Restored (w/audio)

. Posted in Sermons

Mark 1:29-39


It’s been flu season. And, even though many of us have gotten the shot, it didn’t take for some of us. Or at least it didn’t ward off the demon flu like we had counted on.

Our family was hit with a double whammy a couple of weeks ago. Our daughter-in-law broke her knee and had surgery, and then was exposed to a most unpleasant intestinal virus that afflicted her husband and then her mother and then her. So she was recovering from a painful surgery while not being able to keep the pain medications down, and all while trying to nurse and care for her three month old son. Not good.

When we are sick, the number one thing we want is to be well—of course! But what does it mean to be well? To be healed? I think it means to be restored, to be given the ability to get back to life as we want to live it—to go to school again, to work again, to be able to exercise again, to be able to go out with friends and family to a restaurant or movie or concert and have a good time again.

When we are sick, whether physically or emotionally, we are not ourselves. We are not the people that we want to be or that we feel called to be. We feel like we are not the people that others need for us to be.

When I had heart surgery a few years ago, one of my memories is of my wife Linda driving me down to the pond in our neighborhood where I could walk around the asphalt path. I was trying to get the exercise I needed so that I could get back to normal, so that I could be restored, so that I could get to the place where I am now: able to walk down to that pond by myself and make my way around the path as many times as I want, enjoying the ducks and the geese and the heron and God’s wonderful creation.

Our scripture for today begins with a story about restoration. Now it has received a feminist critique in recent years. And there may be a feminist or two here today who might want to offer such a critique. On the Sabbath day, after their time at the synagogue, the gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew, with two other brothers who were his disciples, James and John. There, at Simon’s and Andrew’s home in Capernaum, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in the bed with a fever. Maybe she had the flu.

When Jesus was told that she was sick, he went into her room, took her by the hand and helped her up. Suddenly, we are told, the fever left her. She was well. And so what does she do? So-called women’s work! feminists proclaim. She begins to cook and serve and take care of the needs of her male guests: Jesus, Simon and Andrew, James and John.

But my guess is that that is what made Simon’s mother-in-law feel most alive, that is what made her feel most herself—to serve. I think of my Aunt Allie, my father’s sister. We called her Ninnie, a name I gave her when I was a small child. Whenever our family visited Ninnie at her home in Little Rock, she went to work in the kitchen—slicing and frying sweet potatoes, putting fresh black-eyed peas and green beans on, cooking whatever main course we were to eat. That was Ninnie’s thing. She liked to cook. She liked to serve. In fact, serving was what she did for a living as a nurse’s aid. Sometimes Ninnie would get sick. Once I remember her breaking her leg. But, when she was well, she would go to the kitchen when guests would come to her house. When she was restored, she would cook and she would serve, and she seemed to enjoy it every bit as much as those of us who were the beneficiaries of her service.

Sometimes things will happen to us—we get sick, or there is the death of a loved one, or a life-change that seems to pull the rug out from under us—and people will notice that we are not ourselves. We are not the people we once where. But then something will happen—maybe just time and healing and people who care happens—and people will start remarking, “She seems like her old self.” Or, “That’s the person I remember him to be.” In a sense, they are talking about us becoming who we are, of us being restored to the life that God has given us.

The ministry of Jesus was essentially one of restoration. Jesus helping that mother-in-law of Simon to get up out of her bed and begin doing what she did so well—serving others—was a sign of the kingdom of God breaking into the world in Jesus. And, when we hear in the gospels about Jesus healing people of their diseases or casting out their demons, we are hearing stories of restoration, of people being given their lives back.

Of course, sickness we can understand. But this whole business of demon possession that we hear about in the gospels quite a lot seems pretty alien and maybe even creepy to our 21st century ears. But essentially demon possession was like sickness. It robbed people of their true selves. It was like an alien force that entered a person’s life and made them do what they would not ordinarily do if they were themselves. It made them say things that they would not normally say if they were in their right minds. It made them harm themselves and perhaps others in ways they would never do if they were restored to the selves that God created them to be. I think of the opioid crisis that is so much in the news these days. This is one of our demons. It robs people of their agency—of their ability to choose, of their ability to be the persons they are (often good and responsible and loving) and makes of them addicts who unwillingly destroy their own lives and leads to the terrible helplessness and grief of their families and others who love them.

