February 4, 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

All Saints, Boise

Epiphany 5B

February 4, 2024

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

            I feel like many parents of children, especially moms, know this feeling. You may be sick, but you still must take care of everyone else. The second you start showing improvement, you better be ready to pick up all the slack that everyone else left for you during your illness.

            And it’s exhausting, isn’t it? Like the whole house would fall apart if we weren’t there to do the cooking, or the cleaning, or the maintenance, or whatever task it is that falls to us to do. When we want to rest, when we want to heal, we’re being reminded, “Well, what’s going to happen if you don’t do it?”

            Then we feel guilty. That maybe it is our responsibility after all.

            Or we feel shame.  That if we were better people, we wouldn’t be sick, or exhausted, or discouraged.

            And then we get hit with that line from Paul’s letter: to be all things to all people. That if we were really good Christians, we’d be so flexible that we could take care of everything and everyone everyday with no mistakes. We could meet every person’s need exactly as they need it and want it.

            Those expectations hit us hard. We’re told to be self-sacrificing, endlessly giving. We get exhausted and burned out.

            So what do we do? How do we take care of others in the face of these obligations?

            Well, first, let’s peel apart the layers on these Bible passages because they don’t mean what we’ve been told to think of them.

            With Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever, she is healed instantly – not as in “the fever broke, and now you can rest and get better sleep” but as in “the fever broke and your body is whole.” It’s complete healing. It’s not taking away the symptom, it’s the healing of the whole body.

            Jesus is treating the root of the problem, not the symptom. She’s so healed, she can get up and cook. That’s the level of healing we’re talking about.

            If you’ve had a bad fever, you know what I’m talking about. With a serious fever, your body is exhausted even when the fever begins to break. Your body is still healing.

            So the story isn’t about Jesus fixing her so she can get back to work. The story is Jesus healing her completely.

            I wonder what kind of healing we need from Jesus. If we’re exhausted, do we want to be healed of exhaustion just to go back to what we were doing before? Or do we want to invite Jesus to heal us more deeply – what needs healing deep down inside us.

            Do we need to be healed of our expectations of ourselves – the layers of shame and guilt that drive us to exhaustion and overwork and rob us of the joy of service? Do we need to be healed of beliefs that everything needs to be perfect if we are to be loved? Do we need to be healed to have our courage restored to say, “Hey, I need help, and if I don’t get help, it’s not getting done”?

            Where do we need more complete healing in our lives? Lent is coming soon – Lent isn’t just about sacrifice and suffering. Lent is a time when we can turn to Jesus for life, renewed life, divine life. As it says in the First Letter of Peter, “Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”[1] Jesus is bringing you healing, not demanding that you suffer. Suffering is not a virtue; courage and patience and hope and justice are virtues.

            And that line from St Paul, to be all things to all people. I’ve heard sermons that try to say that leaders in the church especially need to be all things to all people. And that’s simply not true. That’s selfishness masquerading as ministry.

            Because Jesus wasn’t “all things to all people.” Everyone was looking for him, and he went off to pray. And then when they find him, he says it’s time for him to move on. Some people expected him as the Messiah to swoop in with armies and overthrow Rome. He didn’t. Some people expected him to preach an otherworldly, world-denying message, but instead he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards.

            So then how do we read Paul’s message? Not that he “became all things” like some kind of chameleon – that honestly sounds manipulative and insincere – but that he became more human, he shared their humanity, he saw fellowship and connection where there might be none before.

            Just as the Gospel reading wasn’t about restoring us just so we could get back to work and make others happy, so is this Epistle reading not about losing our sense of self in order to make others happy or convert them. Jesus restores us with deep healing. And Paul is counseling us to return to our humanity that we share. A humanity that transcends boundaries, a humanity that helps us to connect and listen and share communion with others.

            We are healed, to be ourselves. And when we are ourselves, we can truly be with and for others. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves eager to serve. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves wanting to go to a quiet place to sit with God in loving attention. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves understanding our own limits of what we can and cannot do. We are healed, and from that we might see that we’re simply human, human like everyone else.

            Christ heals us, not that we may work, but Christ heals us that we may be more truly human as we were made to be. Amen.

[1] 1 Peter 2:24