Sermon: Ordinary 5, Year B

Text: Mark 1:29-39

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I know of someone who had died recently. He was 80-years old, a man possessed by the demons of conflict, until he was finally released in death. The last several decades of his life were filled with midnight terrors and daily anxiety. He had seen so much, too much even and was permanently damaged by the experience. Reflecting about him, his life and traumatic experiences, I prayed that his wounded life might be resurrected in the healing of God’s ultimate grace. There are increasing numbers of haunted souls like him, each in need of healing.

Healing the sick and similarly possessed was a central part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. His gift of physical and spiritual healing restored human beings to full participation in life. Healing and deliverance from pain and illness is a clear marker of the action of God and the establishment of his kingdom: where no one goes hungry, the ill and grieving are healed, and those in various kinds of prisons are set free for abundant life. Over and over again in the gospels we hear that Jesus “went about healing many who were sick or possessed by demons.” It is a key image of the task we share as his followers.

When Jesus went to Simon’s house, he had just come from healing a man like that ex-serviceman. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever, and Jesus walked over, took her by the hand, and “raised her up.” That same word for raised or lifted up (ηγειρεν – egeiren) is used on Easter morn — “he is not here, he is risen” — but it is also used of Jesus being lifted up on the cross. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is raised up from her illness, and what does she do? She begins to minister, to serve. She is the first active witness to what a resurrected life in Jesus looks like. At baptism, we too are raised into a new life of service or ministry to others and acknowledge that ministry is a matter of lifting up our crosses daily.

We may not know her name, but the mother of Simon’s wife is a model for our own servant ministry. Touched and healed by Jesus, she becomes minister of healing herself. She gets up from her bed and presumably begins to feed people, as any good Jewish housewife of the day would do for her son-in-law and his honoured guests.

The very next encounter that Jesus has in Mark’s gospel is also about touching and healing someone – this time a leper. The leper is told to keep quiet about his healing, but he can’t do it -he has to tell the world. The upshot is that Jesus can’t even enter a town without being besieged. The world is desperate for healing. Like the street outside Simon’s mother-in-law’s home, the streets out there are also filled with the sick and possessed, each one eager to be made whole.

The touch of a hand can heal, restore life, and exorcise our demons as well. Michelangelo used that powerful image of life-giving touch when he pictured creation as God reaching out a hand to Adam, offering life.

We often say that Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. How do our hands serve as instruments of healing, and help to raise others to new life? It is so easy to say to ourselves “Oh yes, someone else can do that”, “it’s the responsibility of the government or social services or the free market” and avoid the task that Christ gives each and every one of us in the ministry and service to the maligned, the sidelined, the young, the elderly and the disaffected.

Simon’s mother-in-law gets up and serves a meal. It strikes me that food and feasting and the heavenly banquet are central images of a healed creation. The Good Samaritan ensures that the robbery victim he lifts up and takes to an inn is provided with food and drink for healing. The resurrected Jesus shares breakfast on the beach with his grieving and dispirited disciples. You and I have abundant opportunities to feed the hungry – through outreach, and even the very choices we make in the supermarket: supporting fair trade that helps people around the globe to grow nutritious and affordable food for a decent reward.

The touch of healing is obviously about caring for those with physical illness. Our hands may be put to healing work in literally tending the sick, infirm, or housebound, but, equally importantly, ensuring that society keeps in mind the needs of those who do not have an effective voice – the speak up for the oppressed and the refugee and to challenge the insidious rise of selfish protectionism which is a real risk in these dark economic times. My Grandfather spoke very vividly of his memories and fears over the rise of fascism and Moseley in this country in the face of economic hardship in the 1930s. Our hands may serve equally effectively in the voting booth as the sickroom.

Hands can also heal psychic illness. That ex-serviceman I spoke of earlier had the demon called “no hope.” He didn’t meet the needed hand of healing in this life; we pray that the good shepherd hands that led him home will bind up his wounds. Yet we see others who do find the needed touch of healing, whether in a person who will sit and listen to the pain behind the war stories or the searching hands and eyes that will take a fallen comrade to shelter or hospital.

Jesus’ healing touch was grounded in open vulnerability. He received the yearning masses, healing as many as he could. He taught the crowds about the present reality of God’s reign, breaking in all around them, and he offered hope. He silenced the demons who would cry out that there is no hope. He formed disciples by letting them try the work themselves, even though they frequently failed. He held himself open to whatever and whomever the day presented, even the terror of execution at the hands of an occupying government. His service was one of constant lifting up, in the face of forces that would tear down.

Will you let yourself be taken by the hand and lifted up? Where and how will you join hands, reach out, and lift up others to healing? For, indeed, as Simon and his companions said to Jesus when they found him at prayer, “everyone is searching for” that physician of hope.

We pray for those living with affliction, with anxiety and bereavement, and we seek in that prayer for guidance as to how we, together as a community might work for His kingdom. Prayer is a powerful tool in this: it gives comfort and guidance, it equips and energises, it seeks the word of God in our lives and stills the troubled breast. Intercessory Prayer – praying for others – is a key mark of the faithful church, and we are called to pray without ceasing for the world that is his. Let us pray…

[move directly into open intercession and then go onto the Creed