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2024-02-04 Epiphany 5

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Picture it. 1987. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Alexander School. Currently where Ecole Ducharme sits to this very day. I remember when I was a kid in gym class. From time to time our teacher would give us a choice about what we wanted to do for physical activity. Alexander had this super fun looking rope and ladder setup, like something Rambo and Chuck Norris would use and train on. Everybody always wanted to try the rope climb game, but our gym teacher was wise enough to realize that most of us were a little too tubby to climb up that rope! Nintendo had recently been invented and that video gamer lifestyle was already setting in! We couldn’t have climbed that rope to save our chubby little lives! So instead of the Rambo Rope Climb, we had to pick something else. And being an inner city school in the ghetto, what with all the cut backs and such, all our school could afford was Dodge Ball. And so, we would run around the gym burning off calories and hurling that red bouncy ball as hard as we possibly could at our fellow students! As you can imagine, after about 10 minutes, dodge ball gets really boring. So, to kick Dodge Ball up to notches unknown to mankind, we added an extra twist. If you got hit with the ball, you had to lay down where you were and a team mate had to run over, lift you up and “heal” you and bring you back to the line so that you could continue to go around healing others who had fallen to that perilous red rubber spinning sphere of certain doom!

This memory came flooding back to me as I read Mark’s Gospel for this morning. We continue our Epiphany themes of light and revealing. Today it again centres on His preaching but also on His miraculous healings. And specifically, Jesus healing Peter’s mother in law. Right after the Synagogue special from last Sunday, they head over to Simon and Andrew’s house. And, there she is, lying in bed sick with a fever. “And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (MK 1:31). Just like that! Instant, miraculous healing. There was no taking it easy, gradually getting back to daily activities. It was right now, back in the saddle! And you can imagine the scene, this poor mother in law wakes up to a house full of guests and the panic sets in. How am I going to feed all these people!? Get the refreshments and the Kosher charcuterie board!

This is actually a tricky text for preachers, theologians and lay people just the same. It deals with the miraculous, real-deal, on the spot, immediate physical healing of ill people. Jesus was forever healing people. The Apostles also continued to heal people after Christ ascended into Heaven. We simply cannot say that that was just an Apostolic age type thing that died out. Jesus Himself promises “whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (JN 14:12) It actually parallels last week’s sermon with the immediate release from Demonic Possession. We don’t often see that kind of thing in our day and age and we seldom see very many miraculous healings either. There does, however, appear to be an abundance of this stuff on Television.

It you’ve ever watched the religion channel on TV, you’ve no doubt seen people there doing or supposedly doing miraculous healing. These massive, capacity crowds all jumping and cheering and getting fired up. Perhaps you may have stumbled across a guy by the name of Peter Popoff. He’s infamously known as the “Prophet who profits!” He claims to have miraculous healing powers. He gives out miraculous healing spring water from Chernobyl (yes, that’s the place that had the catastrophic Nuclear melt down). Reams of people come to this guy and he’s yellin’ and jumpin’ around and the music plays and there is a whole lot of energy and high drama. He wanders around the stadium and starts calling out people’s names and not only their names but also what ails them! How could he possibly know that unless God was truly with him! … Or, the people filled out prayer cards when they went into the event with their names and prayer requests for exactly what ails them. Then, over a radio earpiece, Popoff’s wife would read the cards into his ear. And a magician named The Amazing Randy had a scanner and recorded the radio transmissions! BUSTED! Popoff is a total grifter. A fraud. A charlatan. A gimme-all-your-money prophet who profits!

And then there’s the other side of the coin, on the other side of the grifters are the blamers. These ones try and convince you that it’s your fault that you have sickness, pain and suffering. They often saying that “if only you had more faith, then this wouldn’t have happened to you.” Or “if only you would give more money to the church then God would bless you beyond measure.” If…then. This idea turns our faith and spirituality into a multi-million dollar money making venture! This false and fraudulent theology steeps all who hear it in a downward spiral of guilt and anguish! So don’t listen to this kind thing. It’s not a message from God, that’s for sure. Rather, it is a message from the devil, the father of lies.

But how do we understand this Bible text from Mark’s gospel? We read it and hear it and people are healed. Immediately. Miraculously. Peter’s mother in law, and even the whole town showed up for healing and exorcisms. It can be frustrating when we have to endure health battles and we ask “Why not me?!” It’s fine and dandy like sour candy that Bible people 2000 years ago were healed instantly of their maladies – but what about my cancer, my Parkinson’s, my arthritis, my Diabetes, my Lupus, my Multiple-Sclerosis? We can even start to conclude that “God hates me!” He’s punishing me for not having enough faith or for some sin we committed!

But it is important for us to remember St. Paul in these circumstances. He likewise had some trouble, putting it mildly. He says “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:7-9). The Lord works in the midst of suffering. And just because we experience hard times and suffering it does not mean the Lord has abandoned us. Quite to the contrary. St. Paul also writes that we are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17). The path our Messiah walks is the way of suffering. We think of the cross and the enormous amount of suffering our Saviour endured for us. And what does He tell us to do? Go relax on the couch? Far from it. He says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (MT 16:24). To follow Jesus means to walk the same road of suffering, ever relying on God’s strength to help get us through.

And at the same time we also have great promise from God’s word. James writes “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15). You never know, the Lord might choose to work in an immediate and miraculous way. But either way, He encourages us to pray. To have the Pastor come and visit, bringing God’s promise of forgiveness, life and salvation through prayer, anointing and the forgiveness of sins.

But the doubt always lingers though, doesn’t it? “What if it doesn’t work?!” What if I still have to endure suffering? You might. God might give you the same answer He gave to St. Paul. Or, on the other hand, He might work immediately like He did for Peter’s mother in law. But either way, what is required is trust. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to His timing. Patience. The virtue of virtues. That and the reminder that Christ our Lord is victorious. He has already conquered through His cross and empty tomb. His Kingdom of glorious light has been revealed to this world of darkness. Sickness, demonic possession, and sin are all signs that this world isn’t long for this world. It’s all coming to an end. Yet, they are real examples that the world remains in a grip of real evil – a grip that Jesus has loosened for us that we might have life and have it abundantly! It’s a grip that will one day be destroyed forever, and all things will be as they were intended.

Christ’s healing is always connected to His preaching. For this reason, Jesus has come! To preach and teach and heal and drive out Satan and to forgive. His works reveal that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son for you! He has united Himself to you by His word and sacraments, that we may remain in God’s Fatherly care. This good work has now begun in us. In every person you talk to and help, you show them the healing touch of Jesus. Thanks be to God, now and forever more. Amen!

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