Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, February 25, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 2

Lent 2, 2024
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Psalm 22:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, you’ve heard me preach before.  You know that I am not a fan of bumper sticker theology.  As Will Durst once said, if it fits on the back of a Volkswagen, it’s probably not going to turn the world around.  For the most part, you should ignore what you see on people’s cars.  But there is one exception I think, and it’s the bumper sticker that says, “Let go and let God.”  That’s a good one for us as Christians.  Let go and let God.  I mean, not always of course; it doesn’t apply if you’re hanging by a rope over a canyon.  But when it comes to trusting in God, surrendering to God, letting God do what God does, it is the right approach.

And the reason I bring that up is because I think it kind of fits with the overall theme of today’s lessons.  We’ve got four absolute banger readings here this morning.  Each one could be a sermon in itself.  But let’s start with an interesting thing I learned this week . . .

In the first reading, from Genesis, God visits Abram for the fifth time.  God makes a covenant with Abram to be the father of many nations.  And as a sign of that covenant, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham.  This is the first time in scripture someone gets a new name.  But it’s not just any name.  Adding this “ha” sound to Abram’s name changes everything.  Because God is putting part of God’s own name into Abram’s name.  They are now fused into one.  And when you say the two names together (Abram and Abra-ham) you can see that it is the breath of God that gets added to his name.  This new name not only contains part of God’s name, but it now contains the literal breath of God.  And if Abraham is the father of many nations, then God’s breath—God’s spirit—is also spread out to many nations.  God is enlarging the circle.

And then the Psalm we read together continues this idea.  God “does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.”  No one is left behind, you see?  Enlarging the circle to include the ones we forget or ignore.

And there’s more: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.”  That’s everyone living now.  And, “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  That’s everyone who has died.  And,  "They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.”  That’s everyone who has not yet lived.  The biggest circle imaginable, those who were, those who are, and those who are not yet.  It’s literally everybody!

And then we come to Paul and his letter to the Romans.  I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Paul is doing a little reputational whitewashing when it comes to Abraham’s faithfulness.  Remember how Sarah and Abraham doubted God would provide, and so we got Ishmael, from Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar?  And both Sarah and Abraham laughed when God said she would conceive and bear a son.  Paul makes it sound like Abraham never doubted, never wavered, but that’s not true.  More importantly, even though Abraham doubted, God still came through.  God did as promised, and Sarah bore a son.  They let go and let God.

And that’s part of what bugs me about Paul’s reputational whitewashing.  Because by way of making his argument for faithfulness leading to righteousness, Paul gives all the credit to Abraham, when in fact all credit should go to God.  I get why he does it, but it undermines the more important point of surrendering to God.  Of letting go and letting God.

Anyway, the other point Paul makes here brings us back to the ever-widening circle.  He says that God’s promise rests on grace and is “guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”  By “adherents to the law,” he means his fellow Jews.  So Paul is saying, God’s promise extends beyond the chosen people, beyond just the Jews.  We’re back to the ever-widening circle of God’s grace to include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  One way to view it is, the only thing that keeps us from seeing this widening circle is our refusal to let go and let God.

And then we come to our fourth reading this morning, from the gospel of Mark.  This story comes up in Matthew as well as in Mark.  Jesus explains that he must suffer and die and be raised again from the dead.  And Peter tells him this must not happen.  And then Jesus says something like, Get behind me Satan, you are focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  So what does that mean?  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things?

It means different things for different people, I think.  But at it’s core, it is doing the opposite of the one bumper sticker I like.  You could say it is like saying, “Let go God, and let me.”  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  Jesus tells the disciples what must happen.  Tells them the only way that will lead to salvation for all humankind.  Explains that the circle can only include everyone if Jesus dies and rises from the dead.  And Peter says . . . no.  This must never happen.

The way things have to be is not acceptable to Peter, because he has a different plan.  And that plan is that Jesus will destroy the people outside the circle, not rescue them!  In Peter’s mind, Jesus has the wrong script you see?  To Peter, God has enemies.  And far be it from Jesus to save those people!  But the ever-widening circle of God’s grace will include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  And the only way to rescue the dead is for Jesus to go and get them.

