Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Psalm 147:1-11, Mark 1:29-39
Sunday, February 8, 2015
I started to work on this sermon last Monday. As is my usual pattern, I looked at the Lectionary readings and began to think about what might arise from my initial reading. I also remembered that it is Black History Month and I really wanted to preach about an African American who influenced my life in some way. And then came Tuesday evening and as I was driving home from the church, a news flash came on the radio that there had been a bad accident on Metro North. I immediately began thinking about which of you I knew commuted into the city and who might actually be coming home around that time. I began to pray, not only for members of this congregation to be safe, but for there somehow to be no fatalities.
As the evening unfolded and the initial unknowingness ensued, I kept waiting for my phone to ring, concerned that it might be one of you who had been on that train. My phone was quiet all night and into the next morning. I found myself relieved – no news is good news, at least for members of our congregation. The members of the Interfaith Council traded emails and prayers and on Wednesday afternoon, the first email came through with the news that one of the parishioners from St. Mary the Virgin had died in the crash.
This devastating news came on the heels of reports that this tragedy truly was an accident – human error most probably. As I listened to news of who the people were who died and what their families were like, I found myself profoundly sad that there were several young people whose lives were never to be the same. I wondered if they had told their loved one that they loved them and if the one who had died had expressed their love to their family members. I also wondered if they were attached to houses of worship that would support and help them through this nightmare of losing their spouse, parent or family member. I wondered if they had faith on which to rely – I wondered if they had a relationship with God and if they would feel God’s closeness to them, or whether they would find themselves blaming God for this tragedy.
Complicated feelings, complicated lives, and complicated wonderings on my part. As I pondered these things, I thought about the difficulty for all of those who have a love one die, especially one who is young or is killed tragically. It is a real struggle for them to go on sometimes. And yet, that is a part of our lives, grieving the loss of those that we love. Somehow, most of us are able to get through it and move forward with our lives. I believe that our faith helps us through those deeply difficult times, as does our faith community, hence my wondering if the affected families had faith communities to support them.
My thinking about grieving led me to thinking about adversity and how adversity in our lives can’t be avoided, because we live in a complicated world. I am grateful that Jesus understands this complicated world, since he was fully human, and experienced much adversity himself. Perhaps that is why he spent so much time trying to heal people and free them from the things that made their lives so much harder.
We heard about many of these healings in our reading this morning. I want to focus on Paul’s mother-in-law because Jesus frees her to return to her role as one who welcomes people into her home and treats them hospitably. Illness bore a heavy social cost during Jesus time. Not only would a person be unable to earn a living, but in Peter’s mother-in-law’s case, she would not have been able to be a valuable member of her household. It is her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Her illness prevented her from doing that. She, like other women, were identified by what they contributed to the home and to society. Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value. Healing, in this case, as it is in many contexts, is about restoration to community and restoration of one’s role in life. So, Jesus frees her for something – for a life of purpose and meaning and service. Jesus freed her from her illness in order for her to be free to serve; for her life to have meaning and purpose for her.
We often talk about Jesus healing someone from something – last Sunday we talked about him freeing a person who was possessed by an unclean spirit. We rarely talk about what Jesus heals people for. I wonder what Jesus frees us from in order that we might be freed for meaning and purpose. What is it that calls for you to be freed from in order to be free for serving in some way?
On Friday, I was asked by News 12 if they could come and talk with me, since we were providing the space for the funeral of Joseph Nadol. I had nothing to say to them about Mr. Nadol, since I didn’t know him and would never share a confidence shared with me by another clergyperson. They persisted and so I said yes – thinking they actually wanted to get a picture of the inside of the church to show their viewers since they were not going to get into this church during the funeral. When they interviewed me, one of the first questions that the news person asked me was why we would open our church to another congregation. I was surprised by his question. It would never have occurred to me to say “no.”
My reason: Jesus freed us as a church for meaning and purpose. This building exists for a purpose – to serve God – whether God is worshiped through our Lutheran friends, or through our Episcopal friends, or even for someone who has no belief and wants a quiet place to contemplate. This is a sacred space, where we are freed from whatever is going on within us so that we can be freed for serving others when we leave this place.
I wonder what would happen if during this coming week, if anytime you respond to the needs of people and the world around you, you do so realizing that you are responding to God’s call – that you are living into the freedom that is ours in Christ? I invite you to claim the freedom that our faith gives us – freedom to reach out and serve others, not expecting anything in return, but simply accepting the grace that has so freely been given to us and, in turn, giving it away. Being able to offer our sanctuary to help people who were in such deep need to feel God’s presence surrounding them yesterday, will hopefully bring them a small amount of peace and comfort during this great time of adversity for them. Let us never lose sight of our being freed to answer God’s call for serving God and all of those who are in need.