As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And 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.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He 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.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Have you ever met one of those annoying people who has “never been sick a day in their life?” Nice to meet you, too. I have always been incredibly proud of the fact that, excepting the birth of my daughter, I have never been hospitalized. No surgery for me, thank you very much.
For a long time, I was certain that my aversion to the hospital was related to my desire to be healthy. I was convinced that I had stayed out of trouble through my own commitment to healthy habits, and it rarely crossed my mind that I was simply lucky. But the more I have thought about it, the more I have come to realize that not getting sick has, at least for me, had less to do with my own strength than it had to do with my fear of my own weakness.
When I was little, my sister had appendicitis. Only we didn’t know that at the time, because it turns out my little sister is a stoic, and so when her appendix burst, instead of screaming in agony, she just complained that she wasn’t feeling well.
Somehow, my parents figured out that she was dealing with more than a flu, and by the time I saw her again, she was laying in a hospital bed with a scar on her tummy and IVs on either side, chowing down on chocolate pudding and watching cartoons.
One result of this experience was that sister became incredibly fond of the perks of hospitalization. She loved it so much that she howled and screamed at my parents when it came time to go home. I have what is very possibly a false memory of her hanging onto the doorway of the hospital room for dear life as my parents attempted to return her to life back home. I, however, came away with a very different impression. All I can remember about my sister’s hospitalization is sitting in the hallway of the hospital with my grandfather because I felt literally incapable of crossing the threshold into the room where my sister lay covered in tubes. After that, I became terrified of hospitals. I resolved never to end up in one. It wasn’t worth all the chocolate pudding in the world.
We may complain about health insurance and wait-times in the doctor’s office, but I would be willing to wager that every single one of us is incredibly grateful for the gift of modern medicine. Not a single one of us would be willing to give it all up and go back to the good old days. Why? Because we are terrified by our own frailty and weakness. We like to believe, and our culture likes to tell us, that we are only as worthy as our own bodies are healthy. We valorize the young, the hale, and the hearty, even as we turn away from the aged, the infirm, and those who struggle with body weight and image.
The Bible will have none of that. Consider the words of Isaiah 40 from our reading today:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD 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.
In God’s world, we all are vulnerable before the one whom we know as Creator and Redeemer. Not one of us can claim the strength and vitality of God on our own. The God we encounter in Isaiah is everything we are not–where we are weak, he is strong. Where we perish, he endures. Where we are sinful, he is constant.
For those of us who tie our value to our own strength, this could seem like bad news. The last thing we want to be told is that we cannot depend on our own strength to carry us. And yet, perhaps that is exactly the news that we need to hear: that we cannot carry on forever on our own. Eventually, we might need a little help from our Lord.
Perhaps that is why Jesus takes his disciples along with him for so much of the healing and the miracles in the Gospels. He wants them to see with their own eyes how much this hurting, broken world needs the healing and restoring power of God. Perhaps he knows that they cannot hope to understand until they see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God for themselves.
Perhaps this is what Ben Franklin had in mind when he reportedly said: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”
And so when Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law, he does it not just for her, but for all who are gathered there. Scripture tells us that the whole city was gathered at the door of her house, and that they brought to him all the sick and the demon-possessed so that they might find healing.
It is tempting to focus just on Jesus and the healings he performed, but consider for a moment the witness of Simon’s own mother in law. According to the story, she had been in her bed, sick with fever. It is easy for many of us to minimize the dangers of a fever, but consider that as of this moment, the fevers associated with malaria, cholera, and ebola have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people who can only dream of the kind of health care that we take for granted.
Whatever the source of her fever, it was serious. Serious enough that the disciples felt it necessary to pull Jesus away from his ministry to tend to Simon’s mother in law. And in that moment when Jesus tends to her and reaches out to her in her frailty, she is lifted up, the fever leaves her, and scripture tells us that immediately she began to serve him.
This is important. The word that is used in the text here is diakonos, which, you guessed it, is where our modern word Deacon comes from. In the Gospels, diakonos is used to describe the angels who attend Jesus in the desert and even Christ himself who “came not to be served but to serve.” We are meant to understand that she was not healed so that she might go back to an old way of life; she was renewed so that she might give her life in service to God.
This past Sunday, we ordained and installed elders and deacons from our community who, like Simon’s mother-in-law, had answered God’s call to service. When we make a leader, we remember that we are called to a life of service, and that this is a calling in which we all participate. None of us is inherently more qualified than another; our fitness, our age, our health, do not qualify or disqualify us. What makes us fit to serve God is our willingness to serve, to listen and respond to God’s calling on our lives. Service to God is the stuff of holiness. It is the spiritual exercise that molds us into disciples of God and beacons of light in the darkness.
Service to God and to one another forms us into a Church that can joyfully claim its heritage as:
- a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.
- a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation.
- a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down.
- a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord. (The Calling of the Church, Presbyterian Constitution, F-1.0301)
With God’s help, we can do this. With God’s help, we can rise up. May we seek God’s help, both here in the Church which is Christ’s body, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in our daily lives.