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“Called to Serve Jesus”

February 4, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Matthew 1:25

February 4, 2024 Fifth Sunday After Epiphany The text is Mark 1:29-39.


29As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And 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.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He 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.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Let’s be honest here; Jesus has had one heck of a “first day” on the job.  This morning’s gospel reading relates what happened right after last Sunday’s encounter between Jesus and the man with the “unclean spirit”.  Jesus had just called his first four disciples; brothers Simon and Andrew, and James and John.  And these four former fishermen immediately left their nets and boats behind, and accompanied Jesus to Capernaum.  You will recall that Jesus entered the synagogue in that town and began preaching and teaching, when a deranged man accosted him with accusations and blasphemous, demonic speech.

Jesus rebuked the spirit to leave the man, he was returned to his right mind, and word spread swiftly that something new and different was happening in Galilee.  Those who witnessed this event were convinced that Jesus was granted authority from God to teach and heal.  But Jesus’ first official day as the Son of God wasn’t over yet; he and his first four disciples went into Simon and Andrew’s house; we assume to rest a bit and maybe have something to eat.  But before Jesus had an opportunity to even take off his sandals he was informed that Simon’s mother-in-law was bedridden, suffering from a fever.  Now, we’re not told what caused this malady that afflicted Simon’s relative, nor are we told her name; but the fact remains that in Jesus’ time, with little to no availability of effective medicines, a fever could quite possibly result in the person’s death.  Knowing this, Jesus simply takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and restores her to health.

Again, quite the busy day for Jesus, who so far has healed two people on the sabbath; one in the privacy of Simon’s house, and the other, quite publicly, in full view of the worshipers in the synagogue.  Right out of the gate, Jesus has defeated an unclean spirit, cured a dangerous fever, and more likely than not, ignited the long-running dispute that was to take place between himself and the religious leaders.  All this on day one of Jesus’ ministry!  Note that Mark is quite specific when he writes that the whole city came to Jesus for healing “at sunset”.  This confirms that the rest of the healings he performs were done after the sabbath day is over.  No sense in pushing the Pharisees over the edge on the first day.

It’s also very telling that Jesus feels he must remove himself from those around him in the darkness of the next early morning, to pray and to connect with God the Father.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus spends a great deal of time in conversation with God, praying for strength, guidance, and reassurance from his Father.  The authority granted to him by God to teach and heal is something that Jesus feels he must continually acknowledge and give thanks for.  When the others, who have been searching for him find Jesus, he tells them that it is already time to get a move on, to bring the message of the Good News beyond the local neighborhood.  Teach, heal, pray, and travel to the next place; this is the mission that Jesus and his followers will undertake for the next three years.  And the events of day one are the genesis of his entire ministry; proclaim the Gospel to all who would hear and heal the sufferings of all in need.

And for the rest of Jesus’ time on earth we will read that he did not seek out those who were in need of his healing touch, but that once word spread about his nature, identity, and ability to heal; all who were afflicted came looking for him. 

Mark takes great pains to note that as soon as the fever departs from Simon’s mother-in-law that she rose from her sickbed to “serve” Jesus and his companions.  Let’s talk a moment about this, shall we?  While there may be the assumption that this “serving” that Simon’s mother-in-law performs was within the cultural role that was assigned to women in Jesus’ time, the Greek that Mark uses quickly dispels this.  The social customs of the time dictated that life and actions were directed by the practices in place in an “honor-shame”-based society.  If anyone, man or woman was unable to fulfil their respective roles in society, there would have been great shame heaped upon them.  The fever-stricken mother-in-law of Simon would have felt the shame that befell her through her inability to function according to the accepted role of the time.  In the same way, if a man were to be unable to work due to illness, this inability to provide for the family would likewise result in shame being thrust upon him.

But here’s the twist in the way Mark describes the “service” that Simon’s mother-in-law provides.  The Greek word appears quite frequently in the gospels; it is “diakonos”, and it is used to describe the way many people “serve” others in the Scriptures.  It’s not too much of a stretch to learn that this Greek term is the root of the English word, “deacon”, a title bestowed upon people in the church who dedicate themselves to “serve” others.  You will recall that Jesus was driven into the wilderness for forty days to be tested by Satan after his baptism by John, just before Jesus began his ministry.  Depending upon which bible translation is read, we read that angels came to “serve”, “attend to”, or “minister to” Jesus.  And, as you may have guessed, the original Greek word, no matter it’s translation to English was “diakonos”; describing the way one is served out of a sense of necessity, kindness, and compassion.  Later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus himself describes his mission as one of service to others, in fact to the entire world.  In chapter 10, verse 45, Jesus specifically states why he came to earth.  He says,  “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”   Mark writes that Jesus used the very same word meaning “to serve” as Simon’s mother-in-law did.  So much for the culturally assigned roles.

This woman realized that Jesus’ healing touch not only allowed her to return to the fellowship of the community and maintain her honor, but that her life may very well have been spared, depending upon the cause of her fever.  Her immediate response was to serve Jesus and the others, not because it was her place to do so, but out of gratitude and thankfulness for the healing she received from Jesus.  When something is done to benefit us, we are compelled to respond with acts of kindness, compassion, thankfulness, and gratitude; and these are often best represented through service to others.  If someone is kind enough to hold the elevator door for us, pickup the check at lunch, or allow us to merge into traffic, the very least we might do is respond with a word or gesture of thanks.  If our neighbor brings in our trash cans or shovels the sidewalk in front of our house, there is no doubt that we would find ourselves more than willing to reciprocate, to “serve” the other, taking in their rubbish cans or removing the snow from their driveway.

But if something much larger was done for us, something that was immeasurably valuable, wouldn’t we be overcome with the desire to show our gratitude for the gift we had received?  Wouldn’t we feel so affected by this kindness that we would want, no need to respond in some way that was proportionate to what we had received?  Even if we are fully aware that we do not have the capacity to repay what was done for us, wouldn’t we still want to make the effort to show our gratitude for the gift?  Wouldn’t we want to “serve” in some way out of thankfulness for what we had received?  Well, we have been granted the ultimate gift from Jesus Christ, the promise of life eternal, brought about by his sacrifice on the cross.  He was willing to give up his life for us, shouldn’t we be willing to “serve” others in his name, as acknowledgement of this precious, ultimate form of healing?  We have been called to serve in gratitude for the gift of newness of life, in this world and in the Kingdom of Heaven to come.  Let us all rush to serve, to practice “diakonos”, to be deacons, in the name of Christ.                                                  

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, Jesus, your Son came to serve your people, and we have been called to serve others in his name.  Give us guidance, willingness, and strength to practice the discipleship to which we are invited.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who compels us to serve others as he serves us.      

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is Good.  Amen.