Read Mark 1:29-39
These days, most companies have mission statements. They can be inspiring . . . or surprising. JetBlue, the low-cost airline, has an ambitious one: “To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.”
Maybe they do. All airlines inspire me to pray: “God, don’t let the plane crash.”
When we lived in California, I worked for a medical laboratory that had a mission statement. I guess it wasn’t too inspiring, because I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that the management made sure it was hanging on the wall of every office in a nice big frame. I suppose they thought we might look up at it and be encouraged and inspired to do our work as we were reminded why we were doing it. Maybe it did.
Churches have mission statements too. Ours is always at the top of our newsletter and prayer emails.
Our Mission & Purpose: As followers of Jesus Christ, in obedience to the Word, we covenant to be a nurturing community that challenges and equips one another to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ.
Our mission statement was thoughtfully and prayerfully crafted long before I got here, but just last year our session added those last three phrases: to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ.
Going is what we see Jesus doing in the gospels. In his three years of ministry, he covered a lot of ground. We see Jesus on the go in the last few verses of our passage from Mark 1 for today. He goes off by himself to pray, but he gets interrupted by Peter, who says, “Dude, everybody is looking for you.” Peter expects Jesus will come back to Peter’s house and continue to help the crowds that are coming for healing. But Jesus says in verse 38:
“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (v38)
Jesus is a man on a mission. He is calling people to repent and turn to God, for the kingdom of God is near. And he is demonstrating this with healings and by casting out demons. Mark tells us in verse 39:
“So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (v.39)
And he didn’t just stay in Galilee. During his three years, he went to Samaria and Judea, too. Jesus is carrying out God’s mission. That’s what we’re supposed to be about, too. Our Book of Order, the guidebook for our denomination, begins with a mission statement:
In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission for the transformation of creation and humanity by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission.–PC(USA) Book of Order F-1.01 God’s Mission
God’s mission is the transformation of creation and humanity, and we help
- by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love,
- offering to all people the grace of God…(it’s by his grace that we are forgiven, Eph. 2:8), and
- calling all people to discipleship in Christ.
It sounds big and maybe a bit overwhelming. It says this is for “all people” three times, because God’s mission is no less than the transformation of all of creation and humanity.
It sounds big because it is big. Jesus shows us the immensity of God’s love for us all when he is lifted up on a cross, taking on all the sin of humanity, and three days later being raised from the dead. Through his death and resurrection, we and all of creation are redeemed and forgiven. That’s huge. That’s what we’ll celebrate on the first Sunday in April, Easter Sunday, and that’s what we celebrate every Sunday.
But sometimes I think that seems rather distant and far off from our daily lives. That’s one of the reasons I really love the scene at the beginning of our reading for today. There we see that though the mission is big, and Jesus being lifted up and raised from the dead is huge, it is for each one of us. We are lifted up too, but often in small, simple ways.
Last week, Jesus and the brothers (James and John, Peter and Andrew) were in the synagogue and Jesus cast out a demon. Now we see in verse 29 that they go to Peter’s house.
So, how many of us knew that Peter had a house?
Didn’t we see him drop everything to follow Jesus when they were fishing back in verses 16-20? Whatever we might have imagined that meant, it didn’t mean that Peter left his house. Scholars say it actually was probably where Jesus and Peter stayed whenever they were in the area. Peter left his former occupation as a fisherman and took on a new calling, fishing for people. Now here we are at Peter’s house. (Also notice that he’s not called Peter yet. He’s still Simon in these verses.)
When they get to Simon Peter’s house, they find that his mother-in-law is sick. And here’s something else we may not have thought about before:
How many of us knew that Peter had a wife?
Peter has a wife, and a mother-in-law who is sick with a fever, so he tells Jesus about her. And in verse 31, Mark tells us that Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
There’s so much happening in these two sentences.
First, Peter tells Jesus about his mother-in-law. He’s face-to-face with Jesus, but this is essentially the same thing we do whenever we pray. We’re telling Jesus about our concern for someone. We lift them up in prayer. It can be a cliché thing to say. Most of us can’t actually physically lift someone up. (With my back trouble lately, I can’t even lift up our three-month-old grandson.) But I like having the image in my mind of lifting someone up as I pray, like I’m handing the situation over to God and trusting that God knows what’s needed.
