Epiphany 5B, February 4, 2018

February 5, 2018

Touched By Grace

Mark 1:29-39

29 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. 



This story of Jesus entering the home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and providing her with instantaneous healing isn’t an experience that most people have. Experiences of healing and restoration happen on some level in all of our lives, but these things usually take place over a period of time. There are those moments when people feel immediately released from some kind of crippling condition, and sometimes those things happen in miraculous ways, but this isn’t an experience that most of us have had.


I haven’t had what you would call an instantaneous and miraculous experience of being healed from a debilitating condition, but I do know what it feels like to be rather suddenly released from a form of bondage. It isn’t on the level of being healed from cancer or restored to life from some other life-threatening condition, but I did have a life-altering experience in the time it takes to get a haircut.


You can’t really tell by what remains of my hair today, but back when I used to have hair it was really curly. But it wasn’t soft wavy hair that hung down in relatively predictable places. It was actually more frizzy than curly. My hair didn’t hang down in any way – it stood up. It defied gravity and resisted any kind of effort to be tamed.


I wore a lot of hats when I was an early teenager. I still wear a lot of hats, but now it’s to protect my scalp not to contain my hair. I was terribly self-conscious of my hair. The cool thing when I was growing up was to have hair hanging over your ears and down in your eyes, and my hair wasn’t inclined to go down over anything. It was a daily battle for me for all of my Jr. High years and in to the 10th grade to get my hair to lay down in some satisfactory fashion.


I know I’m talking about a cosmetic issue, but when you’re a young teenager cosmetics are pretty important. I wasn’t thinking about the meaning of life – I was thinking about what I looked like to my friends. It really did give me a lot of grief, but a wonderful thing came along in my life – the television show Soul Train.


I guess the show was actually filmed out in California each Saturday during the morning, but over in Wynne and I’m sure here in Newport, Soul Train came on around 10:30 on Saturday night, and I loved watching that show. It was an amazing show. It featured many current musicians, but the best thing about the show was to see the way the guests on the show would dance and dress. A big part of the show was showing people dancing to the music of the day, and it was new and different. The appearance and the moves of the people on Soul Train was outrageous and wonderful, and suddenly it became cool to have a big head of hair that went up and not down – and I could do that. And I did do that.


One Saturday in 1974 my mother took me to the Kings Den hair salon in Memphis where I instructed the hair stylist to give me what they called a natural. I told her I wanted her to cut my hair in a manner that I wouldn’t ever have to try to comb it again and she did. I never had what you would call a really powerful afro. It never stood up and out remarkably far, but the truth is that I really haven’t tried to comb my hair with anything other than my fingers since 1974. Thanks to the aesthetics that were brought into our society by Soul Train, one of my most personal and daily dilemmas was resolved. I owe a lot to the late, Don Cornelius, who founded Soul Train, and to all the outrageous characters that appeared on that wonderful show.


As I say, this isn’t on the level of being healed from cancer, but this was a life-altering experience for me. Embracing a new hair style removed what had become one of my most personal daily dilemmas.


And it’s worth noting that my liberation from daily hair trauma was the result of some human touch. The human touch is a powerfully good thing. We’re told that Jesus took Simon’s ailing mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up. Clearly Mark felt that this detail of taking her by the hand was important. I think this is an indication of how important it is for us to be in touch with each other.


This powerful social movement that Jesus initiated wasn’t just an enterprise of the head. It was an exercise of the whole being. Some people needed to hear something different, but other people needed a hand. In a world where people are held captive by different forces of evil, it will take a variety of different experiences with the living Christ to break unholy bonds.


The word got out in Capernaum that Jesus was on hand and using his hands to set people free from all kinds of ailments, and the people showed up. Word of a good thing will bring out a crowd. People don’t like to be left behind when a good thing is going on. Many people’s lives were made whole by the fact that they showed up a Simon and Andrew’s house that one Saturday night in Capernaum. It’s not a bad idea to show up where you hear a good thing is going on. Being part of a crowd can have it’s advantages.


