Sermon for February 7th, 2021. The parish annual meeting.
She had a fever. That is what jumps out at me in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is entering into the home of somebody who has a fever. Jesus is touching someone who has a fever. Now if I had read that passage last year at this time, that little detail would probably have escaped me, but now…well now it seems truly remarkable.
Maybe it is because I have been asked several times in this past week if I have a fever. Maybe it is because over this past year, I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked if I have a fever, or how many times someone has shot me with a thermometer in the forehead on my way into the dentist or the hairdresser or the doctor’s office or any other number of buildings that I would have just walked into before, but now…everyone wants to know if I have a fever.
And we all know why. Because if you have a fever, then you might have covid. You might have a disease that could threaten my life. You could be spreading death and not even know it. So now, everywhere you go, someone wants to know: do you have a fever?
And in our gospel lesson today, Jesus walks into the house of Simon (or Peter) and his brother Andrew, and he walks up to and touches, touches someone that has a fever.
You know, people in the ancient world may not have understood exactly how diseases spread, but they sure knew that they did. They knew that it was risky being around sick people. The truth is, 2,000 years later we’re not THAT much better. We’ve learned a few things, but over the course of this past year I think we have also been reminded of just how much we don’t know. We still have diseases that spread and we can’t always figure out exactly how or why?
We all know that Jesus died on the cross, but Jesus had been staring death down his whole life, and he does it in the gospel today. When Jesus is touching and healing sick people, he is staring death down. Jesus was a great moral teacher; he told great stories, there is no doubt about that, but why are people searching for him in the gospel today? Because he has power. Real power. Not just the power to inspire. Not just the power to lead. Jesus has the power to heal. He has the power to cast out demons. Jesus has the power to bring people back from the brink of death, and eventually we learn that he has the power to bring back people from the dead. Jesus is demonstrating his power in today’s gospel, and we would do well to pay attention.
You see, I think we Christians have a bad habit of underestimating Jesus’s power. We also have a bad habit of overestimating our own. All the time I hear in diocesan meetings and church circles, how we all need to go out and change the world. How we need to be more missional, whatever that word means. The church likes to talk big about building communities and being positive change agents in the world. The church likes to talk about fighting for justice and equality. The church tells us how we need to be the hands and the feet of Jesus working in the world. I hear all these things time and time again, but the more I keep hearing them now, the more I keep thinking to myself: that’s nice and all, but I’m tired.
I am too tired to change the world. And I’m willing to bet, that if most of you are really honest, you could probably say the same. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you have had covid this year or not. Many of you have, many of you haven’t. But we have all been affected by it. And if that weren’t bad enough, how many other serious illnesses have we had in our church? Cancers, serious medical emergencies, mental illnesses. Maybe you are struggling with chronic pain, or maybe you are just tired from working constantly.
Or maybe it isn’t physical illness that has weighed you down this year, but maybe it has been personal issues or family drama…there has been plenty of that too. Or maybe you are depressed from reading the news and witnessing all the fighting in our government. Maybe you are frustrated that you have been trying to make the world a better place for a long time, and sometimes it just doesn’t seem like it is getting better. We have been fighting the issues of racism and sexism and inequality for years. How many other issues could I list?
Are you tired yet? Because I am. I am tired. I am tired of social distancing and face masks. I am tired of those stupid directional lines in the grocery store telling you which way you are supposed to go. I am tired of having to learn a new piece of technology every five minutes. I am tired of constantly having to change the way we do things. I am tired of having vacations cancelled and not seeing my family or my friends. I am tired of the cheaters and the swindlers and the scammers trying to take advantage of everyone’s frayed mental state right now just for their own greed. I am tired of staring at people through zoom, but never actually touching them, Jesus touched people. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law and it healed her. How many other people just clamoured to reach out and touch Jesus, on the chance that his healing power might cleanse them? I’d be happy just to be able to shake people’s hands again. I miss that.
I miss seeing the kids walk in every Sunday. Every screaming, running one of them. I miss dinner parties at the rectory. I miss seeing the church full.
I don’t have covid, but in some way, it has infected me. It has infected all of us. You don’t have to have a fever to be sick. You don’t have to have covid, or cancer, or anything with a fancy name, to be suffering. I know that there are a lot of suffering people here. Not today obviously, because of course the weather has decided to make things even more complicated today, but this parish, this family of Christians gathered here on this corner in Rockville Centre, people may think that if you live in this community then you must have it made, and yeah it’s a nice town and a nice church and we all have a lot to be thankful for, but nobody in this parish is exempt from suffering. It may come in different forms, but I’m willing to bet that just about everyone here knows a little something about it. There are suffering people in this church. There are people that have worries and pains and concerns that you don’t know anything about. We have learned that you can’t tell from looking at someone whether they have covid or not. Well you also don’t know what else may be eating people inside.
And if someone, through the grace of God, finds the strength and the courage and the fortitude, to get up, and pull themselves together and either turn their television or computer on, or even manage to trudge through the snow or fight with traffic and parking and children and bring themselves in spirit if not in body before the altar of God, so that they can reach out and touch their saviour; if someone can make it that far, then the last thing they need when they come to this sacred place is to be told that fixing the world is all up to them. You know there are Christians that for some reason believe that God needs them and there are Christians that know that they need God. Rest assured I know that I need God.
I am too tired to fix the world. I’m guessing that most of you probably are too. Doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor, black or white. God’s children are tired right now. And you know I could blame it on 2020, but this tired has been building for a very long time. Humans have always been weak. We have always been too tired and beaten down to fix the world. That is part of the problem. What is the solution?
A long time ago the prophet Isaiah proclaimed “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
This is the same Lord that is reaching down and touching Peter’s mother in law in the gospel this morning. It is the same Lord that we meet in the sacrament of the altar. This is the same Lord that we pray to here in this space and in our homes, year in and year out. Day in and day out.
So if you are here or are watching this today, and if you are tired like me, then the good news I have for you is that it’s ok. God isn’t waiting on you to fix all the world’s problems. The Lord has more than enough strength and wisdom to take care of that on his own.
Now if you want to serve the Lord, that’s wonderful, but take a little advice from Simon Peter’s Mother in law and let him heal you first.