Doing What a Disciple Does (February 4, 2018)
I mentioned last week that the first thing Jesus does in Mark’s gospel is healing and teaching. This is the heart of Jesus’ ministry; as he teaches and heals, he embodies the kingdom of God. Jesus is the sign that God is present in the world. The time is fulfilled; God’s kingdom is among us.
Our reading this morning continues the reading from last week. Jesus continues his ministry of healing and teaching. “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Peter and Andrew, with James and John. Now Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
Three years ago, when I preached on this reading, the heart of what I said was that Peter’s mother–in–law is portrayed as a model for all disciples. Disciples are called to serve. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We serve the world—and this faithful woman shows us the way.
But, as I’m fond of saying, context is everything. Today, three years later, we live in a different context. We live while the #MeToo movement swirls around us. Women are stepping forward to reclaim their power. Women are standing up together in community to say that they will no longer be silent in the face of abuse and harassment.
For me, this is another sign of God’s kingdom being born among us.
Context is everything, and so today I read this passage a little bit differently.
“As soon as the fever left her, she was up serving the men.” She is still a model of discipleship, but I’m more aware this year that a reading like this has been used by some men to pile scriptural abuse on women. Some men interpret this passage to mean that this is God’s role for women. They want to “keep women in their place”—and they assume that this is the place God gave women.
John Piper is a prominent Reformed Church minister in the USA with a huge audience. He says unequivocally that “being a pastor is a man’s job … any job in which a woman exercises personal influence or guidance or leadership over a man is an affront to God’s created order.”
Just look at Peter’s mother–in–law he says. God intended her to serve the men as soon as she got well. That’s what women should do.
What utter rubbish! Men like Piper will do whatever they can to keep patriarchy in place. So they use Scripture and religion to abuse women. This kind of religious abuse is not just about hijabs and chadors. It’s also shown in this kind of skewed understanding about what women are allowed to do in God’s economy.
Sadly, it’s not just fundamentalist literalist preachers like John Piper. I’m conscious that the Anglican Church in Canada, for example, only began to ordain women as priests some 40 years ago. The Church of England only permitted women priests to become bishops 3 years ago. Before that, it was men’s work.
So let me be quite clear. When Scripture is used to keep women down, it is the worst kind of misinterpretation. It constitutes abuse.
Peter’s mother–in–law doesn’t serve because that’s the role of women. She doesn’t serve because that’s the order God ordained. No. She serves—more correctly, she chooses to serve—because that’s what a disciple does. Men and boys are called to serve as equal partners with women and girls because we are all followers of Jesus.
When we read it this way, this story is about our calling. Like Peter’s mother–in–law, we are called to serve. Like Jesus, we are called to serve. Like every disciple, like every follower of Jesus, we are called to serve.
In other words, this story of healing is also a story about vocation. The word for “serve” in this reading is the word διακονεω (diakoneo). It is the ordinary Greek word for serving, for waiting at tables, for preparing and serving food. It is the ordinary word for serving someone by attending to their needs.
At a more technical level, διακονεω is the word for “deacon”. A deacon is someone who serves the world in the name of Jesus. To use the words of Paul this morning, we are called to become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. It’s about letting the gospel set the work of our lives. Paul shows us that the gospel sets the agenda.
When we claim to be a follower of Jesus, it is more than a set of words. It is an action. To be a follower … means to actually follow. To do what Jesus did. To touch people with the good news of God’s love. To reach out to our community, to the people in our neighbourhoods, to the people in our family, and speak a word of healing compassion and love.
It’s a wonderful thing to come to church here at Christ Church and be with our friends in this place. Gathering together like this is very important.
But it isn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
We are called to follow. We are called to speak words of compassion and love, to reach out in acts of compassion and love. We are called to tell people what we have experienced here. We are called to show people with our lives about the good news that we have heard. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, no matter how hard that can be sometimes. We are called to seek justice, and to speak out against injustice. We are called to put ourselves on the line for other people.
It’s not enough just to come to worship. This good and faithful woman who was healed shows us the way.
I love to do an exercise with small groups when we talk about worship. Let’s try it this morning.
Look at your bulletin. There are five main sections in our worship—Gathering the Community; Proclaiming the Word; Responding to the Word; Celebrating the Eucharist; Sending Forth.
Now, how long does each section take?
Gathering the Community—how long does that take? (6 minutes or so)
Proclaiming the Word—again, how much time? (Yeah I know, it all depends on how long the sermon is) (25–30 minutes)
Responding to the Word—how long? (about 10-12 minutes or so)
Celebrating the Eucharist— (about 15–20 minutes)
Sending Forth—how long? (about 5 minutes)
Nope. You’re wrong. This last act of worship doesn’t last 5 minutes. It actually lasts 6 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes. Our whole life is wrapped in worship. Worship doesn’t end when we leave here. Worship continues all week long as we live as people of God in the world.
We don’t just walk out of here and forget about the liturgy. We live our whole lives in the liturgy of God. That’s what it means to be a disciple. That’s what it means to be a follower of God. That’s what our baptism means. That’s how we live out our baptismal covenant.
Peter’s mother–in–law becomes a powerful example and model for us. Jesus sets her free from her illness, she gets up, and she takes up her role as a disciple, a follower of Jesus, a person who is an important part of her community. She serves. She is a deacon.
This is why we gather in worship. We gather, we proclaim the word, we respond to the word, we celebrate Eucharist precisely so that God can send us forth into the world to continue our worship there.
God sets us free to go into the world, where we live and work and serve as disciples, as people who are called, as people who are given a vocation in the world.
Now that’s another kind of MeToo movement I’d want to be a part of. Count me in.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
February 4, 2018, 5th Sunday after Epiphany (Proper 5)
Mark 1: 29–39
Isaiah 40: 21–31
1 Corinthians 9: 16–23