February 4, 2018 – Reflection on the word and the world
Isaiah 40:21-31 have you not heard?
1Cor. 9:16-23 All things to all people
Mark 1:29-39 Here to be the message
Our scripture stories today are windows on the faith journeys of the people who set them down. We may not know a lot about the circumstances they lived in, or the life stories that informed them, but we know a lot about what they cared about because of the stories they tell and the windows they made.
In Isaiah we hear of the deep joy of the prophet who proclaims God’s power and might, the strength of God’s love and care for all of creation.
In Corinth, those pesky Corinthians hear Paul exhorting them to speak the language of their neighbours, whatever that language, whatever their context. Speak the Gospel of love in ways they can hear, understand and relate to. Open the doors to love so that all might walk in, together.
In Mark, we hear the continuation of the story of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He’s just left the synagogue, noted as one who teaches with authority, and cast demons out from a man possessed. Now, with James and John, he enters the home of Simon and Andrew. There he is brought to Simon’s mother in law – wait a minute, Simon was married? – lying ill on her bed. Who is this man? Why is he there?
In Isaiah the people of exile are about to return to take up their ancestral lands, and the people who remained in ruined Jerusalem are uneasily contemplating what receiving might mean for them. Nobody is at peace, as the prophet calls upon them to hear the love of God. Dancing in the wind for them.
In Corinth a group of people from a variety of backgrounds have come together to form a new community based in love, care and mutual faith in One God. Each coming from their own contexts. Unsure of the other, of their faith practices, of their social standing, cultural background, education…who are these people anyway? Why should we listen to them?
In Mark, Jesus reaches out to the woman, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The term used in Greek means something akin to lifting her back into life. In the way Jesus would lift Lazarus back into life some time later. Her response, to offer service, also has a special meaning in Greek. It means a service to others, in the context of the gospels, a service given in grace and love. A service called diakonos, the same term used in Mark when the angels offered service to Jesus in the wilderness. The same term used in Mark when Jesus tells the disciples that to lead they must serve.
We can guess that, given the terms used, Simon’s mother in law was lifted back into a full life. A life in which she was able to offer Jesus the same joyful service he’d been offered by the angels. The same joyful service he offered to others. The same joyful service he asked of his disciples for others. Perhaps she was even one of those at the tomb. One of the women who went to serve the disciples, telling them Jesus was waiting in Galilee. Waiting to serve them again.
Of course this service thing isn’t easy to talk about, or discern. I have some friends in ministry, both passionate, both men, both much younger than me, who feel that Christian service, to be truly Christian service, must result in some tangibly Christian benefit. Disciples must be created, converts must be brought into the fold.
We were talking in the context of a small church in a small community whose congregation size had dwindled. They reported new life with a couple of yoga groups, a mom’s group, and some other community use of the building. The congregation began seeing themselves as a hub in the community. A people with a purpose. My friends wondered where the specific Christianity was in that. Any service group could buy the building and make it available to the community. Where are the converts? Where are the disciples? Where is the ministry of the congregation being lived out in Christ?
I guess it’s all contextual. All we can see in the stories – be they biblical or communal – is what is played out on the window. We cannot know the context, cannot know the background, the history, the lived reality of the folk who lived the story. All we have is the window.
In Isaiah the window opens on a people telling a story of God’s powerful love, of reconciliation, joy, and immense, awesome majestic blessing waiting for all who respond.
In Corinth the window opens upon a community trying to figure out how to live in love, how to hold one another, how to hear one another, how to be there for one another. People of differing backgrounds, abilities, gifts and histories, trying to find Love and grace in a new way, in uncertain times.
In Mark the window opens upon a community eager for healing. A community eager for teaching. A community with many members possessed by demons they wished to be rid of. A community eager to serve something and someone larger than itself.
The window presented on the community of the small rural church could present (as my friends suspect) a congregation happy to have found some compatible renters and user groups who would turn their church into an activity centre. Who would help their building recover some of the glory of days gone by. It could be. Or it could be something else…
I wonder what folk would see through a window opening on Duncan these past few months. What would they see?
Imagine Jesus coming into Duncan, being led by Simon and Andrew, James and John to a tent over by the river. Not far from McAdam Park perhaps. A big, tarped structure, hovering near the water-logged banks of the Cowichan. One of them, maybe James, he seems more connected with street people, calls out to the tent,
“Hey Mary! Mary!” motioning for the group to stop, waiting for a response.
“Yeah, I’m here, what do you want?”
“It’s me, James. I’ve brought some food, and some friends. Can we come up?”
“Food? Yeah, I could use some food. Come up. But be careful.”
“Sure,” says James. “You got a hold of the dog?” James had already told the rest about the pit-bull. It was her friend and companion. He thought it had saved her from more than one tent burning vigilante. Or worse.
“Yeah, I got the dog. Come on up. Just move slow.”
They went in. The place was neatly kept, organized. Bedding on pallets, possessions on platforms, tarps forming a floor to keep the worst of the water out. Mary was small, worn, middle aged and ill. She took them in warily, ready to release the dog, who looked ready to be released. They both relaxed at once. Jesus’ friends took a bit longer. But, as always in his presence, tension melted away. Love and grace moved in.
He went to her. Reached out, raised her up into his arms and hugged her back into love with all the power at his command. And there was considerable power at his command. Finding places to sit they gathered round the candles she’d gleaned from the church, had conversation, shared stories, prayed over the food, blessed those who’d brought it to their use.
Others came. He went out to them, offering love, letting them know he saw only beloved, no demons among them. His friends offered food, warm socks, bathed feet. Shared love, respect, kindness and generosity with all they met.
Some folk came from the neighbouring houses. Worried. Too many wild ones here. Too many sick. Too many possessed. What were they doing? Why were they here?
They called a town meeting later that week. After Jesus and his friends moved on to another town. They remembered him though. At the meeting they cursed the ones who’d brought ‘them’ here. Wanted them out before they harmed the children, before they caused others to be possessed. Before they broke in and stole to feed their habits.
“Get them out of here” said one, “get them out before I take up a club and get them out myself.”
Later, much later, another group offered to house Mary and her friends (only the women though) in an unused school in the neighbourhood. To get her out of the tent and into a warm place, with showers and food and blankets. In from the rain, into a chance for a house, or an apartment. Someplace that would allow her to bring her service to others, as she had been served and hugged by Jesus and his friends.
The community gathered quickly and got that stopped too.
Folk from the community tried to find other options, other places, other shelters. Wherever they went, community centres, churches, fire halls. Wherever they went they heard the voices of the crowd. Voices of fear, voices of pain, voices of cold regret.
Somewhere there are windows on the Good News of Isaiah. Somewhere there are windows on the pesky people of Corinth, somewhere there is a woman recalled to life by Jesus, living the rest of her life in service to him and through him.
I wonder what the window on Duncan has to say to those who view it?