In this season of Epiphany, this season of light in the snow-bound winter darkness, we have here at TUC been offered through the worship leaders that have stepped forward diverse , engaging and always challenging invitations to be God’s people. We have heard invitations that cast light in the shadows, light for the way ahead, guiding our way, no matter the journey, as our prayer of illumination for Epiphany season expresses. Today this light is centered in the example and the mandate to turn love into action through healing hospitality in our homes and communities.
We just heard expressed in the invitation from the choir anthem “Make this church a welcome place”. What is welcoming hospitality is really all about? Hospitality – to be open to others, attentive, caring, offering space and appreciation for the gifts each person brings. Hospitality, true hospitality that is more than friendliness, draws us into healing presence as we will shortly see in the gospel story today; true hospitality also draws us into places of surprise, spontaneity, the new and the fresh in our lives together, as we let go of that which is weary, worn or repetitive. Take some time to reflect on the growing edges of hospitality for you – where does it invite you to grow in your daily living, in your family, your church, your workplace? The gift of hospitality casts new light, and ever refreshing light along our path. It is one of love’s expressions. It is about turning love into action – visualizing love with and for one another in community.
How do we do this well? What still awaits us, challenges us in this ministry of hospitality as love in action? Constant love that keeps on loving is a phrase from one of our favourite hymns (Jesus, You have Come to the Lakeshore) we sang recently. This calling into constant love keeps me right here, in this sacred place, in Sabbath times to grow more and more in the ‘how-to’ of loving hospitality and renews my commitment within the life of the faith communities I have been part of. In this quest I am reminded daily of how difficult such a path is. I need a book titled: Hospitality: Turning love into action for dummies. Whether in easy times or difficult, this call of loving hospitality keeps me here struggling as well as rejoicing, always seeking together it’s possibilities revealed in and through us as church.
Let’s look at the gospel reading today closer and see what wisdom it offers us today. First, context:
If you go to movies occasionally you know that you will have to wait for the feature attraction but there are no previews in the first chapter of Mark – Jesus arrives on the scene with heaven-splitting force at his baptism (remember the voice from above You are my son, the beloved); then deals with Satan in the wilderness, announces the immediate reign of God in the hear and now on earth, chooses his first disciples and shows his power over a demon before you can blink an eye and we are still in the first chapter of Mark. We are taken quickly – immediately/at once – favourite words of Jesus in Mark – into a day in the life of Jesus. There is an urgency to Jesus’ ministry, a sense that this message of love portrayed in the man Jesus must be told/lived without delay.
Here in verse 29 -39 Jesus leaves with his four disciples on the Sabbath, a sacred day of rest, to the house of Simon, whose mother-in-law is sick. Nobody seems to be able to help her but Jesus grabs her hand firmly, to raise her up, bringing her new life. In two short sentences this man Jesus who becomes Christ, intervenes in a world of evil, death and illness that dominated the lives of the community around him. He along with his few followers become the bearers of good news, of new, refreshing light, of healing and of eschatological hope for the people.
The verb used here to express the healing is egeiro meaning “to get up” and is the same verb used in connection with Jesus’ resurrection much later in his story. This is a resurrection story for the community. Just as important in the healing the brings resurrection is the response of this healed mother-in-law. She began to serve them. Resurrection is turned into service! And you and I know that service is key in the call, the pursuit, the ministry of Jesus. Jesus did not command her – Nobody taught her what she had to do. It comes from her own initiative and in her service she becomes a witness to genuine, authentic, hospitality in her ministry. She becomes for all time, the first deacon, joining Jesus in the radical announcement of love in action, of the kingdom of God at work in the community. Her service becomes resurrection for others.
Research: “This woman gets up and turns the Sabbath into a paschal day of service of others. Jesus does not command her. She is the one who assumes the initiative and awaits the consequences, discovering the value of mutual service above the sacredness of the Sabbath. She served them. Simon’s mother-in-law interprets the gift that she has received; her service cannot be understood as a woman’s menial work under the domination of males, but as true messianic ministry, creator of Jesus’ new family. For that reason this woman is Jesus’ first servant and joins him in the radical announcement, in action, of the kingdom of God, his first deacon!”
