5 Epiphany proper B5                            
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:29-39 Sermon                                               
February 8, 2009


 TEXT (vs. 29-31):  ďImmediately he [Jesus] left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simonís 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.Ē 

            This morning, Iím going to make a statement that some of you might want to take issue with, at least at first.  So here goes:  ďThe old way isnít always the best way.Ē  Now before you disagree with that too much, I will be the first to say that in many cases, the old way is the best way. 

            For example, food made from a ready mix doesnít taste quite like something made from scratch.  Old recipes are prized possessions.  In church, we like to sing the old hymns and hear the old familiar Bible stories.  The traditional Lordís Prayer and the creeds just seem to flow better. 

            But we have an appreciation for modern technology as well.  This sermon is being written on a computer, and it will be published on a website where other people with computers will be able to read it.  We enjoy the benefits of things like microwave ovens and modern medical equipment.  Various modern medical procedures have allowed people to be healed in instances that might have been fatal even a generation or two ago.

            The thing that I donít quite understand however, are those instances where the technology existed, but people just seemed to lack the common sense to put it into practice.  And of course Iím going to give you an example.

            When I was growing up in Emerson, we lived just across the street from the fire station which housed the cityís three fire trucks, and that was it.  There wasnít an ambulance or any way to handle medical emergencies, except a resuscitator on one of the fire trucks.  We had no paramedics or EMTís.  Even if we did, there was no easy way to get a person to hospital.

            When a person needed an ambulance in those days, here is what happened.  Ed Kempf, the local mortician had an ambulance, which was little more than a converted hearse.  In those days, mortuaries frequently operated ambulances, since the mortician had at least a minimal amount of medical training. 

            Anyhow, if someone in Emerson needed an ambulance, Ed Kempf would leave his home in Emerson, drive 12 miles to Pender, get the ambulance, and drive the 12 miles back to Emerson.  And since Emerson didnít have a hospital or even a clinic or a doctor, he would load the person up and take them to hospital, either in Wakefield which was 9 miles, or back 12 miles to Pender.  If the person was lucky enough to make it, then they would finally receive the medical attention they needed, which was often a couple hours later.  And if they didnít make itówell, Ed already had them in the back, and he would take them to the mortuary instead.

            To me, this was an absolutely ridiculous situation.  How much money would it have cost the town to have an ambulance?  Surely the 800 people there could afford to buy a vehicle of some sort.  And what about people who had medical training?  The military has had medics for years and years; why couldnít that same concept have been used for these small communities?  The very fact we have these things today isnít the result of modern technology, although modern technology has certainly helped.  Itís just common sense.

            The same can be applied to the ambulances themselves.  The ambulances of yesteryear were little more than a hearse painted white.  Ambulance attendants had to crouch down in cramped quarters to try to attend to the patient, which was difficult at best.  Compare that to the ambulances of today, that not only have a lot of modern medical equipment, but they are big, and there is room for the attendants to move around and do their job.  This type of vehicle isnít a result of modern technology either.  This type of vehicle has been around for years.  We used to call them step-vans, and before that, they were called panel trucks.  Common sense should have dictated that these vehicles should have been used as ambulances, and not hearses painted white.

            No, the old way isnít always the best way, and the old way often doesnít show the best use of common sense.  I think that my story about the ambulance situation in Emerson (and other towns like it) is a good example of this.

             Our Gospel lesson for this morning is the account of Jesus performing healing miracles.  The story starts out very simply.  Jesus was with Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and also James and John.  These four disciples were all in the fishing trade, and they most likely had known each other for quite awhile.

            Simon Peter has invited everybody to his house for dinner.  Andrew his brother lived in that house, along with Simonís mother-in-law.  It was the way households in that day often were, with extended families living together.  Simonís wife would have been the one attending to the meal preparations for their guests.

            When Jesus arrives, he learns that Simonís mother-in-law is sick in bed with a high fever.  Jesus hadnít originally gone to Simonís home to heal his mother-in-law.  He was there accepting a dinner invitation.

            Now weíre not told how sick this woman was.  If I were to make an educated guess however, I would say that her condition was rather serious.  High fevers usually indicate some sort of serious medical issue.  I would also go so far as to say that had Jesus not healed her in the way that he did, she would probably have died from 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 didnít 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 news about Jesus spread quickly.  While he was at Simonís house, people with every conceivable malady came literally by the thousands to be healed by him.  People were regarding Jesus as a cure-all miracle drug, and not much more than that.  He had compassion on the people, and healed them.  He was in such high demand, that he had to escape early in the morning to have some alone time.  And from there, he goes to the other towns and villages, proclaiming the Gospel and healing their sick.

