TITLE: Losing It in the Supermarket SCRIPTURE: Mark 1:29-39
In our Gospel reading today, Mark tells about Jesus healing Simon Peter's mother-in-law of a fever. That might not seem very significant, compared to his other healing miracles. He healed a paralytic (2:1-12). Just think of that -- a man who had been paralyzed was able to stand up and walk! That was a pretty good miracle, don't you think!
And he healed a man with a withered hand (3:1-6). That might not seem very impressive either, but I'll bet the man with the withered hand was impressed.
And he healed a man who was possessed by demons (5:1-20). The man had been living in a cemetery -- running wild -- howling and bruising himself with stones. People tried to restrain him, but he would break the chains that they used to bind him. But after Jesus healed him, he became normal -- clothed and in his right mind.
So we might not think that it was such a big deal that Jesus healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law of her fever -- but we would be wrong. We have forgotten what life was like before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. He did that in 1928 -- less than a century ago. People used to die of fevers. Perhaps I should say that people used to die of infections -- fevers being a symptom of infection.
Now and then we get a reminder of the fragility of our lives. Some of you will remember Jim Henson, who created the Muppets and played a big role in Sesame Street. Henson was at the height of his considerable fame when he began to feel some flu-like symptoms. He mentioned it to a friend on May 4, 1990. He even went to see a doctor, who found nothing seriously wrong. But Henson got progressively worse. He resisted going into the hospital, but finally, on May 15th --eleven days after first experiencing symptoms -- he was admitted to New York Hospital. He died 20 hours later from toxic shock syndrome caused by a bad strep infection.
That kind of infection scares doctors. It scares them, because they know how quickly they can become helpless to do anything. So maybe being cured of a fever isn't such a small thing after all.
Dave Barry usually writes funny newspaper columns, but he wrote a serious one a few years ago. He was talking about the vulnerability that he felt whenever something bad happened to his son, Rob. Among the bad things that happened was a fever. When Rob was ten months old, he got a fever -- 106 degrees -- most of you parents can relate to that. Dave Barry, who always has something funny to say, didn't have anything funny to say about that. He said:
"I carried him into the hospital, thinking I CAN'T TAKE THIS,PLEASE, LET ME BE ABLE TO STOP THIS,PLEASE, GIVE ME THIS FEVER,TAKE IT OUT OF THIS LITTLE BOY AND PUT IT IN ME, PLEASE...."
But then he went on to say, "But you can't do that. You can't make it happen to you. You have to watch it happen to your child, and it never gets any easier, does it?" (From "The Accident," The Washington Post Magazine, 1993).
So maybe it wasn't such a small thing that Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law of her fever. Simon and his friends didn't think it was a small deal. When they learned that she had a fever, they quickly went to Jesus and asked for help.
So Jesus "came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them" (v. 31).
Some women have been offended by that last line. "She began to serve them." Humph! A woman stuck in a stereotypical servant-role. Humph!
But it wasn't like that. Not at all! She had guests in her home. Andrew was there -- and James and John. She wanted to take care of them. She wanted to be a good hostess. She wanted them to enjoy their visit to her home, but she couldn't get up from her sickbed. All of us --women and men alike-- have experienced that kind of helplessness. We HATE to be helpless when we would like to be DOING something. It's a terrible feeling.
So Simon's mother was sick and helpless until Jesus helped her. Then she was able to get up and take care of the chores that she desperately wanted to do. Hurray! Thank God!
The disciples brought other sick people to Jesus, and he healed them too. But then:
"In the morning, while it was still very dark,(Jesus) got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed" (v. 35).
He went to a deserted place and prayed. Jesus had been burning spiritual energy at a mile-a-minute pace. He had only recently returned from the wilderness, where he had endured Satan's temptation (1:12-13). He had only recently called his first four disciples (1:16-20). He had only recently healed a man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28). And then there was Simon's mother-in-law -- and people from all over the city gathered at his door (1:32-34). He must have been exhausted -- not just physically, but spiritually as well. Yes, he was divine, but he was human too. He needed to renew his strength, so he went to a deserted place where he could pray.
If Jesus needed to go to a deserted place to pray, what about you? Do you ever get exhausted? Do you ever get stretched to the limits -- beyond the limits -- stretched to the breaking point? What do you do when that happens?
