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Called into Service: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday, February 4, 2024:
Mark 1:29-39

“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.” May our ears be open to this good news today. Amen.

Carrying on from last week, where Jesus healed a person with an unclean spirit; someone of unsound mind. And here we pick up: “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.”

This is a perfect gospel story for the day of our annual general meeting in about an hour: The very presence and power of God, we just heard, has entered the house of Andrew, the saint from which our parish gets its name. Likewise we trust that Christ is with us — and we pray to be attentive to that presence — upstairs in our liturgy, and downstairs in our deliberations. That, when our strength fails, we can rely on Christ. When our vision fails, we can look to Christ for inspiration and correction. And when we recognize our needs and our dis-ease, we can come to Christ for wholeness and peace. Without this, we are just club, or service agency. And those things have their place and purpose… but we are so disparate in our ages, temperaments, interests, and perspectives, that there needs to be a power greater than us keeping us together. (And St. Paul writes something about finding unity amongst our diversity.)

In Jesus we encounter the perfect coming together of the human and the divine, in — as I think one of the collects puts it — a wonderful exchange. And here in today’s story we detect both the divine and the human quite clearly. Jesus heals; he has power (or as we heard last week, authority); he attracts loyalty. But then after that, “while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Here, and elsewhere, we come across moments when Jesus needed to get away; needed to recharge; needed to reconnect with the source that animated him.

Our life as church reflects something of this human and divine interplay. We act, and — as we’ll be doing in our meeting — we reflect; we look back. Or, think about how in our life together, we give so much of ourselves: we minister, we volunteer, we show up, we try hard… we struggle, at times, even just to keep the doors open. And that takes a lot out of us. But in these struggles we call upon that “power, working in us, that can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.”

In our gospel story Jesus enters the house, and there we find Simon Peter’s (Andrew’s brother’s) mother-in-law sick in bed. And we might think of how, in our life as a congregation (or, if you’re new or visiting, in any congregation, or any community), we’re confronted with the reality of sickness, separation, and grief. Being part of a church can bring great joy: from friendships, cherished memories, and accomplishments. But we also share our sorrows and burdens. But the story conveys how — whether miraculously, or through community, or spiritually — Jesus comes to us and offers the wholeness and reconciliation within ourselves that we most need.

“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” The Greek word here for “lifted” or “raised” means just that, but it’s the same word that is used to describe how Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It’s the same word that the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul use to describe God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. Our story and experience as church is that of being raised from death (hopelessness, abandonment, isolation) to new life.

And as much as this new life is a gift — something that is received by the goodness and grace of Christ — isn’t it interesting that the healed woman gets up and begins to serve. Whenever I read this, my initial reaction is that they should give the lady some space and just let her watch her favourite TV show for a bit, or whatever else to simply enjoy this breath of new life. But I think the meaning here is that she — and all of us — are restored by God, and called into service. Which is to say that none of us are bystanders. We’re not consumers. We’re not just passive recipients. No, we are actors. We’re figures in the ongoing story of the Church; a continuation of the Biblical saga. And our God-given talents and gifts are called upon to work together for the common good. That is something for us to reflect on as we approach our meeting. We are the Church. Our particular circumstances, and talents, and gifts will differ, but we’re all called upon to build up the Body. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always sunny. But we have been given what we need: wisdom and reason; faith and love; people, energy, and relationships; material and human resources to draw upon; and a history and framework of worship and spiritual practice to learn from and draw upon.

Like the healed woman in the story, we have been restored. And we are called into service. A service that is actually our freedom. A freedom to love God, in community. And a freedom to care for our community, making use of what God has given us. Amen.

© 2024 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter