A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that those who believe in him may live.

That one piece of scripture may be the most well-known passage globally. Billboards, stickers, coffee mugs, T-shirts, signs at football games, tattoos. You name an object and John 3:16 has most likely been emblazoned on it.

But the verse just ahead of it harkens back to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness…

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Moses and the serpent stick, as I call it. Not a widely familiar story.

Have any of you as a kid gone on a long car trip? Or have you been the parent in the car for a long car trip? Maybe you have lovely memories of idyllic scenery, group singing and delicious snacks. I can recall some happy time spent the far far back of our station wagon, which had roughly more square feet than my first apartment. Lounging around on pillows with my feet in the air.

But mostly I would tell you that long car trips meant pain and suffering to me as a kid in which I complained for a good 90% of the trip. And I suppose as the Lord’s gift to my mother, this pattern repeated once I became the captain of family trips.

The Israelites were on the most miserable of long trips. A trip made more miserable because they had no idea where they were headed. At least at the end of our long trips there is the promise of a welcoming friend or family member, a clean bed. They had none of these certainties. And they were afraid. And they murmured. Their fear turned into anger, and they complained to the management, a lot.

There are five murmuring stories in Numbers. This is the last one of them. Prior to this the Israelites had spoken to the management about bitter water and the Lord instructed Moses about how to sweeten it. Then they were hungry, so the Lord sent down manna. But then they were thirsty again and God told Moses to strike a rock and they were provided with fresh water. But then they wanted meat, manna was boring. So, God sent quails to them.

Does this pattern feel familiar to any experiences you may have with children?

And just like my mother who had just about enough of me, God gets fed up with their complaining, really fed up. And he sends venomous snakes who bite them and if bitten, they die.

Then the people do something different. Something I certainly never did during the course of a car trip with my parents. They repent.

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” And Moses graciously, and I really mean graciously because they have not been easy at all, prays for his people.

God tells him to make a bronze serpent and place it on a stick. When the people are bitten, if they look up at it they will live. And it worked.

I can’t make the part about God telling Moses to make something that seems a lot like an idol any less weird. It just is. Although it does not appear to be idolized here, it eventually had some kind of power ascribed to it. They carried that thing around for a long time. It was still in Jerusalem centuries later. The serpent stick appears in 2 Kings when Hezekiah demands it be destroyed.

But this odd story is precisely what John harkens back to in today’s Gospel.

Jesus in this passage is speaking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, the Pharisee and leader, who comes to Jesus in the night trying to figure out just what is going on with Jesus. And before Nicodemus can even ask Jesus any questions Jesus just lets loose.

Have you ever been in a conversation, and you say one thing and then all of the sudden the person you are talking to starts in on a dissertation about something you have no idea what he’s talking about? That’s kind of what happens here to Nicodemus.

And what Jesus says to Nicodemus has been taken and, as I see it, has made into an idol, made into some kind of gatekeeping passage about who is in and who is out in the Kingdom of God. As if just gazing up at a John 3:16 billboard, as the snake bitten Israelites looked up at the serpent stick, will save us.

Whoever believes. Believing in Jesus is not a nice thing to just think about. Believing in Jesus means acting in the world as Jesus would have us act. Jesus is inviting Nicodemus into a life of belief in him. A life that although filled with hope can lead one straight out into the wilderness where things are hard and uncertain.

In the last few gospel readings this Lent believing in Jesus means…

  • not storing up treasures on earth
  • repenting because the kingdom of God has come near
  • picking up our cross and carrying it
  • Losing our lives for the sake of the gospel
  • flipping the tables, challenging those whose business exploits others

I don’t know about you, but I’ve not managed to do those things well in the last three weeks of Lent or for the other 51 years and some odd weeks of my life.

