Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 8, 2009)
“Jesus the Great Healer” (Mark 1:29-39)

Last week's Gospel reading was about Jesus casting an unclean spirit out of a man in the Capernaum synagogue. This week's lesson has more of the same, yet focuses especially on the healing of physical ailments. Jesus and some of his disciples were leaving the synagogue on a Saturday Sabbath and decided to visit Simon Peter’s house. When they arrived, Jesus was informed that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever.

Jesus’ response shows his compassion and willingness to help and to get his hands dirty. He is not so high and mighty that He cannot reach down and touch someone who is ill. He reaches down, and takes hold of her hand. What a brief, but beautiful, tender picture of the Incarnate God touching one who is ill with His very own hands.

Then, Jesus shows His Divine power over sickness by healing Peter’s mother-in-law. St. Mark writes simply “The fever left her.” But it is obvious that it is Jesus who is sending the fever away. He sends the fever away and raises her up off of her sick bed. Having been healed, the woman responds by serving those who were in the house.

Even today Jesus shows His divine power over sickness. It may not happen in sudden, miraculous ways as it did during Jesus’ earthly ministry. It may not happen as it did through the ministry of the apostles, since the Lord Jesus gave the apostles the authority to heal as one particular “mark of an apostle.” (2 Cor. 12:12) Today, if it is the Lord’s will, healing most often happens through means such as medicine, nurses, therapists, surgeries, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and the like. But it is healing nonetheless, and we pray for the healing of those who need it. On the other hand, if it is the Lord’s will, it is not beyond His power to heal miraculously without the means of medicine and health care professionals.

But if healing does not occur, we know that God still has a plan. He is always in control. He has a reason for letting the illness linger. He has not taken His love away from us. We know this because we look to the cross where His Only Begotten Son showed forth His love to us as He suffered for us and for our sins. If He suffered so much for us and gave up His life for us so that we might be forgiven, how much more will He reach down and tenderly touch us with His love when we suffer and are ill, even though physical healing may not be in His immediate plans for us.

But spiritual healing is always in his plans for us. Apart from Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit upon us in Word and Sacrament, our souls are sick and need healing. Our souls are healed through the preaching of the Gospel – the Good News that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world and that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Jesus even says in today’s text that that is the reason why He came … to preach!
After He healed Peter’s mother-in-law, word got out about where He was and people came to the house, bringing their sick and demon-possessed friends and family members. They came to be healed of their illnesses and demon-possession, and the next morning they continued to come looking for Him. But Jesus had gone off alone to pray. When His disciples found Him, He told them, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Then, the text goes on, “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”

Preaching. Jesus Himself said, “That is why I have come.” It’s not as spectacular as miraculous healing, is it? It’s not as awe-inspiring as casting out demons, is it? But that is the means that even Jesus used to proclaim the Good News about Himself. He preached so that people would be brought to faith in Him as the Son of God and Savior of the world.

The miracles were not the means. In fact, that’s all that many people wanted out of Jesus…a miracle. And things haven't changed all that much, have they? That's all that many people want out of Jesus today, is his divine help to solve their problems...but they don't necessarily recognize that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is their most pressing issue. It’s apparent that many of the people whom Jesus healed in our text today in Capernaum never came to faith. St. John wrote, “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” And St. Luke, in chapter 10 of His Gospel, relates the time when Jesus pronounced His “woes” upon the unbelieving cities of Galilee, and ends by saying this about Capernaum: “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.” Capernaum had Jesus and His miracles right in their midst, yet the vast majority of the people rejected Him and refused to believe…even after being amazed at His teaching when He first came to them, as we heard in last week’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus preached and He drove out demons. Later on He sent out the 12 and the 72 to preach in the surrounding towns. Jesus had sent them as His ambassadors, saying, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me.” When they returned from their preaching tour, they told Jesus, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name,” to which Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” When God’s Word is preached today, it goes out with Jesus’ authority…the authority of the very one who conquered Satan through death and resurrection…and Satan’s evil assistants are driven away through the preaching of the Gospel as God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence and says, “This is now MY territory.”

No, preaching is not very spectacular. But that is the powerful means by which Jesus uses to bring people to faith and to build His Kingdom, along with that other unspectacular means called Baptism. But that’s the way God often works…through weakness and foolishness. In a day and age where people are looking for dynamic preaching and strong leadership and flashy programs to bring people into the Church, what does St. Paul say about preaching? He wrote this to the church at Corinth in 1 Cor. 2: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of her bodily illness, and Jesus heals and strengthens our sin-sick souls.

Jesus reached down and touched her hand. Through preaching, Jesus—God in the Flesh—reaches down and touches us with His Word of Law and Gospel. What’s more, in the Sacrament of the Altar, our Incarnate Lord reaches down and graciously gives us something that we can touch—and taste—His very Body and Blood.

Jesus sent the woman’s fever away. Through the preaching of the Gospel our forgiving Lord sends our sins away.

Jesus raised Peter’s mother-in-law off of her sick bed. Through the preaching of the Gospel our Resurrected Lord raises us up to new life and gives us the promise of the future resurrection.

Peter’s mother-in-law responded by serving those who were in the house. We respond to the preaching of the Gospel with grateful service to our Lord and Savior, serving others both inside and outside the household of faith.

Give thanks to Jesus, our Great Healer, today and come to His table for his healing and saving power.


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