With the kids:
Yesterday I started with Carolyn Brown’s idea of noticing what hands are doing in the gospel. After the gospel lesson, we talked about things we do with our hands. At one service BMX bikes were popular, and at another, reading and puppets were popular. Brown notes there are lots of hands in action in this passage. Jesus reaches out his hand to heal Peter’s mother-in-law. She reaches out her hand to Jesus to get his help and then uses her hands to serve Jesus. We talked about how we use our hands in worship- praying, sharing the peace, holding the worship book, the offering. Then we ended with how we can serve Jesus rest of our week- helping others, praying for them, and more. Our kids helped us see this part of the story!
So we had another highly successful Pork and Sauerkraut dinner, where imagine the crowds rivaled those wanting to be healed by Jesus. We had 710 tickets last night and that might give us a sense of the whole city at the door. As I made my way around last night on occasion though there were some people who were obviously here for the miracle of pork and kraut, and jokes about feeding the thousands, and whether if we ran out of gravy, I could perform a miracle. There were people here for the pork and kraut, but others were here for something more-the connection. We as humans are wired for connection. We long for those connections.
It happens pretty often where when I visit, people want to hold my hand. It happens sometimes here in communion. That longing for connection. In those moments when our hands connect, something new is happening. Even in the tiniest way. And suddenly, however briefly, we move beyond who someone has been, or who they seem to be. Into who they truly are. And I always assume that in those moments people are not seeing me, they are seeing Jesus.
In the gospel, Jesus has been in the synagogue as we heard last week, and now he has left the synagogue. Last week I talked about how “synagogue” is a word meaning “people gathered together” with God. The word is synago in case you want to impress others with Greek. Jesus was in the synagogue, but now Jesus has left the building and yet, and soon people are “synago- ing” around Jesus. Some are there just to watch. Some are there hoping for a miracle. And some will find that freedom and healing and future are wherever Jesus is found. As Jesus has cast out demons and healed people and teaches and preaches with authority. Among men and women, inside the synagogue and outside. What he is doing is getting rid of separation.
Illness is about separation. The earlier hearers of the gospel would have known what is harder for us to see- that what Peter’s mother in law faced was different than we understand it. In the contemporary world we view disease as a malfunction which can be remedied with a prescription. In Jesus’ day, healers focused on restoring a person to a their state of being. Being ill was about experiencing a lack of dignity and value and worth that disrupts lives. It’s about separation and loss of meaning.
Peter's mother-in-law cannot be who she is. While to our modern ears we imagine it seems a little unfair that she is healed to just serve the men, in fact something else is happening. As the mother in law, she is the head of that part of the household. Others might prepare the food but she is the hostess, with the role of welcoming guests. Jesus’ healing restores her to her position within the household. She regains her dignity and worth.
There’s a dignity in the serving. When it’s been lost, we long for it. To have value. It’s why when I visit our older folk they tell me what they used to do- it’s a way of wondering if they have value.
For this woman, it is now restored. Recently, as I was visiting one of our homebound, she told me that when I am coming to visit next time if I let her know, she can order me a tray so we can eat together. She is not preparing the food, but make no mistake she is serving me. And it is a blessing to me and gives her dignity.
And there’s something more in our gospel today. Peter’s mother in law is lifted up, and in some ways she returns to doing what she always did, yet in some ways, there is something more. She is transformed into a new place. Because she is not serving just any man, she is now serving Jesus. It starts with a letting go. Something she cannot do alone. The fever lets go and she is transformed.
It is a "letting go" of something- where whatever caused that separation or lack of dignity no longer controls life. Holding onto Jesus also means a letting go. Perhaps each of us has something we need to let go of, and the gospel is our invitation to do so. To encounter Jesus and be given the power to let go of whatever is keeping us separated or disconnected.
The good news is that wee are given that chance to let go and start fresh and new. To be restored and lifted up and empowered to serve.
I urge you not to see the serving as law- please do not hear this as you must get out there and serve. Rather it is an invitation to continue to be transformed.
Last night I met a man who is a Shriner clown who travels to burn units to visit children. No easy task, but one he loves. He tells me that he feels compelled. The more he serves, the more he feels compelled to serve. The children are transformed by his visits, and he is transformed.
This is how we experience what it means to have a place in the kingdom. Something we all long for. What we do as Jesus’ followers is to experience Jesus and be lifted up and then become a part of the revelation of what it means that this is God’s kingdom.
May we live in that kingdom- a place where people are liberated and lifted up, valued and given dignity. And may God empower us to help others connect with the good news of Jesus Christ.