Believing in Jesus means that we are to do the things He told us to do…

  • Be as merciful as the Good Samaritan
  • Love our enemies
  • Forgive those who trespass against us
  • Give without expectation
  • If someone sues you for your shirt, throw in your jacket, too, without hesitation
  • Don’t worry about tomorrow
  • Reconcile, live in peace with one another
  • Humble ourselves and get down and wash the feet of others
  • Love others the way that Jesus loves us

These actions are BELIEVING in Jesus. These actions push back the darkness. These actions reveal the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Who among us lives each and every day in a way that reflects the wideness of his mercy and the wonders of his love? I mean really, fully. I myself spend a lot of time complaining to the management rather than living into Jesus’ way of love.

Nicodemus gets beaten up in lots of interpretations because he is cast as the bad guy who just can’t understand who Jesus is. He does not have a John 3:16 T-shirt or bumper sticker by the end of this conversation with Jesus. He goes away into the night.

Nicodemus does appear again in the Gospel of John. And his story deserves to be told every time he comes up in the lectionary. Because he is extraordinary. Nicodemus’ last appearance is at the foot of the cross.

At the foot of the cross where not one of the disciples who went around telling people to believe in Jesus are. Not one of them.

But Nicodemus is. He’s there and with Joseph of Arimathea he collects Jesus’s dead body and cares for him. They took down the body of Jesus and wrapped him in linen and laid him in the tomb.

Does Nicodemus fully understand who Jesus is at that point? Does it matter? Or does his belief lead him to act the way Jesus would want, with mercy, courage, and love?

But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. 

For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Saved through him, by living as Jesus teaches us to live.

This is the invitation that Jesus gives to Nicodemus; this is the invitation Jesus gives to us.

We want to be disciples who follow Jesus, and we can be. But we can also be like the disciples who abandon Jesus at the cross.

We are also the Israelites in the desert, murmuring and able to return to God and repent because we are constantly in need of God’s grace.

I think we are called to be like Nicodemus too, ready to show up in mercy and courage and love even if maybe we don’t fully understand yet what being a believer means.

Lent is a time to remember to live like Jesus wants us to, not only with our lips but in our lives. To admit the ways our lives do not align with what believing in Jesus looks like. To admit our murmurings and recognize the inestimable grace that God offers to all of God’s creation. To look to the cross, lifted up, as our hope of new life and as our call to Love as Jesus loves.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that those who believe in him may live.

Amelia McDaniel

A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

One of the great themes of the season of Lent is discipleship. Discipleship is one of those “churchy” words that sometimes no one bothers to explain, and you’d rather not ask about because you think you’re already supposed to know what it means. At its simplest, discipleship just means learning from someone who knows how to do something that you don’t know how to do but you’d like to. It’s like being an apprentice to a plumber or taking piano lessons from someone who knows how to play and how to teach, or even being a young resident under the wing of an accomplished cardiac surgeon. Being a disciple just means putting yourself under the direction of someone who knows what they’re doing and who is willing to teach you how to do it too.

Being a disciple also means trusting your teacher. I took piano lessons as a kid for eight or nine years. Part of being a disciple to my teacher Mrs. Holland meant trusting her when she said that playing those scales, over and over again, hour after boring hour, month after month, year after year, would be the way that one day I could play a Beethoven sonata that would bring beauty and truth into the world. Those were her words – “beauty and truth.” I trusted her, so I kept playing scales over and over even when I wasn’t quite sure it would work or if I’d ever get there. But Mrs. Holland said I would, and I trusted her. Eventually, after years, I found that I could make music too.

Being a disciple of Jesus in some ways is no different. He knows what it is to live with one heart with God. He sees the world with the same heart that God does. He knows the power of the eternal love that shakes the universe. He knows what it looks like to live as God’s child in this world and is willing to teach us. One of the scales we’re supposed to practice is summed up in his words “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” These are words that will come up again and again in his instruction to his disciples – like scales he wants us to play over and over till we come to his beauty and truth.

As a young man, I loved those words about losing your life to gain it. They sounded to me like a trumpet call to live a heroic life on a solitary quest like Icarus to steal fire from the gods. Of course, you know that didn’t end well for Icarus. He flew too near the sun and crashed. It’s like Fred Craddock, the great teacher of preachers, says: we think the call to lose your life for Jesus is something you do in one dramatic, fell swoop. Like slamming $1,000 on the table and giving it all for Jesus. What Jesus is calling us too, more likely, is to take that thousand dollars down to the bank and turn it all into quarters that we pay out a 25-cents act of mercy here, a 50-cents act of love there, another time, 25 cents worth of faith, practicing the scales of Jesus holy life.

