Sunday, February 08, 2015

Grasshoppers, Gravity, and a Really Great Story

Listen here!

Isaiah 40:21-31 (NRSV)
Mark 1:29-39  (NRSV)

Welcome to the fifth Sunday of Epiphany, the second to last Sunday before Lent. In the tradition of epiphany, we have read yet another story from Mark about the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

It’s a whopper of a text. Chock full of demon possession and deadly diseases and even a Christ who goes AWOL. The Old Testament text from Isaiah is a little easier to swallow except that the God who once called us the cream of the crop, humanity: the pinnacle of creation (in Genesis 1) is now reminding us that it is God who takes down the rulers of the earth and we, God’s creation, are like little grasshoppers in comparison. :)

Literature is the best. So many ways of communicating how we feel or how we feel God feels, or whatever.

I wonder if it was this passage from Isaiah that inspired Mary Oliver to pen “The Summer Day.”

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Hard to make much of your life when you’re lying in bed dying from a fever though. This, of course, was the predicament of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law in the Mark passage.

Aside from the dying part, this is a great story. We learn that Simon Peter has a family - he’s one of the few disciples who was married. And he brings his new friends and new messiah to his house, to stay with his family. As such, it is in Simon Peter’s home that Jesus performs his first healing miracle. It’s the second miracle and the first healing the disciples witness after having left everything - jobs, girls, family, their favorite spot to watch the sun set - to follow Jesus on this crazy vagabond adventure.

Of course, this healing story is notable for several reasons. One, it’s Jesus’ first in Mark. And two, well, you’ve read your history books, the ones that haven’t been usurped by the Texas legislature at least. Two, it’s a woman who is healed. Now, as you know, this healing of an older woman may have turned a few heads back in those days. Ancient middle eastern culture didn’t exactly value women in the way our advanced American society does today (hashtag: likeagirl). Unlike our culture which demotes women to be a product of what we wear, worth about 77 cents to our male colleagues $1, and always ask the question whether or not women were asking for it, in Jesus’ culture, women were identified by their relation to men. A female was either a daughter, a wife or a mother. And her worth? Well, how healthy are your cows and camels? I had a seminary professor once who said, “If a women is mentioned in the text, take note. The author wants you to know something.”

Okay, so what happens here when the family tell Jesus about the mother in law with the fever? Jesus goes to her bedside, and raises her up. Seems simple enough (well, I mean, not scientifically, but rhetorically). Just like that, Jesus “raises her up” but that translation is a little weak in my book. The Greek work, “egeiro” which means “to raise up” is a verb which Mark uses to describe healings throughout his gospel. It is even used to describe Jesus himself in chapter 16 verse 6. The word doesn’t just mean, “to get up.” It suggests a newly imparted strength, so that the victim of illness, demons or even death may rise up to take her place in the world, to live out her one wild and precious life.

Come awake, from sleep arise
You were dead, become alive
Wake up, wake up, open your eyes
Climb from your grave into the light

Once Jesus raises Simon Peter’s mother-in-law up, that lucky lady, she gets to swing into servant mode. Host these guests! Prepare the beds! Cook the dinner! It would be easy to read the text in this sarcastic manner, but again, we must drop our Western culture and limited translations by returning to the Greek. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law “serves” in a very unique way. The verb “diakenos” is the same one Jesus uses to describe his role in ministry in Mark 10:45. To serve, as denoted in diakenos, is to take on the servant characteristics of Christ. In other words, this woman is the first disciple of Christ who exemplifies true discipleship.

And as a side note, 14 chapters later in Mark, it is the women, the ones following Jesus, who are described as having served him with “diakenos.” This verb, while used to describe Jesus’ ministry in chapter 10 and and the women’s ministry in chapter 15, is never used to describe the disciples actions. Hashtag: yesallwomen. Now, I’m not trying to be a hater, but remember when the Bible mentions a woman, take note. The gospels are often quick to point out that the religious leaders of the day and in this case even Jesus’ own disciples never really get it - never serve with diakenos. Steeped in their culture and tradition, it is not until after Jesus’ death and even his, dare they believe it, resurrection that the light turns on. Diakenos… service, discipleship. Except the disciples, and certainly the religious leaders, don’t always get it.

