Sermons That Work

The Fever Left Her…, Epiphany 5 (B) – 2006

February 05, 2006

“The fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Most of us are familiar with Lourdes, the Roman Catholic shrine in southern France at which the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a saintly young woman named Bernadette a century and a half ago. Pilgrims today continue to throng the shrine, hoping to be cured of their ailments. Over the decades, thousands have left behind their crutches and braces as silent witnesses to the Lord’s power to make them well. This sort of thing is of course nothing new. From Compostela to Walsingham to holy sites in our own land, pilgrims throughout the ages have made their way to sacred temples, grottoes, and hillsides in hopes of finding healing and strength.

Some dismiss such journeys of faith as piety gone astray, as especially inappropriate in an age of therapeutic advances such as our own. The time and money would be better spent visiting medical experts, some might say. Yet many others have come to the realization that healing is an essential element of the Gospel message. Christians of all denominations have long treasured the scenes of healing found throughout both Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Surely, the Lord will not disappoint those who today come seeking his power and favor in their own lives.

The ministry of Jesus began with healing. Consider the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. No sooner had Jesus called his disciples to his side than he cured a man with an unclean spirit. Then, leaving the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon and Andrew only to find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. Our Lord took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her, and she got back about her life.

For those whose lives he touched — whether they were close to him and his disciples like Peter’s mother-in-law or whether they were perfect strangers gathered on the street outside the door — healing meant a second chance and hope where there had been no reason for hope. In an instant, healing brought freedom from physical debility as well as inner change and transformation. No wonder “the whole city was gathered” at Jesus’ door. The scene was probably not that much different from contemporary Lourdes at pilgrimage time. People know what works.

But healing was never an end unto itself in the ministry of Jesus. In his very first words, as recorded by Mark, Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” Healing heralded the coming of a kingdom that transcended this world of pain and death. And most importantly, this kingdom was within anyone’s grasp, not in some far off place. It offered lasting spiritual integrity in a world of human weakness and sin.

We are all still in need of healing, even at the peak of our physical vitality. After all, there are a lot of very healthy-looking specimens among us who seem to be anything but hale and hearty on the inside. You only need to turn on the television or open a popular magazine to find the latest fountain of youth or miracle cure touted and sold like kitchen knives at a carnival. But makeovers and the latest fad diets cannot assure us of happiness and fulfillment. Real transformation, as understood in the Gospel, will never be a passing fancy. For paradoxically, the Gospel makes us acutely aware of our own ultimate frailty and death. Even those cured by Jesus became sick again at some point and eventually died.

This is the “epiphany” in today’s lesson. In the moment of healing we come to experience God at work within our lives, but only if we recognize our utter dependence on God and the kingdom. We have no power to make ourselves well. Jesus’ message would not have resonated with the people of his day, much less our own, had he not first led them to embrace their own vulnerability and need for God’s love. For Jesus, healing was not so much about breaking the laws of science — of which he as man could know nothing — as it was about the power of God to change lives and make all things new.

In our own English language the words “healing,” “health,” “wholeness,” “wellness,” and “holiness” all share the same etymological root, meaning “full” or “complete.” At whatever stage of life we may be — whether child, adolescent, middle-aged, or elder — we recognize implicitly our own deficiencies and lack of completeness. We experience our need for something or someone beyond ourselves. We need the Lord’s strength not only to make us well, but to make us whole.

Jesus “cast out many demons.” For some today, the quest for inner harmony and wholeness is undermined by the contemporary demons of addiction and other behaviors that lead to ruin and self-defeat, sometimes even to death itself. But for those in pursuit of the kingdom, wholeness comes only in oneness with God. And healing, however or wherever experienced, makes that oneness possible. Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up from her sickbed, and she was made well. Seldom was Jesus’ healing such an intimate and personal act. She came to realize, as no one else, the meaning of the kingdom and oneness with the Lord. But that closeness and oneness is ours to have as well.

How can you know when you have been healed? Seems like an odd question. For many, the answer is obvious: when the pain is gone, the fever has come down, and the disease is no more. But the Gospel gives a better answer. “The fever left her,” we are told of Peter’s mother-in-law, “and she began to serve them.” As she was healed, she immediately began to serve others. When we are ready to help others in their need and focus once again outside ourselves we will know that we too have been cured. We will no longer be slaves to our hurts and resentments. We will at last be made whole. And we shall live.


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Christopher Sikkema


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