In the mid-1990s I served at St. Andrew’s on Oregon Hill. That’s a neighborhood on the other side of the expressway from VCU. We had two services on Sunday mornings, one at 8 a.m. and one at 10 a.m. On a good Sunday, there were 15 or so people for the early service seated in a nave that seats as many as New St. Mary’s. One of the people who was there every Sunday at the early service was Mrs. Florence McMullen – a character from my life who’s come up more than once. Mrs. McMullen (who at the time was about 82 years old) was an Oregon Hill girl who grew up on the Hill around the First World War and into the 1920s when it was a neat, tidy neighborhood for those working at the Tredegar Iron Works. Something tells me that she ended up marrying a banker and moving out into the much nicer neighborhoods to the west. Still, she was baptized in St. Andrew’s, went to the school, was confirmed, married and buried from there. She was there every Sunday, her whole life, basically – from the day she was carried in as a baby till the day she was carried out after she’d died.

Mrs. McMullen always came to church put together – do you know what I mean? The outfits she wore were smashing, perfectly cut, her hair exquisitely coiffed, make-up on point, fully accessorized, all of it. She wouldn’t dream of going out, certainly of coming to church, if she wasn’t perfectly put together. I’d been told that she was one of the best givers to the church and a woman of significant capacity, as they say. What was unsaid was “Keep her happy!” She always greeted me formally after church, saying simply, “Good morning, Mr. May.”

In some ways, she was a real mystery to me, and to others too. She was there at church at the early service every Sunday. But that was it really. She came and left. One of her matronly peers who’d grown up in that church too thought that after she’d married and moved off the Hill, she’d gotten too big for her britches and looked down on her humble beginnings. I called her once to see if she’d like for me to come by for a visit and she said, simply, “No.”

One Sunday morning at the early service, I was in the pulpit preaching to the flock of 10 or 12 in that vast space. I saw a man come in from the back, staggering around a little. I saw him and the usher in conversation and heard the man say a little too loudly, “I’m here for church, that OK with you?” He found a seat and sat down. A little while later, he stood up and started shouting at me, with really colorful language. All the words. I saw Mrs. McMullen in her pew. It looked like she was grimacing at his awful language and how unseemly it all was. I’d better do something, I thought. So, I climbed down from the pulpit and walked down the aisle to the man. I said, “Sir, you are welcomed to be here, but you have got to hush, OK?” He said he would, apologized, and sat down. I went back to the pulpit and was trying to pick up where I’d left off. Before I knew it, the man was back on his feet cussing a blue streak at me. Mrs. McMullen sat there grimacing, shaking her head. I had to put a stop to this. So, I climbed back down, went to the man and said, “You gotta get out of here, that’s enough” or something like that and he got up and walked out of the church cussing as he went.

After church, I went up to Mrs. McMullen, not waiting for her to greet me as she was leaving as usual. I said, “Mrs. McMullen, I am so sorry for that man and his awful language. It probably felt scary and I’m so sorry for that. We’ll be sure to get the ushers to be a little better in handling these things. Really, I’m so sorry. You looked upset.”

Mrs. McMullen looked at me and said, “I wasn’t upset. I was praying for that poor man. David, this is God’s church. That man has every right to be here too, don’t you think?”

That was 25 cents from her of grace, paid out by a disciple for love, with the hope that I could lose a part of myself, my life that it was long past time to lose.

She shook my hand and said, “I’ll see you next Sunday.”

What I heard and what I still hear from that is Jesus saying, clearly, “Follow me.” For his disciples that is the scale we practice more than any other. Follow me, especially when we’ve been following something that it’s long past time to lose. Trust that. Trust him. We disciples of Jesus practice those scales through which – please God, some day – he will show forth his own beauty and truth. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.