Which leads me back to the Isaiah text. God is a God of creation and light and life and creativity, and doesn’t take kindly to kings and queens or the haughty, hoity toity know-it-alls, the religious elite or even the dingbat disciples. Neither does God fancy the sneaky scoundrels who think they can put on a good face by day and do whatever they want by night. “You think God doesn’t see you?” Isaiah asks. You you who are stingy, you who cheat your clients, you who spread rumors you know aren’t true, you who harbor resentment behind plastic smiles, who eyeball women who are not your wife, who step on colleagues to get ahead, you who refuse to hear God’s truth that there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (democrat nor republican, gay nor straight, old nor young, American nor Mexican, rich nor poor, fat nor skinny, bi nor tranny, Israeli nor Palestinian, Yankee nor Southerner, libertarian nor green party, black nor white, popular nor geeky, liberal nor conservative, police nor thief) because you are ALL one in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, those of you who feel burdened by these distinctions, these labels, these fallings short, these goals, these tiresome standards and ridiculous distinctions...

Those of you who are exhausted by all that crap...

God is ready for you, Isaiah writes. God is…

    calling them all by name;
    not one is missing.
God gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

But if that’s the case, why then didn’t Jesus stay in Capernaum? The text says that the whole city was knocking at Simon Peter's door to get to Jesus. Mark says Jesus healed many, but not the whole town. And in the wee hours of the morning when the disciples have to grab their flashlights to find their miracle worker to finish the task, Jesus says, “Actually, it’s time to go.” He walks away. From those who weren’t healed the day before. From the father with leprosy, from the little girl with the rash, from the demon possessed man, from the ailing mother of 5, he walked away.

And the social justice fanatic in me protests! Heal them all, Jesus! Can’t you heal them all!? Look how many are left! And the meme start popping up in my Facebook feed.“Jesus: he can feed 500, but not 501” and “Jesus bashes Obamacare - God doesn’t want his people healthy.”

How could Jesus turn people away? He’s God! How could he just sneak out with the morning dew still wet in his footprints?

That's what the advocate in me says, But the artist in me recognizes that healing was not Jesus’ only job to do with his one wild and precious life.

Jesus had a story to tell.

Which is why this is an epiphany text, and not a text for Lent. This is not a text for disciple bashing to remind us of how stupid we all really do behave. It’s not a demons-in-our-world text about the plight of humanity amidst our diseases and illness and spirits. Sure, I could tell you that this text means that what you need to do is visit the sick in the hospital, the elderly in the nursing homes - sit next to them, hold their hands, touch a life, touch one another. Touch is healing, presence is healing, being community with one another changes lives.

That’s true. It does. It absolutely does. Children actually die from lack of touch. In Russia… in America… they fall over dead because we can’t love the people around us.

But that’s not today’s sermon. Today's sermon is about storytellying.

Lent is already right around the corner to remind you that the world is a vicious place, that you are a terrible person, that we as a people are seriously screwing things up. Lent will remind us (like the first half of this Isaiah text) that from ashes we have come and to ashes we will return. We are nothing compared to God, but we had the audacity to kill him anyway.

But to those who already know about the darkness and the light...

To those who see the blood and tissue and bones and water that make up our bodies, and know that even this compilation is a gift and a miracle from God...

To those who see a little baby in a manger, a little boy playing in Egypt, a teenager helping out in his dad’s shop, a young adult seeking wisdom from elders at a temple, and a full grown prophet set to lead the people not into freedom from the Roman government, but into freedom from themselves.

To those who hear the story and seek to tell it, they will fly.

This is an epiphany text. It is the story of a God, a supernatural being, thrown into this world, and it is his story (and God’s story), that this Christ takes outside of his Jewish faith and into the world.

Jesus has to leave Capernaum. He has to keep telling his story. A story of a God who can heal hearts and heal bodies and mend souls, and calm minds and take his children, his little grasshoppers, and put them on eagles wings so that they can really know what it means to fly.

To those who hear this story and integrate it into their own, they will fly.

They will, as one green witch once put it, dare to try defying gravity.

In his final book, The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis writes of the children he's chronicled through seven books, “All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

What chapter are you on now? What story is your life telling? How are you healing? How are you learning? How are you becoming less even as you become more? How are you rising up like Simon Peter's mother-in-law day after day, resurrected from the ills of disease, and wickedness, and an all consuming greed? How are you serving (diakenos) as a disciple of one who calls you to love God and one another? What is the story you're telling, and can your voice be heard from the great wings of the God you're flying on?

I think I'll try defying gravity
I'm flying high, defying gravity
And you can't hold me down!


Michael Meigs said...

A FAR far better mediation and call than the one we had to sit through elsewhere that day. Thanks.

Unknown said...

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alwafaa campany said...

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