REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – February 5, 2015 – Epiphany 5, Year B: Mark 1:29-39
“The whole city was gathered around the door…”
We learned a thing or two in seminary about First century Jewish culture. In order to understand the gospel narrative, we studied shepherding and farming and fishing… But, for whatever reason, we never covered 1st century mothers in law. I had to look up the correct grammar… “mothers in law” or “mother in laws”… laugh if you must.I knew it wasn’t “Mother ins law.”
I feel like I should apologize to Jodi’s mother before I even begin this sermon. Her name is Joan and I’ll bet she is listening on line. No, in seminary they never covered the topic. But I have watched a lot of television and therefore can say as an expert, in western culture, “mother in law” is filled with all sorts connotations and most of them are pejorative… I also had to look up “pejorative,” to make sure I used it correctly… In western culture, mother in law is a punchline… an easy target…
But you should know that my mother in law is pretty great. She moved with my family all the way to Austin, Texas…. giving up free time and making it possible for the barons to finish seminary in 3 years rather than 6. I owe her a great debt for the time and work and love she put into me and my little ones during seminary. She drove the kids to doctors appointments for vaccinations, often, pulled a double shift so that jodi and I could catch the number 7 bus to watch some live music and, as the saying goes… do our darndest to keep Austin weird, and She folded my underwear. But, we lived close to my in-laws. They lived right across the alley. We ate a lot of meals together and were so close we could share one phone line because both receivers could pick up the signal from both houses. So you, know… especially if you have spent any time with me… it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows…. She is much easier to live with than I am… ask Jodi.
I wonder if there was baggage with the term “mother in law” for the author of Mark and for the first readers. After all, they didn’t have “Everybody Loves Raymond”… And if I go much further down this path, I could easily find myself getting into some hot water speaking about Jesus and mothers in law and serving and folding my undies… and so i’m not going to do that… not yet…
Take a minute to imagine what the house of Simon and Andrew looked like. Do you think it had stone walls? Was the floor a dirt floor, matted down from years of wear? Were there windows? Did the openings offer enough light to see all that was going on? What did they use to cook? Was the stove indoor? bathrooms inside or out? beds on the floor or off the ground? straw or hay for padding?
In this story… I imagine a couple folks loitering by the front door waiting for the arrival of Jesus. They aren’t really talking… certainly not laughing like usual. The matriarch of the family is sick… very sick. Simon Peter’s wife, is scared that her mother’s fever will get worse… It can’t get much worse or she won’t make it.
Remember in the story… that we read last week… Jesus had just finished casting out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue… The text says the left and went right to Simon Peter’s house.
Everybody at the house was filled with buzz and expectation… They had all heard about what Jesus had done… Many of them were there… And There was no hiding it… not that they wanted to. He cast out a demon in the synagogue. The guy went nuts screaming and rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth and convulsing. People were freaked out! Women were grabbing their kids and getting them to safety. It was not a normal day at the synagogue.
Everyone that knew Simon Peter thought it… If Jesus can do that.. maybe he can heal Peter’s mother-in-law. And shouldn’t everybody be able to expect that from Jesus. Cmon Jesus… do the magic… Make things better. No pressure Jesus, but real people are sick… real people are suffering… do the hocus pocus and make things right…
We’re not even out of chapter 1 in Mark and already everybody has placed expectations on him… He grabs her hand and “lifts her up.” He lifts her up. the wording is strange here I think…. I should have had coffee with Chuck Huttar to talk about the greek. But Jesus lifts her up… She is ill… near death… weak… and she is lifted up.
And she gets up fever-free and and continues what she has been doing for many years… She doesn’t start serving… she continues. And she will continue serving Jesus and the the followers until the end. Scholars say she would have been with the other women at the crucifixion looking on from afar while the male disciples hide in fear. That’s pretty fantastic I think…
And this is what blew my mind about this passage. The house must have had a red door. right? Peter’s mother in law must have had a deacon’s stole right? He lifts her up and, restores her vocation as deacon. And she serves Christ and the proclamation of the message until death. And we’re not talking about folding undies here… although… maybe she does. This story is the beginning of the Church. First she is healed, then the whole city crowds around. The whole city comes to witness the power of Jesus. Word spreads quickly when you’re casting out evil spirits and healing feverish people who are knocking at death’s door. People notice when lives are changed and when justice is served. The lifting up and calling forth of the deacon, is part of what leads the whole city to the red doors of the house. And she is healed and ready to serve all those who come.
Now I’m going to get back to getting in trouble… My friend and mentor Fr. Mike Fedewa from St. Andrew’s Grand Rapids used to talk about the role of the deacon. He’d say, “The job of the deacon is to raise holy hell and do the dishes.” You may have noticed when I was a deacon, that after Eucharist, the deacon washes the dishes and clears the table. raises holy hell and washes the dishes… Although, I think I’d switch the order. Because by doing the dishes… by clearing the table… by folding the undies… you get to raise holy hell…
So, although my mother in law Joan isn’t Episcopalian, she took on the role of the deacon in our house. And because she folded the undies, she got to say things that nobody else could. And, most of the time I was smart and listened when she spoke. Most of the time I kept my mouth closed because she had a say in how the family worked. She had input on how we functioned.
And the same is true for Peter’s mother in law.. as one of the disciples… as one of those closest to Jesus… included in this story along with the big four, Andrew and Simon-Peter, James and John… she should be recognized as such. So let’s not forget her.
And we need to figure out who has the fever… At convention Bishop Houghland called on each parish to “lift up” a deacon to serve. He called each parish to lift up one who has earned the right to raise holy hell and to send the parish into the world. To bring the needs of the poor to the doors of the church. To bring the needs of the whole city to the red doors of the Church. Who’s it going to be? Is it you? Have you noticed somebody that has the fever? The text says we should make Jesus aware at once. Who has the fever? Who has the fever…