If Peter had been in church last Sunday, he would have heard his own words in the Epistle reading when he says, Jesus “was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey . . .” 

In religious terms, this is called the “harrowing of hell,” . . . which would be a great name for a band.  The harrowing of hell is what Jesus was doing between Good Friday and Easter morning.  There are fantastic depictions of this scene in the Orthodox tradition, where Jesus is pulling Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah and everybody else up from their graves.  In order to go and rescue those people, in order to widen the circle to include everybody, Jesus has to die.

But Peter says, no.  This must never happen Jesus.  You need to stay here with us!  You can’t die, just to save those other people.  And Jesus says, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  You want to stay here and be comfortable.  You want me to write off those who have gone before.  Peter wants Jesus to ignore what we heard in today’s Psalm:  “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  Those who have died are included in this widening circle, and Jesus has to go down and get them.  To say no to that . . . well, that’s satan talking.

And maybe that right there is the lesson for us.  Over and over, the disciples are presented with the option to stay where things are comfortable, like on the mountain at the Transfiguration.  Wouldn’t it be great to just stay right here where we are Jesus?  Just you and us, being comfortable and secure and not having to think about those other people?  And over and over Jesus says, no.  This circle needs to be bigger!  Who else can I find?  Who else can I save?  How can I make this the day where everybody lives?!?

And that’s where you and I can think in practical terms, bring it down to how we live in this world that God loves so much.  When we find ourselves thinking something like that, where we hear a voice in our head saying God has redeemed enough people already, set enough captives free, made the circle big enough already . . . well, that’s the voice of satan talking.  The voice of smallness.  The voice that refuses to let go and let God.  Let God do everything God has planned to do from the beginning of time.  Redeem it all!  Redeem them all!  Save every single person that God loves and treasures and calls beloved.

There is room for everybody.  Don’t let satan tell you there isn’t room.  Because God has drawn an infinite circle of salvation, which includes you and me, and everyone who was, and is, and is yet to come.  This circle is meant for everybody.  The circle includes everybody.  Thanks be to God!


Sunday, February 18, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 1

Lent 1, 2021
Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15
Psalm 25:1-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Let’s review what we just heard:  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  Every one of those things is scary.  With some explanation, every one of those things is something we spend our lives avoiding.  It’s fair to say that someone would probably have to force you to go out and face one of those things, let alone all four at once.  And in today’s gospel reading, the Holy Spirit does exactly that to Jesus.

The way it gets translated in our gospel text is, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  That’s pretty close.  But I want you to know that the Greek word that becomes “drove” in that sentence is actually ekballo.  Which doesn’t help yet, but hang on.   Ballo is the Greek word that means “to throw.”  When you add the prefix ek, which means “out,” you get ekballo, to throw out.  So, immediately after his baptism, the Spirit throws Jesus out into the wilderness.  What that looks like, we don’t know, but it definitely suggests that Jesus didn’t decide to take a walk in the woods, right?

And then, let’s go through that list of four scary things I started with.  On the face of it, forty days is a long time, yes, but is it scary?  Does it drive fear into your heart?  I mean, for little children, the phrase “wait forty minutes” brings howls of protest.  For the most part, as adults, we’re pretty okay with forty days. 

But it’s important to look at the number forty from a symbolic perspective, which is what the readers of Mark’s gospel would bring to it.  For forty days and nights it rained until every living thing was killed except Noah and his family.  For forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert without a home.  Moses was on the mountain alone with God for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments.  Twice!  Jonah warned the people of Ninevah for forty days that God would destroy their city.  Ezekiel laid on His right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah's sins. Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.  Our season of Lent lasts for forty days (minus Sundays).  And I feel compelled to point out that a healthy pregnancy typically lasts for forty weeks.  Forty is a significant number.  The number forty is usually connected to a time of testing, or endurance, or judgement, or all of the above.  So yes, forty days is a fearful amount of time.

