happened a little later on the same day. You might recall this is the sabbath day when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. A man with an unclean spirit interrupted and called out Jesus right in front of everybody, so Jesus sent it away. Now Jesus and this man had to come to terms with their authority.

Right after this incident in the synagogue, Jesus goes to Simon’s house along with Andrew, James, and John. I imagine he is still reeling. He probably wants to sit down, have something to eat, and take a deep breath. Instead, right when they walk through the door, Jesus is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever.

What happens next is luminously exquisite. If you said this next Bible verse holds the whole promise of the Gospel, I think you’d be right. I picture it performed by figure skaters during an ice dance. It is elegant, and flowing, and exactly beautiful:

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Now it is worth noting that the word for “lifted her up” is the same word as “raised up”. It is also used later in the Gospel to describe Jesus’ resurrection. So here we are raised from the dead, then we respond by serving others. It’s like a single flowing motion of compassion. In this mutuality of blessing and serving, the truth of the Gospel shines resplendent.

No wonder we love this scene! But I suspect there is another reason too. This episode affirms our sense of how giving should operate. In our twenty-first century American context, there is a model of giving so easy to subscribe to. It says, if you’re going to help someone, they should return the favor, or at least, find a way to pay it forward.

I imagine all of us here know what it’s like when this doesn’t happen, when you give something to someone in need, and they don’t say thank you. They might throw your gift on the ground like they don’t even care. They might take the money you gave them for food and instead buy cigarettes. If you give them food, they might go and sell the food for a few dollars. They violate your trust and you’re the one left feeling ashamed! I imagine everybody here can tell a story of reaching out in kindness and then getting burned.

These things really happen, and this is why people say things like, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Or “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I won’t be so trusting next time.

This is why philanthropic foundations provide grants with so many conditions. Now if you want to receive any funds, you have to prove that you are deserving, that you will use their money to accomplish certain goals, then you have to go back and prove that you did.

Indeed, there is something so satisfying about the reciprocity in the first half of our story today. If only every recipient were as grateful and responsible as Simon’s mother-in-law! As Americans, we value personal responsibility and a sense of deservedness. We like giving that is transactional. It fits on the page and balances out to zero. Of course, as Christians, our approach to giving and serving is different.

When the fever left Simon’s mother-in-law, she began to serve them, but she does not get the last word in our story. Later that evening, when the sun sets and the sabbath ends, people started coming to the door of this house to see Jesus. It says they brought to him all who were sick, or possessed with demons, and the whole city gathered around the door, as though the whole city were in need of healing. Jesus cured many who were sick and cast out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak. Because they knew him.

You’ve got to wonder, what happens to those demons who get released all silent and sulking? We don’t know. Do the people respond like Simon’s mother-in-law and begin serving those in need? Probably at least some of them do, but we don’t know.

In this work of curing and casting out, Jesus sees the people as more than their demons. Which means we don’t get the satisfying reciprocity from before. There are no statistics to include in the grant report. On this evening, in the doorway of this house, Jesus’ work with this crowd is not transactional. He’s doing something else entirely. What Jesus is doing is the work of healing, which means he is fostering a community of healing, which means he’s making the way to see the flourishing of God’s grace.

(And even though we don’t know where those demons go, we know they do not get the last word of our story. The last word is given to Jesus who goes out to pray to God.)

Here at church our Parish Nurses, Mary and Nancy, often remind us there is a difference between curing a disease and healing from it. Of course, we love a good cure. It erases the problem, cancels the symptoms, relieves the pain. Healing is different. It involves seeing a person as more than their demons or disease. Healing takes the long view. It takes a long time, and even when it is mutual, it is not transactional. Instead, healing ushers in the flourishing of God’s grace.

And so it is, the people most qualified to practice healing are the ones who are experiencing healing. You may have heard it said that hurt people, hurt people. We see that happen all the time: hurt people, hurt people. It is also true that healing people, heal people.

Years ago when I lived in Washington DC, I was walking home on a Wednesday evening in April when I was jumped from behind by two guys and knocked down. They ran off with my purse. Now this is the kind of thing that happens to people all the time. Something like this might have happened to you. As far as incidents go, this one was not extraordinary. What was extraordinary is what happened next.

See usually when you experience crime like this, you find a way to go home, then you have to assess what happened, decide whether to call the police, and make a list of what was stolen. Good luck canceling every credit card and getting a new driver’s license. As the weeks go by, the incident will keep popping up -making you re-live it and imagine all the ways it could have turned out differently. It stirs up anger and shame you never knew you had in you. Now you are in need of healing. And it is very hard to heal by yourself.

The extraordinary thing that happened to me on that April evening, was that I went home to a houseful of women recovering from homelessness and addiction, and they healed me.

Right away, they helped me come inside and figure out what happened, what was hurt and what was okay, what was missing and what was here. Then instead of saying, “Why were you walking alone?” or “Why weren’t you paying attention?” They said, “Let me tell you about a time when this happened to me…” They surrounded me with their stories, and this took away my shame. They did not expect me to feel better the next day. And a week or so later, we went out to the place where it happened, at night, and walked down that street to prove you can’t hide in the house forever. Those fear demons don’t get the last word.

These women taught me that healing happens in community. And we have seen this happen right here at Church of Peace. Our Parish Nurses and Deacons, the Health and Wellness Committee work to create a culture of healing. Now when someone here experiences crisis, we are ready to rally around them, to see the person as more than their demons, and to make a way for the flourishing of God’s grace.

Now what I’m wondering is this: What if we were to become a community of healing for this neighborhood?

This would not be one more service project or one more committee meeting. But what if we could find a way to share stories with the people whom we mean to serve? I think of the kids who eat lunch in Fellowship Hall, the mothers who come here in the mornings for ESL, the men and women who sit down in the lounge on Saturday mornings, the men and women who sit down in the lounge on Sunday mornings… When we can listen to each other’s stories and share our own, when we can surround each other with stories and take away each other’s shame, we are doing the work of unhurried healing.

This healing takes the long view, and that means, if we get burned sometime, it’s okay. We can go ahead and run the risk of enabling or having our kindness go unthanked. We can afford to help someone who is undeserving because our sense of responsibility does not get the last word. Our satisfaction in reciprocity does not get the last word. The last word is the grace of God. And God is still speaking,

In our story this morning, we don’t know whether the healing crowd ever paid forward the kindness from Jesus. We do learn that when Jesus comes back to Capernaum a while later, a crowd gathers where he’s teaching and cuts a hole in the roof to help a paralyzed man get to him.

Fair warning: If we are going to take up this work of healing, we just might get healed ourselves. The grace we offer gets all over our own hands, the whole city is casting out demons, and next thing you know,  Jesus comes and lifts us up from the dead. The flourishing of God’s grace keeps going… Amen.

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