Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Isaiah 40:21-31+Psalm 147:1-12, 21c+1 Corinthians 9:16-23+Mark 1:29-39

I love Mark’s gospel. It is the shortest of all of them. Mark (kind of like me) is always in a hurry to get to the next thing, using the word “immediately” 41 times. Yet, even in the rush to get through his telling of the story, he often provides little, easily-missable details that enrich our understanding of what it was like to be with and to follow Jesus.

Last week, Jesus cast out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum and spoke with authority, astonishing those who heard him. It was after leaving the synagogue that he went to Peter and Andrew’s house where we discover, in case you didn’t notice this, that Peter is married. It’s a detail that is easy to gloss over, even though it appears also in Matthew and Luke. We are so accustomed, I think, to imagining this band of twelve guys, bachelors all, traipsing around the countryside with Jesus. But Peter, at least, had a wife. We know nothing about her. We do not know if there were children scurrying around underfoot, but I like to think that there were three generations under one roof – absolutely normal in those days – and that the matriarch has fallen ill. The language used here indicates that she was very sick.

The healing that Jesus does is unique. He does not cast out the fever or say words about being well. No, he simply takes her hand and lifts her up. Reading those words on this side of the pandemic takes on a whole new meaning. We are so distanced from touch these days. The touch of a friend or a family member we haven’t been able to see. I close my eyes and imagine finally being able to hug my daughter again after almost a year, and it’s enough to make me ache. What balm for my soul that will be. What healing there will be throughout the world when families and friends are reunited, touching and hugging and holding hands.

So with just a touch, Jesus raises Peter’s mother-in-law. I use the word “raises” because that is what the Greek says. It is the same verb the angel uses at the end of the Gospel when he tells the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Touch brings new life. Touch can bring resurrection. I may have been more skeptical of that at an earlier time in my life, but after eleven months of pandemic, I am a true believer. So many of us have operating at a…sub-optimal level. Maybe some of us have been more like zombies, going through the motions with little joy or passion. Perhaps resurrection does lie on the other side of this pandemic.

At the end of a long day, teaching in the synagogue, casting out a demon, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, the crowds descend on the house, looking for healing. “The whole city was gathered at the door,” Mark tells us. He cured “many” and cast out “many” but apparently didn’t get to all of them. Maybe it got too late, or maybe there were just too many people, but some people went home as they arrived, disappointed perhaps that they had been left out. I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus failed some people that day.

How many of you feel the pressure to do it all, to get all the work done, to spend plenty of time with your kids or your spouse, to create some sense of normalcy in a very abnormal time? And how many of you fail at that repeatedly? We simply can’t get it all done, and we certainly can’t get it done when we are isolated from the usual supports and networks, not functioning at our usual capacity.

Well, guess what? Apparently Jesus didn’t get it all done, either. But we have no indication that he beat himself up about that like some of us do. No, he got himself up early in the morning, went out into the desert, and had some quiet time with God. Jesus reconnected with the source of his life and ministry. He prayed in order to refill, replenish his strength, his energy, and to reconnect with his mission to proclaim the good news he came to tell.

Jesus does this a lot. He goes off to a quiet place, but more often than not, the disciples or the crowds come find him, so desperate are they for what he has to offer them.

Jesus has much to teach us, but perhaps nothing is more important that the need to spend time apart, to pray and meditate and connect with the God who loves us. Sure, maybe you can’t go out into the desert or even get very far away. In my children’s message this week, I told them that my favorite way to find time to myself when I was a girl in a house filled with six children was to build myself a tent or a fort out of a blanket or tablecloth draped over a table or some chairs. It was my retreat space. Now, as an adult, I might go for a walk or spend time in the music room of the rectory where I have candles and prayer books and a piano. Whatever works for you, spend some time by yourself. Just you and God. And if you feel awkward about that or don’t know what to say or do, just pour out what’s on your heart. Or sit quietly. God will find you. That’s the promise.

And then your spouse or your co-workers or your children will come find you, just as the disciples came to find Jesus. We can’t detach forever, but we must detach sometime.

In these short ten verses of Mark’s first chapter, we really have a model for living the Christian life: human connection and touch are life-giving. We can’t get everything done, so don’t beat yourself up about it. And we all need time to ourselves to pray and refill our spiritual gas tanks by spending time with God. We may not be able to do too much of the first in these times of separation and isolation, but we can be gentle with ourselves when we aren’t operating at our highest level and things are left undone, and we can pray.

When the prophet Isaiah wrote of those who “wait for the Lord,” he was talking about just such practices that tune our hearts to God. And the promise in doing these things is that we “shall mount up with wing like eagles…run and not be weary…walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

I pray that, on the other side of COVID, we will all emerge ready to soar like eagles, our tanks full, ready to reconnect and bring new life to this community.  

ASEPSermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021 – the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas