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February 28, 2021
Consider the wonder of the human heart. It pumps blood in one valve and then sends it out through another valve. It never stores up or hordes blood for use later, but constantly circulates blood throughout the body.
It gets blood…then it gives blood. It receives … then gives!
That is how we are designed: we receive blessings, we give blessings.
1 John 4:19 says, We love because God first loved us.
We’ll get back to that in a moment, but first I want to remind you of what we learned a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark.
Mark invented the literary form of gospel as we know it in the Bible – probably a little after 70 CE.
There already were well established oral accounts of Jesus’ miracles and teachings, and there was at least one written list of His memorable sayings.
But Mark was the first to put Jesus’ ministry into narrative form, and his work became the template for what Matthew and Luke would later write.
Remember, a gospel is not to be confused with a biography as we think of that today with precise dates and researched facts.
Rather, a gospel is the author’s experience and interpretation of the Good News that Jesus has brought to us.
A big question for the 1st Century reader was, how do we know that the coming of Jesus’ Kingdom is indeed good news?
I mean, they’d had plenty of experience with powerful kings doing terrible things to those over whom they reigned, so they might have imagined God’s reign coming as a reign of terror.
Will God’s Kingdom be like that? Will it be punishment and brutality for those who don’t get on board?
No. The Gospel writers appropriated a lot of the words, stories and titles used by Roman rulers to describe the alternative kingdom of Jesus.
Jesus shows over and over again that God’s power through Jesus casts out those spirits opposed to God’s people, those things which lay them low, those things that separate and divide God’s people.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ Good News is mostly proclaimed through fast-paced accounts of his actions.
No genealogies, no birth narrative, no painting of background scenes.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus goes right into action.
Within just the first 15 verses, the Spirit descends upon Jesus in baptism, he overcomes Satan during forty days in the desert, and begins calling together a community of disciples.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were:
Mark 1:15 “The time has come…. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Through exorcisms, healings and miracles, Jesus demonstrates the in-breaking of this good Kingdom to which the crowds respond,
Mark 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
Then we looked at his first act of public ministry, which was driving out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue in Capernaum.
We should take notice because “firsts” in any narrative usually aren’t by accident.
In this first act of ministry, Jesus confronted Satan’s demons.
Today, Mark abruptly changes scenes and in a mere three, short verses gives another demonstration of the Kingdom of God:
Mark 1:29-30 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.
Jesus was busy – his ministry had just gotten rolling, and now this woman was going to put more demands on his time – plus he had scheduled dinner there maybe so he could get to bed early and start fresh in the morning.
Now she wouldn’t be able to serve their meal – more pressure.
Craig Barnes is a pastor who tells about a very busy week he had.
He returned from a three-day church conference to an “in-box” filled with letters from members saying that the church wasn’t headed in the right direction, and then he stepped into the middle of a staff conflict on Friday morning.
Friday afternoon he had a nursing home communion scheduled, and the sermon for Sunday was a long way from being ready.
As he raced in his car to “take care of this [communion] commitment,” he actually prayed to God to help him get through it so that he could get back to work.
As he now looks back at this prayer, he remarks that his attitude was “Unbelievable.”
Here’s how he describes what then transpired: “…a couple of elders went with me to take communion to those who were too disabled to leave their rooms.
“It was then that I met my priest for that day, Mrs. Lucille Lins. Mrs. Lins is almost blind and very hard of hearing.
“She has gradually become shut off from the world. Her health has slipped away, and now she is confined to a small room, having given up her house years ago.
“She has outlived her husband and close friends. Very few people in our church still remember her. She has lost almost everything but life itself.
“It was a humble scene. I tried to be cheery. She said something I could not understand. It was clear we were not going to have a profound conversation.
“I muttered through the words of the sacrament, ‘This is my body broken for you. This is my blood poured out for you.’
“We fumbled with the Communion. I helped her shaking hands find the bread on the little tray I held in front of her.
“We spilled the juice on my slacks. ‘Just one more thing isn’t going right’, I thought to myself. I prayed briefly, gave her a pat on the back and said something about how much God loved her.
“As I got ready to leave, she surprised me by beginning to pray. In a clear voice she said, ‘Thank you God, for being so good to me. Thank you that I am not forgotten. Thank you for always loving me.’
“At last, something had broken through my manic efforts to be the savior. Stunned, I dropped back into my chair.
“A long time of silence passed. I did not want to leave her because this was my first sacred moment all week, and I knew this woman had so much to teach me.
“This blind woman could see what I could not. Mrs. Lins has lost everything but the love of God, and yet her heart is filled with gratitude.
“I had not prayed a single prayer of thanksgiving all week. I had been way too busy asking God to help me achieve more.”
Back to Peter’s mother-in-law, fever was no small matter in the ancient world because it could easily lead to death.
Beyond that, Peter’s mother-in-law was unable to be up and about her work.
Illness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living and contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to fulfill their proper role in the community would also be lost.
With the same ease that he’d used to expel the unclean spirit, (vs. 31) Jesus went to her. He took hold of her hand and helped her up. The fever left her, and she served them a meal.
In the Ancient Near East, hospitality was a supreme virtue, and either a man or a woman would have felt enormous shame for not being able to fulfill their expected roles.
In this case, Peter’s mother-in-law’s restoration to health frees her to welcome an honored guest.
We never know where we will be called to serve, but we know that we are blessed, and from our blessings we serve others.
Sometimes our call is simple – even mundane – and sometimes it is to face the terrifying dark forces of our world.
Many Christians looked the other way as Hitler rose to power, but not the Bulgarian priest named Metropolitan Kyril.
When the Nazis rounded-up the Jews in his city and herded them into a barbed-wire enclosure, he decided to act.
The train that was supposed to take the Jews to Auschwitz pulled up to the station.
The SS guards were just about ready to load the Jews into the box cars that would take them to the gas chambers when suddenly, out of the darkness, Metropolitan Kyril appeared.
He was a tall man to start with, but as an Orthodox priest, he wore a miter on his head, which must have made him appear like a giant as he emerged out of the darkness.
He was wearing his black robes and his white beard hung over them.
Marching behind him were many townspeople and members of his congregation.
Kyril went to the entrance of the barbed-wire enclosure, which was then surrounded by his supporters. When the Nazi guards tried to stop him, he laughed at them and pushed aside their guns.
He went in among the Jews and as they surrounded him, crying hysterically, he raised his hands.
He quoted one verse of Scripture, and with that verse he contributed significantly to the changing of the destiny of a nation.
Quoting from the Book of Ruth he declared to his Jewish friends, Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
The Jews cheered and the Christians joined in cheering.
They had become one in the declaration of the Word of God … the Kingdom of God was breaking into the very pit of evil.
Because of such heroics, not a single Bulgarian Jew ever died in a Nazi concentration camp, in spite of the fact that Bulgaria was one of the Nazi powers.
When a man is willing to lay down his life in the name of Jesus to oppose oppression and injustice, amazing things can happen.
The human heart gives life by circulating blood. The Christian gives life by circulating love.