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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Feb. 7, 2021 | Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

    Freed for Service
    Mark 1:29–39

     O UR READING today has three very brief stories.

    ■ Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law
    ■ The whole town brings the sick to Jesus
    ■ Jesus goes off to pray

    Any of these could provide spiritual nourishment for us. This morning we focus on the first of these brief events — Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. She doesn’t have a name, but we’re going to honor her by giving her the name Chloe. It makes a good companion to last week’s sermon on healing the nameless man with the unclean spirit.

    Since they are related stories, let’s quickly recap last Sunday. Jesus has the authority to teach and to cast out demons. In doing so, Jesus offers freedom. Through Jesus Christ, we are no longer confined; we are no longer imprisoned. No longer are we under the power of sin and death.

    † † †

    THIS HEALING is similar to last week’s amazing event. Jesus leaves the synagogue where the teaching and exorcism took place. He and the four disciples go to Peter’s home in Capernaum. Archeologists believe they have uncovered this house. Here’s what they say:

    Although slightly larger than most, the house was simple, with coarse walls and a roof of earth and straw. Like most … houses, it consisted of a few small rooms clustered around two open courtyards. [T]he house appeared quite ordinary.

    † † †

    THE FIVE ARRIVE at Peter’s modest home. There’s no mention of a wife to greet them or to show proper hospitality.

    Chloe, the mother-in-law, is upstairs. Sick. Lying down in bed. With a fever.

    † † †

    NOW, A FEVER is a symptom of something else going on. We get concerned when a loved one has a fever. Today, we have Aleve or Tylenol to help with fever. And we have instructions to call the doctor or go to the hospital’s emergency room if a fever gets too high.

    Then, they had some herbal medicines. A fever was not only debilitating for a short while, but was often a symptom of a condition that would lead to death. We know nothing from Mark about this fever — its intensity or its cause — but we do know Chloe is down sick in bed with a fever. Jesus goes to her room. She is down with a fever.

    Jesus lifts her up. Raises her, if you will, and she is healed.

    † † †

    CHLOE IS FREE from fever.

    A similar story to last Sunday. Freedom from illness, disease, possession. Jesus liberates. Jesus frees us from things that harass us. Freedom from sin. Freedom from evil. Freedom from fear. Freedom from insecurity.

    Jesus has the authority — that means Jesus has the right, the power to free us from what binds us.

    † † †

    JESUS FREES Peter’s mother-in-law from illness. But here’s something else in this healing story. Chloe goes downstairs and begins to serve them.

    I realize we may be troubled by the fact that the moment she’s well, she gets up to serve Jesus and his disciples. (I mean, goodness, couldn’t Peter have pitched in and made sandwiches to give her a little more time to recuperate? And again, where is Peter’s wife during all of this?)

    † † †

    HERE’S THE THING. Jesus frees us not only from things that seek to oppress us, but also heals us for a life of purpose, meaning, and good works. Not those things that we do in the vain hope of justifying ourselves before God, but those things that we do as a response to the Gospel. To serve stemming from a sense of joy, love, and freedom.

    Simon Peter’s mother-in-law immediately “serves” after having been raised. The verb is diakoneo (dee•ak•on•eh´•o).

    Do you recognize that word? It’s the word used when the angels attended to Jesus after the temptation. It is the verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry. It is “to serve” rather than “to be served.”

    It is also “to serve” that characterizes his disciples.

    † † †

    THIS UNNAMED WOMAN is the first character in Mark’s gospel to exemplify true discipleship. (Sidebar: It is women who are described as having cared for his needs in 15:41 as well. This verb is not used of Jesus’ male disciples who, in this gospel, do not quite “get it.”)

    Which makes me wonder. What did the man from whom the unclean spirit was cast out a week ago do after his freedom from possession? What did all the people Jesus heals in this week’s story do — once they are freed from the various ailments of mind, body, and spirit that had held them captive?

    Some, I imagine, were simply so grateful to be made well — so grateful to be freed from something debilitating or destructive — that they returned as quickly as possible to their old lives and routines and relationships.

    But some, I’m willing to bet, including Simon’s mother-in-law, recognize that they weren’t only freed from something; they were also freed for something, for lives of purpose and meaning and service and generosity and more.

    † † †

    WHAT IT MEANS to be a follower of Christ is to learn how to serve others. Diakoneo (dee•ak•on•eh´•o).

    Jesus heals this woman — she is brought to wholeness — to completeness — and she takes her rightful role in service to others. We could learn so much from her.

    What have you been freed for? What — or who — needs you this week to attend to them? To serve them? To care for their needs?

    Each time you respond to the needs of the people around you, you respond to God’s call and live into the freedom that is ours in Christ.

    — Keith Cardwell   

    «What have you been freed for? What — or who — needs you this week to attend to them? To serve them? To care for their needs?»


    ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

    Mark 1:29–39
    Holy Bible, New International Version

    Jesus heals many
    29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

    32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

    Jesus prays in a solitary place
    35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

    38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

    — This is the Word of the Lord.
    — Thanks be to God.

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