Second scary thing: In the wilderness.  For me—kind of a city boy—this one is right out.  Forty minutes in the wild is 30 minutes too long for me.  As I’ve told you before, I’m what the comedian Jim Gaffagan calls, “indoorsy.”  But for those of you who enjoy being out in nature, I just want to remind you that the wilderness of Jesus’ time and place is not the peaceful parks of Ohio.  You’ve seen pictures or videos, I’m sure, of the desert places around Israel.  Not exactly a walk in Walden woods.  Plus, since there were fewer than 300 million people on the planet at the time, wilderness really meant wilderness.

Third scary thing: With wild animals.  I don’t really need to say much about that, do I?  I mean, you’ve seen Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, right?  Wild animals means exactly that.  There’s no lion tamer or matador walking in front of Jesus.  It’s just Jesus, and the wild animals in the wilderness for forty days until we remember, oh yeah . . . 

Tempted by Satan.  This fourth one is a little trickier, because we don’t really know what is meant by the word “satan.”  (But that’s a discussion for anther time.)  The main thing to remember is that it isn’t a man in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork (no matter what you may have read in Dante’s “Inferno” or seen in Renaissance paintings).  Nonetheless, tempted by satan would certainly be something Jesus would not be eager to run out and do.  

So.  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  And then we get the one good thing here: and the angels waited on him.  Now THAT is an unfortunate translation, especially given our cultural baggage.  Because, what do you picture?  A bunch of creatures with wings and white robes, with a towel over their arm, bringing Jesus silver trays filled with pina coladas, right?  Well, it’s what I picture, anyway.  But two Greek words we need to look at here.  (Who knew this would turn into a Greek class?)  

The word diakanoun means “ministered.”  We ran into it a couple weeks ago with the healing of Peter’s mother in law.  The second word is angello, which always gets translated as “angels,” which makes us think of chubby little babies with wings, but which actually means “messengers of God.”  We never get a reliable description of angels, but we each carry our own picture in our heads, either from Hallmark cards or artwork we’ve seen.  We don’t know what angels look like; we only know that they are messengers of God.  So, that phrase, “the angels waited on him,” should really say something more like, “the messengers of God ministered to him.”  And that’s important, for a reason we’ll get to in a minute.

To catch us up, then, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is thrown out into the desert for forty days with wild beasts, tempted by satan, and the messengers of God ministered to him.  And what happens after that?  Then, Jesus goes to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now I want to revisit the specific dangers of those four things that Jesus faced.  You could say that forty days is a dangerous time.  And the wilderness is a dangerous place.  And wild beasts are physical danger.  And being tempted by satan is a mental and spiritual danger.  So, dangerous time and place, and dangerous physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Immediately after his baptism, all that Jesus is as a person is in danger.  And, in the midst of this, messengers of God ministered to him.  And then, Jesus went out, proclaiming the good news of God.

Each one of us faces threats in our lives.  Not usually all at once, or hopefully not.  But there are times for all of us when we are under assault by the dangers of time and place, where our physical, mental, and spiritual health are at risk.  I mean, just look around.  Sometimes those dangers are caused by others; sometimes they are caused by our own actions.  And sometimes they happen just because the world is a dangerous place to live.  But, thanks be to God, we have messengers of God who minister to us in our dark times.  St. Timothy’s Church is a place where you can find these messengers of God.

I’ve never been a fan of telling people to do what Jesus does.  You know, asking yourself, What Would Jesus Do?  Because you and I are not Jesus (in case you haven’t noticed).  But I am always a fan of pointing out instances where we can follow Jesus, where he shows us the way.  And today’s gospel lesson is just one such time.  And here’s what I mean by that.

After a baptism, it would be really nice to just stay over there by the font.  Safe and sound in the knowledge that God has redeemed us through the waters of baptism, and claimed us as God’s own child.  But then, the Spirit throws us out into the dangerous place of daily life, to live in the dangerous times into which we are born.  Along the way, there will be challenges to our physical well being, our mental health, and our spirituality.  But all along the way, we are ministered to by the messengers of God.  And, like Jesus, that is what gives us the strength to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news of God.

