Here is a sermon for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B. It was written a few months after Hurricane Floyd devastated our area. Our community needed Jesus to take us by the hand and lift us up. About two-thirds into the sermon there’s a marvelous true story about the healing of a congregation.
He Will Lift You Up
A Sermon on Isaiah 40:27-31; 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10; Mark 1:29-39
There she lay burning up with fever. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was too sick to go to Sabbath services at the synagogue, too sick to help with Sabbath dinner, too sick to come to the table. The flu, or whatever the illness was, had knocked her flat and drained her strength away. There was no aspirin or Tylenol, no antibiotics or antiviral agents, and no intravenous fluid replacement. Bathing her with cool water was only available method for fighting the fever. Her caring family did the best they could.
The illness was a strain on the whole household. Several generations lived there together, and everyone’s hands were needed to keep everything going. The mother-in-law’s hands were needed, but even more her presence was needed. Her place was empty. And if Peter’s mother-in-law was anything like some of the people I know, she lay there worrying about being a burden on everybody.
Her worried family brought Jesus home straightaway from the synagogue, and before he could sit down, they told him about her. They had just witnessed the authority with which Jesus had cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue. Surely Jesus could help their sick loved one combat this fever.
In our household of faith, we have so many people to tell Jesus about. Look at the number of people on our prayer list, and there are many more named in our hearts! Some are literally down in the bed. Some are growing weaker and weaker. Many struggle with chronic illnesses or chronic pain. Many are so tired they can hardly go.
Just as many sick people and their loved ones gathered around Peter’s house that evening, many are gathered around and inside our household of faith. Some have been knocked flat emotionally. They have fallen into a pit of depression that seems to have no bottom. Down, down, down. Some suffer from mental and spiritual anemia. Their strength is spent.
Exhaustion and depression can strike groups of people. That was the case for Israel in exile. As a nation they were powerless. Babylonian soldiers had rolled through Jerusalem, destroyed their homes and their spiritual home, the temple. Then the Babylonians marched them hundreds of miles to Babylon. Deportation. Captivity. And Israel couldn’t do one thing to stop it. The Babylonians flattened the people’s souls as well as their homes. Overcome with despair, they found themselves wondering whether there even was a God. And if there was a God, where was his power? Where was his love? Had God forgotten them?
Our region is dotted with abandoned houses and businesses where floodwaters rolled through. The Harbour West apartment complex still looks like a war zone. Hurricane Floyd knocked people off their feet economically, emotionally and spiritually. Those who are working to help them back up can witness to the toll Floyd has taken, how the trauma has provoked a variety of emotional and physical illnesses. It is heartbreaking to see. And that takes a toll on the recovery workers. They are tired and sad. (more…)