(A sermon based on Mark 1:29-39 for Sunday, February 8, 2009)
They’re out there, you know—people, I mean. We work with them, we go to school with them, we shop with them, we go to ball games with them, we live with them—they’re all around us all the time. We can’t escape them and we shouldn’t, even when we want to do so.
Sometimes we’ll just happen upon them, as I guess Jesus did the mother-in-law of Simon, and we’ll discover that they have needs.
Other times they’ll come to us, banging on the door and clamoring for attention because they have discovered that they have needs.
Let me tell you a Tale of Two Broken Bones to illustrate my point.
Once when I was a boy my mother dragged me along on a perfectly good Saturday to go see her parents, who lived all the way on the other side of town, a good five minutes’ drive, and so the journey was a great sacrifice for me. When we got there, Papa was sitting in his chair, smoking his pipe, paying no attention, and sharing no information, all of which was normal. Granny was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee, perhaps sipping it out of the saucer as was her habit. Mama and I sat at the table with her as Mama and she chatted for a few minutes. Then, Granny said, “I was mopping the floor this morning and I slipped and fell and”—the tears welled up in her eyes—“I’m hurt, Sara, I’m hurt.” Indeed she was. Mama took her to the doctor who found that she had broken a bone in her leg. She had been hurting for hours but had called no one; we happened upon her need when we went to see her.
While I was still a boy, I was again at Granny and Papa’s house on a Saturday but I was in a hurry to get home because I wanted to watch American Bandstand. So I hopped on my bike and headed out. As I was flying down a hill on the sidewalk that ran beside the Gordon Military College drill field, the chain came off my bike and I lost control; the next thing I knew I was lying on my back trying to focus my eyes and locate my breath. I got up and tried to pick up my bike, which is when I realized that I couldn’t move my left arm. So, I left my bike there and walked the half mile or so home, not shedding a tear, not even whimpering. I was one tough thirteen-year-old. Then I walked in the front door of our house, saw Mama, and burst into tears. She found out that I was hurt when I came looking for her; I brought my need to her.
So it is as we live our lives as the people of God among the people in the world: sometimes we will come upon their need; sometimes they will come to us looking to have their need met.
And, as Christians who have experienced the grace of God, we should try our best to meet their need.
But what is their need? It seems simple enough when you just look at the surface. Granny needed her leg fixed; I needed my collarbone set; Simon’s mother-in-law needed her fever healed; the people who came looking for Jesus needed to have their various ailments and traumas dealt with.
But there is always something else going on. In every case the people who had been afflicted were unable to fulfill their role in society; they were unable to be fully included, to be fully who they were supposed to be.
Granny could not tend to her house and do her shopping with a broken leg; I could not play ball or join in any reindeer games with a busted shoulder; Simon’s mother-in-law could not take care of the guests who had come to her home; and the people who gathered around the door—well, there’s just no telling what all they were not able to do and to be, given all the bad things by which they were beset.
The point is that in being healed, Simon’s mother-in-law and the people who gathered at the door seeking Jesus’ help were not just healed physically, they were healed socially—that is, they were restored to their place in society so that they could do what they needed to do in order to be who they were supposed to be. The things that were wrong with them kept them from being full participants in their society and, I’m sure you know, that is in some ways much more devastating than being physically sick. The pain of not belonging—of being excluded—of being ostracized—of being rejected—of feeling useless—those pains can exceed the worst of physical pain. But in being healed they were restored not only physically but also socially and, I dare say, spiritually.
Yes, we should do all that we can to meet their physical needs; we should do all that we can to meet their health needs; we should do all that we can to meet their emotional needs; we should do all that we can to meet their spiritual needs. Understand this, though—we do some of our most Christian work when we help people be restored to their place in the community, when we welcome them as the children of God, and when God through us enables them to find a way, having been served themselves, to serve.
Yes, they’re out there, you know—people, I mean. We work with them, we go to school with them, we shop with them, we go to ball games with them, we live with them—they’re all around us all the time. We can’t escape them and we shouldn’t, even when we want to do so.
But not only are they out there—we’re also in here, you know—people, I mean. We go to Sunday School together, we eat Wednesday night supper together, we serve on committees together, we attend special events together, we worship together—we’re around each other all the time. We can’t escape each other and we shouldn’t, even when we want to do so.
And right now, some of us are hurting, just as surely as I hurt with my broken collarbone or Granny hurt with her broken leg or Simon’s mother-in-law hurt with her fever or the multitudes crowded around the door hurt with their various ailments and afflictions—we are hurting not just because of the thing that has hold of us or because of the thing we’ve done or because of the hurt done to us by someone else but we are also hurting because we feel on the outside looking in even as we sit here on the inside with the insiders.
We who are the Church, we who are Christians, we who are the children of God, will do some of our best work when we accept, love, and receive those who are, for whatever reason, through their fault or someone else’s fault or no one else’s fault, on the outside looking in even as they sit here on the inside.
Many years ago, in a town much like this one and in a church much like this one, a young woman became pregnant out of wedlock. She got married, had the baby, and tried to move on with her life. Feeling ashamed but wanting to go to church but not wanting to encounter any church members, she would take her baby to the nursery, wait until the worship service had started, slip in one of the front doors of the sanctuary and sit in a side pew. Then, while the benediction was being prayed, she would get up and slip out of the sanctuary.
An older man of the church who always sat on the back row on the same side of the sanctuary where the young lady would sit noticed what she was doing. He would step outside, give her a hug and kiss, and invite her to his Sunday School class. Eventually she started attending his class and stopped slipping in and out of church. She has now found her place in the kingdom of God and in the service of people.
These are her words about what that Christian man meant to her: “His loving acceptance of me was totally life changing. He was like Jesus with skin on.”
It was because he accepted her; it was because he touched her; it was because he cared for her; it was because God worked healing for her through him. It was because he loved her.
Sometimes we fall prey to a false way of thinking that says that loving God and loving others are two separate things; on the contrary, we just can’t separate them. As John said, “How can we say we love God whom we have never seen and hate our brother or sister whom we see every day?” Indeed, it is as we love and accept and help and forgive one another that we grow closer to God.
Imagine a wheel. Notice that the farther away from the center of the wheel the spokes are the farther away from each other they are. But notice that as you move in toward the center of the wheel the spokes get closer and closer to each other. Now, imagine that the wheel is the world, that the center of the wheel is God, and that the spokes of the wheel are people. The closer we get to one another, the closer we get to God; the closer we get to God, the closer we get to one another.
They’re out there in the world and they have needs; sometimes we will come upon them and sometimes they will come to us. We’re here in the Church; we may be hurting and feel like we’re sitting on the outside looking in even while we’re sitting on the inside. What are they looking for? What are we looking for?
Well, we’re all looking for help; we’re all looking for acceptance; we’re all looking for healing; we’re all looking for love. Will we be help and acceptance and healing and love to those out there and to each other in here? We will if we will be God’s people. We will if we will be close to God. We will if we will be about God’s work. We will if we will be the Church.