First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
February 4, 2018
“Rise up and….”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Mark 1:29-39 (NRSV)
29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
It happens a lot. So much so that you can almost count on it. You go to a meeting, a class, a workshop, something where people who do not know each other, gather to learn or experience something. And, because of what you’re about to do, you should know something about each other. So, the person in charge will lead you through an activity to get that ball rolling. It often involves disclosing at least three things about yourself.
Three things. (pause)
Yea, I know. You’ve now all turned inward and are scrambling to come up with those three things. Hmm, do I use the three things that are safe? You know, the one’s your mother would use? Or do you go with the three that are weird and unique that you hope your children never know about?
Well, sorry to take you through all that mental work because this isn’t about you. At least not yet. We’ll get there so don’t worry.
No, we’re going to start today with Simon’s mother-in-law.
The three things that are used to introduce her are:
Simon was her son-in-law so it’s fairly safe to assume that she had a daughter. If this were today, Simon could have been married to her son but, since same-sex marriage wasn’t a thing in first century Palestine, it’s pretty safe to say Simon was straight and married to this woman’s daughter. So, thing #1: She was a mother.
Thing #2: She was sick with a fever.
Thing #3: Upon being healed by Jesus, she got up and served.
Now, if she was here in person, she might have more to say about herself but, this is all we know about her: She was a mother; she was sick, and when she was healed, she served.
We don’t know what her hobbies were. We don’t know if she had other children. We don’t know if she liked to sing or swim or ride horses. We don’t know her name. So, let’s name her.
How about Vivian?
How about Zenaida?
How about Chava?
They are all names that mean “Life.
I kind of like Chava because it’s a form of Eve. Before she was saddled with the fall of all humanity for want of an apple, Eve was known as “life-giver,” for from her womb would come all of humanity.
So, for today, Simon’s mother-in-law’s name could be Chava. A descendent of Eve. A life-giver.
Even though the gospel only discloses three things about dear Chava, those three things are big—especially the last two: She was healed by Jesus and she served.
Let’s talk about that healing.
She had a fever. It kept her in bed. It kept her from being with family. It kept her from entering into community. It kept her from life.
When Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up, she was restored to that life. That which kept her from life was removed.
The description that Mark’s gospel uses to describe the action that Jesus did to restore Chava is specific. It’s more than simply taking her hand and helping her get out of bed.
It’s the same word the Gospel writer uses to describe what Jesus did when he healed the paralytic whose friends had lowered him into the house on a mat.
It’s the same action used to tell about how Jesus cured the boy with epilepsy.
It’s what Jesus did when he took a man’s withered hand and restored it.
It’s the same action he used to bring Jairus’ daughter back to life.
And, when Jesus cured a young boy suffering from seizures, it was through the same action used to raise Chava, Simon’s mother-in-law, from her fever-bed.
Now, one of the things about walking around in Mark’s gospel is that it’s all woven together so you have to step back to get big pictures a lot. So, let’s do that and look at the far end of the picture.
When we get to the end of Mark’s gospel, there’s a brief, abrupt telling of Christ’s resurrection. The risen Jesus tells those who encounter him to go to Galilee to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them there. There are no drawn out resurrection appearances in Mark. Just one. One where the risen Christ sends those whom he encountered back to the places where Jesus performed his powerful deeds of healing and feeding. And that’s where he’s going to meet them. Come to think of it, he had already met them there in those life-restoring acts. The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is the first of many resurrection stories in the gospel. We can call them “little ‘r’ resurrection stories. Chava – which means “Life”- is a good name for her to have for it’s what she was restored to in this ever-so-brief encounter with Jesus.
But there’s more. There’s always more with resurrection.
It’s the serving she does when she is restored to life.
Now, true confession. I’ve not always been a fan of the way Mark’s gospel portrays Chava. Think about it this way. Jesus and the boys finally show up and, after a long hard day of trekking through the countryside and hanging out at the synagogue, they come home and discover that there’s no dinner because the little woman is sick in bed. Never fear! Jesus is here! Not to prepare the meal but to get the cook back in the kitchen. The mother-in-law, whose name we really don’t know, is made well so she can take care of the boys. Anybody have an inkling about how the scriptures can be and are used to make certain groups of people subservient? This is how. But this is not the deep reading we should be doing. It’s a surface reading of the text and misses a powerful and important impact and the big picture.
Having been “raised” Chava serves them. She got out of bed and made dinner. That’s what the surface reading says. But we need to, again, enlarge the picture a bit. Earlier in Mark, when Jesus was out in the wilderness resisting the temptations that Satan dished out to him, he was waited on, he was “served” by the angels. It’s a term that will later be used in the church for those whose ministry is that of service: Deacon. It’s a ministry of service at a table and doing ministry in the service to others.
Serving, for Mark, epitomizes Jesus’ own ministry. Serving, for Mark is set forth in Jesus’ own claim “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). So, Chava’s action in service is the example of what one does when life is restored. Simon’s mother-in-law’s life was restored and her response?: a ministry of table service. The ministry of serving others.
Chava “Life” is an icon of resurrection and a paradigm of Christian ministry.
The risen Jesus sent the first witnesses to his resurrection back to the places where life had been restored. The risen Jesus sent the early disciples to the place where the appropriate response to restored life had been exemplified.
Back to Chava’s three things. If we were to be so honored to sit at the table with her we might expect to hear that the three things she could use to introduce herself to us are:
Jesus has restored her to life
She is a servant of Christ
She invites us to do likewise
Okay, the third thing isn’t in the story but, once you see “Life” anew, once you have been to the place where powerful deeds of restoring life are done and see a response in service, don’t you just want to join in?
We’ve all had times when our life has been “restored” in a sense: We’ve been healed from disease. We’ve been freed from the bondage of unhealthy relationships or addiction. We’ve been granted second and third and fourth and even more chances to go back and make better choices. We’ve faced any number of challenges and valleys of deathly shadows and made it through. It’s never easy, but we got there, or we’re getting there we can look back and say, thank you Jesus. Life is restored. Then what?
If Jesus has been a part of that, the “then what” is exemplified in the three things we know about this unnamed woman in Mark’s gospel.
She was a life giver – in more ways than one
She was restored to life by Jesus – in more ways than one
She served in response.
And this is where this becomes all about you. Because, you are probably, since your are here, a follower of Jesus, the one whose purpose was to serve in the service of others. So, I invite you into a life where the three things you would use to introduce yourselves to others could be:
That you are a life-giver – in more ways than one;
That your life has been restored, in more ways than one, by the love of God revealed in Jesus;
And, you serve in response.
So rise up to that new life of service.