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My aunt Barb was an amazing woman.  She put a positive spin on everything that she experienced.  She had an incredible work ethic and loved her catering and restaurant businesses.  But she also deeply loved those she worked with and her family grew to include not only her own flesh and blood, but also their employees.  She lived out her faith with such a genuine passion that encouraged others to claim their own.

And, my aunt had a focus in her life.  She knew that God loved her and that God had called her to love and serve others.  She found her passion – cooking – and used it to bless as many people as possible in this world, loving and serving them through food.  Whether it was bread broken around a family dinner table or a festive celebration, Barb was an instrument of God’s work in this world.


I’ve been thinking a lot about Barb as I wrestled with the text from Mark this morning.

When I think about Simon’s mother-in-law, lying in that bed, sick with a fever that was threatening to take her life, I think about the low points in my aunt’s journey with cancer.

The days when the pain was too much. Or when she felt too weak.

When her singular focus was trying to get back up out of that bed and to get back to taking care of others.


When we read this passage in Mark, sometimes we might wonder what kind of cultural expectations would have led this woman, who only moments before was ill, to serve these men who have visited her house.

But we miss that this is her opportunity to once again reclaim her focus and take up her calling: her place in the community, her role. The phrase used her for her service is the same term used for a deacon.  As Megan McKenna notes (On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross):

She “ministers” to him, just as the “angels ministered to [Jesus]” during his time in the desert. Jesus has gone out to Simon’s mother-in-law in her disease and grasped her by the hand … In gratitude for his taking hold of her and giving her life to do his work, she responds wholeheartedly. Now the first four followers of Jesus become five in number.

Her strength comes not only from the healing power of Jesus.

Her strength comes from her focus on serving Jesus.

She has bound herself to him.

She has let him come into her life and now it is Christ’s strength that flows out of her.


Even on really difficult days, I was amazed at the strength my aunt found to do just that because she hoped in the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth.

In Isaiah, chapter 40, we are reminded that even young people like myself will faint and be weary if we try to go on our own.  We will fall absolutely exhausted by the side of the road.  Simple youth is not a prescription for strength or health.  Military might cannot save us.  Protein shakes and lifting weights cannot build the kind of muscles that we need to endure through our darkest days.

My aunt Barb was able to tap into a spiritual strength that helped her to make the most of every moment of her life. She crossed items off her bucket list, passed on wisdom and insight, brought joy to her grandkids and nieces and nephews and their kids.

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.


Those who wait for the Lord…

The Hebrew word for “waiting” here is the same as the word used for twisting – like making a rope.  It is not a passive state, but one of tension as you are being worked on.  This kind of waiting is focused, expectant, gathering together all that you need to keep going.  (from Lindy Black). 

As an expectant mother waits for new life to come into the world, the waiting is not passive… it can often be painful.  It is full of uncomfortable moments.  It is filled with longing and stretching.  And a kind of singular focus takes over:  What you eat matters. What you drink matters. How you move matters.  A relationship is formed in the process of the waiting.  Your life and their life is bound together – it is entwined.

That’s how it should be when we wait for the Lord…

our life becomes entwined with God’s as we worship and serve…

as we are bound together…

and in the process, God’s strength becomes our strength.

God takes our single cord and with others in the church we are made into the many… we are made strong.

God’s strength and Barb’s strength became the strength of our entire family as God took her by the hand and raised her up to find healing in the next life.


For Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, that healing came in this life, as Jesus entered her room, took her by the hand, and raised her up.

As Sarah Henrich notes ( , this “raising” describes the strength given to someone so they “may again rise up to take their place in the world.”

And this is how the church should always be responding to the power of God in our midst.

Suzanne Guthrie writes:

[She] is lifted up, as in the Resurrection…

And she begins to serve – just as the apostles are sent out…

She is the church’s first deacon. She announces the Gospel by her action.

Healed, transformed, and readily at service she slips into her role as easily as if her life-time had prepared her for it…

She serves, like Jesus himself…

She receives the Light into her home, she is raised up by the Light, the Light shines through her as she ministers to others.


The healing, transformative power of God in our lives enables us to get up and be servants ourselves.

God reaches out to touch us through the bread on this table, through a prayer shawl from a friend, through a hug or a kind word.

And we, are called to rise up, to get out into this world to take our place and to live out our own calling.

Perhaps it is to make food or to teach.

Maybe it is to share music or laughter.

Maybe you have a ministry of writing cards and knitting or woodworking.

Whatever it is, God is asking you to focus on the strength of the Lord that will fill you up as you live out your purpose in this world.

So, let us come and be healed, so that we might go out and serve.

Was John Wesley a Deacon?

Through John Meunier, I was directed to “Four John Wesley quotes everyone should know” by John Pedlar.

They are good quotes, and ones that, as a student of Methodist history and theology, I knew well.

But as John shares, James shares an important insight at the end of his piece.  It is in response to Wesley’s quote “the world is my parish.”

Wesley’s quote about the world being his parish is usually seen as his missional justification for preaching the gospel wherever he was. But he also knew that he was exempt from the parish boundary rules as a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. He had no parish of his own, and was free to preach where he liked

I think for me, that quote from James Pedlar asks the question – are we hindered in our ability to preach the gospel where it needs to be preached BECAUSE of our parish/appointment?

In the context of Wesley’s ministry, territory was everything.  Your parish was a geographical location and your people where those within its borders. I think he’s right that John was free from that because of his academic placement.

So, what would that look like today? Would it be more appropriate to think of John Wesley in today’s terms as a deacon?  As a pastor without an appointment?

The more I think about it, the more I think Wesley would have been a 21st century United Methodist Deacon rather than anything else.  As far as I can tell, he did not regularly administer the sacraments… he encouraged people to go to their local parish congregation and recieve them there.  He was an academic and a preacher, a writer and a teacher, an organizer… and I have a feeling that he would have been very unhappy under the appointment system.

In our world, our “parish” or our congregation can be limiting if we let it. If we stick within the walls of our church and only preach to those who come to us, the gospel is confined. Sometimes this isn’t intentional. Sometimes the demands of newsletters and repairing the roof and worship planning just gets in the way of our ability to be in the world preaching the gospel.

If we were not limited to one congregation – or even two or three or five (in some yoked parishes) – how would the job of ministry change? If the parish were not your primary appointment, but you were still an ordained elder with sacramental responsibility, what would your days look like? The first place I see being thrown out the window is pastoral care, but perhaps that is not fair…

That being said… sometimes Elders under appointment self-limit themselves.  As my bishop reminded a group of young clergy, we are appointed to communities, not to congregations.  The world of ministry around us is far bigger than we sometimes assume.  There are plenty of opportunities to serve outside of our local church communities, also.

The question for me is always one of calling… what are you called to be and to do?

Wesley was called to use his post as a vehicle for transformation of his church and of disciples of Jesus Christ.  He had some freedom to move and travel to enable him to do that.

I am called to deeply inhabit this community to share the love of God with them in every way that I can.  I have some freedom and authority because of my position to do that as well.

Thank God that there are many ways that we can serve!