by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor
Fifth Sunday in Epiphany/B • February 7, 2021
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Lost and Found
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures…1Corinthians 15:3f
Not long after I moved to Albany, Jacquelyn and I got lost. We’d gotten the parsonage transformed from a house to a home and it was time to explore, so we went to Thatcher Park, out near the mountains, where you can see for miles and miles. It was a great trip and as we came down the mountain we were excited about our new home, talking, and taking what turned out to be the wrong turn.
Of course, we didn’t know it was the wrong turn, so we kept going. We had a GPS on the cell phone, after all. But soon it became clear we weren’t where we thought and the phone lost its signal and we had no idea how to get home. We finally did the most important thing to do when you’re lost: stop. When you’re lost, the most important thing you can do is stop getting more lost and figure out where you’ve been so you can get back to where you are going.
I thought of that recently as we moved again, this time to a new home in Harrisburg. One of the good things about moving is that you pull out all the old pictures you packed away and look at them before you put them away again. It reminds you of where you’ve been. So we’ve been seeing snapshots of the past, our past. There’s Paris, where we got engaged, our wedding, endless pictures of May when she was a cute little girl and more as she became a wonderful young woman. There’s Amy graduating from college and holding Maggie, her first chid, my first grandchild. There’s Jason as a boy, long before he had boys of his own. This is a time when so many of us feel lost; it’s good to stop and remember where we’ve been and it reminds me this is a moment that will not last, that we have somewhere still to go.
Jesus On the Way
Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus on the way, Jesus just beginning his journey. He’s been baptized by John, he’s spent time in the wilderness. He’s started his mission, proclaiming,
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.Mark 1:15
He’s begun to gather disciples in the port town of Capernaum. He preached his first sermon there and cast out a demon. Now Jesus and his friends have gone to Peter and Andrew’s home. But there’s trouble there; Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. I’ve always been fascinated with this brief narrative because it raises all kinds of questions. Think about it: your son-in-law, his brother, some friends and a new preacher all come to your house and you’re in bed with a fever.
In the last few months, many of us have learned to be efficient at quarantines and distancing. Last March, Jacquelyn was very sick for three weeks. We never knew if she had Covid-19 but we were careful. She stayed in the bedroom; I slept in a guest room. I brought her meals and left them outside the door; she texted to warn me if she was going to use the bathroom to shower. We know how this goes and along with the aches and pains of the fever, I know she must have had the crushing loneliness of a sickness that confines you.
So it’s strange to find Jesus going to this woman’s bed side. When we add on the barriers of gender, it becomes even stranger. Men in Jesus’ culture simply don’t have anything to do with women they don’t know. We see this gender conflict several times in the story of Jesus, from his encounter at a well with a Samaritan woman to the story of a woman washing his feet with perfume. But Jesus banishes barriers: between sick and well, men and women, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner.
He goes to her and Mark says he took her by the hand and raised her up. It’s important to pay attention to the language here, to every single word. Because the word we read in English as “raised her up” is the same verb used for Jesus’ resurrection. Here he is, fresh off his first sermon, not long after making his first disciple, and now: the first resurrection.
Resurrection has become a term we only use about Easter, about Jesus himself, but that’s not the way the New Testament uses it. Resurrection is a reality meant for all to share, according to Paul. He says about his own life,
The First Resurrection
I want to know Christ* and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.Philippians 3:10ff
Peter’s mother-in-law is the first resurrection and an invitation to all of us to live in a resurrection reality. The gateway is knowing that Jesus has taken your hand and taking his, recognizing in his resurrection the possibility of your own.
But how do you find Jesus? He says that in the final reckoning, we will be called together.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”Matthew 25:39-40
There’s a story floating around Facebook that illustrates this. A man went out riding a nice bike one day. He’s practiced at this: it’s an expensive bike, he’s wearing the proper pants for riding and he puts his earphones in and has some great music playing while he rides. But something on the path punctured a tire; a piece of glass, a sharp stone, something, and he left his patch kit home. So instead of enjoying a swift, exhilarating ride, he’s forced to walk the bike, limping along, grumbling in his head. Along the way, the path goes under a bridge and there he encounters a guy who’s dirty and perhaps homeless. The guy says something but the bike rider doesn’t hear him, he just wants to get by. But he can’t, so finally he takes the earphones out and brusquely says, “What is it you want?
At that point, the homeless guy says, “I was trying to tell you I have a patch and some glue for your tire if you want to fix your bike.” They fix the bike; the rider goes on his way. But he can’t get over the encounter. He gets some food and clothing together and goes back to the bridge and gives the things to the man. Perhaps they talk; \you can imagine the rest. The bike rider experienced a resurrection that day. But he didn’t get it until he started listening.
We’ve come through a hard time and it’s not over yet. There’s sickness and grief and the threat of more. We’ve been passing through a wilderness. Even our life as a community has become sick. This past week, we saw the spectacle of a member of Congress having to be told that yes, children were really murdered in a school in Connecticut and yes, 9/11 really happened. We are hearing more and more about a conspiracy that sought to overturn an election through violence and lies. It’s a difficult time, a wilderness time.
There are some lessons here for us. One is: Jesus raises up, Jesus intends resurrection. Over the last fifty years, we’ve seen an amazing decline in many churches. One reason is our fascination with guilt. It’s a paradox: Jesus preaches forgiveness but many churches encourage guilt. But guilt beats us down. Jesus intends to raise us up.
A second lesson is that when Peter’s mother-in-law is raised, the text says that she served. Actually, the word used is the root of the word we use for Deacon, a common office in churches. Our own raising isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. We are meant to go out, we are meant to go on, as Jesus sent his disciples, to raise others, heal others, give hope to others.
This is a wilderness time but we are not meant to live in the wilderness; we are meant to keep moving in hope, keep moving on the way toward God’s promise, keep following the star of Bethlehem with which the season of Epiphany began.
Jesus says at several points, let those who have ears to hear, hear. That’s all the bike rider had to do: listen. When you are lost, the first thing to do is to stop so you don’t get even more lost. The second thing is to remember you have ears to hear and listen for directions. We are not meant to live lost in the wilderness. Open your ears: hear the news of resurrection. Press on, press on to make it your own, Look for Jesus: he’s looking for you.