            As we move from those days into our current time, we know that one important thing hasnít changed.  Jesus is still the great physician.  God is the one who is our healer.  The situation can be as complex as the biggest malignant tumor you could imagine, or as simple as a paper cut.  All healing comes about through Godís power and divine providence.

            In our society today, there are those religious groups that eschew all forms of medical science.  In their way of thinking, making use of any form of modern medical technology demonstrates a lack of faith in the healing power of God.  

            And so, they sit at home and suffer, many of them dying because they refused to seek medical services.  It has gone so far that parents have allowed their children to die when all they needed was a simple medical procedure or a small dose of medicine.  In order to save a life, courts have even ordered medical treatment, overriding the parentsí refusal.  And in some cases, parents have been charged with negligent child abuse when they have refused medical treatment and have allowed their children to die.  Itís so sad to see this happen.

            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 didnít intend for this to be a human condition when he created things.  God created a perfect world.

            Itís here where we have to cross the bridge between physical health and spiritual health.  In our Gospel lesson this morning, 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 hospital can even begin to touch.

            Sin is a disease that infects each and every one of us.  And itís 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. Jesus says in Mark chapter 2 verse 17, ďIt is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.Ē

            When we come to Jesus, we find the Saviour, who is the great physician, 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.

            If we go back and look at Simon Peterís mother-in-law, we see Jesus taking her by the hand.  Through that simple action, she is cured of her illness.  But what would have happened if she would have jerked her hand away, rolled over in bed, and said:  ďJesus, get out of here and leave me alone?Ē  Would she have experienced the healing Jesus was offering to her?  Probably not, because she would have openly rejected him and what he wanted to give her.

            We see this happen with people all the time when it comes to their faith.  Jesus patiently and lovingly takes people by the hand all of the time.  He takes the hand of those who are dead in their trespasses and sins.  He offers the gift of healing and life.  And far too frequently, people will withdraw their hand and tell Jesus to go and take a hike. 

            But faith is the open hand that Jesus takes; and through his touch, we receive all of the benefits he has to offer.  Through faith Jesus, our sickness of sin is completely gone, and we are free to serve him out of a thankful heart, just like Peterís mother-in-law did.

            The old way isnít always the best way, especially if that old way is the way of sin that threatens our very souls.  The new way given to us by Jesus is the way that leads us to spiritual wellness and eternal life.  Jesus has taken us by the hand and has completely healed us.

            As we live in this world, there will always be disputes as to which way is betteróthe old way or the new way.  Thereís an old recurring Saturday Night Live sketch I remember, where an actor plays an old man who is always arguing that the old way is always better.  He would say things like, ďBack in my day, we didnít have clean drinking water, we drank from the creek and got typhoid feverÖ.and we liked it!Ē  Or, ďBack in my day, we didnít have any fancy dentists; our teeth just rotted in our headÖ.and we liked it!Ē

            Of course thatís absurd comedy, but it does make a valid point.  Whether we do things the old way or new way, common sense always needs to be a guiding factor in our decision in doing what is best.

            God has given us a mind and intelligence.  In Isaiah chapter 1 verse 18 we read:  ďCome now, let us reason together,Ē says the LORD. ďThough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.Ē

            Of course that verse describes the forgiveness we have through faith in Jesus.  Based upon that faith, we can always look to Scripture and make reasonable decisions according to it.  With this in mind then, faith becomes the all important companion to modern medicine.  As important as faith is in healing, it cannot be an excuse to use it as a complete replacement for medical attention.

            It was back three years ago when I was sitting in the oncologistís office with my father and mother.  The doctor told my father:  ďI canít promise that youíll be cured.  Iím not God, although I talk to him regularly.Ē   I donít think he could have put it any better than that.

            Back in Emerson, the ambulance situation changed in the mid 1960ís.  The fire department started a rescue squad, with a modern ambulance, and not a converted hearse.  Many of the volunteer firemen received EMT training.  It was just common sense to do this.  And because of it, many lives have been saved over the years.

            God gives us reason and intellect in order to make wise and educated decisions in life, especially when it comes to the benefits of modern medicine.  When we put ourselves into the hands of medical professionals, we do so based upon information we have gathered, that we have reasonable assurance as to their level of skill.  But what weíre really doing is putting ourselves completely in Godís hands, trusting that he will use these people to heal us according to his divine will.

            When we apply the common sense God has given us, it matters little whether the way is new or old.  Godís way is always the best way; and when we put our entire livesóour bodies and our souls into his hands, then we know without a doubt that we have done the right thing.