I know most of you have heard me talk about living in Louisiana, because I talk about it all the time. Especially around this time of year.

I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in June of 2005. My son Jed was born in July. I can’t tell you how miserable I was. I was so hot and I was surprised as a southerner that I was experiencing culture shock. But Louisiana is a place unto itself. Then at the end of August, when Jed was just about six weeks old, I turned on the TV and saw that Katrina was on the way. The children and I left and went home to Nashville. We ended up having to be gone for nearly a month. Although Baton Rouge was spared from the storm the entire region was in disarray and there was no guarantee that I would be able to get gas once I hit Mississippi because oil production had been shut down in the Gulf.

When I returned to Baton Rouge the town had doubled in size. Nearly 250,000 people from the New Orleans area, which was just a little more than an hour east, had come to shelter in hotels and rentals and with family. There was nowhere else for them to go because New Orleans was uninhabitable, and it remained so for quite some time.

Just five years later in 2010 a freak storm stopped over Nashville, Tennessee, my hometown, and dumped so much water the Cumberland River and all its tributaries boiled over in a flood that took the lives of 11 Nashvillians and destroyed or damaged over 11,000 homes and businesses including the Grand Ole Opry. My home parish of St. George’s lost two dear parishioners, Mr. and Mrs. Rutledge, who got swept away from their car a stone’s throw from church where they were headed that Sunday morning.

I tell you this because I do not come to the story of Noah and the flood as if it is a sweet story we tell children. Try telling this story to a classroom full of children who know exactly what a flood that covers everything is because they have seen it with their own eyes. I never could do it. It’s been 18 years since Katrina and I still struggle with this story. How does such a story fit with the Kingdom of God?

Why did God cover the earth with water? Why would He do such a thing? The people of Israel wrote down this story that had been told for so many years while they were in exile in Babylon, themselves wondering why, why God would let them be in such a state.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence.  Genesis 6:11

That’s how the people in Babylon told the story.

The earlier tradition of the story reads like this, The Lord saw the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  Genesis 6:5-6

That is what God’s people remembered there in exile. That God was sorry that He had ever created humankind because the thoughts of their hearts were so absent of Him, because the earth of filled with violence. We people broke the Lord’s heart. But the story does not end in brokenness but hope.

God found hope in one family, the family of Noah. He spared Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives and two of every kind of animal after calling upon him to build an ark to house them all to ride out the waters.

God remembered Noah and all the wild and domestic animals after 40 days and nights floating out in the waters. And God sent a wind to blow over the earth and the waters subsided. And all the inhabitants of the ark stepped out onto dry land again.

This is where the passage we hear today picks up…

As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, as many as came out of the ark.

Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

And God as a sign of this first Covenant sets his bow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between him and all creation.

I think we just often think, oh the beautiful rainbow. But the people living in exile in Babylon would have heard something very different. The bow and arrow was the most deadly weapon of the age.  God turned this weapon upside down. And every time God saw the bow, he would remember His promise. Never again.

God required nothing of Noah and his family or any of creation in this promise. Nothing. God knew that Noah, just like the rest of humankind, still had a heart that could be evil. Just a few verses later in the scripture Noah is drunk and naked.

But God didn’t wipe out all of creation and start anew. God changed how he was going to handle us humans and he decided that love and mercy were the way.

We broke God’s heart and instead of getting rid of humankind, instead of scraping all of what God had made and called good, God chose mercy and love.

God laid down the power of destruction against us. God promised steadfast love to humankind who will inevitably never be able to live up to such a love.

Just a few weeks ago I was talking with the children about how God heals the brokenhearted. It was the responsorial psalm for the day. They had wonderful ideas about what it meant to be broken hearted and the group was popping with things to share.

Harrison, who is the dear 4-year-old who was baptized just last week, shot up his hand. “I know, Amelia it’s like this…”

And he raised his hands above his head.

“It’s like in church when the priest says Jesus took bread and he broke it. And he did that for us. Because he loves us.”

It’s like this.