Soul Train was a successful television show because it provided something on television that a lot of people were hungry to see. I would say it was a good television show because it gave exposure to some extraordinary musicians who had been stuck in some ordinary venues. It was an inspiring show to many young people who were feeling pretty overlooked, and it provided relief to some people who were needing to see a new way to look. A good movement can be a healing thing, but as Jesus was quick to point out – it can also be important to move on.


Jesus wasn’t one to get stuck in one place. Jesus knew the danger of a movement of people. He knew that he could have become nothing more than a spectacle – someone who could do miraculous things. But that’s not all that he was out to do. Jesus wanted to provide all people with a whole new way of experiencing God, and he couldn’t have done that if he had stuck around Simon’s house. This soul saving movement that he had begun required him to stay on the move. He wasn’t capable of reaching out and physically touching every person who heard that he was in town, but he also knew that he had a message to spread, and that message could touch more people than he would ever be able to lay his hands upon.


I’m sure this came as cold comfort to the desperate people who were waiting at Simon’s house for Jesus to return, and I know we all wonder at times why Jesus won’t step in to the house and bring us what we can so earnestly seek, but I think we all have to trust that we can get what we need from Jesus even if we don’t get what we want from him.


Jesus wanted to provide us all with relief from all the ways we suffer, but more than that he wanted us to know that God is with us in our suffering. It’s not a bad thing for us to seek relief from suffering, and it’s an important thing for us to be engaged in the work of bringing relief from suffering, but Jesus relieved suffering in order for us to understand that God isn’t the cause of our suffering – and there was a lot of misunderstanding about that.


The pervasive thinking of the day was that our troubles were the result of God’s displeasure. People who experienced terrible afflictions were also tormented by the judgement of those who considered their troubles to be the consequence of unfaithful living. Certainly there are some troubles we bring on ourselves, but Jesus wanted us all to know that God is with us in times of trouble – not the source of our troubles.


This truth would become painfully obvious when Jesus met his death on a cross, but it’s what Jesus had been trying to reveal from the very beginning of his ministry.


This story of Jesus entering the home of Simon Peter’s mother in law and lifting her up from her sickness has a pretty clear message. The message is that God was at work in the life of Jesus Christ to bring healing to us all. He wasn’t able to touch everyone who showed up at her house to get their own instantaneous miracle, but Jesus lifted her up so that she could do what she could for others. For whatever reason, God isn’t able to provide us all with instantaneous relief, but God doesn’t want us to suffer, and God wants us to join in the divine work of reaching out with compassion to one another.


Jesus didn’t just come to provide us all with relief from whatever’s ailing us. Jesus could have spent the remainder of his time on earth at Simon’s mother-in-law’s house if that had been the case. They hadn’t finished supper before there was a line out her door waiting to see him, and he did see many of them, but his mission was larger than the dispensing of miracles. The miracles were powerful and they changed people’s lives, but those individual miracles only served to reinforce the message that he came to proclaim.


Mark doesn’t repeat what that message was, but we know what Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry, and the message was for us to repent and believe in the good news that God’s kingdom is near. Jesus wanted us to let go of our old ways of thinking and to see the truth. He wanted us to see life in a new way and to experience the nearness of God.


It’s a wonderful thing to have an experience that totally transforms your life in a good way. I’m eternally grateful for the relief I experienced when I was able to let go of my battle with my hair. I hate that I was so traumatized by such a trivial thing, but I’m grateful for that liberating experience.


I believe when we are touched by others in healing ways we become more sensitive to the needs of others and of the importance of doing what we can to provide healing and comfort. I believe God uses us all to be the bearers of this good news that God is near at all the moments of our lives. Jesus didn’t just come to fix us – he came to be with us, and he remains with us still.


Thanks be to God.




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