As we continue these forty days of Lent together, may God continue to send messengers to minster to each of us, to carry us through the hardships of our lives, so that we too can continue to proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world.

We all face challenges.  But we are not alone.  Because the messengers of God minister to us, and give us the strength to proclaim the good news of God.  We are not alone, and we have a savior.  And that makes all the difference.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

YEAR B 2024 ash wednesday

Ash Wednesday, 2024
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tonight, you and I are being given the gift of being reminded that we will die.  I know that sounds flippant; but I’m serious.  It is a gift to be reminded that you will die.  Today is Ash Wednesday, but as you know it is also St. Valentine’s Day, and also St. Cyril’s Day.  We don’t know much about St. Valentine.  In fact, there is no proof that such a person ever existed.  We do however know things about St. Cyril.  For example, he created the Cyrillic alphabet, which is named after him.  St. Cyril did some amazing things with his life, and then he died.

And we are back to the idea that knowing you will die impacts how you will live.  That is the main point of this day, I think.  Knowing you only have so many days, how will you spend them?

I’ve talked about this before on Ash Wednesday, but it bears repeating.  Since we know we will die, it impacts how we live.  Knowing you would live forever is a curse.  Look at Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”  Or look at Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”  Knowing you would live forever—that you would never die—would most likely turn you into a horrible person.  Because nothing matters.  There are no guardrails.  There is no time limit.  You just . . . are.  Forever.  And I would be willing to bet money it would make every single one of us into a horrible person.  Which then suggests the opposite is also true.

On some level, people do good things because they know they won’t be here forever.  Look at all the medical wings at hospitals that are named after people.  Look at the names of the memorial funds in our endowment.  People know they will one day die, and so they want to make a difference while they can.  Because they won’t be here forever.  I mean, the whole reason Ebeneezer Scrooge has his change of heart is because he sees his own tombstone!

So, we’re back to brass tacks.  You have come here tonight to be reminded that you are going to die—even if you didn’t realize that’s why you came here tonight.  And so that raises the question, knowing you will die, how shall you live?  I don’t expect an answer to that question, but I want you to ask it of yourself in this season of Lent.  Knowing I will one day die, how then shall I live?

But I also want you to follow up that question with another question.  Knowing you will live again, how then will you die?  Because for us as Christians, death is not the end of the story.  Yes, we all will one day go down to the grave.  But because we worship a God of resurrection, there is a part two to our stories.  An epilogue, you might say.  Because some day, some how, God is going to call us up from those graves.  Call us up to a resurrected life in a new heaven and a new earth.  

Yes, we are reminded on this day that we will die.  But, because of Jesus, we are also reminded that we will live again.  We can face death with the assurance that there is more.  Though we are dust and will return to dust, that is not the end of the story.  There is more to it.  Because with God, there is always more to the story.  Yes, we are mortal; but we worship a God who is beyond mortality.  One who continues to make all things new.  Even dust.


Monday, February 12, 2024

YEAR B 2024 last epiphany

Last Epiphany, 2024
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9
Psalm 50:1-6

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So today is what we call, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which this year is also the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  As always, Epiphany was twelve days after Christmas, or, you know, January 6th.  There are certain times in the church year where we count time in relationship to significant days that have passed.  The Sundays after Epiphany is one.  The season after Pentecost is another one.  (Think, all the green stuff.)

Epiphany is sometimes called the season of light, because of the star that led the Magi to the manger.  And the end of Epiphany is yet another time where the church is about to be intentionally out-of-step with the world.  The biggest example of that rebellion is at Christmas; when the world is at its darkest—in our hemisphere—we are talking about light.  (That’s not unique to Christianity of course, since much of our Christmas symbolism is lifted straight out of pagan traditions.)  But the point is, in the midst of darkness, we talk about light.  There’s a poetic balance in this.

