Saturday, 7 February 2009

Sunday's sermon 8-2-09

Healing of Simon’s mother-in-law Mark 1; 29-39

On Monday I had to go to the dentist. I was hoping that with the snow that morning, my dentist might not be there and I’d be spared my treatment. No such luck – there she was and she cheerfully said
“I’m German – of course I’m here: why do you British get so thrown by a tiny bit of snow?”.
I tried to explain that we’re not really used to it and so it does seem to disrupt our usual lives a lot. Suddenly you can’t take it for granted that the buses will run, or the school will be open, or that you can walk on the pavements safely. Of course it’s great fun for the children building snowmen and having snowball fights: but mostly we all want to get back to normal.

But perhaps the break from the normal routine can get us thinking about how we normally live and act. Sometimes a time to stop and take stock is no bad thing: what are our daily lives normally like and are we spending our time well?

Our Gospel reading gave us a description of part of a typical day in the life of Jesus. Just before the part we heard, Jesus had been in the synagogue of Capernaum because it was a Sabbath day. There he had spent his time teaching (‘with authority’ we’re told) and then healing a man with an evil spirit who bursts in. Then, as we heard, Jesus left the synagogue and went with his disciples to Simon and Andrew’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law was confined to bed with a fever.

Jesus immediately healed her and lifted her to her feet.
We’re told that immediately she began to serve the needs of those in the house with her. The restoration of her health was complete – she didn’t just feel a bit better, she was herself again and could look after the needs of everyone around her.

We’ll come back to Simon’s mother-in-law in a moment!

Once they had all eaten and rested and after sunset, when the Sabbath was over, people brought along those who were sick and in need and Jesus healed them all.
And then at the very end of the day, Jesus goes off to a lonely place to pray. He goes to get in touch with his Father, the source of all his energy, and to restore his wholeness and peace. Then he will be ready for another day of service, healing and teaching.

Jesus shows us a life of balance: the work of healing and teaching, the company of his friends, and rest and restoration in prayer.

You might be thinking – well it’s all very well for Jesus, he’s about 30 years old – plenty of energy to do all these things in one day. It’s true that the amount of what Jesus does is amazing and wonderful, and the acts of healing themselves are staggering; but it’s the balance of work and rest, others and self, people and prayer, which has so much to teach us.

Sigmund Freud defined mental health as the ability to love and to work. By ‘work’ he didn’t mean digging trenches or lifting huge weights, he meant doing something which makes a difference –
whether it’s cooking a meal for ourselves or for others, making a phone call to someone who’s lonely, or offering a smile to the person with the post or the newspaper.

I promised we’d come back to Simon’s mother-in-law. I used to be quite affronted by this story. The poor woman is sick and in bed, then Simon & all his friends pile in expecting a meal and to be looked after. You can imagine the look Simon’s wife might have given him, if she didn’t actually say it: what are you doing here when you know my mother is ill in bed & not fit to help me get a meal ready!
But as soon as they tell Jesus about the illness he goes and heals her – but only so she can wait on them! On thinking about this story more carefully, though, I can’t think of any examples in the gospel stories where Jesus heals someone for his own benefit rather than his: this doesn’t seem like what Jesus would do. Perhaps the person who remembered this story wanted to point out how absolutely healed she was, or perhaps she was the sort of person who hates being ill and couldn’t wait to get back to work.. or perhaps Jesus knows that real health isn’t just about feeling better, but is about being able to use our strength for the sake of others – to do work which makes a difference.

Whether it’s because of the snow or because of illness, we all long to get back to normal.

The love of God shown in Jesus longs to restore us to health and to balance in our lives: in this bread & wine of communion God gives us an invitation to accept his plan for our lives – so that we can live to Gods praise & glory

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