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My friend, Carrie, had a bad year. In 2011, two of her family members died, one after a long battle with cancer, and one relative died quite unexpectedly. She also lost her job and could not find a new one. She was struggling emotionally, economically and spiritually.
And, as if this were not enough, she couldn’t eat.
She tried, but her stomach would not tolerate it. The only thing she could keep down was liquids. And some days even that was a stretch—some days it was all she could do to get 20 ounces of fluid down.
Carrie’s doctor was concerned and suggested a round of tests on her stomach. But she knew her stomach was not the issue. And she wasn’t too anxious to pay out of pocket for the tests—being unemployed meant she had no insurance and no way to pay for the expensive tests.
As a last resort, and if led by the Spirit, Carrie went to a massage therapist her friend had been talking about for years. Up until the moment Carrie got onto the massage table, she would have called healing massage “hocus pocus.”
And then the massage began. Carrie began to relax into it, and as she relaxed, she began to cry.
The massage therapist pointed out things to Carrie about her body. She noted that Carrie was holding a lot of pain in certain parts of her body, and began to work on them. And Carrie continued to cry, releasing all the pain and sadness she held on to from her terrible year. And from that day on—after that kathartic massage--Carrie was able to eat.
I cried with Carrie when she told me this story. It was truly unbelievable, miraculous. Carrie said she would have never believed it herself, except that it happened to her. She was healed on the massage table. Now, this doesn’t mean that she still doesn’t grieve her awful 2011, and this doesn’t mean that doesn’t have any work to do. But she saw that healing massage as a turning point. All because she was willing to let this woman touch her and notice her pain. She opened herself to the possibility that healing could happen, and it did.
I have been thinking about Carrie’s story as I’ve been reading this story from Mark this week. How powerful it was for Jesus to touch people, to speak directly to them, and to heal them. How powerful it was for Carrie to let someone touch her, to be open to healing. And how incredible it was that Simon’s mother in law--sick with a fever that they feared would kill her--was able return to her work immediately after a touch by Jesus.
The story of salvation—the good news Jesus was declaring in the first chapter of Mark—was not just an intellectual message. “The reign of God is here—change your hearts and minds and believe the good news!” This is not simply something that creates a shift in perception—although it does—it’s more than that. Jesus impacted the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical lives of the people he encountered.
In our text last week, Jesus declared in the temple that the reign of God is here. And then, as if to give us a visual demonstration of the reign of God, Jesus cast out the demon, he cast out fear. Jesus silenced fear so that the reign of God could be more fully visible.
In this week’s text, after the unclean spirit was cast out of the synagogue, Jesus immediately went to the house of Simon and Andrew, and gave us exhibit B of the reign of God—he healed Simon and Andrew’s mother in law.
He put out his hand, she took it, he helped her up, and she went back to work. Her fever was gone.
We have two examples in the first chapter of Mark of what it means for the reign of God to be here—Fear is cast out, and people are healed. In fact, after Simon’s mother in law was healed, it says that people brought to Jesus those who were sick and possessed, and he healed the sick and cast out the unclean spirits. The healing and casting out got mixed up together into one messy group of people, sitting together in awe of what God could do.
This week, when I was picking up Reba after school, I ran into someone who had a question about church. He asked me, “What does it mean to worship? Why do we do it?” The standard, pat answer is “we worship to glorify God, to say thanks”. But, there are other reasons too—particularly in the way we see the text as Mennonites. As followers of Christ, we see God in each other. The chairs face towards each other, so that we can hear the harmony in our singing, so that we can see the face of God in each other. We come to offer strength and healing and hope when we have some to spare, and we come to seek healing and hope as we need it. We come to give and we come to receive. We come to bear one another’s burdens. And as we leave this place, we go out to serve God, renewed and refreshed. That’s the ideal at least.
The people that Jesus healed in his ministry became the church. Those that had been healed, who had fear cast out of them, they gathered together to follow Jesus, to live the life that God had called them to live. And those that had been healed—like Simon and Andrew’s mother in law—in response to their healing, went out to serve.
As our congregation grows, being church to each other—taking care of each other, and being present to each other’s needs—this can get challenging. We don’t know everyone here. The size of the group on a given Sunday can sometimes discourage folks from disclosing their joys and pain in our sharing time. Sometimes we worry that our pain and joy may seem small in comparison to the others, and we hold back.
As a newer person, it can be intimidating to join in, to participate in the life of the church, when we don’t know everyone’s names and stories. And for a person that has been her for a while, new folks means new names and stories to learn too.
Sharing our stories, sharing our hope and healing, can be a challenge in a larger group. There are no simple answers to the challenges of a growing and evolving congregation. But just as Carrie sought healing and a sign of hope in the hands of a healing massage therapist, we seek healing and hope here. We seek to be touched by our brothers and sisters in Christ, to find support and encouragement, to name those things that give us pain and to cast them out.
And as we are being healed, we offer that healing hope to others. We follow in the way of Christ, who lived fully the life God called him to.
Let us offer our hands to those around us, to lift them up, to share their burdens. Let us together—with God’s help and guidance--cast out fear. AMEN.
What can I do?