Epiphany V   “He took her by the hand”

February 5, 2006

Susan Langle, Seminarian

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

“He came and took her by the hand” Mark 1:31

In the name of the One who takes us each by the hand and invites us to new life. Amen.

I'm back! And I missed you. During the month of January I have been finishing papers, catching up on my sleep, getting ready for the new semester, and looking after a 12 year old while her mother, my classmate, was in Ecuador. I got to go to two annual meetings and a meeting of the Commission on Ministry and a few other meetings and now back to wonderful, quiet ‘ordinary’ time.

Today I’m supposed to talk with you about Theological Education. This is the Sunday each year the church invites us to think about Seminaries and Seminarians and to remember their role in our common life. And the Gospel today suggests that I’m also supposed to talk about Mothers in Law. What I really want to talk to you about is my favorite saint – Brigid of Ireland - whose feast was celebrated this week. I discovered Brigid last year in my course on English Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School. Born a slave, into a world under threat in the middle of great change Brigid is associated with light and practical generosity – powerful signs of hope for her people. Brigid’s legends are full of miracles of abundant food; turning water into vats of ale; milking cows three times a day – a major feat in a land experiencing severe hunger. This is not about gorging and drunkenness – or being 'supersized'. For people in Brigid's day plentiful food is a sign of God's providence, of God's gift of daily bread. Ale is liquid bread. Milk is the sustenance of children and the source of cheese and butter, foods needed to keep warm in harsh climate. Brigid rescued wild animals, gave wise counsel to kings and kept the lights kindled during the dark times, providing refuge for people terrorized by Scandinavian raiding parties. She was also reputed to be the first female bishop. I’ve brought a wonderful story book about her to share over coffee.

Now, back to Theological Education. Theology means talking about God. And there is lots of talking at my seminary – in the classrooms, at breakfast and lunch, in and out of chapel, sometimes over sometimes over a beer at Grendel’s Den. Some of the students live on campus all or part of the week. Many balance coursework with child care and a demanding job. Babies are born or adopted, dogs and cats come into our lives and we dream and plan for the day in which we will get to practice the work we are preparing for. Scholarships, family support and a lot of courage are needed to talk the leap of faith necessary to embark on an education that costs more than $20,000 a year.

Theology is not just talk. It also means “faith seeking understanding.” And theology doesn’t happen only in seminary. We are all theologians, faithful people with gifts and dreams, yearning to know the Sacred more deeply, to understand why we worship the way we do, to anchor traditions we love in their rich and sometimes peculiar history. The trials and testing of our lives challenge our faith to grow beyond the lessons we learn in Sunday School. We are required to wrestle with God, invited into the complex stories of faith contained in our scriptures.

One of the things I learned at EDS is that I love the Gospel of Mark. And today’s snippet from the first chapter of this Gospel contains all the essential elements. In just three verses we find a lens through which we can see the whole Epiphany – the whole presence of God at work in this world, our world, setting it right. All the key players are here. The essence of the Good News is here. The faithful response is here.

Simon, Andrew, James and John have been recruited by Jesus. They saw the first public healing of the man with demon in the synagogue – the story we read last week. The demon recognized Jesus but these disciples are pretty dense. They know Jesus is someone special but they are not too clear who he is and what he is asking them to do. They are willing to go along for the walk, at least for now. They are going to be in the School of Love for about three years, until they all get to Jerusalem and the Cross, but for now they are just taking the Intro Course.

After the amazing cure of the man with demon, they duck into Simon and Andrew’s home. Are they shocked? Are they hoping for a chance to talk about what they have just seen? Are they hoping for some lunch? They are not just thinking of themselves. At once, immediately, they told Jesus about someone in need, Simon’s mother-in-law. Women are among the many folks living on the margins of society in 1st Century Palestine, especially women who are not young, child bearing, and modest and virtuous according to society’s standards. Women can be divorced simply by a husband issuing a writ, and have no legal protection. If a couple has no child it is obviously the woman’s fault. Women are stoned for adultery while men walk away. Widows live on pittances, dependent on the charity of male relatives. Mothers-in-law without sons of their own are truly vulnerable.

As soon as Jesus knows that this woman is in deep trouble he goes to her side. He seeks her out. He goes where she is, in her suffering. He reaches out his hand and touches her. He breaks the customary social boundaries – touching a stranger; a woman who is sick, by definition touching someone who is “not clean.” He lifts her up. He raises her. He calls her out of the fever, back to wholeness. God’s Shalom, God’s peace, is that state of completeness which is her birthright. Jesus restores her.

In response this woman begins to serve them. What our translations obscure is that she begins to minister to Jesus and the others. Like the angels who cared for Jesus in the Wilderness immediately after his baptism, this woman, this Mother in Law, is empowered to take her place as Deacon. She is called back to life to take up her holy work of faithful service. By the Power of God, present in her life, she is lifted up so that she can feed the hungry. Its not until much later in the Gospel stories that Jesus explains to Simon, Andrew, James and John that this is exactly what they are to do. If they want to be leaders, they must serve one another. In that service is the only honor and privilege in the Kingdom of God.

This day we have the Resurrection appearance of Jesus. Here he is, in this story, in these three verses, reaching out his hand to a sick and suffering and vulnerable person. Here he is in my life, in Brigid’s life, and in your life, saying “Shalom” “Be restored to wholeness” “Be lifted up”. May we who have been healed, who have been called to set the table and feed hungry, may we join hands and share God’s Shalom with a world burning with fever. Amen.

A Blessing from St. Brigid:

I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of Kings and the family of Heaven to drink it through time eternal.

I wish you the meats of belief and genuine piety and the men and women of Heaven in your house.

I wish you keeves of peace, vessels of charity for distribution, caves of mercy for your company, and cheerfulness in all your drinking.

I would want also Jesus in your midst, the three Marys, and all the people of Heaven, from all parts.

Be a tenant to the Lord, so that if you suffer distress, He would confer on you a blessing. AMEN.

-Adapted by Yohah Ralph 2/2005


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