Epiphany 5 – February 4, 2018         

Rev. Lyle McKenzie      Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Isaiah 40:21-31 Psalm 147:1-11,20c 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39

– It’s a beautiful poem of knowing and hearing the greatness of God, our strength, and our own power and strength restored.

– It’s a wonderful song of praise to God whose steadfast love gathers, heals, and lifts us up as God’s people.

– It’s challenging words of Paul to be a free servant of the gospel and slave of all that some might be saved.

– It’s gospel stories of 24 hours in the life of Jesus: Jesus healing a mother of her fever, Jesus healing a city’s sick and possessed, Jesus’ practise of quiet and prayer, and the demands upon Jesus to proclaim God’s message to all.

That sounds like enough good news for a day. And different words of connection for each of us and what we bring to these words, what’s happening in our lives and world, and God’s speaking different words of good news to each one.

– In a previous sermon on these same readings I asked for a show of hands which reading and good news made the most connection for you. Today, we’ll leave that open, as we focus on one part, Jesus healing a woman and mother’s fever?

– I recall having a fever as a young child… My parents were not home and my sister was in charge of caring for my two brothers and me. This holds inherent dangers.

– Whether an early sense of what would become her vocation as a nurse, or having seen my Mom do something like this, but less lethal, my sister decided she would cure me of my fever.

– She put me to bed and covered the bed with many blankets. My mother preferred wool blankets for Winnipeg winters and I think my sister used all of them in the house on my bed.

– She turned out the light and closed the door.

– I recall vividly how hot I became, how I shivered and sweat, and my sense of panic, feeling so weak I could neither crawl out from under the heavy blankets nor call out loud enough to get anyone’s attention. I think I became delirious.

– After a very long time, light suddenly streamed in from the door as it opened and my Mom came rushing in and pulled back all the covers, finally freeing me.

– She expressed shock at how soaked in sweat I and everything was; she lifted up my limp body, and said some words, maybe to my sister, about this being a little too severe a treatment.

– I may have said weakly, “She tried to kill me.”

– My sister said proudly, “His fever broke didn’t it.” And ever since, she has maintained that she cured me of my fever.

– Even after she was a nurse! Even still today!

Jesus is more kind. He took the woman’s hand and “lifted her up.” They’re the same words used for God’s lifting Jesus up from death, beautifully and powerfully connecting both and showing us, this is Jesus healing a fever, yes, but always more, its Jesus bringing new life to a person, a community, the world.

– It’s the first healing by Jesus of many that will follow the same pattern… the sick are brought to Jesus, or to his attention… he responds to them, often with touch… they are healed… and there is a response, by the healed person and often by others, too often criticizing Jesus for when or how he has brought healing and new life to broken lives…

– Our Confirmation class has been considering images of Jesus. Beginning first with visual images, we looked at paintings and icons, ancient and modern, movie images, scientific reconstructions, and images in our imaginations…

– We asked, “What does Jesus look like?”

– What does Jesus look like to you?

– Dark skin and hair, younger or older looking, gentle and kind, strong and determined, smiling or sad…

– These images say something about who we think Jesus is…

– We’ve moved on to asking that question, “Who is Jesus?” in the Bible’s stories of Jesus and what they show us…

– Who is Jesus in this story of healing a woman of her fever?

And what does that show us of God? And what does this ask of us, as followers of Jesus, as people of God?

– Is our image of Jesus, is Jesus, a healer?

– Often, the healing stories of Jesus can be a challenge. They raise the question, did Jesus miraculously cure people of their diseases and ailments, or are the stories metaphors of Jesus administering God’s power to save and give new life as the words and connection to Jesus’ own rising in today’s story suggests?

– The first problem we have to acknowledge is that our medical understanding of disease and treatment and cure is not the understanding of the Bible.

– The separation I have just made between disease and cure and metaphorical sickness and healing is not a distinction in Jesus’ time.

– Disease is connected to sin, and so Jesus will say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and “get up and walk,” and a paralyzed or lame person is healed.

– Mental illness or neurological disorders are connected to unclean spirits and demon possession and so when Jesus casts them out people are found in their right minds.

– All of this to say, as the confirmation students may be frustrated to hear, it is not a simple yes or no answer.

– If we claim Jesus’ healing is always providing a miraculous cure, then we struggle with praying at the bedside in hospital asking for the same for a loved one, or in our prayers of the people each week for those we name, who don’t receive that same cure. Why Jesus for these and not for our loved ones?

– And we condemn any view that suggests it is because of a lack of faith in those who are sick or those who pray for them that they are not cured. That’s not true.

– And so we acknowledge healing and wholeness are greater than a cure, and we witness the same at the hospital bedside and in our prayers.

– And! we pray for a cure and end to sickness and disease for others and ourselves, trusting that too is God’s desire as Jesus showed us, but knowing too, the outcome is often uncertain.

Is our image of Jesus, is Jesus, a healer? The Bible tells us so. Jesus heals people and restores them and communities to wholeness as God desires, and so that people can serve God as the woman and mother and example to us, immediately does

I was struggling with a recurring fever before Christmas…

– It was persistent enough that I saw my Doctor, and without other symptoms, she was concerned enough that I went through a whole series of tests… all of the results thankfully coming back as they should. It was likely a persistent virus, and I finally began to feel better and get some of my strength back just before Christmas… Dec. 23, just in time for all the worship…

– I spoke to my sister and now retired but still actively advising nurse during that time, and what did she recall for me, but how she cured my fever many years ago… I recalled how she almost killed me… but following other more helpful advice of rest and care and more holistic remedies, she then said, as we almost always say to one another, “take care and God bless, I love you, you’re in my prayers.” And I said the same to her. And that was and is healing in body and spirit.

– Jesus was and is a healer. And shows us God’s desire that all would be healed and whole and the promise of that realized for everyone, in this life and most surely in the next.

– And so in Jesus name and Spirit we continue to pray, to anoint, to bring Holy Communion, to offer support, to advocate for greater equity and compassion because illness and disease is disproportionally connected to poverty and disadvantage, to love and care for those who are sick and struggling with mental and physical illness, in treatment and recovery, with addictions and chronic disease, the aged and frail, no matter the outcome, trusting in God’s power to heal and bring wholeness and new life to all, as Jesus showed us in one healing Epiphany after another.

– And, in the calling to rise up and serve, and bring healing and wholeness and hope to our neighbour and the world in the grace of God and Spirit of Jesus, today and always. Amen.