Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
February 7, 2021
“The Promises of God”
Mark 1: 29-39 – New Revised Standard Version
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I grew up in a church with very traditional gender roles. More than likely, you did too. Women cooked and served. Men built and repaired. The board of elders were all men. The Sunday School teachers were all women. Similarly, boys helped fix things. Girls helped in the kitchen, which is why it was so odd and out of place that I preferred to be in the kitchen, washing and drying dishes. But I found it much more interesting to listen to their conversations than talk about fertilizer and football. By the way, I hear there’s some kind of game later today.
In rural North Dakota where I was raised, churches would often have an annual dinner for the whole community. Northwood, the town where I went to school, only had two churches: Lutheran and Lutheran. One served an annual ham dinner. The other, Swedish meatballs (although that’s kind of odd since they were all Norwegians). People drove from miles around for those meatballs, along with boiled potatoes and lefse. One year, one of the organizers had a hip replacement and couldn’t be there to guide the process. She worried they would use boxed potatoes to avoid the pain of peeling them all. The pastor went to visit Helen a few days before the event and assured her that there were people at the church that very morning peeling potatoes. He said, “You sure must love cooking.” She replied, “oh heavens no. I don’t love cooking at all, but I love Jesus, and this is what I can do for him.” Nice! I love Jesus. And this is what I can do.
In today’s text, Simon’s mother-in-law had such a high fever, she was confined to bed. It’s not like she could have just taken some Advil. Fevers were a serious and potentially fatal problem. It must have taken a lot out of her. Therefore, don’t you think the least Simon could have done is let her get some rest before jumping up to serve? Why didn’t he say, “Hey ma, take it easy. I’ll make the sandwiches this time.” But clearly, healing by Jesus provided full restoration. There was no time needed for recuperation. She jumped right up to offer hospitality to her guests. “To serve,” the text says.
With our modern ears and sensibilities, my first reaction is to say “there we go again. Reinforcing gender stereotypes.” But if we dig a little deeper, we’ll realize that she and Jesus were upending stereotypes.
Here’s a couple of reasons why: First of all, she got it. Throughout his gospel, Mark tells one story after another about how the men didn’t get it. For example, they argued with each other about who was the greatest. They pushed children away who wanted to approach Jesus. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
One time, Jesus actually told Simon, whom we later know as Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Later, three times he denied even knowing Jesus. “I tell you, I don’t know him!” The third time, he heard a cock crow in the distance. On the other hand, his mother-in-law? She immediately got up and served Jesus.
However, the word “serve” here doesn’t mean she went into the kitchen to fix sandwiches. It’s a specific word Jesus used for himself. One day, James and John came to Jesus and said, “We want you to do whatever we ask of you.” Um, OK, what’s that? “We want to sit next to you in your glory, one at your right hand and one at your left.” Picture Anthony Fauci standing behind Trump. Palm to his face.
Jesus responded by telling the disciples about rulers and tyrants who try to lord over people. “But not among you; whoever wishes to be great must be your servant.” And added, “I came to serve, not to be served.” That’s not a generic word, but the same one specifically ascribed to Simon’s mother-in-law.
She is the living demonstration of faithfulness in the eyes of Jesus. She and many other women, who “followed him and provided for him (served) when he was in Galilee; and still other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.” While the men hid in fear, they all courageously stood by Jesus while he hung from the cross.
Simon’s mother-in-law got it. She understood and immediately began to serve. But there’s one more thing. Back in verse 31, it says the fever left her when “Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.” But “lifted up” is not exactly right. Other versions more accurately translate, “raised her up.” A parallel with Jesus. This word is used only one other time in Mark. In the second to the very last verse in the Gospel of Mark, the women who came to prepare Jesus’ body for burial were told he was not there. Why? “He has been… raised up.”
Simon’s mother-in-law is definitely not a gender stereotype. She is a powerful demonstration, a model for the kind of liberation Jesus practiced, which is why it’s so upsetting to see this text misused to claim, “see, the Bible says a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” As Cynthia Briggs Kittredge said, this woman is “an icon of resurrection and a paradigm [for] Christian ministry.” Not simply a paradigm for women, but for anyone who loves and wishes to be Christ-like.
When news got out about the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, the “whole city” gathered around the door. Jesus cured many and cast out many demons. Terri talked about the meaning of demon casting last week.
Well, after an exhausting night like that, he got up early and went into the wilderness so he could be alone and pray. When Simon and his companions “hunted him down,” Jesus told them that it was time to leave Capernaum and go on to neighboring towns to “proclaim the message. Because that’s what I came out to do.”
“Proclaim the message.” I was curious. I didn’t want to assume I knew the answer, so I went back to the beginning of Mark. What’s “the message?” It says, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Which kind of just leads to another question: What is the good news of God?
So, I asked our group at Lunch and Lectionary on Thursday. Laura pointed to the Exodus story and said the good news of God is liberation. And the prophets who proclaim justice and mercy. Marlene said, the good news of God is that God is love. John said, and not only that, the good news of God is that “we’re loved and we don’t have to do anything to earn it.” Bob added, “no matter what we’ve done, no matter our past or history.” Sharyl agreed and added, furthermore, the good news of God is that “we’re God’s skin in the world to each other.” We’re called to pass that love on. Or, in other words, we’re called to “serve.” In whatever ways we can.
Some days we love Jesus by peeling potatoes. Other days it’s working to overturn the death penalty. Some days it’s buying socks to give to women and men living on the street. Other days it’s calling members of Congress to demand accountability for lies and incitement to violence. Repent! Every day we can love Jesus by denouncing white “christian” nationalists – who, if they picked up a Bible and read some stories of Jesus, might realize there is nothing “Christian” whatsoever about supremacy and privilege. Jesus warned against tyrants like that – those who argue about who is great and demand to sit in seats of power.
But, if you love me, serve. Raise one another up. Free the captive. Mourn with the grieving. Bless the meek. Save the earth.
What would you say is the good news of God? Yes, it’s that we are loved unconditionally. It’s also justice and mercy and liberation, which we see in real life through examples of courage like Colin Kaepernick. That’s the good news of God. And the perseverance of Bryan Stevenson, who said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The good news of God is expressions of faith like Stacy Abrams. And the brilliance of Amanda Gorman. And the promise that we can change.
From today’s text, ultimately, the good news of God is everything you do for a neighbor who can’t do anything back for you.
 Mark 9:34
 Mark 10:13
 Mark 8:33
 Mark 14:66
 Mark 10:37
 Mark 10: 41-47
 Mark 15:41
 Like the Common English Bible and many others
 Commentary on workingpreaching.com
 Mark 1:14
I love being the