February 7th, 2021 Homily on Isaiah 40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39 by Pastor Galen Zook
She Began to Serve
Many of us can probably remember when we were younger, our parents or grandparents would touch our foreheads to check and see if we had a fever — or as my mom used to say, “a temperature,” when we complained we weren’t feeling well. It’s amazing how accurate that test can be! Probably as accurate as many digital thermometers.
Of course, if you’ve ever tried, it’s much more difficult to check your own temperature using that method. It’s a method that really only works when you have another person’s body temperature to compare it to.
In our Gospel lesson today, we see Jesus going to the house of Simon and Andrew, two of his first followers. When he walks into their house, he’s told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. He walks over to her bedside, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. Immediately the fever leaves her, and she gets up and begins to serve them.
Now, truth be told, if Jesus were to walk into most of our houses today, the order of events might be quite the opposite. Jesus might find us scurrying around the house, working frantically to get things done even if we’re not feeling well. Jesus might walk over to us, place his hand on our forehead to check our temperature, and say to us, “you need to go lie down and rest.”
You see, many of us don’t know when to stop working. It’s hard to take a break and rest. There’s always more things to get done, always more work to do. Even when we’re sick, we rarely take a day off.
Working While Sick
Several years ago, a survey was done in which it was reported that 90% of American workers say they have gone to work sick either “frequently” or “sometimes.”
Of course the survey was done pre-Covid times, before regulations were put in place to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. But in this season, when a lot of us are working from home, I’m sure that even more people are pushing through and working even when they’re not feeling well, because the reasons that people gave in that original survey are still true today, even in the midst of the pandemic.
54% of American said the most common reason they went to work sick was that they had too much work to do, followed by 40% who said that they did not want to use a sick day, and 34% who said they felt pressure from their employer to work even when they were sick.
With survey data revealing that only 10% of Americans never go to work when they are sick, Simon’s mother-in-law is someone that we should pay attention to and seek to emulate today.
Knowing when to Pull Back
Simon’s mother-in-law knew when to pull back, she knew when to lie down and take a break. She knew her limitations, she knew that the world would not stop while she lay down to rest. It was only after she experienced healing that she got up to serve.
Now if we were to look at this through a spiritual lens rather than a purely physical lens, we could say that she served Jesus in response to what Jesus had done for her. She was not working frantically to try to earn Jesus’s favor or attention, but instead her service flowed out of the love and compassion that she received from Jesus.
Simon’s mother-in-law is an example for us as we recognize that we are physical beings in need of physical rest, and we are also spiritual beings who are dependent upon the power and presence of Jesus in our lives as we seek to serve others.
A Messiah Complex
Some of us, on the other hand, might tend to think that the world revolves around us, that if we lie down to take a break, the world might come to a screeching halt! This has often been called a “messiah complex.” When someone has an over-inflated sense of self-importance and works non-stop because they think that the world depends upon them, we might say that “they think they are the Savior of the world.”
But interestingly enough, even Jesus in this passage (who literally was the Messiah and the Savior of the world) took time to pull back and to rest!
After news got out that Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law, Mark tells us,
The whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed (Mark 1:32-35).
I used to think that it was odd that Jesus prayed. I mean, Jesus was God! So wasn’t praying sort of like talking to himself?
We don’t know exactly how much of his divine power and knowledge Jesus lay aside in order to come down to this earth and to live among us, but I do think that it was significant that Jesus went away by himself, and spent time communing with God the Father.
The Gospel authors frequently highlight the fact that Jesus got away to pray, or that he looked up to heaven and prayed before performing various miracles. Jesus’s life and actions are a model and example for us in the way we ought to live our lives. And so when we see Jesus going away by himself and spending time in prayer, it is a clue and an indication to us that we should do the same.
Even Youths Grow Weary
The next morning, when Jesus’s disciples woke up and joined him, they told him that many people were looking for him. Most likely there were more people who were sick, more people who wanted to meet this amazing miracle worker. But Jesus had, through prayer and discernment, determined that it was time to move on, that there were more towns and villages he needed to preach to, more people to heal in other places.
This is the sort of clarity that comes when we pull back, and take the time to discern where God is calling us to serve. In the midst of the busyness and franticness of everyday life, it’s difficult to think clearly, or discern where God might be leading us to serve.
Last week we talked about the importance of silencing the voices around us so that we can hear from God. And I think today as we look at the example of Simon’s mother-in-law and of Jesus, there’s an invitation here for us to withdraw, to take time to listen and discern where God is calling us to spend our time, energy, and resources in this next season. If even Jesus needed to do this, then so do we!
In Isaiah chapter 40, the prophet Isaiah, who was writing about 700 years before the time of Christ, said these words:
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 (Isaiah 40:28-31).
Even youths sometimes faint and grow weary, and even the young become exhausted at times. All of us, young and old, are finite beings who have limitations. It’s important for us to periodically retreat and rest, to take some time alone with God, listening and discerning God’s voice. As we silence the voices around us and as we take the time to listen, we’ll gain further clarity of thought and mind as to where and how God wants us to serve.
Simon’s mother-in-law knew this was important, and so did Jesus. And so should we.
Spiritual Self Check-up
And so, right now, I want to encourage you to take some time to ask Jesus to check your temperature. Imagine if Jesus were to walk into your house today, if he were to follow you around for a while, and observe how you are living. Imagine him placing his hand on your forehead and checking your temperature.
Would Jesus tell you that you need to go lie down and rest for a while? That you need to entrust your life, your job, your family, your household, to him? Would Jesus say to you, as my wife’s high school students like to say, “you’re doing too much!”
If so, I want to encourage you to take a look at your calendar, and I want you to schedule a vacation day when you can just sit down, and do nothing, and not feel guilty about it. Perhaps you might take a walk outside (if it’s not snowing), or spend some time writing out your thoughts. You might want to make a list of all of your roles and responsibilities, and lift them up before the Lord.
Now some of you might find that your list is short. Maybe you don’t know your spiritual gifts, or how Jesus might be calling you to serve. Perhaps Jesus is saying to you, “it’s time to get up and start serving!” Here in our church we have many opportunities to serve, even in this season. If Jesus is inviting you to rise up and serve others but you don’t how or where, I’d be happy to do a “spiritual gifts” inventory with you, to help you identify how God has uniquely equipped you to serve others.
On the other hand, there are others who might, through prayer and discernment, realize that you’re in a season of life where God is calling you to pull back, or to begin pouring into the next generation. Many of us have been serving the Lord for many years. That doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop or quit, but it might mean that we need to identify others that we can train up, to pass along the wisdom that we’ve received over the years, so that the work does not end with us.
Wait on the Lord
All of us are called to serve the Lord in some way. We all have unique gifts, we all have unique skills that we can use in service to God. But none of us are the Messiah, none of us are the Savior of the world. We cannot change the world on our own. We need God, we need each other. We need to recognize our own frailty and our own limitations. We need to pull back periodically, to rest, and to hear from God. And then, and only then, can we rise up and serve the Lord.