And now, this week, we will enter into the season of Lent.  Funny thing, as the days are growing longer, and a rodent in Pennsylvania has predicted our weather patterns, the church makes a decisive move into darkness, or, contemplation.  The world is turning toward light and rebirth, and we start focusing on mortality and sinfulness.  There’s a poetic balance in this too.

There’s a tradition in the church during Lent to downplay the beautiful things.  We figuratively “bury” the Alleluia; we usually cover all the shiny crosses; we stop all the chanting and singing the Gloria.  In a sense, we focus on the earthiness of things, the absence of glory.  And to get us ready for that journey into a somber six weeks, we get today’s gospel reading:  What we commonly call, The Transfiguration of Jesus.  And just to make things more confusing, I want to note we observe the Feast of Transfiguration on August 6th, along with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, while Lutherans and Methodists are celebrating that feast today.  So, for us, this is not Transfiguration Sunday, and yet, we still get this gospel reading about the Transfiguration.  We press on . . .

The reason I started with all that church year light and dark stuff is because I want to be sure we notice the joining of glory and earthly in this gospel text.  If I ask you what you noticed about that story, you’ll probably say the part where Jesus was all glowing more brightly than anyone could have bleached a cloth.  Or, you might remember that Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing next to him.  Or, if you’re more practically minded, you were wondering where exactly Peter was going to get a hammer and nails, let alone wood to build three dwellings on top of a desert mountain.  

But, really, the most startling thing has to be Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration of Jesus, right?  Jesus is revealed in all his glory, standing next to Moses and Elijah, two of God’s most celebrated servants, heroes of the faith.  It’s almost like heaven has come down to the top of this mountain, and the disciples are there to witness it.  The glory of Jesus is revealed!  Such a vision!  But, the message they get is not, “Behold the glory of the Lord!”  The message is not, “Check out this vision of awesomeness!”  No, the message they get is, “Listen to him.” It’s like someone takes you to the Massillon Museum and says, “Listen to these paintings!”  Or, "Come on up to the Altar and listen to these statues!"  What is going on here?

And the simple answer is, the disciples are really good at watching, but not so good at listening.  In Mark’s gospel, over and over Jesus says, “Let those who have ears listen.”  He says that like five times.  Why?  Well, here’s why:  Every time Jesus tries to tell the disciples something, they either don’t get it, or they say they don’t want to hear it.  Just a few verses before this reading, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, and Peter takes him aside and rebukes him, saying, this must never happen.  And now, next thing you know, they’re up on the mountain with a loud voice saying, “Listen to him.”  Listen.

But up on that mountain, the disciples see the glory of Jesus!  Brighter than bright.  Moses and Elijah.  Let’s build some houses and stay right here where everything is beautiful.  They love the glory of Jesus, and they don’t want to hear about any suffering.  And then—poof—everything is back to normal, and the disciples are alone with Jesus, standing on the mountain.  No glory, no Moses and Elijah, just them and Jesus.  And then they come back down the mountain, and Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they saw until he has risen from the dead.  

Now consider this for a moment . . . If that experience up on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah and the glorious Jesus was a glimpse of heaven, then Jesus is now coming down from heaven.  You could almost put it like this:  for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.  Jesus is coming down the mountain to where you and I are, because we cannot climb the mountain to meet him.  We can’t go up, so Jesus is coming down to get us.  And guess what?  He brings his glory with him.  Jesus doesn’t stop being God when he comes down the mountain.  It’s not like a magic switch went on and off up there on the mountain.  Jesus is still Jesus.

But, like the disciples, we naturally prefer the glory to the suffering and death.  We are all very good at pretending death can be kept away, or avoided.  Easter is a lot better than Good Friday.  We’d prefer happy days every day, if you don’t mind, Jesus.  Fortunately, for us, it’s not an either/or kind of thing.  Jesus is truly God and truly man.  And by going to the grave for us, Jesus overcomes the grave for us.  We can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.  And Jesus doesn’t get to the salvation of all without dying a real death himself.  

