A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Good morning. It’s my first time back in the pulpit since returning from parental leave, so before anything else I want to take a moment and say thank you. For so many things. Your joy at the birth of Finley, your countless cards and emails and texts of support and love. And the books! All the amazing books that you all coordinated back in September have filled a decent-sized bookcase in her nursery. Each night since her birth, so about four months, we have read her one of your books, and told her who it was from. We just started re-reading through them. Between your books and your prayers and your joy, it’s felt like St. Mary’s has been giving our family a big hug these past few months. What a remarkable and unique gift to have you all in our lives at this time. Blake and Finley and I are so grateful for you.

My transition to motherhood has been good. I’m more tired than I knew possible, and I feel like I have something wet on me all the time. I currently have this wretched sinus infection that developed from a cold that Finley got at daycare. But I’m also more present than ever before, and I just feel this new tenderness. Being a parent to this baby is the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt. It feels like my insides are on my outsides and like she is just an extension of me and at any moment I might explode with joy and but also weep with fear, all at the same time.

In those early days, I would just stare at her while she slept, in awe that I grew the lungs that were now pumping air in and out of her body but terrified that at any second, they would just stop working. I became amazed at just how sturdy she was for being such a new creature, and simultaneously horrified at the fragility of her tiny self.

When she got her first cold last week, her fever spiked to 101.8 and she was so miserable, and we did everything we could possibly think of for her. Never have I ever felt so completely out of control. Sure, if things became critical, I could take her to hospital. I wasn’t urgently worried about her. But I realized that all I could do for her was hold her and wait it out, and I caught this tiny glimmer of the reality that her life is not something I can completely protect.

So, Gospel stories like today’s that deal with sickness and mortality hit a little differently now. I’ve become acutely aware just how scary sickness can be because I’ve also begun to grasp, in a new way, just how precious each and every life is.

Simon, a disciple of Jesus, is worried about his mother-in-law because she has a fever, which I assume was quite life-threatening in first-century times. No, it wasn’t his own child. But it was someone very dear to him, someone he loved and would do anything to protect. I imagine he, too, was struck with the harsh reality that her healing was completely out of his control. That he’d done all he could do for her. And so, he did the only thing left he could possibly think of; he called to Jesus. Simon left his mother-in-law’s life in Jesus’ hands.

I bet he was hesitant. I also bet he was desperate. Did he have little hope that it would work? Or did he find faith in his moment of need? Either way, he placed her before the Lord. And the Lord healed her. Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up and she was well again.

And on the one hand, what a comfort to us to see Jesus healing her of her fever. What a miracle. But on the other hand, we also know that we too have asked Jesus to heal our family and our friends and even ourselves, but Jesus isn’t walking the earth now and instantly curing with the touch of his hand in the same way that he once was.

Why not? Well, I don’t fully know. And I don’t expect to ever completely understand the theological and spiritual intricacies of that question. But I do know that this scripture is not just a historical account of a time gone by, of a Jesus that used to heal. No, it is an account of the healing power of Jesus that is still at work among us today, but perhaps in different ways.

Because when we get to that point, like Simon with his mother-in-law, where we catch a glimpse that we are not in control, that is where Jesus breaks in. It is often when we’ve reached the edge of our limits and the end of our hope that we witness yes, Jesus does still heal today, even if it doesn’t always look like his physical hand relieving our loved ones of every fever or sickness. While I trust that Jesus is still at work healing us in our bodies, even though it is a great mystery to me, I also think that sometimes the healing we ask God for comes in the shape of something else. A renewal of faith or the restoration of a relationship or even the rejuvenation of our spirit and the reconciliation of our hope in God.

If we look closely in verse 31, it says that Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. And that might be all the Gospel we need today. To realize that the healing miracle of God-incarnate is always that Jesus comes to us. We are used to it, but it might do us good to remember just how radical it is that God sent us his son, a tiny newborn baby, and made himself vulnerable to this world and came face to face with the fragility of life. So, when we cry out for him today, when we pray to him in our desperation, when we bid him to come to our house and lay his hand on our people, not only does he hear us. But he understands us. Deeply and personally. And he holds our hands in our times of need.

He holds our hands, and he lifts us up.

It’s not often that I find it valuable to point out “the Greek” but it’s worth noting that the Greek word used here for “lifted her up” is actually the same word as “raised up,” the same word used to describe Lazarus, who was dead, coming up from his grave, the same word to describe what happened to Jesus three days after he died. It’s hard to make the connection with our English translation but the scripture writers didn’t want us to miss that Jesus lifting up Simon’s mother-in-law is reminiscent of the raising up, the resurrection, that she will one day experience. That each one of his earthly healings was also meant to be a sign of the future healing to come.

And so, when we are completely cracked open and faced with the limits to this life, we take comfort in knowing that we have a God who comes to us and enters into our pain like Jesus did in Simon’s house that day. But also, when we desire so deeply to see our loved ones protected and these bodies to be relieved of their suffering and all people to be healed, we remember that Jesus has assured us of the resurrection of his people. Despite the fragility of this life, each one of us and those we love are headed for our final restoration, where Jesus, too, will lift us up. We are all headed for that final day where the saints of God will be raised up and be made completely whole and perfectly one with God in Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Kilpy Singer