(I preached this sermon on Sunday, Feb 7, 2021 in response to the Gospel reading – Mark 1:29-39. You can see the entire service as well as the sermon at our church website – www.ststephenlc.org.)
Marathon runners are intimately familiar with a concept called hitting the wall. It usually hits somewhere between mile 18 and mile 22. Everyone experiences the wall differently, but the core of it is that everything hurts – physically, mentally, emotionally. You feel lost and hopeless. You’ve gone so very far, and yet you aren’t done yet. Your body is drained. And your spirits are empty. Your mind doesn’t help either.
This is where we are as a society in the midst of this marathon of a pandemic. So many people are hitting a pandemic wall.
The phrase pandemic wall has become popular in the last couple of weeks – which makes sense really. It’s the idea that many people are hitting the wall with this pandemic. We have been going at this for months. We have been doing what we are supposed to. We haven’t seen family and friends. We are being responsible. And we are exhausted, often feel hopeless, and sense that there is no end in sight to this pandemic. We’ve been going at this for just about a year now.
When will it end, we wonder? We don’t know.
Throw on added stressors of serious partisan divide, economic worries, and the effects of isolation, in addition to just everyday life, and we are definitely in the wall.
I feel it. Some days It’s a real struggle to just answer emails or to pick up the phone – simple things that aren’t difficult yet feel as though I am lifting a 500 lb. weight. And if you just glance at me, you’ll see I’m not capable of lifting 500 pounds. In this pandemic, I’m learning what my limitations are – and there are plenty.
Our society has this idea that we’re supposed to be self-reliant, strong in body and mind, and never needing to rest or anyone to help. That we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and suck it up and go on. I’ve seen too many people live into this – not taking their full vacation time and when they do, they do work. (I’ve been guilty of that.). Not taking time off when they are sick in order to rest. And not having boundaries that say when its work time and when it is not.
I don’t think any of this is helpful and I don’t think it has served us well. And it certainly isn’t based on what God tells us throughout Scripture. It has made us chronically sick and held in bondage to the idea that our work and our activities define who we are.
When I hear our gospel today, it hits me at my core. We’re told that Jesus is at the home of Simon’s mother in law. And she’s sick. And Jesus heals her. And then something weird happens. It is evening, at sunset, we are told. And the community brings Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. They brought them all. We have no idea how many that is. But we are told that Jesus didn’t cure all of them. But he cured many of them. There must have been a lot of people.
Jesus shows up and look what happens. People are willing to admit that they are sick or held in bondage to something. Friends and family see the sickness and the bondage and bring their loved ones to Jesus. It’s like they are in a wall in life. Nothing else has worked and they have got to be exhausted. When you are in a wall, you just don’t want to go on. You look for anything that might give you what you need. In life, and in the wall of life, Jesus is what we need. He is the only thing that will get us going again.
The healing and freeing people of these bondages all happen at night. Symbolically that is important. Sunset signifies the beginning of a new day in Jewish culture. How ironic that when Jesus is on the scene and heals people and sets them free from bondage – it is a new day. Of course, it is.
You know this already. You know what it feels like after you have been sick, and you are getting better. You feel like a new person. It’s a new day. You know what it’s like to be freed of something that was hanging over you. Maybe it’s a mortgage, or a debt, or something much deeper and far more personal like an addiction – it’s freeing, and you feel like a new person, like it’s a new day.
So, of course when Jesus is present, it is a new day. Full of new possibilities. Full of healing and freeing people from bondages that hold onto us.
In what ways are you sick?
Here’s my confession: I’m worn down – mentally and emotionally. This pandemic has taken a toll on me, as I’m sure it has taken a toll on you. We’d be lying if any of us said that everything is just dandy and that we are doing just great. We aren’t. We are sick.
What is holding you in bondage?
What are those things in your life that possess you, hold you, maybe even torment you? Are you ready to finally be freed from them? They aren’t serving you, that’s for sure. What are the beliefs that hold you in bondage? What are the assumptions that we make that keep us down and in chains? What are the ways in which we see the world or others that hold ourselves and others in bondage? What are those things that prevent us from seeing the world the way that Jesus does?
At the beginning of worship, we started with confession and forgiveness. Too often we can just fly through this part of the liturgy. But I’m convinced that this is one of the most important parts of worship. It’s in confession that we look at the truth that is right in front us. We have to look in the mirror and acknowledge the truth about ourselves. And it is in confession that we finally admit that we are sick and held in bondage and cannot free ourselves. Do you hear that? We can’t save ourselves.
It is in confession that we become the people who are brought to Jesus at the home of Simon’s mother in law. We are sick and held in bondage. Only people who acknowledge their sickness and how they are held in bondage are brought to Jesus because they know they are sick and can’t heal themselves and can’t free themselves.
And the whole city gathers around to watch. Why? Because they know what Jesus is about. He heals. He frees people of the things that hold them in bondage. And he proclaims Good News. Not just proclaiming it with words, but also with action.
The people gather at the door to watch because they expect that Jesus isn’t just going to say nice words. They don’t believe that Jesus is just some nice guy.
They wouldn’t waste their time or limited energy – especially at nighttime when they are tired and exhausted from just trying to survive another day. They expect that he will actually do something, that he will encounter people, touch them, and change their lives. Free them from the things that hold them in bondage. Do we expect this also? Would we be at the door? Are we now?
We’re told in the Gospel that people gathered around the door, just as we gather. We come confessing our sickness and how we are held in bondage. We come, just as the people gathered to hear the Good News – news that will change our lives and our communities in real ways. They gathered for the same reason we do – to encounter the living God made manifest in Jesus and to be changed. To expect it to happen and to look for it. Where do you see it happening now?
People who are well have no need of being healed. People who are well, have no need of being set free. People who are doing just fine have no need of a Savior. People who see nothing wrong with the world have no need of being encountered by Jesus. No need to changing the world or our lives. No need to gather. No need to expect Jesus to show up and actually do anything.
But I do. If you said the confession, then you do to. I desperately need Jesus. And I expect him to be here in our presence and to encounter us, mold us, shape us, and change us. To heal and set us free.
It’s time for a new day. New life. It’s time for a new way of living. It’s time to expect Jesus to show up and to see him healing and releasing people from bondage. To move us towards the unfolding Kingdom of God. It’s time to tap into our imagination muscles and see the world as Jesus does. And to see the vision he is laying out for us here in this congregation and in this community. You can do this. Close your eyes. Look around. Jesus encounters us right now. He proclaims Good News that changes the world and our lives. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel?
That’s seeing the vision that Jesus has for our world. For our lives, our congregation, and our community. A much better vision than what we experience right now. That’s where we are headed. That’s what we are called to live into. Vision is about seeing what is possible and where we are headed and then moving towards that.
The people in our Gospel were given this vision – It’s why they brought all the sick and those possessed out to Jesus. They knew the vision that Jesus has for the world and wanted to be a part of it. The Gospel not only gives us the vision but how it plays out too. Do you see it? When Jesus encounters us, we receive healing and are freed. Jesus gives us the vision to see what he is doing and to be a part of it. A new day dawns on us. Thanks be to God.