As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There’s one phrase in this gospel text that, unfortunately, needs to be lifted up and delved into. One phrase that, even now, will be misused to counter the gospel of freedom, the message and purpose of Christ.
That phrase is, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
You know, in this congregation, I normally wouldn’t feel a need to preach on this particular phrase. Yet in the context of our culture right now, I am compelled to do so. To not do so would be unfaithful to the nature of the gospel and of Christ himself as it applies to our culture.
Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, and she began to serve them. It’s necessary to be reminded, yet again, that this text has nothing to do with the place of women or the role of women as lesser people who are there to serve the men. In the Christ-like empowering of women to claim their place as full human beings, and with the work of the Holy Spirit in things like the #MeToo movement against harassment and abuse, we need to hear again that the wording of this text cannot be used to counter what God is doing.
170 brave girls-now-young-women, stood up and testified against Larry Nassar, a man who took advantage of power he had over them as young gymnasts in order to sexually abuse them. Many of these young women are also calling out those who, by doing nothing, are complicit in this horrific abuse.
Many governmental leaders in our country are being called to account for their actions as sexual predators, harassers, abusers of women.
Men in all walks of life who have exploited their power at the expense of women are finally being stopped.
This is what the gospel is about. Lifting up those who are exploited. Empowering those who have less power. We are seeing, right now in our culture as these things are happening, the power of Christ’s gospel to restore us and set us free. Make no mistake about it. Jesus is disrupting a culture that is abusing power and taking advantage of the other.
This isn’t about political feminism. This is about all people being created in the image of God and all people being recognized as fully human. That’s the point of the gospel. That’s what Jesus came to do.
That’s what’s happening in this text.
Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t healed so she can be relegated to her appropriate female role as one who serves men. No, she is healed because that’s what the kingdom of God is about. She serves because that’s what disciples of Jesus do. All disciples. Never, ever, is the gospel about giving more power to those who already have it. Never, ever, is the gospel about keeping power away from those who don’t have it. It’s always about seeking out those who are abused, who are harassed, who are pushed down and restoring them to dignity and the fullness of their humanity as people created in the full image of God.
Perhaps you are hearing this and thinking, “Really, Pastor Rob? Here in this congregation we already know this. We already understand that in Christ all people are to be loved, valued, and respected. We get that this is the freedom proclaimed in the gospel and made real in Jesus. We know this already. Do you really need to go into for a whole sermon?”
Yup, I do. Because just like every week at communion, whether there are first-time visitors or not, it’s important that all of us hear again that Christ’s table is for all. That God’s grace is unconditional. That rich and poor, black and white, female and male, young and old, gay and straight, believer and non-believer all have an equal place at this table. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that we can live it in service to others.
With this text too. We need to hear over and over that any kind of exploitation is sinful. Any taking advantage of power is evil. Any actions that are oppressive, abusive, or aren’t grounded in dignity and respect run counter to the gospel of Christ. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that can live it in service to others.
And live it we must. When the evil of misogyny is still excused by many.
Live it we must. When there are still those who, even in the name of Jesus, continue to be complicit in oppressing women.
Live it we must. When power is idolized in order to take advantage of others.
Live it we must. When the resurrected Christ is already paving the way through the empowering of women in our society.
Live it we must. As disciples of Jesus, we’ve got to live this gospel that reveals that all people are created in the image of God and need to be treated that way.
Live it we must. Because Simon’s mother-in-law is healed and restored.
Live it we must. When she serves, she’s living as a disciple of Jesus, who said of himself, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
I think in this congregation we pretty well get this. But many in our world do not. And so, as people who have been healed in all kinds of ways by Jesus, we leave here to serve. We uplift. We empower. We respect. We see the dignity of Jesus Christ in each person, regardless of sexual or gender identity.
That’s the power of the gospel. It disrupts our culture of sexism and misogyny. And it restores us as people created in the image of God.
Healed by Jesus, we go and we serve. All people. In the name of Jesus. Jesus heals us, and we begin to serve. Amen.