5th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:29-39 Sermon 
February 5, 2006

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
408 "Praise To The Lord, The Almighty, The King Of Creation"
459 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
311 "Christ For The World We Sing"


TEXT (vs. 29-31): "Immediately he [Jesus] left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them."

Everybody gets sick. It's part of being human. It might be something as simple as a sniffle or a cold, or maybe the flu. Many people have allergies, such as hay fever. Or sickness can be far more complex, such as cancer or even AIDS. Because we are human, we are not invincible. We are subject to sickness; and if we don't overcome those sicknesses, especially if they're not treated, then they can be fatal.

In my own life, I've had my share of illnesses. When I was in my earlier years, I had the measles--the bad ones. I was very sick with them, and I can remember how bad it hurt to even have a light on in my room. Then I had Chicken Pox, with all of those itchy sores. I also had a very bad reaction to the swine flu vaccine back in the 1970's, which laid me up for a couple weeks. That's about the sickest I've ever been.

Apart from that, I've enjoyed pretty good health for the most part. I take the flu vaccine every year, which has spared me any serious bouts with prolonged illness, except for several years ago when they miscalculated the type of flu vaccine to give. Then of course I got the flu that they hadn't vaccinated against, and that laid me up for a week.

Being sick is no fun at all. You shiver, you shake, you ache, and you don't want to do anything except sleep and take it easy. Having my mother around when I was sick was great though. She'd always make sure I was as comfortable as I could be; and when I was sick to my stomach, she would give me hot tea and toast, which always seemed to set well.

In our Gospel lesson for today, we find Jesus dealing with that very aspect of humanity--sickness. People with various health and spiritual disorders were seeking him out for healing. It would be my guess that the number of people seeking Jesus in this instance would have probably numbered up into the thousands.

However, this whole scenario begins with what would seem to be a rather simple and basic healing miracle, the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law.

Our text tells us that Peter, Andrew, James, and John had come with Jesus to the house of Peter and Andrew. It would appear that this was a planned gathering. A meal invitation had probably been extended, and so they all arrive.

However, things had taken an unexpected turn. Peter's mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. We're not told how serious her illness was, but even if it was something as basic as the flu, it was enough to put her to bed. The basic prescription for the flu even then was the same as it is today--get plenty of rest, and drink fluids. I'm fairly certain that she didn't feel at all like getting up and serving dinner guests. Even though Peter's wife could have probably handled things by herself, still this sick mother-in-law was of some concern to the family.

So when Jesus arrives at the house, he is immediately told about her condition. Jesus goes in to where she was resting, takes her by the hand, helps her up, and she is cured. It was unceremonious and simple. It was a healing miracle in its most basic form. And it didn't take any recovery time either; the healing and cure were instantaneous. She recovered immediately; and out of a thankful heart, she begins to serve her guests.

The picture we have here is of Jesus being the great physician--the great healer of all. From the simplest form of illness to the most complex, Jesus has the situation completely in hand. There is nothing that Jesus can't handle.

Sicknesses and doctors are something that I have been actively involved with lately. With my dad's cancer, we have seen a lot of different doctors, and dad has had a whole battery of tests.

Most of you are aware of the fact that we spent most of this last week in January at the very famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota dealing with this issue.

People from all walks of life from all over the world come to this place. This clinic is home to some of the best doctors that exist anywhere. Here is where you'll find famous world political leaders, Arab sheiks, movie and television personalities as well as the farmer from Wisconsin and the retired teacher from New Jersey, all coming to receive the best treatment known to modern man.

If you've never seen the Mayo Clinic, it has to be one of the most impressive organizations that exist. In this small city in Southeast Minnesota, about the size of Grand Island, there is this complex of big buildings that houses this clinic established by the Mayo brothers many years ago. This clinic is not a hospital however; if you were to go there and have some sort of operation, they would take you to one of the two Rochester hospitals--either Methodist, or St. Mary's.

The clinic is where the doctors see and evaluate patients--hundreds of thousands of them each year. Once you go there, you are given several sheets of paper which read almost like a school class schedule. You might have an appointment with one doctor at 9.30 in the morning in one building, and another appointment with a different doctor at 2.30 in the afternoon in another building. Everything is planned out for you.

And when you go to your appointment, each and every examining room has a computer terminal. They put in your name, and your entire medical record pops up in a matter of seconds. Your X-rays, test results, and everything else are there for quick and easy examination. The whole place operates like a well-oiled machine.

It's all mind-boggling. As I observed all of this, I came to the conclusion that I have never seen so many sick people in one place. The whole clinic atmosphere is charged with people moving from one appointment to another, one floor to another, and one building to another. Some can make it under their own power; others are shuttled by wheel chair.

Everybody is there seeking one thing, and that is a cure and healing for whatever happens to be ailing them. And when you consider how big and how high-tech all of this is, it still cannot accomplish what Jesus did in the bedroom of Simon Peter's mother-in-law.

God is still in charge of healing. He always will be. The most talented orthopaedic surgeon in the world can take a leg that has been crushed. He can operate on it, repair blood vessel and nerve damage, pin it all together, and set it. He can perform every function known to medical science. But after all that is said and done, then comes the waiting. The healing process has to work.

God can use the talents of dedicated medical professionals in many ways; but as any good medical professional can tell you, his scope is limited. God is the one ultimately in charge of the healing.