So Jesus came on the scene, the gospels tell us, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, and making that kingdom real in the lives of people by healing their sicknesses and casting out their demons. He made the kingdom of God real in the lives of people by restoring them to health, by giving them their lives back. It was a ministry of restoration.

According to the gospels and according to the gospel of Mark in particular, this is one of the main reasons that Jesus’ ministry had such appeal. We see it in Mark’s account after the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Word got out. And folks in the town of Capernaum began to flock in droves to the home of Simon and Andrew where Jesus was. People came there who were sick with various diseases. And people came there who were tortured by demons. And Jesus healed them. He gave them their lives back.

I think of George Bailey in the holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, desperately wanting to die until an angel named Clarence helped him to see what a blessing his life had been and was. And then on that bridge where he once had contemplated suicide, he cries out to the angel, “I want to live again. Clarence, I want to live again. Help me to live again.”

That was the cry of people—sick and demon possessed—outside the home of Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. They wanted to live again. They wanted their lives back, the lives they had been created to live. They longed to be restored. And that is exactly what Jesus gave them:restoration.

This is the ministry of Jesus. This is the ministry of the kingdom of God that Jesus was called to proclaim: the ministry of restoration. And, as Jesus’s people, this is the ministry to which we are called:the ministry of restoration.

What we are about here is what Jesus is about here:helping people find themselves, helping people be themselves, helping people reclaim themselves. So we reach out and we love. We teach and tell the stories of scripture. We lift our hearts and lives in prayer and worship to God. And sometimes we say and do hard things—things that challenge, things that push the envelope of respectability a bit. And it is all so that we may be restored—restored to be the people God created us to be.

But sometimes it seems that we cannot be restored. Things have changed so much that we cannot go back. I think of the experience of doctor and surgeon Richard Sezer, which he shares in his book:“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post-operative, her mouth twisted—palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed…to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. The young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It is kind of cute.” He bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate her, to show her that their kiss still works. I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”

I submit to you that this is a story of restoration, even amidst a physical reality that cannot be restored. Of course, like that nerve in that young woman’s face, sometimes something or someone dies. A life is lost, never to be regained. And our calling is not to nice it over. Not to give grieving people easy platitudes. But it is to proclaim and live the good news of the resurrection, that even in death life can be and is restored. And, even in our grief, our lives can be and will be restored.

Finally, did you notice in the story from Mark’s gospel today Jesus getting up in the early morning before the sun came up and going out to a deserted place to pray? And there, alone and in communion with God, here comes Simon and the others hunting for him. “What are you doing out here?” Simon seems to imply. “Everybody is looking for you back in town. “I can’t stay here,” Jesus replies, “We need to go on to neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And so we are told by Mark that Jesus “went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”

It is a reminder that one of the big enemies of restoration can be the expectations of others. Talking with our oldest son, a middle school teacher in California, this past week, he shared one of the struggles that young adolescents have these days. “Dad,” he said, “these kids are scrutinized all day long—in school and on social media. And it can be pretty overwhelming.” In other words, kids feel the pressure to measure up to the expectations of others. And, as it turns out, adults often do too. And, feeling that pressure, kids and adults are often tempted to abandon themselves in order to please others.

So Jesus teaches and shows us that restoration begins when we find our center in ourselves through prayer. He teaches us to pay attention to the selves God calls us to be, even if they do not match up to the clamoring or the wisdom of the crowd.

Oh, to be restored! To be who we were created to be!That is our yearning. That is our calling. That is what we gather here to help one another and others who are called here to do.

—William E. Warren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, February 4, 2018

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