SERMON FOR EPIPHANY 5A – MARK 1.29-39 “WHO WILL YOU TOUCH”

Sermon given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel  Evensong 5 Feb 17.

We’re Christians, or potential Christians – so our role model is Jesus Christ. Our faith is simple: our answer to the question “What’s God like?” is “look at Jesus” – read the gospels! We’re to follow the Jesus of the Gospels.

Some years ago, a book depicted Jesus as a successful role model for businessmen. In one sense, the book’s right, because it suggested they could learn a lot from Jesus and that’s true! In another sense, the book’s wrong, because it put Jesus in expensive suits, endorsing big city lifestyle and that’s false! The books character holds to worldly values.

Now lets be honest – they’re values we may all hold to some extent too. It would make life easier to think that Jesus believed what we believe, and valued what we value. But no.

He didn’t come to show us how to acquire power and make money, or to show us how to succeed on London’s Regent St, or even Fochabers High St.

Jesus didn’t come to endorse the way we live, but to show us a new way – a world where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where it’s more blessed to give than to receive and – the one who dies with the most hoarded away, loses. That world is the Kingdom of God.

In our everyday world, the rich and powerful take precedence – but it’s different in Jesus world, where his winners will be those caring for others.

Philip Yancey in one of his books, talks about the people he has met over the years, dividing them into two categories – stars and servants. He’s interviewed the famous, the wealthy and many others. He says of the “stars and idols” that they are “as miserable a group of people as I have ever met.” He talks about their broken relationships, self-doubts, drug use and dependence on psychotherapy.

Yancey then talks about the servants – people like the doctors and nurses working in India – long hours, low pay and no applause, using their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated. But – he found that they were happier and more fulfilled than the stars.   Surely – this is the kind of servant ministry that Jesus encourages – and we find it in Mark this evening.

Jesus is casting out demons, performing miracles, changing the rules and in this, his first healing miracle, he sets the standard for what’s to come.

You’ll remember that Jesus called the fishermen at Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, to leave their nets and follow him.  However, either they’ve yet to leave Capernaum, or have returned home there, for this story takes place at the home of Simon and Andrew.

Now here’s a thought – in Matthews Gospel (4:13) he tells us that Jesus makes his home in Capernaum, so I like to think that perhaps they were all neighbours, Jesus, some disciples and friends living in a community near the synagogue, so perhaps Jesus was simply visiting a neighbour.

Mark doesn’t mention Simon’s wife, so saying ‘his mother-in-law’ suggests that she’s either the only, or the chief woman there when Jesus arrives, but we never even learn her name.

She was sick so Jesus took her hand, and at his touch, she recovered from her illness. Immediately she served Jesus and the others and here we get a glimpse of servant-hood. But there’s more to it than that.   They break a few rules at that meeting.

Jesus touches her but rabbis simply don’t do that – nor should they be served at table by a women, but she ignores this rule. Jesus has set her free, not only from physical illness, but also from social constraint. Jesus said nothing to Simon’s mother-in-law – yet somehow she hears his unspoken request, “will you help me with this – help with my ministry?” She answers that call, that still small voice, and becomes an example of Christ’s ministry.

In todays politically correct world, that story might annoy you. The men were doing interesting things – travelling, healing, teaching. The woman kept house and served the men. We may say – Jesus – what about equal rights – make her more important – let her be a disciple – let her be more than just the housekeeper.

But they lived in a different time, place and culture and Jesus worked by different rules which were radical in his day – even he couldn’t go too far  or he may have been killed before doing any ministry at all!

Jesus didn’t just call us to live by his rules – he set the example himself – as mentioned earlier – he was, and is our role model.

Jesus tried to teach his disciples to follow his example, to understand that God favours service – not power. It was only much later that they began to understand.

So, did women find Jesus lifestyle and teachings easier to understand.   There are certainly examples in Scripture to indicate this – not least Simon’s mother-in- law who when cured, served others. In modern language we might say that the women “got it.”

But the disciples, the men, didn’t ‘get it’.   Jesus had healed many that day, but when he left those crowds to find a quiet place to pray, they urged him to come back. Jesus refused – instead he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming his message and healing people.

The successful people in the book I mentioned would never have left the crowds behind, or walked away from customers, or failed to exploit an opportunity. But Jesus wasn’t into success as the world defines it.   He was using a different receipe to make that heavenly bread for us all to share.

The Apostle Paul said, “A little yeast levens the whole lump of dough?” The yeast that Jesus gave us changed the world – for the amazing thing is that kingdom rules work.

Though they may not make us rich and famous, those rules, seasoned with faith and hope, are contagious – spreading from heart to heart until they affect the whole world – this happened back then – it happens now.

And it’s often the small things that reflect the power of those rules – not great big public gestures. Now – a wee story.   A priest and some of his congregation visited a prison to minister to the inmates. Some famous performers accompanied them to entertain the prisoners.

Of course when the media found out, they brought along their “paraphernalia”, the cameras, lights and recording eqpt etc.

The priest and his group visited the prisoners, and the entertainers performed. The inmates enjoyed it all and responded with enthusiasm.

Afterwards, the priest met with some prisoners to gauge how it had gone. They agreed that they had enjoyed the whole visit, but what had really, really affected them, was that when the celebrities and media team had left, the ladies among the volunteers went into the dining hall, and joined them in a meal. They spent time and listened to the prisoners, treating them with respect.

Entertainment and showmanship had its place, but the real power of that prison visit took place at the level of one human caring for another. That’s what really affected those prisoners – that’s what made a lasting impression.

When Christ heals and makes us whole – when He delivers us from those things that would destroy us – when He empowers us – we need to – we have to – use those blessings to serve others.   He showed us how!

Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law and she responded by offering herself in service. We ought to take that as a model for our own lives. And the wonderful thing is that Christ blesses us when we shed personal ambition and take upon ourselves the role of a servant.

Jesus hands still offer that healing touch – but now they’re our hands; His eyes still look upon suffering to offer mercy and hope, but now they’re our eyes. Young or old we can share what Christ offers – age is no bar – I know that I have often been lifted, inspired and encouraged by children. So here’s another wee story.

A mother and her 7 yr old daughter went to visit an elderly relative in a nursing home. It was a sad, place, the residents sitting with a dejected air about them – many of you may have seen similar places.   The wee girl wandered off – she placed her little hand upon the hand of an old man slumped forlornly in a wheelchair – she asked his name – he looked up startled, surprised – she smiled – he smiled.

That wee girl, like a ray of sunshine, went around the room touching and speaking to the residents. No one danced a jig, or tossed a wheelchair out of the window, but Jesus brought healing and joy through that wee lassie. Once again it is the small things that make a difference.

All the great people in the world can only do a little of what is needed, but the combined efforts of every one of us, will roll away that stone of resistance, letting Christ free to turn the key and open the doors to the Kingdom of God.

Now we must ask ourselves “Where is Christ at work in me?” – and, like Simon’s mother in law – listen for His voice as he asks – “Will you help me with this – will you come and join me in my ministry”?   Then, let us allow Jesus to use us, so that we may serve him, and those he would have us care for.       Amen.

Let us pray:    Lord Jesus – Take hold of our hand as you took hold of Simon’s mother in law, and bless us with the courage and the confidence to step out from our worries and fears, to offer all that we are in the service of others.   Amen.