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Sermon for Epiphany 5

Sermon for Epiphany 5B   Mark 1:29-39

Augustana, 2012

15 Sermon for Epiphany 5.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law comes right after last Sunday’s reading of Jesus casting the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue.  Last week, the scene was loud and dramatic, exciting and of the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.  An epic battle played out in the body of a man, a battle of two voices, Jesus’ and the unclean spirit.  A demon cried out and defied Jesus.  “I know who you are” he said in an attempt to perhaps threaten Jesus.  But Jesus is undaunted and answers with a word of authority.  The Word of Jesus triumphs over the forces of Satan.  In this battle of two voices, Jesus’ voice carried the day.

Our reading this morning is quite different; it is quiet and ordinary.  The scene is much more familiar to us.  Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever.  We may have never seen demon possession off the silver screen but we’ve seen fevers.  There is nothing quite so ordinary as a fever.  And Mark tells us that Jesus came in and took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up and the fever left her.  And then she begins to get back to work, serving those who had come to the house.  I’m not sure if anything could be more ordinary.

I’ve recalled the two stories the way I have to highlight the tremendous difference between the two.  I think in these two stories we see some differences between how we may be tempted to see the Christian life.  There are those Christians for whom everything is a powerful miracle of God.  Their faith is loud and Jesus is in charge going from battle to battle ahead of them.  And Jesus is like that, certainly as last week’s Gospel lesson reminds us.  The arrival of the Son of God in the flesh is dramatic.  His work of redemption on the cross is vivid; it’s powerful, even cosmic in size and scale.  This week Jesus shows us that the arrival of the Son of God in the flesh is also individual and deeply personal, Jesus’ redemption affecting each individual, for whom He died to rescue from sin and death to comfort in every sorrow and trouble.  If Jesus came to defeat the power and principalities of this world, He’s also come to defeat the ordinary enemies of His people that hide in the living room and heal the aches and pains that threaten a humble disciple or his mother-in-law.

The difference is not just in scope, but in Jesus’ method of healing.  In last week’s story, we were focused on the authoritative Word of Jesus.  Here the attention is on his gentle hands.  Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law by taking her by the hand and lifting her up.  The effect is at once powerful and gentle. Here, there is no rebuking; there is no speaking at all.  The power of Jesus is in His touch, in His hand, in the very flesh by which He, the eternal Word, entered this world.  While Jesus uses at one time His voice and now at another, his touch, the effect is the same.  He speaks and what He says must be and He can extend his healing touch through His own flesh, His body and blood.

Jesus did not just come to accomplish the cosmic redemption of creation.  He came to redeem you.  He came not just to fight the demons whose claim over you was all but sure; He came to protect you from the little things too.  No troubles you have are too small; no person is so small, that Jesus doesn’t care for them.  So look and see how He often works.  Is it in great power with an authoritative Word that rebukes the fever or the cancer or the problems at home or the problems at work?  Or does He instead reach out to you when you’re down and gently raise you up with a touch, a touch that is not merely spiritual but real, a touch form Jesus that comes through His body and blood.

Jesus came in flesh and blood so that the infinite power of the eternal God might come and be known by us and know us.  This same flesh and blood that touched Peter’s mother-in-law and bled on the cross reaches out to us in His body and blood today.  The Lord’s Supper is the healing touch of Jesus among us today.  If it is His voice that rebukes our sin and creates a clean heart within us, it is His body and blood that grabs us and lifts us up into His own glorious body by what He feeds us and pours into us.  Jesus did not just come once a long time ago and is now gone.  He promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He has not left us with less of any aspect of His ministry on Earth.  We do not have less than Peter’s mother-in-law.  We do not have less than the man with the unclean spirit.  We have more, much more.  He gives us not just His spiritual presence but His very body and blood to eat and to drink.  If His mere touch chased away a fever, then how much more assured are we that we have received His forgiveness, life, and salvation with certainty and joy in His blessed Supper.

Mark tells us something very interesting in his final comment about this episode.  After Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus she began to serve them.  Now from this we can observe two things.  Jesus healing was not like a doctor’s healing.  A doctor heals and we need some time to recover.  Jesus healing was immediate and total.  Peter’s mother-in-law felt so good that she returned to her work.  He healed her so that she might, in the words of the catechism, “be his own, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”  In other words, Jesus heals her and what results is that she returns to her daily vocation of serving her household.  Having been healed and her faith strengthened, her faith shows itself in her daily life and service in the place that God has placed her.

And so it is for us.  Here we come, fevered from the week.  Fevered with sin.  Fevered with sorrow.  We come to the table the Lord Himself has set for us.  We receive His body and blood and we are not transported to some spiritual dimension beyond this present reality, but He comes to us here, now, and feeds us and returns to the places where we have been placed to serve—home, work, school, community.  One of the post-communion prayers mentions that the purpose of the sacrament is that we would grow in faith toward God and “fervent love toward one another.”  Peter’s mother-in-law displayed that kind of fervent love for which we pray—love that results from receiving the Lord’s healing touch.  The connection between the Lord’s Supper and daily life is in the flesh and blood reality of both us and the world we live in and Christ truly and really physically present for us.

Today Jesus lifts you up, heals you, forgives you, and strengthens you for the week ahead.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Note:  I am greatly indebted to my friend and colleague, Pastor Greg Alms, for the strength, tone and even shape of this message.  He presented these thoughts to our weekly pericope study group and I only smoothed them and fit them to my people and context.

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