Let’s focus on Mark one, verse thirty one: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus lifts us up. That’s today’s main thought. Jesus lifts us up. He lifts us up to live, to serve and to witness.
Jesus lifts us up to live.
This is not about resuscitation. This is about new life. Paul writes in Romans six, verse four: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Remember that Marks tells us this is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus has proclaimed that the Reign of God is among us. We are invited to repent and trust in that Good News. We see Jesus making that Good News a reality in his ministry. We know that this Good News is really about the Resurrection victory over sin, death, and the devil.
This text is a preview of the resurrection. The word for “lifted up” in this text is the same one the angel uses in Mark 16:6. “‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” He has been lifted up to live. And just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too can live new lives.
Jesus lifted up Simon’s mother-in-law. What if resurrection is being raised up to be who you always were and were always meant to be? The story of Simon’s mother-in-law tells us that God does not call us to be something we are not. God is in the business of restoring us to who we really are.
Our first reading anticipates this. We often read this text at funerals—and with good reason. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” God has exhausted death on Jesus’ cross. Even death cannot keep us down in the end.
Jesus lifts us up.
Jesus lifts us up to serve.
Some commentators criticize the Bible for reinforcing old stereotypes about women serving. That is short-sighted. The word for serving is the root for our English word “deacon.” Jesus uses this same verb to describe his own mission. In Mark ten, verse forty-five he says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
“It is ‘to serve’ rather than ‘to be served’ that characterizes the Christ of God,” Sarah Henrich notes. “It is also ‘to serve’ that characterizes his disciples. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is far from being an exemplar of a pathetic, un-liberated woman for whom serving men is her whole life,” she concludes. “Rather she is the first character in Mark’s gospel who exemplifies true discipleship.”
Clearly, Simon’s mother-in-law is set free from the bondage of her illness. It cannot be the function of the Gospel to return to her another kind of bondage. Henrich helps us to see how this works in the text. “It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home,” Henrich writes. “Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling,” Henrich reminds us, “a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.”
The healing touch of Jesus raises the disciple up to the new life – a life given to worshiping God by serving the neighbor rather than oneself. Martin Luther King Jr., once put it this way. “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Jesus lifts us up.
Jesus lifts us up to witness.
Does anyone here think that Simon’s mother-in-law kept quiet about her experience? Of course not! One of the great roadblocks to church health is bashful believers. If someone wins ten bucks in the lottery, it’s a newsflash on Facebook. But if Jesus heals and saves us, we’re afraid to say a word. Someone might think we’re bragging. But bragging up Jesus is not only a good thing—it’s why we’re here!
If Jesus has lifted you up, you have a precious gift. You have a story that will lift up someone else. So please tell that story whenever you get the chance. In the Prayer of the Day we pray, “Make us agents of your healing and wholeness, that your good news may be made known to the ends of your creation.” I would settle for the ends of whatever jurisdiction you call home!
It’s clear that reports of Jesus’ activity are spreading rapidly – perhaps too rapidly for his comfort at the moment. He “sternly” warns the healed leper against generating headlines on the local gossip network. But the man “began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word.” Mark uses the verb for proclaiming or preaching the Good News, but the man is more likely emphasizing Jesus’ wonder-working powers rather than the presence of the Reign of God.
The other verb mark uses in verse 45 is also interesting. It is translated as the act of making something known by word of mouth. Here it means to spread the news widely. Jesus creates one of his many public relations officers, and this accounts for the fact that people came to him “from all directions.”
Even though Jesus wants to restrict the spread of such notoriety, this is another proper response to the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In this regard, I’m reminded of the recent aspirational suggestion from Bishop Elizabeth Eaton regarding the future directions for the ELCA. What if ELCA folks issued a million invitations to be part of our lives, our worshiping communities, and our mission? Given the fact that ELCA folks invite someone in such a way about once every fifteen years (or whatever the figure really is), this seems to be a bit of a stretch goal.
Today’s text might lead us to wonder two things in this regard. To what are we inviting people? And why are we inviting them? For folks in the gospel reading, the answers are straightforward. They have been healed and/or released from bondage. They issue invitations in joy and gratitude. And they are inviting people to a new way of life and hope.
In his little book, The Invitational Christian, Dave Daubert writes it this way:
“In a healthy ministry, people sense that it is life changing. The teaching, spiritual support and guidance, and the impression that being in the congregation will actually deepen their spiritual lives; all transform church into more than a social or religious activity. When people participate in congregational life, they feel more connected to the God who calls them, and they have more awareness of the intersection between their life and the work of that God.”
If that is in fact the experience people have in our faith communities, then perhaps people will come from every direction. As long, however, as we remain in bondage to our whiteness, our maleness, our allergy to constructive change, our loyalty to our real estate, our love of money and possessions, and our unquestioned centering of ourselves, we will have nothing of interest for people who are, in the words of the ELCA future priorities, “new, young, and diverse.”
Jesus was not about being a “sensation,” or a success, or even popular. What he “came out to do” – his whole purpose – was to proclaim the message. God is on the move, and it’s time to get with the program!
Jesus lifts us up—to live, to serve and to witness. How will you take part in the lifting? Let’s pray.