"Sweet Tea and Servanthood": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B

"Sweet Tea and Servanthood": Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B

Feb 04, 2018

Passage:Mark 1:29-38

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Epiphany

Category: Epiphany, Hospitality, Servanthood

Keywords: hope, hospitality, servant


In Mark's Gospel, Jesus heals Simon's Mother-in-law, and she immediately arises and "serves" the men gathered in the house. This COULD sound a bit awkward... why does she have to be a servant from her sickbed? This sermon takes a look at the nature of Jesus' Good News of God's Kingdom and explores the call to servanthood.


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

 We hear in the Gospel of Mark today that when Jesus and his companions leave the synagogue in Capernaum, they enter Simon and Andrew's house.

They discover that Simon's mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. Simon is alarmed. He tells Jesus at once. Jesus approaches the woman. He takes her by the hand and lifts her up.

The fever leaves the woman.

Then, we are told, the mother-in-law immediately begins to serve these men.

On the one hand, in the sparse writing style of Mark, this seems like one more quick healing story on Jesus' résumé.

On the other hand, it could seem a little awkward to our modern ears that this woman is very ill at one moment--so sick, in fact, that she cannot even rise out of bed. And then Jesus heals her and she is expected to serve--to take care of all the men in the house.

There's something that sounds a little dated about this... or even if we account for the first-century gender roles... having someone jump in to serve everyone right out of her sick bed can still sound a little "off" in this story.

As I was thinking about the nature of who this woman in the Gospel was and also of "service" and "serving" and "being served," it made me think about my Great Aunt Jule.

"Jule" was my father's Aunt, and helped to raise him, so Aunt Jule (short for Julia Belle), was very much a grandmother figure in my life.

She lived in South Carolina. Every summer growing up my whole family would make the trek from Texas to spend a few weeks with Aunt Jule. While at her house, she and my mother cooked huge, extravagant meals. Aunt Jule loved to cook and to serve those multiple course meals. She would spend hours in the kitchen, making ham or roast beef or some casserole, she cooked multiple vegetable servings, and of course, every dinner had dessert. And my favorite with every meal: biscuits with butter and jelly. And to wash it all down, we always had a large pitcher strong, sweet tea.

We children were expected to set the table. But I also remember clearly that every summer became an object lesson in service and servanthood for us at Aunt Jule's house.

You see, we kids had been a little spoiled by our Mother back home in Texas. During the rest of the year, Mom, who was also a great cook, generally served us when we had evening suppers.

Our custom was, if we kids wanted more tea to drink we would call out, "Mom, can you get me more tea?" Or if we wanted seconds of anything: "Mom, I'd like more chicken, please." (We would add the please if we remembered).

But when we were at Aunt Jule's, she would have NONE of that!

Each summer, the first time we would sit down to supper...

...and mind you this is a supper that Aunt Jule has prepared ...and cooked all afternoon ...and laid out on the table for us ...AND would be the envy of any Southern Living Magazine cover...

...and one of us would start: "Mom, can you get me more tea?"

Aunt Jule would immediately intervene, as only a matriarch can, and say, "Chirren! I love you all, but I don't think your legs are broken. You go fetch that tea pitcher. And you fill up everybody else's glass before you fill up your own!"

And of course, we would say: "Yes Ma'am!" And we would do it.

Mark tells us at the beginning of this chapter that Jesus came to Galilee to proclaim the Good News of God--that the Kingdom of God is near.

Simon and Andrew and James and John are following Jesus because of this message. They see these wondrous acts of healing that God is working through Jesus. But they have not yet figured out by this part of the story what Jesus is truly talking about. They follow him. But they don't know what the Kingdom of God looks like.

But Jesus is constantly showing them.

Jesus heals Simon's mother-in-law.

And then Simon's mother-in-law shows them what the kingdom of God looks like.

Through her healing, the woman is able to be who she always was.

I suspect that, like my Aunt Jule, Simon's mother-in-law was someone who showed hospitality and welcome to all who came within her sphere.

When she was ill, the fever held her back. It kept her from being the servant she already was in the world. It kept her from greeting Jesus and the disciples when they entered the house.

By healing the woman, Jesus not only removed her illness, he restored her to a place of wholeness.

But she is NOT simply a woman who is a slave to the men in the room. She is someone who understands the response to the Good News.

She is living out the reality that God's Kingdom IS HERE.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the other disciples, including (and especially Simon Peter) will take quite a while to figure out what Jesus is saying about the need to be servants in the Kingdom.

Jesus himself will demonstrate over and over this servanthood--this "last shall be first, and first shall be last" idea. This concept is radical in the first-century Roman Imperial World. This concept is just as radical in our world.

All around us today--our leaders, our media, our entertainment--celebrate and promote "winners" and dominance and power and glory.

But this woman--this mother-in-law of Simon--her response to being healed, is that she has to serve others.

And this is the radical gift that Christ brings to the world.

This is the Epiphany.

This is the revelation of God's presence.

God says to us all, "Chirren, I love you. But I don't think your legs are broken. Go get the pitcher of my love for everyone. Start by pouring it into the glasses of those in need. But there's plenty to go around. And don't worry, I've put away enough for you too!"