I think that we forget this fact as we live our day-to-day lives. We are all recipients of God's healing hand. In fact, it happens so often, that we usually take it for granted. When I was suffering from my cold a few weeks back, I really had no doubt that I'd get over it like I always have. I never really gave any thought that it might develop into pneumonia. If we so much as nick ourselves shaving, we automatically assume that it will heal up and disappear. We don't think about a simple cut or nick becoming infected and causing us more severe medical problems. Most of the time, God heals in a very unceremonious and simple way. It's a lot easier to see the hand of God in the more dramatic healings, but it is so easy to overlook the more every day occurrences. God is our primary physician and healer, from the very simple to the most complex situations. Ultimately, he is the one in charge.

Sickness and disease are part of the human existence. It is part of our existence because it is a result of the sinful condition that infects our world. God didn't intend for this to be a human condition when he created things. God created a perfect world.

However, through his disobedience, man invited sin into the world. He brought imperfection into that which was perfect. And ever since that time, mankind has had to deal with the consequences of this. You can't blame God; you can't blame the devil either. The responsibility for sin rests upon the shoulders of mankind. Even though we can't go around trying to pinpoint specific ailments to specific sins, yet we have to realize that such things exist simply because of the sinful state of the world.

It's here where we have to cross the bridge between physical health and spiritual health. If we read just a bit further on in our Gospel lesson, we are told that Jesus healed many physically as well as spiritually. Jesus concerns himself with the affairs of the body; but most importantly he deals with the affairs of the soul. Here he enters into an area that no doctor in any clinic can even begin to touch.

Jesus makes the analogy between physical and spiritual health just a little further on from our text in Mark 2. The scene is Jesus having dinner at the house of Levi, the tax collector. Eating with them are a variety of different people, all of which people considered to be the "sinners" of society. The Pharisees are very critical of this; and so we see them asking the disciples in verse 16: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners?'" In response to this, Jesus says in verse 17, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Sin is a disease that infects each and every one of us. And it's here where we need to see the importance of having the physician for our souls. Sin is a problem for each of us, and it is one where we can only come to Jesus for the cure.

When we come to Jesus, we find the Saviour, who, as the familiar Christmas carol says, is "risen with healing in his wings." It's healing not only for the body, but most importantly for the soul. We come to Jesus seeking this healing when we come before him confessing our sins and desiring the forgiveness he has to offer. We come to him in faith, knowing that he will forgive us and restore us. We come to him with the full assurance that he loves us beyond all comprehension, and that we are restored to spiritual health through faith in him.

When we look at the example of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, we see the most basic example of Jesus' healing miracles. Jesus can and does heal the sick from their diseases. But the question still remains, what happens when he doesn't heal a person in the way we think he ought? I know this question lurks in everybody's mind.

I think about the story of a young man named Luke in a small Vermont town. He was in high school, and had recently turned 16. He was out with some friends at a party where there was a lot of drinking. His best friend Brian had also recently turned 16, and had gotten a pickup truck for his birthday. Everybody was drunk. This boy Luke got into the back of the pickup as they drove away from the party. Suddenly a deer ran out in front of the pickup, and they hit it. Luke catapulted out of the back of the pickup and landed in the ditch where he hit a small tree.

Luke was hospitalized for awhile, but seemed to recover. However later on, he began to have seizures. The seizures continued to get worse. Luke didn't tell anyone about it, and he continued on with his education.

Shortly before graduation, he finally told his parents about it, and they took him to the doctor. After a CAT scan, they found out that he had a blood vessel at the base of his brain that had been damaged, and it could rupture at any time. Surgery would be tricky, and he might not survive. But the blood vessel could burst at any time, and death would be almost instantaneous.

Luke wrestled with this decision, and decided to wait until after graduation and his 18th birthday, which was several days afterward. He graduated with high honors. During his birthday, he suffered another seizure. After that, he decided to call the doctor himself and schedule the surgery--his first decision as an adult 18 year old.

Three days after his birthday, Luke was on the operating table. They had successfully harvested a vein from his leg. They cut open the base of his skull, and were just starting to remove the damaged blood vessel when he had a huge seizure on the operating table. He didn't survive.

Here was a young man, active in his church, active in school, very intelligent, with a bright future ahead of him. And he didn't survive. Why? "Where was Jesus, this great physician when he was needed?" his parents wanted to know. "Why did our son have to die?"

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer. Nobody does. We know that Jesus could put the Mayo Clinic out of business in a matter of seconds. When a Roman Centurion approached Jesus in Luke 7 about his servant who was sick and about to die, he says to Jesus in verse 7, "...But say the word, and my servant will be healed." And he was.

People will recover from sicknesses and accidents. But people will also die. Eventually, everybody will. It's just a fact of life, and it's entirely in God's hands. Even though we don't know the mind of God and his reasons, we simply have to trust that he knows what is best, and leave everything in his hands. That's why we always pray that God's will is done, regardless of the circumstances.

A healthy body however is no exchange for a healthy soul. Our life on this earth will come to an end someday. That's why it is so important to keep our relationship with Jesus our Saviour in tip-top shape. We need to keep our faith strong. Regardless of what happens to us on this earth, we can face the future with full assurance that our souls are healthy and secure. Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we know that we will enjoy an eternal paradise in heaven.

Therefore we can take comfort in the words spoken by God in Revelation 21, 3-4: "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying; 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'"