Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen. I want to invite us to hear a portion of today’s reading from Isaiah again:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
Oh, to be lifted up by the strength of God! Oh, to be lifted out of the fevers that can consume our bodies and lives as Simon’s mother-in-law was lifted up by Jesus as he brought healing and renewed strength to her! There are many ways in which Christ can heal us, lift us up, and send us out to serve others.
We hear one example in the story of Eric Kussman, who in his own words, “went from prison to Princeton to the pulpit.” (Living Lutheran, Jan. 6th, 2021). Kussman says that he started his life without a father in the picture and with a mother addicted to drugs. He and his siblings broke into houses to steal food to get by and eventually Kussman began dealing drugs himself. Yet once he ended up in prison, Kussman landed in a cell that happened to be the gathering place for a regular bible study. Initially scoffing at anything to do with God, he describes being woken up by God one day as he heard Psalm 34:6. And I quote, “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” From that point on, and through a series of remarkable coincidences (as Christians we call this the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s providence), Kussman grew in faith even as he grew to take responsibility for his own life while serving his prison sentence.
Kussman met and collaborated on Bible studies with a pastor who looked at him and said, “someday you’re going where I went. Princeton Theological Seminary.” Kussman laughed at what seemed a ridiculous and impossible notion, but fast forward more years and add more hard work and more amazing providential circumstances and now Pastor Eric Sussman, graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary is serving St. Bartholomew’s Lutheran Church in Trenton, N.J.
Pastor Sussman was lifted up, resurrected, and then sent on his way to be serving others. Christ got in the mix of Pastor Sussman’s life and suddenly dead ends and death tolls were turned to new life and new purpose.
And what of the story of Thulie N. Beresford, who was highlighted in the ELCA rostered women of color project, a wonderful project to check out during this Black History month, if you haven’t already. Thulie grew up in South Africa and after she was stabbed almost to death at the age of eighteen, she struggled with her faith. Yet God lifted her up and kept her praying amidst her struggles, kept her connecting with her Lutheran church in South Africa and then her Lutheran church here in the United States. And here in the United States, Thulie met her first female Lutheran pastor and discovered – as her heart sang - her own calling to become a pastor. And she did just that.
And what about the story of Mikah Meyer, who found himself being lifted out of depression with the support of a therapist and church communities, and then organized a run across the state of Minnesota to raise awareness for the need to build safer outdoor spaces for LGBTQ folks, people of color and other minorities? Mikah was lifted up and then found himself serving; even found himself being lifted up by God in Christ as he was in the midst of serving others. (Living Lutheran, January 25th, 2021)
And what about Davyin Hallmon, a young person of color, who responded to the violent crimes taking place against Black and Latinx people by founding the Black String Triage Ensemble with support and help from the Milwaukee Lutheran Synod, a music ministry that goes to crime scenes and plays music as a way to address the spiritual dimensions and needs of what is going on for everyone involved.
The Greek word used in our gospel lesson from Mark today to describe Jesus “lifting up” the mother-in-law of Simon from where she lay in bed with a fever is “egeiro,” which literally translates to “raise up.” This is the same Greek word the gospel writer Mark uses on several other occasions when Jesus heals someone. It is also the verb chosen by Mark to describe Christ’s resurrection (ELCA Faith Lens, Feb 7, 2021).
So, then, this would seem to be what Martin Luther would describe as an eternal truth rising to the surface of the scriptures, that when we are resurrected by Christ from the fever of sin and brokenness that ails us and this world – body, heart, mind, soul, or all of the above - then we can step into our calling to serve, renewed by God’s strength so that we might mount with wings like eagles. To serve the relative, the guest, the neighbor, the stranger. To serve the outcast and advocate for justice and safety for all people. To serve, not because we are required to serve, but because Christ has taken us by the hand and is lifting us up – “egeiro-ing” us, and now we know that we, who have experienced the joy of Christ’s saving and lifting up love, have the opportunity to serve Christ by serving others.
And let’s not miss the fact that being lifted up and healed took place for the mother-in-law of Simon, for Pastor Kussman, for Mikah Meyer, for Pastor Thulie N. Beresford, and for Davyin Hallmon in the arms of their communities and specifically faith communities. Communities were the instruments in which Christ’s healing took place for each of these people, and then, once healed, these folks were Christ’s instruments of healing for others. We are never healed so that we can keep that healing as a secret treasure unto ourselves. As individuals, as church and faith communities, we are always being resurrected for the sake of others and for the sake of the world to which we have been called to serve.
It is an awesome and a humbling responsibility to realize that we who are constantly discovering our brokenness and sin can also, by the grace of God, be discovering that we are being lifted up – literally resurrected - and healed. Resurrected not to be perfect, but to nevertheless be given opportunities to serve for the greater good, to serve for the sake of praising and worshipping a greater God.
So, when was the first time you were lifted up, healed in mind, body, heart, spirit, or all of the above? Or, maybe you never thought to look at your life from this perspective before today? That’s ok. Now you have been invited by Christ’s work in the scriptures, and our time of meditating on these scriptures together, to consider this working of God’s grace in your life and the world. And, so have I.