What a week we have had – and the snow is still coming down! I was out shoveling this week and had a moment when I literally felt buried under. There was so much snow, and nowhere to put it, and on top of that, I had other things I needed to be doing – Other places I needed to be. In truth, I was feeling buried under more than snow. In my weary morning mood, I leaned on my shovel and looked up at the sky for a bit of heavenly help, and above me was circling an enormous hawk. That bird was the opposite of buried under; He had a perspective on the storm I desperately wanted. Isaiah says “They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” If my prayer when I looked up at the sky was that God would give me some heavenly fuel for all my running around that day; God’s response to me, I believe, was that bird. I had forgotten that God is not in the business of fueling my worldly ambitions, but rather in the business of giving us wings and the freedom to see and engage with the world in a different, more life-giving, and more energizing way. And so, as we look together at today’s text for new perspectives, let’s pray (the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor give us some of these words):
“Lord, be with us today as we seek to gain some altitude. For if you are with us, nothing else matters; and if you are not with us, nothing else matters. Be with us, O Lord, we pray. AMEN” (414)
The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel has much to say about Holy perspective. In his book about the Sabbath, he calls for us to reconsider God’s commandment for Holy Rest and he uses an image that has stuck with me. It is the image of a train – that if we imagine ourselves sitting on a speeding train, looking out the window, it seems as though the world outside is flying past so quickly the landscape becomes a blur. He suggests that if we could get off the train and sit for a while in the cool grass outside the window, our perspective on what is speeding by might change. If the train is the busyness, cares and anxieties, and pull of our worldly day-to-day work and lives, the landscape outside is God’s eternal gift of Time. When we allow ourselves to step off the train of our busy human doing to sit in the still and eternal moment with God, Heschel posits, we may come to realize it is not Time that is speeding by us, but it is us that is speeding through Time. When we allow ourselves to sit with the divine, we may gain a perspective that could change everything – especially our relationship with that train!
If we were to name one theme that runs through every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, it might be that “Encounters with the divine tend to change the course of things… or at least how we see the course of things.” And today’s passage from Mark is no exception.
Our story of healing today occurs very early in Jesus’ ministry. To recap, Jesus has walked along that beach, called Simon and Andrew, James and John to drop their fishing nets and follow him. With his new disciples in tow, Jesus has made is big debut at the Synagogue and “His fame” Mark tells us, “began to spread throughout… Galillee.” And the very next place Jesus goes is to Simon (who we later know as Peter) and Andrew’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law is very ill, so ill she can’t get up, as she usually would, to meet her guests. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with her, but we certainly couldn’t blame her if she were just worn out. We have to use some holy imagination here. Mark and the other writers don’t give us many details – they don’t even give us her name — but we can imagine the week she has had.
Her presumable beloved daughter had made married pretty well. Sure, Simon (as we’ll find out later in the Gospels) can be a bit thick at times, but he’s a good man, he has potential; he was providing for his family as a fisherman. Maybe she was feeling pretty good about life… And then… in this encounter with Jesus, Simon makes a decision to leave it all – his work, his family… and we can imagine that this woman’s life – her hopes for her daughter, stability, grandkids… — are all send spinning off the path she thought they were on. Maybe she is worried… Maybe she is worried sick… Maybe she’s worried and sick. Maybe she finds herself being pulled down a track she never wanted to be on. It is the disciples – Simon and Andrew – whose lives have already by touched and changed by their encounter with Jesus, who out of Love, bring Jesus to her. And we have this beautiful moment. Jesus, brought by the disciples, walks to her bed, and – breaking all sorts of rules about Sabbath and taboos of the time – he takes her hand. In this moment of connection with the human and the divine, she is healed – healed from fever, yes; but perhaps also and just as importantly, healed from her worry; healed back into relationship with her son-in-law. In this moment of connection to the divine, her perspective on Jesus, and her worries, and her life are changed.