We break God’s heart.

God breaks his bow and promises to love us, just as we are.

And in time God sends Jesus.

Jesus who breaks his body in love for us.

Jesus who breaks the bondage of our sin.

And we are broken open, if we let ourselves be, to hope in Christ and the hope of the Kingdom of God in our very midst.

I never set foot in New Orleans before the flood. In late February 2006 we loaded up Wyly, my daughter who was three, and Jed, who was a whole seven months old, and headed in for Mardi Gras.  The people of New Orleans were determined to go forward with the celebration that is one of the defining marks of them as a people.

As we drove in there wasn’t a roof that wasn’t dotted or completely covered in blue tarp. Plywood covered windows.  Mounds of debris lay everywhere. There were piles, huge piles of flooded out cars stacked one atop the other, beneath the underpasses. The spray paint signals made by rescuers indicating that they had been in the building still on so many doorways.

We parked and loaded up Wyly in the wagon and I tucked Jed into his carrier on my chest. I had no idea what to expect. What I found as we rounded the corner and stepped onto St. Charles was a sight I will never forget. People everywhere, children, families from every walk of life. There in joy to celebrate. Strangers came up and oohed and aahed at my babies. Music, so much music, from the parade, from people playing boom boxes in the neutral ground, which is how New Orleanians refer to what we call the median. Children perched on their dads’ shoulders shouting, “Throw me something, mister!” as the floats rolled by with people in fantastic costumes throwing prizes. People coming up and hanging beads around my little girl’s neck. “Here you go, baby.”

I fell in love with New Orleans that day. A place so broken, a people so broken, so heartbroken, filled with so much hope.

In Lent we are asked to turn ourselves in all our brokenness toward God, surrendering to God’s love and mercy and to let that love change us as God himself changed. We are asked to fix our hearts, souls, and minds on the promise of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings.

If you asked me about the times that I’ve glimpsed what the Kingdom of God might be like, I’d mostly likely tell you first about that day on St. Charles.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.

Amelia McDaniel

A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

We have a mischievous expression in my family. It’s a phrase we use when one of us says or does something completely surprising—and you see something in someone that you never knew was there. The expression is: “Well, you don’t know everything, do you?” It’s a playful protest that while we think we know each other like a book—there are and always will be a few pages we somehow missed. There’s more to know about each other and this world we live in than we thought.

The Christian doctrine of revelation—in a more thoughtful way—says much the same thing. It’s a teaching that says, “You don’t know everything, do you?” The world around us, the people in our lives, even the God we worship and serve, we sometimes speak of and act as if we know like a book. Well, surprise. We don’t know everything!

Revelation means that something which was formerly hidden, and something we couldn’t have figured out on our own has been unveiled. A curtain has been drawn back to reveal something which was there all along, and something we can’t have known unless God himself shows us.

Let’s say that you know a man (let me interject to say that the man I’m going to tell you about is a real person but it’s no one here; at least not that I know of because I don’t know everything). So, there is a man who you know is a surly, grouchy curmudgeon. And to the human eye and ear he is. He doesn’t seem to have much good to say about anyone. He’s suspicious of what makes people tick and thinks by and large people are no darn good. He never gives money to any charitable organization because he thinks they’re all run by pie-in-the-sky do-gooders and that the recipients of charity usually only have themselves to blame for their misfortune. He opposes flowers on the altar as frivolous, and he doesn’t like expressions of affection.

One evening, you go to visit a friend in the hospital. On the way to her room, you stop in front of the large windows to look into the nursery at the newborns. Through the glass, you see the door at the back of the nursery open and a nurse comes in. The door remains open for a while. And looking through the door she’s just opened, you see into the room beyond. And there seated in a rocking chair, you are startled to see, is the old curmudgeon himself, gowned, with a newborn baby in his arms. You see the old man’s lips moving, his eyebrows arched, his whole face an open door of wonder. You can see that the man and the newborn only have eyes for each other.