So here’s something to ponder as we enter into Lent:  We typically cover the beautiful shiny objects during this contemplative season, but they’re still there.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  Jesus comes down the mountain with the disciples to eat his meals and take baths in the river, but he is still God.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  The glory is still there, though hidden, and that voice tells us to stop looking and listen.  Listen to Jesus.

Jesus was transfigured in heavenly glory on the mountain, yes.  But more importantly, for us, and for our salvation, he came down that mountain, so that we might share in his victory over the grave.  May God give us the grace to listen to this beloved son, and to trust in what he says:  that he has brought —and continues to bring—life out of death, freedom to the prisoners, new life to those who are dead in sin.  Jesus is still speaking.  May God give us the grace to listen to him.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

YEAR B 2024 epiphany 5

Epiphany 5, 2024
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There’s trouble in the kitchen.  It’s not easy to hear.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.  In a culture that prides itself on hospitality, this is a very big problem.  People come to visit.  People you’ve never even met.  You want to show hospitality, to be gracious hosts, to show them love and compassion and the best you have to offer.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.  This is not the way you want it to be.  You may never get a chance to show them your best side, because there is trouble in the kitchen.

Back in Jesus’ day, gender roles were . . . gender roles.  People had their place in society, and in the home.  Simon’s Mother in Law would be expected to provide food for any guests, whoever they may be.  And she would have taken pride in that.  Simon is bringing guests to the house—one them happens to be God in the flesh—and serving them food would have been her moment to shine.  Even if she didn’t know they were coming, even if she didn’t  know who was coming, this would be Simon’s mother in law’s moment to be lifted up.  To take her rightful place of glory.  To do what she does best.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.

The hostess has a fever.  She is not well.  What should be a feast is not going to happen because she simply cannot do it.  She lacks the health to put on a proper meal.  Maybe there’s some food people could scrounge up in the cupboards, but it’s not the same.  

But then what happens?  Because of the people who love her, Jesus comes to her.  As we heard, “they told him about her at once.”  Does Jesus say, “Let’s go eat somewhere else”?  No.  Instead, “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”  He lifted her up.  He restored her to her rightful place in the community.  A place of pride in her time.  She is not ignored or condemned because there is trouble in the kitchen.  No, she is lifted up and healed and given new life.  And then, what does she do?  She steps back into her dignified place, as the one who serves guests in her home.

To be clear, she is not healed because Jesus needs a sandwich.  She is healed because she is beloved.  And her response to being healed and beloved is to serve.  To serve Jesus and God’s people.

And just think of all the ways she could have responded once the fever left her.  She might understandably have said, I appreciate feeling better, but why don’t you go visit someone who hasn’t been sick with a fever.  It’s great that she has been healed, of course, but she’s probably exhausted from being sick.  You’d expect her to send them all away and go back to bed.

But in her gratitude, she begins to serve them.  Is the gratitude for the healing?  Maybe.  But I think it’s probably even more true that her gratitude is for being restored to her particular ministry.  To be able to step into the place of pride in being a good hostess.  To be able to exercise her unique gift of hospitality.  The trouble in the kitchen has been transformed into a place of ministry with gratitude for the healing hand of Jesus.

Our words hospital and hospitality are similar for a reason.  They both come from the idea of shelter for the needy.  Granted serving in the emergency room seems a long way from serving by taking coats and offering beverages.  But is it really?  When we offer hospitality to our guests, we are offering shelter.  And respite.  And a place away from the cares and concerns of the world.  Sometimes it is for healing our guests, as in a hospital setting.  And sometimes it is because we have been healed by the loving touch of Jesus.

We serve others because we ourselves have been healed.  We offer hospitality because we ourselves have been sheltered.  And we love our neighbors because we ourselves have been loved.  There doesn’t need to be trouble in the kitchen because Jesus takes us by the hand, and we too can serve our guests with gratitude.  We just have to see it for what it is:  We welcome others because we have been welcomed.