Our story for today picks up where we left off last week – in fact, it is still the same day. Last week, Jesus and his disciples were in a synagogue and the only person who recognized Jesus was a man who was possessed. We look at what possesses us, and if we can recognize where God is in our life, wanting to tear out the negative things in our life that have a hold on us. Today, we are going to talk about the moment after we’ve been set free from such thing, because Jesus is once again healing people and casting out demons.
In today’s story, Jesus and his disciples leave that synagogue and they go to the place where Simon and Andrew lived, and there in the house is Simon’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. Jesus goes to her and takes her by the hand and lifts her up. He raises her up out of bed and then….her fever leaves her. She is freed from her illness. This fever had possessed her; it had a hold on her body. All she could do was lie in bed. Then Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. And it left her.
I think, just like Simon’s mother-in-law, all of us have been taken by the hand and lifted up by God at some point. All of us are here today for some reason or another. Maybe you are here because it’s just what you are supposed to do. But maybe you are here because you have encountered God in your life and you want to encounter that again. I want you to talk with someone if you have ever felt that God has taken you by the hand and lifted you up. Now let me be clear. I know that we all have places in our life that hurt. And right now, for some of us, those places are closer to the surface and so it can be hard to think about how God has lifted us up in the past, when we need to be lifted up right now. With that said, I’d like you to consider a place or time in your life when you felt taken by the hand and lifted up by God.
Now, I want to talk about what happens immediately after she is lifted up and healed. What does she do? She serves the people of the household. Now, let’s be clear, this is not about how women are meant to serve men.
For Simon’s mother-in-law, this was something way more more significant. In that time, illness did not just impact your body. It impacted your social standing. Because she was sick with a fever, for who knows how long, not only was she not able to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but she couldn’t take her proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of the community. This isn’t to say that she was restored to servanthood, as if women are meant to be servants. No, this is not what it’s saying. Instead, she was restored to her calling. It was her honor and her purpose to offer hospitality to the people in her home. Her illness took that away from her. Anyone who has lost a job, or been severely ill knows how painful it can be to feel like you have no purpose. But now, in being healed, her calling has been restored. When freed from that which possessed her, she was immediately moved to give back, to serve, through her place in the community. She didn’t serve because she was indebted to Jesus; she served, she gave back, because she was grateful. “Having the strength and capacity to serve others and care for them can be a great blessing.”
I also think, just like Simon’s mother-in-law, all of us have something we can give, in response to having been lifted up. Each and everyone of us has gifts, strengths, resources, however big, small or ordinary, that offer a place, a purpose, a calling for us in the community.
In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, which is about a terribly dysfunctional family, Dwayne is an unhappy teenager who has taken a vow of silence until he can achieve his dream of becoming a test pilot in the Air Force. At one point, the whole family is in their yellow VW van driving down the road, when Dwayne discovers that he is colorblind. Which means he can never be a pilot. At the thought of losing his dream, Dwayne starts to lose control. His body is shaking in anger, he’s doing everything he cannot to break his vow of silence. Eventually, the van pulls over, he jumps out into an open field, drops to his knees and just screams. The first sounds out of his mouth in months.
His mom went and did what adults do, she tried to talk to him and fix it. Let him know it wasn’t that bad. This didn’t help the situation. But then, in one of the best scenes in cinema I think, while the whole family is standing around trying to figure out what to do, Dwayne’s sweet and awkward 8-year old sister, Olive, starts walking over to him. She’s tripping over the red cowboy boots, that are too big for her, the whole way to him. When she reaches him, she stands over him looking, until she finally just squats down and lays her head on his shoulder – offering him her own momentary vow of silence. Eventually, he turns and looks at her and then says just one word, “Okay……okay.” And the two of them walk back to the van together.
In the moment, little awkward Olive had to give what no one else in the family had – a silent embrace. And it was exactly what Dwayne needed.
One more story. In 2006, two dolphins in China swallowed pieces of plastic in their aquarium. The plastic caused the dolphins to be depressed and stop eating. Any attempts by the veterinarians to remove these plastic pieces had failed. So the vets called upon the world’s tallest man, a 7 foot 9 inches Mongolian shepherd. His arms were the only thing long enough to reach into the stomachs of the dolphins and safely remove these pieces of plastic. He had the exact gift that was needed in that moment.
So now, I want you to speak with that same person about what gifts you have to give. It could be as simple as saying you give good hugs or it could be as funny as saying you have surprisingly long arms. Now, I’m not asking for ways in which you can simply be a “good, moral person.” Anyone can be that. This is about the gifts that you have or have had to offer back to the community as a grateful response to the way’s God has lifted you up and cared for you.
Simon’s mother-in-law encountered Jesus, was lifted and, as a result, healed of her fever. In grateful response she offered her gifts of hospitality. We too have been taken by the hand of God and lifted up. And we, too, each one of us, has unique and ordinary gifts that can be given in grateful response. God loves us and so we love in return. And the order is important. It isn’t that we love so that God will love us. No. God loves us and so we love. AMEN.