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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.

Multi-tasking, but missing out

Kristin from over at Halfway to Normal recently posted about how difficult it is to be a parent these days (Parenting from the old gut in a new world.)  In the article, she referenced a Stanford University study on Multitasking and shared this quote:

When we media multitask, we’re not really paying attention to the people around us and we get in a habit of not paying attention, and thus when I’m talking with you, I may be hearing the words but I’m missing all the rich, critical, juicy stuff at the heart of emotional and social life. – Researcher Clifford Nass

Now, I’m not a tween and I’m not a parent, but I am terrible about multi-tasking. I think and feel like I can do multiple things at once, but in reality, I am missing out on a lot of relationship building.

The person who has suffered the most at the hands of my incessent multi-tasking is my husband.  We’ll be watching television and I’ll stop to check facebook during a commercial and I miss a question.  He drops by my office and I keep trying to read whatever article is up and listen to him at the same time and I really zone out on both.  I didn’t realize how bad I had become at this until he recently left the office because he had asked me a question and I never responded.  Doh!

I am making a new commitment to myself.  When I’m spending time with my husband, the phone is going to be left alone.  When he stops in to visit, I’m going to either let him know I am busy and can’t talk or I’m going to give him my undivided attention.

Relationships are too hard and too important for us to do them halfway.  And I for one, am not ready to miss out on all the “rich, critical, juicy stuff.”

The Gift of Self-Control

Story about sun exposure – how it takes effort and paying attention to keep yourself safe.

If you aren’t focusing on the task at hand… at the goal – you will lose sight of what is important.

This morning we heard the familiar story of Samson and Delilah – of a man who was tempted into giving up his secret strength.

But to understand this story we need a little bit of background.

There was a man named Manoah whose wife was barren. Try as they might, they could not have a child. But one day, an angel appeared to the woman and promised her that a child would be born to them – a child that would be holy – a child that would save Israel from their enemies. But in order for this to come to pass, the child must be set apart as holy and must live a certain way. This vow – this promise was called the Nazarite vow.

And so even before this child was born, the mother lived according to the Nazarite vow and then when the child Samson came into the world, he was declared a nazarite. Now, being an infant – he couldn’t choose this himself – but according to the tradition – a father can declare his son a nazirite. Samson had the right to refuse this status and to end his promises, but nowhere in the scriptures does it say that he does this.

Now, what it meant to BE a nazarite meant that he had to follow three rules. First, he had to abstain from any fruit of the vine. He couldn’t eat grapes or drink wine or even use wine vinegar with his food. Second, he had to refrain from cutting his hair. As time went on, the long hair on his head would have been a sign of his vow. Third, he had to avoid dead bodies.

So Samson took on these vows and grew and God blessed him with strength as a result of his faithfulness.

However, Samson had a weakness. He had a distraction in his life. And that distraction was women.

It’s not so much that his love for women was a bad thing. But time and time again, his weakness for the members of the opposite sex put him in terrible situations.

And eventually, as we heard this morning, Samson was tempted away from his Nazarite pledge by losing sight of what was most important. He put this woman, Delilah, before the pledge that he and his parents had made to God. As soon as he let Delilah cut his hair, his strength vanished, he lost his control over the situation, and was captured.

In our gospel reading from Luke, we are reminded not to worry… but I think in light of this discussion on self-control today, maybe a better way to understand this passage is to not be distracted.

You see, if we look at this whole speech that Jesus gives, he’s not trying to save us from anxieties and troubles by reminding us everything will be okay. No, Jesus is trying to tell us to stay focused on what is most important. This advice not to worry about food and clothing and tomorrow end with the powerful statement: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…. And verything else will take care of itself.

In other words, focus on God and what God asks of you…

The key to self-control really is to allow God to have the central place in our lives. The key to self-control is to allow God to guide our every action.

I learned as I was studying for this week that the word for demons in the bible – daemonia – actually means “to be controlled by another.” And every time we let food, or worry, or power, or security become the focus of our lives… those things begin to control us.
As one preacher reminded me – people used to assume that there were spirits that caused us to indulge in pleasure, so anytime someone succumbed to a temptation – they saw it as a demonic possession. “We no longer believe that but their insight was right about the [spiritual fact that] cravings… become compulsions. At some point… they begin to control us. At some point, our character becomes misshaped and misaligned in order adjust itself to increasing demands our compulsions put on us. We are no longer free, but are driven by our compulsions. The Biblical insight is right that these forces become bigger than us which is why we need to be intentional about them.”

It’s not that things like eating and drinking and sex are evil… but they can spiral out of control if we allow them to be the central objects of our lives.

What we need is discipline ourselves, set up walls of guidance – boundaries and barriers in our lives to keep us focused on what matters most.
Perhaps that is the simple injunction given by Jesus: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Maybe it is the sort of guidelines that a Nazarite chose to live by – avoiding grapes and wine, not cutting his hair, and avoiding the dead. Maybe it is some other kind of rule or order in your life, like setting aside 15 minutes every morning to pray… whatever it is, having an order, a discipline to follow is the key to self-control.

In Proverbs 25:28 tells us what a life without self-control looks like… a city broken down without any walls

Self-control is a barrier – a protective fence – blinders to keep us focused on what is most important.

Something about how a horse wears blinders to focus only on what is in front of it.

So we must be reflective and honest about the things that put cracks in our barriers. What are the things that weasel their way in and distract us from doing God’s work in the world? What keeps us from being in control of our actions? And how can we turn those things over to God?

As J. Hampton Keathley puts it…

Samson, a man raised up by the Lord as a deliverer and judge over rebellious Israel. Samson strangled a lion; yet he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes; but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame kindled by a single woman.

It only takes one thing… one thing to lead us off of the beaten path.  Let go of your desires. Turn your heart over to God. And seek his Kingdom. Amen.


oh and in other news – I’ve been really unfocused in my work and my schedule this week. I’m having trouble keeping on task. I think in many ways there are just so many things that are on my mind and I’m not sleeping very well. Prayers for focus and guidance are needed!