James 5:16 says that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” So let’s keep on lifting people and situations up in prayer.
Mark says that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her. Not a very dramatic healing. Just holding her hand and lifting her up was enough.
If you watch football, you have probably seen this happening on the field after a play. Lots of players end up on the ground, and often they’ll offer a hand to help each other up. And not just the players on their own team. Often we see them helping up players from the opposing team. Two weeks ago, in the game against the Green Bay Packers, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes put out his hand to lift up the guy who’d just tackled him. I thought that was nice. Later on in the game, things weren’t quite so friendly, but this was nice moment.
Such a small, simple gesture. Just like Jesus with Peter’s mother-in-law. A small, simple gesture that gets rid of her fever. A fever might sound like a small thing, though now, with the pandemic, we know it can be a symptom of a deadly virus. In Jesus’ time, before there were antibiotics, a fever could also be deadly. But Jesus heals her and enables her to do what women traditionally did in that culture, show hospitality to their guests.
The word in Greek for what she was doing is diakoneó. It means to serve or to minister. This is where we get the word diaconate and deacon. Our church has a board of deacons who are given the task of caring for our congregation.
One of the things I love about this church, and it’s is true in many churches, that the deacons aren’t the only ones who help people. Many of you make phone calls and send cards or texts, bring food, drive people to appointments, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff. You probably don’t expect to be noticed or thanked, but these small, simple gestures matter. These are some of the many ways we lift each other up.
Did you notice that Mark didn’t tell us Peter’s mother-in-law’s name? This gives us the opportunity to put ourselves in her place.
Can you imagine that you are the one to whom Jesus comes and offers his hand? Imagine Jesus lifting you up, freeing you from whatever has been troubling you. What has been healed? What will you do now?
Or maybe instead you see someone else you know in the place of Peter’s mother-in-law, someone who needs to be lifted up in prayer, someone who needs Jesus’ help. Can you see Jesus offering them his hand and lifting them up?
Or maybe instead of Jesus, it’s you lifting them up.
This idea of being lifted up and lifting others up is so basic and so important. It’s how we live out the redeeming power of Jesus’ resurrection now, in our everyday lives. When we turn to Jesus, we are transformed, and that enables us to help others to be transformed, too. We help spread the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was lifted up, we too are lifted up. That hope is for now, and for all of eternity.
This week, one of the readings in the Our Daily Bread devotional gave a great example of being lifted up and then lifting others up, telling about Harriet Tubman. Many of us probably already know that she escaped from slavery, but I didn’t know until I read this devotional that she leaned heavily on God’s hand to give her the courage. She said, “I always told God, I’m going to hold steady on you, and you’ve got to see me through.”
Holding steady on God is what the Bible tells us to do. I love how Isaiah 41 encourages us. In Isaiah 41:13, God says, “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (41:13).
Harriet held on to God’s hand as she found her way to freedom, and then she went back nineteen times to take others by the hand and help them to have what she’d found. God gave her the courage and the hope to make it through.
God gives us hope, too. Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn says.
This is the hope we have to share as we know, grow and go with Christ, as our mission statement says.
Jesus was lifted up from the dead, showing us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death.
And that nothing in our lives is too big for God to help us handle.
He’s holding our hands and lifting us up now, and one day in the future, he’ll lift us up into eternity and we’ll see him face to face.
He is risen and we will rise.
 It is likely that the house of Simon and Andrew is what Jesus calls his “home” in Capernaum. On several occasions Mark mentions a “house” or “home” in which Jesus and the disciples meet together away from the crowds (2:1; 3:19b; 7:17; 7:24; 9:28, 33; 10:10). John Byron in Connections: Year B, Volume 1 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 461). Ed. Joel B Green. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 “Peter’s mother-in-law does not have a name, and in good homiletical tradition this invites us to put ourselves (both male and female) in her place.” Robert W. Brewer in Feasting on the Gospels–Mark: A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition, Loc. 1882.