A nurse stops beside you, sees what you are looking at and says, “Do you know Mr. Smith?” Yes, you do, you say, realizing in the same instant that maybe you don’t know him as well as you had thought. “That man is a saint,” the nurse says. “Do you know that he has been coming here every week if we need him for the past six years. He’s one of our nursery daddies. He holds the babies born to moms suffering from addiction. He helps them get through their first days and nights.” And then the door closes.

“Well, you don’t know everything, do you?”

When Jesus was transfigured on the Holy Mount, the door of God’s heart is opened, and the veil drawn aside. And we see that the love with which the Father holds his Son, is the same love that holds us like him too, the same love, like a shining light that the dark can never overcome. This light is God’s word of love that says, “we don’t know everything.”

Because when we get afraid, what we think we know is that we are all alone in this world. What we think we know is that if we don’t look out for ourselves, that no one else will. What we think we know is that ‘might makes right’ – always has, always will. What we think we know is that we’re not good enough for God’s loving kindness. What we think we know is that there is some darkness that the love of Christ cannot pierce.

The moment of God’s transfiguring love is his no! to all these propositions. Revelation is God’s light crashing into our darkness.

Recent scenes of the devastation and suffering in Gaza brought to mind a PBS special from many years ago about the life of Mother Theresa. During the worst fighting in the Lebanon of three decades ago, Mother Theresa came to Beirut to visit one of the Missionaries of Charity homes located there. But the convent was in a no-man’s zone where fierce fighting was taking place. In one of the scenes in this documentary, Mother Theresa is seen meeting with the American diplomatic envoy, Philip Habib. She is explaining through a translator that she will be visiting this particular convent the next day. Habib says with all due respect that she may not go as it’s too dangerous. Mother Theresa responds by saying that she had already prayed to the Lord Jesus for a ceasefire and so not to worry, she will be fine. Habib protests that this cannot be. It is too dangerous. We think we know what will happen if you try to go there.

The next day, there is an eerie quiet throughout much of Beirut, including the no-man’s zone where Mother Theresa will visit. And she does. A convoy of cars makes its way through cratered streets to the convent. Inside, Mother Theresa makes a tour and greets the sisters. She takes each sister’s head into her hands and touches her forehead to their forehead, and lingers like that, unhurried, going from sister to sister.

Upstairs is a large room set up like a hospital. We see the sisters going about their rounds, caring for the patients, who are the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor. They have been discarded as unsavable in the harsh triage of scarce resources which is a war zone. Some will live. Some will die. All will be cared for.

In one of the beds, which is really more of a large crib, is a full-grown man—at least in terms of his age. But his body failed to grow properly, and he resembles one caught halfway between a child’s body and an adult’s body, with nothing in proportion. In the background, you can hear gunfire returning and distant explosions. The camera shows him reacting with a wild, terrified expression, unfocused in blind terror. His body trembles uncontrollably. His head thrashes from side to side as if looking for an escape. One of the sisters comes to his crib-side and puts her hand on the man’s heaving, bony chest. She leans towards the man, her lips moving with words we cannot hear. Her eyes are intent on the man’s eyes. She rubs his chest to calm him. She is trying to call him back from the dark place he is lost in. Gradually the man’s tremors subside, and his terrified eyes soften and begin to focus till he finds the sisters eyes looking at him. He locks onto her eyes, and as the gunfire increases in intensity in the streets, coming nearer, they continue to gaze into each other’s eyes, as the man breaths easier and easier and easier.

In the midst of a crazy frightening world, he only sees her. They only have eyes for each other. Can you see them? What we think we know is that here are two more ‘little ones’ swept into the dark. But as the veil is drawn aside, we see that the Father’s heart is open still, embracing that moment with the love he has for his Son.

The light that comes in that dark place cannot be overcome.

On the Holy Mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus stands as the door opens between heaven and earth. Standing between Elijah and Moses, he will shortly hang dying between two unnamed thieves—drawing the dark of all we think we know into his redeeming light. When the moment of revelation has passed, Peter and James and John look up and see only Jesus. Only Jesus. God-with-us who only has eyes for you and for this world he loves. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

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