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 (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1200) , 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.