We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Epiphany 5, Feb. 4, 2024

Rembrandt-The-Healing of the Mother in Law of St.Peter

Next Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany so let’s do a quick review of this season.   During the Season after the Epiphany, scripture reminds us all over again who Jesus is, the Son of God, and who we can become in the light of who He is. 

The Season after the Epiphany always starts out with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, when the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends like a dove, and God speaks—“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And then the season always ends with the Transfiguration, that mystical experience on top of a mountain in which we hear God’s voice once more, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  But that’s next week. 

In between Jesus’ baptism and his Transfiguration, scripture gives us proofs that Jesus is indeed the Beloved Son of God. 

In last week’s gospel, we found Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum with his disciples.   Jesus is teaching with authority, not as the scribes, and then a man with a demon starts ranting and raving against Jesus—I know who YOU are—the Holy One of God!  What are you doing here?  This is our territory.”  And indeed this demon in the man makes a valid point.  Sometimes it’s easy to believe that the world has been taken over by spirits that want to keep anything holy, true, trustworthy and healing out so that they can continue to bring distrust, hatred, violence, destruction, and death to hold us all captive. 

When Jesus said that the Kingdom of God has come near, he meant it.  He came to rid the earth, and us, of the demons that hold us in thrall.  And so he casts out the demon in the man, showing the people in the synagogue, and us, that he has authority over even the demons that threaten to take us, and that he has authority over Satan himself. 

Now we come to today’s readings.  Jesus has just cast out the demon, and now he and Simon and Andrew and James and John go to Simon’s house.  All is not well here either—there isn’t a demon, but Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever.  The disciples tell Jesus about this at once.  Jesus goes to the woman, takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  Is any word spoken?  We don’t know.  

There must have been great rejoicing over this complete healing, especially on the woman’s part.   She must have been so delighted to be well that she didn’t even consider that it was the Sabbath and that she should rest until sundown.  She wanted to serve this man who had just given back her ability to live and move, to be active instead of sick in bed.  Here I can’t help but think of our friend Susan Linne von Berg.  Her great pleasure in life was to serve.  When she became bedridden, her greatest desire was to get out of that bed to take care of Helmut.  If Jesus had physically come to her house, taken her by the hand and lifted her up, I bet the first thing she would have done was to jump up and get Jesus and Helmut a cup of coffee. 

The account of this healing of Simon’s mother in law is such a gift to us because we can learn several things from it.  One thing we learn is that Jesus hears the concern of the disciples and addresses that concern. Jesus hears our concerns as well.  Wait, you might be saying to yourself—I prayed for so and so, and that person didn’t get better, and then that person died. 

Remember, we still live in a world in which God’s kingdom has still not been fully realized.  And so sickness and death still hold sway.  BUT—Jesus does hear our concerns, and when we turn to him in prayer, healing takes place in ways that we may never be able to see or to understand in this lifetime. 

And we also know that when visible healing does not take place on this earth, God is not through with us yet and that our healing will be completed when we come into God’s presence at last. 

People say when someone dies after a long debilitating illness, “She’s in a better place now.”  As the one of the prayers in the prayer book says, the person who has died is now “going from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in God’s heavenly kingdom.”  Simon’s mother-in-law didn’t have to wait until she died to go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service—she could engage in perfect service right then, because Jesus was there, and had brought the kingdom of heaven near in the time he was on earth.  

So even though we wait, we can still be sure that Jesus hears our concerns and does work to heal us, even if our healings aren’t immediate because we live in the time of now, but not yet.  That is, the kingdom of God has gotten a foothold, but the kingdom of God is not yet complete on this earth.    

The next thing that we can learn from this healing is the art of gratitude.  Peter’s mother-in-law is so grateful to be healed that out of gratitude she serves them.  What a wonderful lesson for us. 

Jesus himself said that he came not to be served, but to serve.  This first healing reminds us that the best gift that we could ever give God is to love and to serve God and one another, from a place of joy and gratitude, even if what we can do seems to us to be not much at all.  What we do for others out of gratitude to God always gets multiplied beyond our wildest imaginings—and we may never know what our acts of service might mean to someone else, but God knows. 

This healing also tells us something about our work as the Church.  If you go to Capernaum today, you will find what people believe is the foundation of Simon’s house, the very place where this healing took place.  The reason people believe that it is his house is that Christian symbols were found on the walls when the house was excavated. Also, in the second century a church was built over the site. That early church was replaced and today there is a large church with a glass floor that you can visit and look down through the floor into the house, which is really an amazing experience.

But let’s go back to the scripture.  That evening, at sunset, the whole city gathers around the door.  “And they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.” 

This house is full of light, healing, and health.  If I were an artist, I’d take a canvas, create a background of night, and then paint this house with light pouring out of the windows, and people crowding around the door, drawn by the irresistible light because they long for that healing light to shatter the darkness that has taken over their lives. 

And they know that they can find Jesus there because they can see the light pouring out. 

This is the job of the church—to be a place where Jesus is, where the disciples have gathered, where people heal and serve one another, a place where light pours out and the doors are always open and people want to come in because they know they’ll find Jesus and healing   and love and serving one another here in this place.  This place  is where we meet Jesus, get healed, and serve one another, and then our ministry grows out from here. 

That brings me to the last part of today’s gospel.  After what must have been a long night of healing and casting out demons, Mark tells us that in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed. 

The Son of God turned to God in prayer.  Jesus was a human being.  He himself needed to be in God’s healing presence.  He himself needed to be replenished, restored and refreshed. 

So Jesus went out to a deserted place and waited on God.  On the first Sunday of Lent, we’ll hear about the first time Jesus goes out to a deserted place—after his baptism the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness and he was there forty days, tempted by Satan, and Mark tells us “the angels waited on him.” 

So Jesus is no stranger to deserted places, for there he can be in God’s presence and God will wait on him by sending angels. 

And God will also give Jesus direction and guidance about what to do next to bring the Kingdom of God near.  Jesus gives us a great example—if Jesus seeks direction and guidance in prayer, how much more ought we to seek that same direction from God? 

Good thing Jesus has been with God—for soon the disciples show up with their own plans for Jesus.  You’ve got to come back and keep healing people.  Everyone is searching for you! Maybe Jesus was even tempted to stay put—after all, he was doing God’s work there in Capernaum. 

But Jesus has received his marching orders.  It’s time to go now into the neighboring towns so that Jesus can proclaim the message there also, for that is what he has come to do.  And so Jesus goes, and so do the disciples, leaving what has already been done so that they can carry out the work that God has laid out for them beyond their familiar hometown.   And just think, their house has been already been filled with miracles. 

What a lesson for the church. Of course we want Jesus to keep up the good work right here because we need Jesus HERE, we want more miracles here, but this lesson reminds us that the healing lifegiving work of Jesus can never be contained in one place.

Jesus is always going out further and further into the world, to the whole world—in Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth! 

So let us be people of prayer, seeking God’s guidance, let our church be a place where we can go in prayer and find angels waiting on us.  Let us be a church full of healing and light, a place where  all can find Jesus here in our midst, a place where all can serve and be served. 

And let us be a church always ready to follow Jesus out into the world,  wherever he leads, and to spread the Good News of God’s kingdom come near, for that is what God has asked us to do.