Did Jesus himself not come to serve and to give his very life? Jesus wasted no time getting into this important work that he was called to do. Simon’s mother-in-law too got up and began to serve, right there in the home of her son-in-law. This is significant for it was these earliest home communities that became springboards for the gospel, a welcome place for the preachers of the day, for those in need of healing and even economic support – these homes became a part of the economic structure and social support of a growing movement. Many others came seeking the light and healing expressed in this home. Right there in the home true life and ministry, later called Christianity, was affirmed. True discipleship was exemplified in these early home churches.
Service is a key topic in the call and pursuit of Jesus and his followers, and must be for us. How is it expressed in your life? How is it made known here among us? I see it in so many places – the healing pathway circle in their love and caring invite their clients to, in a sense, stand up and walk with confidence! The UCW here and in the larger church for decades has demonstrated the way of service, the men’s gatherings and work in every dinner prepared, the music worship – so many expressions of servant ministry that is central to the gospel.
This one healing leads to many more within a few short hours. Sabbath is over now and people of the region come bringing their sick so Jesus can heal them, because there were so many needs out there in the life of the community. And Jesus does not shut the door – for Jesus neither the temple, the synagogue, nor the house can be closed! We very quickly hear another important characteristic of Jesus. The mission of the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is of open doors, of missionary extension out into the world of the community. It is not necessary to wait for the right – or better time. Jesus did not wait for the Sabbath to be over for healing to happen, and in this immediate response to need, we are called to set aside all our limitations and boundaries that we put on love – all our dogmas – all our templates of how things must be done and move forward in constant loving, welcoming service. Jesus quickly rejects the disciples proposal to stay at Simon’s, refusing to be confined by the expectations of anxious disciples, escapes to pray in solitude, and then moves out with a Let us go on to the neighbouring towns where anxiety and needs are overwhelming; in this let us go we are invited to move our hospitality and work of healing here in this place outwards into the work of turning love into action out on the road, the edges of society where the kingdom of love and justice is most needed. We are always called out to keep moving forward, to reaching out and beyond, even as we open our own doors wide for love to bring healing, renewal and restoration – resurrection – into diaconia.
Another word I used earlier that expressed this service was the word associated with Simon’s mother-in-law: deacon – Out of the early home churches grew diaconal ministry. The gospel story of healing and hospitality became the springboard for diaconal service, a ministry we are all called into.
Statement of Vision
Diakonia of The United Church of Canada
Approved at the National Gathering
Five Oaks, April 14-17, 2009
God calls us to diaconal ministry.
The gospel of Jesus invites all to this ministry:
to offer compassion and accompaniment,
to work for liberation and justice,
to act as advocates of creative transformation.
Diaconal ministry, as a recognized order, is rooted
within our faith tradition and history,
and it is continued and embodied
in an ecumenical, world-wide community.
This vocation is a journey
involving Spirit-filled enrichment and learning,
requiring humble offering of self,
demanding prayerful discernment and courageous risking,
exercising visionary and communal leadership,
promising joy and meaning,
and daring to imagine God’s abundance
in a world of love and respect.
Through education, service, social justice, and pastoral care,
diaconal ministry in The United Church of Canada,
encourages a growing faith,
speaks truth to power,
seeks mutual empowerment,
proclaims prophetic hope,
nurtures life-giving community,
fosters peaceful, right relationship,
within the church and the whole of creation
wherever the Spirit may lead.
Over the next few weeks we will learn what such a ministry means – this servant ministry. That is the rest of the story, a story that invites us to pay attention because the feature attraction has just begun! This is after all, Epiphany, the beginning of God’s love story.
Rev. Alice Hanson reserves all rights © 2018.
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