Epiphany 5B – February 4, 2018

Epiphany 5B
Mark 1
Sunday, February 4, 2018
With all the hype and hoopla, it is impossible not to know that today is
Super Bowl Sunday. And with the Super Bowl parties and Super Bowl
pools, along with some possible skin in the game as a fan of the New
England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles, it is no surprise that come
later this afternoon many will settle down to watch the championship
game. However, I suspect that the majority of folks aren’t necessarily
fans. They are present for this game for the camaraderie. They are
present for this game because of the food. And, as has been the case for
many years, they are present because of the commercials.
Among the many unforgettable commercials–you remember the
Budweiser puppy and the Clydesdales or the “Halftime in America”
with Clint Eastwood–among the many unforgettable commercials is one
featuring the Seattle Seahawks defensive player Derrick Coleman.
Derrick lost his hearing at the age of three. The commercial tells the
story of his being bullied, picked last for teams, harassed by coaches,
even not being drafted by the NFL. And then comes the signature line,
when Coleman says, “Everybody told me to quit. They told me it was
over. But I’d been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.” The last
scene is of Coleman entering the Super Bowl arena and saying, “And now I’m here, with a lot of fans cheering me on, and I can hear them
all.” The tagline for the sponsor then flashes across the screen: Duracell:
Trust Your Power.
Now, it certainly is a stretch to imply that Duracell has much in
relationship to our gospel text and Jesus’ healing of Peter’s
mother-in-law. However, the story of Derrick Coleman, while literally
worlds apart from the context of Peter’s mother-in-law–could they be
any different: first century mother/21st century football player,
nameless individual/modern day celebrity, fragile female/world class
male athlete–the story of Derrick Coleman may actually get at the heart
of what Jesus is about in healing Peter’s mother-in-law and in our life.
While Derrick Coleman did not have an instantaneous moment of
healing as did Peter’s mother-in-law, he did have a battle with an illness
that prevented him from being fully who he could be. His deafness
contributed to his being bullied, picked last, harassed, and not even
drafted. His overcoming it all is inspirational. Peter’s mother-in-law
also loses a bit of herself with her illness. Sarah Heinrichs expresses it
well:
[I]llness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be
unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a
household, but their ability to take their proper role in the
community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them.
Peter’s mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her
calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home.
Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that
which integrated her into her world. Who was she when she no
longer was able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her
social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her
from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about
restoration to community and restoration of a calling,
a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and
calling is bleak indeed.
Thus, the healing that Jesus instigates is not only about freeing someone
from something (an illness, a demon, etc.), but, perhaps even more
importantly, Jesus frees people for something. Indeed, it is no
coincidence that Jesus’ command, “get up,” is the same word that is
used for Jesus’ resurrection at the end of Mark’s gospel. Peter’s
mother-in-law is not only healed, but she is raised up to life, new life,
renewed life, full life because of Jesus’ presence. Thus, Peter’s
mother-in-law engages in the activity of service that is at the heart of her
being once she is healed.
Indeed, Karoline Lewis captures well the implications of this healing:
Jesus lifted her up. What if resurrection is being raised up to be
who you always were and were always meant to be? That it won’t
be hilltop houses, driving 15 cars or bathrooms you can play
baseball in but the radical, emotional, incredible feeling of being
you. That being raised up is not just some sort of spiritual future but your present reality, here and now, to live you . Your mind,
spirit, body, everything together, everything that you were always
meant to be. The story of Simon’s mother-in-law tells
us that God does not call us to be something we are not but is in
the business of restoring us to who we really are.
Which is a wonderful word of promise and a powerful vision for us to
consider. It also is a weighty thing to live into. For, I suspect, that we
often wonder just who it is that we really are. How are we to live into
who we really are if we are unsure of who that is? And absent the
instantaneous healing of a Jesus who makes that crystal clear through the
resurrection that he offers, how are we to know? One commentator
orients us to how this may happen in part. “Jesus,” she says, “is the
incarnation of God’s love, which makes it all the more demanding (if
frightening) to realize that for some people, we are the only Jesus they
will ever meet.” Yes, the white knight does not descend from the ether;
rather Christ continues to work in the world and, as Gerard Manley
Hopkins so eloquently writes, Christ plays in ten thousand places/
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the
features of men’s faces. Thus, the healing, the movement to wholeness,
the living into who we are and who we are to be occurs, in part, because
of our participation in Christ and with Christ in embodying that love to
the world. A powerful and intimate expression of where and when this happens if
offered by Physician Richard Selzer. He writes:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face
post-operative, her mouth twisted—palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of
the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been
severed … to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little
nerve. The young husband is in the room. He stands on the
opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell
in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.… “Will my
mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is
because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young
man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” He bends to
kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he
twists his own lips to accommodate her, to show her that their kiss
still works.
And, perhaps, she recognizes the gift of life that comes through the
touch of the other and the holy that enters in at those moments. Indeed,
the tagline is not “Trust your Power” but rather, “Live in Grace.” We
don’t make ourselves. We rely so much on the gifts of God and the gift
of the other and others. Thus, may we recognize and also be those
moments of grace in our life and for others as we participate in the
resurrection that is already here and live more fully into who we are to
be.

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