Sometimes we go ballistic. I saw a woman with a small child in a supermarket. The little girl was sitting in the seat at the back of the shopping cart, and her mother was SCREAMING at her. That mother had gone completely around the bend.
Later, I told a friend about that mother. I was pretty critical. How dare she scream at her child! But then I thought about myself and my grandchildren:
"If you're ever going to lose it, you'll lose it in a supermarket or some place else where little children are. Children fuss and squirm and grab things. They want everything. They whine! I'm not really surprised that she lost it in a supermarket."
So I stood corrected! I have to admit that I understand. I have felt the tension and have lost it myself.
Are there any alternatives to losing it in a supermarket? There are, of course. They aren't necessarily easy, but they are better.
Jesus went away to a deserted place where he could pray. Wouldn't you mothers and fathers love to go away to a deserted place where you could pray! Wouldn't that be wonderful! But most of the time, that isn't possible.
But we can take a deep breath and will ourselves to relax. We can put ourselves in God's hands. We can say, "Help me, Jesus! Calm me, Lord!" We don't have to close our eyes to pray like that. We can watch to see that our child doesn't fall out of the shopping cart while we pray, "Help me, Jesus! Calm, me, Lord!" It might not seem likely that Jesus would answer a little prayer like that. It might not seem possible that he would help us in the midst of our supermarket crisis -- but he will. Invite him to help you -- to calm you.
And, of course, the supermarket is just one of a million places where we can lose it. We can lose it at work. We can lose it in the car. We can lose it in our home. But Jesus can help us in any and all of those places. When life carries you to the edge, don't forget to pray. Don't forget to ask God to help you. Just will yourself to relax. Put yourself in God's hands and say, "Lord, help me!"
Jesus' quiet time didn't last long. That sounds familiar, doesn't it! Quiet times never last long. Jesus' disciples came looking for him -- just like children come looking for their mothers. Jesus' disciples told him, "Everyone is searching for you."
What is it that they say? "No rest for the weary!" Isn't that true!
But Jesus didn't get angry. He didn't tell his disciples to go away. He didn't plead for a little more quiet time. He said:
"Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do" (v. 38).
Jesus didn't spend much time in that deserted place. He didn't pray very long. But a little time in the presence of God can be enough. If we can just lose ourselves in the arms of the father for a little bit, he will strengthen us. He will help us.
What Jesus needed to do was to proclaim the message of God's love -- to proclaim the message of salvation. He said, "For that is what I came to do." That was his job as our Savior, and it is our job, too, as his church. It is our job as Christians to proclaim the message of God's love -- to proclaim the message of salvation.
We proclaim God's Word when we come to church. I proclaim it from the pulpit, but we each proclaim it by our presence here. The late Frank Harrington, who preached for years in Atlanta, talked about a friend whom he identified only as Hart -- H-A-R-T. Hart had grown up as one of twelve children in a sharecropper's family. Many of you have no idea what that means, but it means that Hart grew up in poverty -- terrible poverty. But he worked hard and became quite successful.
Hart couldn't hear very well. He had only ten percent hearing in one ear. But Dr. Harrington noted that he was in church every Sunday. He would sit near the front and read lips.
Dr. Harrington told Hart how much he appreciated his faithfulness. He told him that he was a great inspiration. Hart replied:
"It means a great deal to me to be here. Also, I want everyone to know whose side I'm on."
By being in God's house for worship, we show everyone whose side we're on. And we proclaim God's Word by our presence. And we proclaim God's Word by our singing. And we proclaim God's Word by our participation in the sacraments. And we proclaim God's Word by the work that we do here at the church. And, hopefully, we proclaim God's Word as we go from this place -- to our workplace -- to our school -- to a friend's home -- to our own homes. That's what God has called us to do.
Every place we go, we have the opportunity to plant the seed of God's Word. We have the opportunity to bring God's kingdom a little closer. We have the opportunity to make Christ known to our friends and our families. That's what Christ has called us to do.
How Firm a Foundation (BH #338; CH #618; CO #452; CP #527; ELW #796; GC #606; JS #404; LBW #507; LSB #728; LW #411; PH #361; TH #636, 637; TNCH #407; UMH #529; VU #660; WR #411)
Take Time to be Holy (BH #446; CH #572; UMH #395; VU #672; WR #483)