They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons… “This is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:33-34, 38)
There are lots of possibilities for Revised Common Lectionary preachers this week. Of course, if you’re in the US and have football fans in your congregation, you may have to navigate through the obligatory game-day humor about soaring eagles and about Peter’s mother-in-law being healed in order to prepare snacks for the Superbowl party.
But once people have had their chuckle, there are deep waters in which to swim with these texts. In Isaiah 40, we hear in God’s own voice the greatness of God and the hubris of humans to think that our ways can be hidden from the Lord. In this passage, I hear an echo of God’s “Where were you” speech to Job. In both of those powerful passages, we are reminded that God is God, and we are not. Part of the beauty of this passage is that God does not leave us crumpled under the recognition of God’s power and glory; “the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” reaches down to us in our weakness to “give power to the faint and strengthen the powerless.”
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul writes of the things he does, not for his own reward, but for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps you have had the experience of being with a family on the occasion of a wedding or a funeral, when you became aware that the prevailing group culture felt more like a reality show than a gathering of “church people.” That may give us a small idea of the lengths to which Paul is willing to go. In my lectionary study group, we had an interesting discussion as we wondered what each of us would be willing to do for the sake of the Gospel. What labels would we be willing to take on? What signs of status or education or privilege would we be willing to lay aside? Where is the border to your comfort zone, and how far beyond it would you venture for the sake of the Gospel?
The Gospel text from Mark 1 lets us hear from Jesus himself what he does for the sake of proclaiming the message. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus and several of the disciples tumbling into Simon and Andrew’s house after a long day, young adults ready to have some supper, and maybe a bit to drink, as they rehash the day’s events? And suddenly with a word, the mood changes from a relaxed gathering to an emergency. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever; this was not to be the relaxing evening Jesus wanted or needed. Instead, he was brought to the sick woman, and he healed her.
Simon’s mother-in-law, we are told, began to serve them. It will be easy for your hearers to imagine service limited to the nachos-and-chips variety. But the Greek text gives lie to that interpretation. Her serving is diakoneo. Yes, it’s the same kind of serving as Martha did when Jesus visited her home; and also the same kind of serving that Jesus claims when he says that he comes “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life” for the sake of the Gospel.
Neither we as preachers nor our hearers get to opt in or out of acting for the sake of the Gospel. Situations come to us. Friends, neighbors, coworkers, people in line at the grocery store, the need for the Gospel is all around us, calling us to step out of our comfort zones, no matter how weary we may feel, how much we may crave a quiet evening with friends or an early-morning time of prayer. As followers of Jesus, we do what is in front of us to do, because this is what the Gospel calls us to do.
In your preaching this week, what will you do for the sake of the Gospel? How will you invite your hearers to serve?
Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota and currently serving in interim ministry. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.
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