Her response to this moment is sometimes interpreted in a way that has given feminists headaches — Scripture says she got up and immediately “began to serve them.” One commentator writes, Oh great, “healed just in time supper, indeed!” But this interpretation does this story a disservice, I think. The Greek word ‘to wait on’ or ‘to serve’ here has a deeper meaning. It is translated sometimes as ‘to minister to.’ Mark used this same word only verses before to describe the angels’ presence and care of Jesus in the wilderness.
This woman is not jumping back onto the same train she was on before her encounter with Jesus. She’s on a new track – She begins to serve Jesus and the disciples as they have served her, not because she has to, but because the Love she has experienced compels her to do so. She is given new freedom; new wings (if you will) and she feels energized to use them. (It may even be, as it often is, that serving helps her continue to heal.)
As we move deeper into this text, we see the disciples go out to gather the others in the town in need of healing. The Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz Weber makes what I think is a great observation about this verse –The Scripture reads “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” Weber points out that everybody’s got something; every single person in that town is in need of healing. Everybody shows up. Surely, we can relate – even leaving aside how buried we can feel under the snow and the weight of the world’s news; conversation over coffee or tea with any other person, reveals that each one of us has places in our lives, or work, or relationships; our physical or mental health; worries or fears, that make us feel separated from our best selves, separated from God – in need of healing. It is part of the human condition…
I do love thinking about what must have happened in that town when every person accepted the disciples’ invitation to show up. Were they surprised to see one another? What did they say as they were waiting there, to the people on their left and their right? Maybe something like: “I didn’t expect to see you here!” or “Oh… you too? I never knew…” What healing and new understandings began in those moments; what perspectives about their lives together were changed…?
In our story, Jesus touches person after person, life after life, but finally, with the seemingly endless worries and pressures of this town still bearing down on the door, Jesus finds his own moment for holy rest — his own moment of connection with God. He goes to a deserted place, his own patch of cool grass, away from the noisy churning of the world’s demands, and he prays. And God, as He does again and again, tells Jesus that he must move on. Move on Jesus does – with the worries of that place still lined up outside the door, he follows God’s call – his perspective broader; reminded of who he is and what unique track he is meant to be on.
Here is where this story of Jesus’ time in that town ends. Jesus moves on –and we are left with an image of Simon’s mother-in-law, with her sleeves rolled up, in that house of the disciples, serving among all those who have just experienced healing, and among all of those still in need of healing. What happens next for the gathered people of that community, Mark doesn’t tell us – but I think it’s a question we can pick up for ourselves this morning.
We’re not entirely unlike those townspeople. We are gathered right now in a spiritual home built by faithful disciples. Thanks to the promise of Easter, and the miracle of the Holy Spirit, we ,unlike the townspeople perhaps, can know that while Jesus may have physically moved on, he remains here with us right now in this house. He is here among those of us who have experienced healing, among those of us who are able to offer a healing presence to others, and among those of us still in need of healing. In truth, I think most of us fit all three of those descriptions. And as faithful gathered people we are invited to turn to our left and our right and ask , “what may be next in this story for us?”.
We’re standing on the cusp of Lent, when we remember that Jesus, too, knows what it is to feel separated from God, to wander in the Wilderness, to suffer… And while Lent may be a time for us to connect with the wilderness places in our own lives – to be among those who raise our hands when the disciples ask, “Who here is in need of healing?” It may also be a time when we are invited to slow down and see, in new ways, that wilderness, to see in new ways those things that separate us from God, or that sweep us down tracks we’re not sure we want to be on.
It may be a time, in midst of our human doing and feeling, to allow ourselves into moments – just like Jesus did, just like Simon’s mother-in-law did — to be touched by God. Perhaps for some of us this means stepping off the train for a while to sit in stillness and listen for God’s voice, to pray like Jesus did in our story today – maybe to join the meditation group, or to step onto the labyrinth that will be set up in this sanctuary beginning next week. Perhaps it means holding the outstretched hand of another member of this community who is offering a healing presence to us, or perhaps it means being that healing presence for someone else.
Because, we are here! We come, week to week, to gather at this house where Jesus is, and we are in such good company – And when we allow ourselves to enter ever more fully into that divine Presence, who knows? We might just be healed…; we might just find a new freedom from what ails us that gives us wings.