Rev. Dr. Carol Worthing
The 5th Sunday of Epiphany
Epiphany Season 2024 ends next week, the 6th and final week of the season for this year, when we’ll celebrate The Transfiguration. We will have come in this short space of time, from the story of the Magi following the starshine to the stable stall – to the dazzling light of Jesus’ radiance, on the mountaintop – from Jesus’ birth to his baptism, through his ministry in Galilee to arrive at a moment of divine revelation, that points us to the future! These stories locate us not only in the Universe created by God – for we are at the same time located in the midst of the greatest, continuing story of all time and space – So, these stories in Mark’s Gospel not only provide us with information about the past – they promise to engage our present lives, and to shape our future as people of faith!
In fact, these stories have the power to raise us up and place us in the very midst of the story of what God is doing in and through our lives, and the lives of all people, even today – as we interpret our lives through the refracting lens of the Scriptures! And, surprisingly, even though we have now arrived at the 5th Sunday of Epiphany Season, 2024, you may have noticed that we have only reached verses 29-39 of Chapter 1 in Mark’s Gospel! And, in just these few verses we have been swept up into an exciting series of dramatic changes!
Time has flown by, and Jesus has transformed – from a child into an adult – from a home builder in the family business, based in Nazareth, to a follower of his hill-country cousin, John the Baptist – Jesus has come to the Jordan River to receive John’s Baptism of Re-pentance, having his own epiphany, there – with the heavens ripped open, with the Spirit descending, and a voice proclaiming Jesus to be God’s beloved Son! From there Jesus is driven “at once” into the desert by God’s Spirit, where he is tested 40 days and nights.
And, after John’s arrest, Jesus comes out of the desert with a new calling – as a rabbi, teaching a new way of life to the people in Galilee. And in saying: “the time is fulfilled,” he proclaimed that “God’s Realm is near, even at hand!” People who “knew him when,” were astonished at the change in him, and wondered what the meaning of it all could be?! He began to do deeds of power that amazed everyone. And his fame grew, day by day!
Jesus called common people he met along the way, into his new way of living – 12 of them, in particular – to serve as his associates in ministry – Yet, every person among them counted, here and now, and their eyes, ears and hearts opened to what God was up to in Jesus’ words and deeds! And through our hearing of these stories ofhis teaching, healing and welcoming ministry – we, too, learn something new – not only about Jesus, but about the very character of God. Our eyes and ears and hearts are opened to God’s desire for justice and equity, to God’s compassion for those who live in poverty, for those who are disenfranchised, to God’s ability to reach across borders, and divisions among people, with reconciling love and peace!
And there is no slackening of the pace in the text, even with the sun setting, as the Sab-
bath ends. Jesus may have been tempted to just rest awhile, after the successful exorcism in the synagogue, after the accolades for his authoritative teaching, and the growth of his reputation, that has spread “at once” throughout all Galilee. Yet, in Mark’s Gospel, there is no time for resting on laurels… often, in Mark’s telling, we hear the words “at once” – words whose repetitive impact we must allow to have their full effect! For, in saying at once, Jesus’ story bursts through the synagogue doors and rushes out to the rest of Galilee – to the rest of the week, to the rest of the world – and even to the place that this story of Jesus will take us, in the end!
For Mark’s story of Jesus is always on the move, challenging us – we who hear it – to go beyond who or where we are or were! So that, after Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and restores her to her intergenerational responsibilities – to serving within their home… Wait a moment! That being said, we do need to pause, here…
You may have noticed that Mark doesn’t often pause over details in the rush to tell the story of Jesus. Yet, it is important to point out – about Simon’s mother-in-law: since Mark doesn’t take time to mention her name – that we know the culture of the time didn’t value women, children, or the elderly. They were powerless in their society – Still, they are highly valued in every family story! Even as we remember that Paul mentions Timo-thy’s grandmother, Lois, by name, in his 2nd Letter to Timothy, the younger Christian, whom Paul mentors – Lois having been a strong source of Timothy’s own growth in faith. And, while change continues to happen, in terms of who, or what – a society may choose to value, change may come at a slower pace than we may like… over the centuries…
That said – let’s get back to Simon’s mother-in-law: It’s likely that she, too, is a grand-mother, and among her responsibilities in their home would be – wait for it – helping to raise up her grandchildren! And maybe a grandmother or grandfather helped care for you, when you were growing up?! My Swedish grandfather, Per August Bolander, was instrumental in raising me up in the Lutheran faith tradition! And maybe you are now that grandmother or grandfather – or great-aunt or grand-uncle in your family’s story –with responsibilities in raising your grandchildren, or nieces & nephews, modeling your faith for them?! Or maybe you mentor a young person, or a child. After all, we all know the ancient African proverb: “It takes a village – to raise a child!” So, let’s lift up Simon’s mother-in-law, for living an important social role – even as many of us do, even today!
That said, we should note, too, that Simon’s mother-in-law is also, now called beyond their multi-generational home! She is now also called to support Jesus, in his ministry – along with many others who were healed – among those crowded around the door of the house in Capernaum, on that Sabbath evening, so long ago – So that, there is now also a need for Jesus to be alone with God in prayer – long before sunrise, and in a deserted place… In a place of complete solitude, where he can hear God’s voice clearly – God’s voice alone – in order to ask God’s direction, forward from there…
What is to be the absolute center of Jesus’ mission? For, he may have been tempted to stay right there, in Capernaum, where he has enjoyed so much success among the people; or should he risk going further afield? He has to get this right! And, by the time Simon finds him, Jesus has the answer that he was seeking… “We must go everywhere,” he tells Simon, “proclaiming the gospel to everyone – telling the Good News that everyone has a place in God’s Realm!” So then: What does the Good News mean, for all people, who are called and sent out to serve God, today?
It certainly means being open to acknowledge our own participation in the inequities, the iniquities, the self-centeredness, sharp divisions and bitter conflicts that continue to persist, in human society, today. It certainly means being open to God’s transforming love and grace so that we, too, are cleansed, accepted, called, empowered & sent out to bring God’s love, healing, and repair into all the world! It certainly means that we are enspirited by our Baptism into Christ’s life of mission & ministry, and by our being fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, in order to be strengthened for the mission set before us – The Mission of bringing God’s grace, love and peace into our world…
…A world created by God to be good, and yet suffering the pain and outrage of injustice, oppression, abuse, and violence… and replacing all that with healing, and perfect joy, and everlasting Unity with God, whose love is incarnate in Jesus; God, who is in and with all our brothers & sisters, with whom we are all united, in the Christ-Spirit – God with Jesus, who endured death – even death on a cross, in order to be in complete solidarity with all human suffering, in order to restore all things to God! So that all things – will, at last, be held together within the Great Story of Jesus – the story of Resurrection Life, in the Christ-Spirit – without end!
We can all envision that radiance, together, as revealed in the words of Michael Joncas, from his Meditative Hymn: “And I will raise you up on Eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you, in the palm of my hand!” Amen!
Note: The narrative arc of this sermon is informed by thorough research: including exegetical commentary on this text: Mark 1:29-39, for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B) of the Revised Common Lectionary, written by Prof. James Boyce, of Luther Theological Seminary, St. Paul, MN, for the publication Working Preacher, in 2009.