Serving – You Have The Power To Heal
Read with me the Story of Simon’s Mother-In-Law from Mark 1:29-31.
It’s kinda sad that in over 2000 years when a couple of guys walk into someone’s home they have no clue how to fend for themselves. So they have to go to such lengths as miraculously healing the sick lady of the house to get anything done.
Some of you ladies out there are thinking this woman was pretty smart. She knew as soon as those guys walked in that they couldn’t do anything for themselves….so she comes down with a fever! Some of y’all are gong to be coming down with a fever this evening when the super bowl is on and all the men around you suddenly become really needy! Go for it. It might work!
On the surface, the story looks like Jesus healing her just so she could tend to the men in the room. And frankly that is the way this story has been read far too often. Jesus proves his lordship and power by healing this woman who should be cooking and cleaning so that she can take her rightful place in serving the men. And honestly that was pretty much the way the culture was during Jesus day.
But that view misses an enormous piece of this story. It misses something truly amazing that Jesus does. And it underestimates the powerful place women have among the followers of Jesus.
Simon’s Mother-In-Law was healed and immediately became a deacon! We say that she began to serve them because we have a cultural bias of our own that she was the matriarch and therefore should be serving the men.
But this word serve is important – diakonos. The word is Greek and means “to serve,” but it means more than that. It is a word loaded with meaning in the New Testament. Jesus applies this word to himself (Mark 10:45 – I came not to be served but to serve; I came not to be ministered to but to minister). Diakonos is the word for ministry. Once healed this woman began to minister to those present. That is quite a bit different than some might assume.
Simon’s Mother-In-Law is the very first Deacon among the followers of Jesus in the New Testament! She is unnamed, and I’ve always felt troubled by that fact. But today, I tend to think she was unnamed because to give her a name is to give her a status and position and to, perhaps, give folks a way to rationalize her becoming the first deacon while still trying to exclude other women from such a role. But because she is unnamed, she could be anyone…she can be everyone! Each woman today can see themselves in this woman because she represents every woman.
There’s a second piece to this story that I want to talk about today: the connection between touch and healing. Jesus does not just proclaim this woman healed. He draws near to her, takes hold of her hand and she is raised to life, she is healed.
Healing is connected to touch. In this case physical touch. And this is the first healing in Mark. So it kinda sets the stage for future healings correlating touch to health.
Sometimes the touch is not just physical….sometimes it’s a touching word – “Go, your faith has made you well.” (Blind beggars named Bartimaeus in Mark 10) Sometimes it’s the touching act of forgiveness – “Son your sins are forgiven.” (Paralytic man in Mark 2) Sometimes it’s a touching invitation – “come forward. Stretch out your hand” (man with withered hand in Mark 3).
By healing in all these touching ways, Jesus offers a model to us. And we see the woman in this story recognize that model and then take her place as a minister, just like Jesus.
Simon’s mother in law gains tremendous power because she is touched by Jesus, healed by him, and then because she rises to take her place as a deacon who touches the lives of others. Touching someone’s life is powerful.
Physical touch, mental touch, emotional touch, spiritual touch… touching one another’s lives through prayers and visits and hugs and words of affirmation and encouragement and food and cards and all the ways we reach out to one another through this faith community…. it has great power to heal. Great power.
Sure healing comes in the form of doctors and diagnoses and medicines and procedures and medical care. But healing also comes in the form of supporting one another and touching one another’s lives in all the ways you and I try to do every day. Without going to medical school, you and I have great power to bring healing to people’s lives.
There are a growing number of medical studies on the power we have to bring healing into one another’s lives, particularly on the power of prayer to bring healing.
Research at San Francisco General Hospital looked at the effect of prayer on 393 cardiac patients. Half were prayed for by strangers who had only the patients’ names. Those patients had fewer complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, and needed less drug treatment.
And while this study on praying for strangers is interesting, it gets more fascinating when there’s a relationship between the person praying and the person being prayed for.
In another experiment researchers tested the differences between praying for strangers versus praying for someone you know personally. They were groups of people praying for folks they did not know who were sick all the way across the country and they were groups of people praying for folks they personally knew you were a part of their church. Similar instructions were given, to pray for the ill people every day. But the sick persons receiving prayers from strangers across the country showed only slight difference from the general public. In contrast the people with comparable sicknesses receiving prayers from people whom they knew intimately showed significant difference in improvement and in quality of life.
You see, being a part of a community of faith where folks are praying for you and caring for you and supporting you and nurturing you makes a difference in your life.
• Separate studies conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities show that people in faith communities tend to heal faster, get sick less often, and live longer. Some statistics from these studies:
◦ Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.
◦ Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.
◦ Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.
◦ In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
• In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live.
• One researcher has said: “There is a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who never attend church and those who attend weekly.”
• The American Society of Hypertension established in 2006 that church-goers have lower blood pressure than non-believers.
• The American Journal of Public Health studied nearly 2,000 older Californians for five years and found that those who attended religious services were 36 percent less likely to die during that period than those who didn’t.
You may be thinking, well of course! But just stop for a moment. This is amazing! This is good news! This is the power of God working through us as we serve one another in our faith communities. And pay attention, in almost every case….it’s not just someone who believes….it’s about folks who participate in faith community. The more you participate, the better your health!
Gerald May, a medical doctor who practices psychotherapy in Washington, DC, writes of the importance of community in the healing process:
God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s support and perspective. The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant nor as mystical as in communities of faith. Its power includes not just love that comes from people and through people but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.
This is the power of God at work. But I want us to be clear, this is not simply God magically zapping us healed. This is about us praying for one another. This is about visits and cards and words of support and encouragement. This is about relationship between people and how God works through our relationships. This is about how grace is manifested in our lives through being in community with one another. This is about the power of faith communities, the power of the church.
What makes all this possible is people here who love and serve one another. And today, we install elders and deacons and officers who will take specific roles in carrying out this work. I want to remind each of you who is currently serving and each who will begin serving this year: what you do matters. Your work as deacon or elder is literally life and death. Your work is the work of healers. Your work changes lives for the better.
What is most exciting is that today we ordain someone new to this congregation: Tammy Ward. You see, we are a church that will not miss the amazing power of healing within faith communities that women have carried out in leadership roles as pastors and deacons since the time of Jesus. We don’t place God in a box when it comes to serving others. God calls who god calls. And today step into the story of Simon’s Mother-In-Law as we honor the call that god has placed in Tammy’s life.
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