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Signs and Wonders
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
02/05/12

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
FEBRUARY 5, 2012

Signs and Wonders
Isaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39


In his lovely little book, Longing for Home, Fred Buechner says that home means two things for most people. First, there is a specific place, often a memory, that the word "home" evokes. For me, it will always be 325 New York Street, the childhood home where I spent my first twenty years of life. When Connie and I visited New York Street a few years ago, she said she expected to run into Ward and June Cleaver. Maybe you can see a specific place as well that feels like home. Secondly, though, Buechner says that the word "home" also evokes longings, yearnings for something we ache for so much that nothing in this world or this life will ever fulfill. It is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews had in mind when he said, "All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland."

Still, there is scarcely a person for whom the idea of "home" is not a powerful one. I mention this because in this morning's passage in Mark, Jesus enters the home of Simon and his brother Andrew. Last week, at the start of his public ministry in Mark, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. This was clearly an important point that Mark wanted to make about Jesus: He had a deep reverence for those ancient Jewish institutions of Sabbath and synagogue worship.

But maybe it is just as important for Mark to note that Jesus then entered a home. Just as Jesus wishes to dwell with us in our houses of worship, so Jesus wants to be present in our homes. Henry Ward Beecher said, "Home is where life makes up its mind," and of course Jesus wants to be central to those decisions that forge our character, that become our destiny.

Last week we were blessed on Family Facelift Sunday by the presence of Leif Kehrwald. Leif talked with hundreds of our parents about this very matter, about the church that is to dwell in our homes. Leif said twice last Sunday morning that "God's grace dwells in the folds and creases of our everyday lives." He talked about the five times of the day when we can consciously, intentionally build God into our lives. He spoke of our entrances and exits, meal times, bed times, car or driving times, and those times that make memories, like birthdays, holidays, graduations, baptisms and vacations. All of these times provide moments when we can acknowledge God's promised presence in our midst.

Jesus came to the home of Simon and Andrew. He comes to dwell in your home as well. Wise are the families who welcome and make room for Jesus' presence.

Note secondly that as Jesus enters the home, we are told that Simon's mother-in-law was sick, "in bed with fever," and Jesus "took her by the hand and lifted her up." This is one of thirty healings performed by Jesus in Mark's Gospel of only sixteen chapters. Where last week Jesus healed by the power of His word, casting out demons, this time Jesus heals by touch. He takes "her by the hand and" lifts her up. Jesus' presence brings healing and His touch makes us whole.

Healthy, life-giving homes are places where people touch all the time. We held hands to pray at the dinner table every evening as a child, and have done so ever since. In our family pew as a child in church our family always held hands during the Lord's Prayer. I didn't know it then, but maybe it helped me later to understand and experience the power of Jesus' touch through the community of faith. In his powerful book, The Five Languages of Love, Gary Chapman says that one of those love languages we speak and need is "meaningful touch." Ours is an incarnate faith: "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth." Jesus' touch brought healing into Simon's home, and I believe with all my heart that it still does and still can. May our homes be places of deep and loving connection, of love and warmth that bring security and joy into our lives.

Third, please note that as soon as Simon's mother-in-law is made well, "she began to serve them." The Greek word is διάκωνια, from which we get the word Deacon, one called to serve. Now I am aware that there are two ways to see this. You can look at this and say, "So four young men arrive home with Jesus to find Simon's mother-in-law sick, and no sooner is she healed than they put her to work!" But please note that nowhere are we told that they even asked her to serve them. It seems that it is wholly voluntary, just what she wanted to do.

This woman is healed from her fever, and in health she is eager to begin again to serve. People who catch Jesus' Spirit are willing servants and develop servant hearts. One thing is for sure: Nothing fills a home with Jesus' Spirit like servant love, where we make ourselves subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, "who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

This is true as well, and I suspect you know it: There is no real home without the presence of a servant's heart that creates it. I know why all generations of Connie's family love to gather at her mother's home. Connie King loves to serve, and her servant's heart creates a sense of hospitality. You sense the Lord's presence when you enter her home.

And let's add another word to this, lest we get the wrong idea that a servant spirit is something only women have. We are all of us at our very best when we learn to serve in love. D.L. Moody said: "The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves." Growing up I remember my parents trying to teach these lessons by giving me chores as a part of what it meant to live in our family – I always had to scour the bathtub and clean the toilet and sink, then mop the tile floor, all with a couple rags and that awful scouring powder. And when I got older, I got to cut the grass with the power mower. It felt like a promotion when my Dad let me take on that responsibility!

One of my own personal heroes has always been Albert Schweitzer. You know his story. The son of a Reformed pastor, he became one too. And along with becoming a world class New Testament theologian, Schweitzer also became a world class organist. In his early thirties he published a book that still has impact in the world of Christian theology, The Quest for the Historical Jesus. The last paragraph of Schweitzer's book may be the most beautiful paragraph I have ever read.

And then Schweitzer walked away from all this to pursue a medical degree in order to go to Africa to serve those people with the rest of his life. Except for writing, Schweitzer spent most of the rest of his life as a physician among the people of Lambaréné in Africa. Late in his life he wrote, "The only ones among you who will ever find true happiness are those of you who learn to serve." Jesus said, "Whoever would be great among you must become a servant of all." He said in Luke, "I am among you as one who serves." What is central to Jesus cannot be peripheral to us.

Notice what happens next to Jesus. "That evening, at sundown, they brought to Him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered round the door." No wonder the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus "went out to a lonely place" and prayed. And even there they went out to follow and find Him. I love what Simon says when they finally caught up with Jesus: "Everyone is searching for you." Everyone is, you know. Some know it, how Jesus is what they need more than all the other things they are grasping to get. But so many others, in all their restless searching and seeking, have no idea that more than all the other things they are trying to fit into that yawning, aching emptiness, that only Jesus can fill that void. Blaise Pascal called it a "God-vacuum" in our souls. We try to fill that void with all kinds of self-serving salves, but only the Servant of God, only Jesus can fill it.

I have wondered this week about what Jesus was praying, given how overwhelming the sickness and human suffering was that was pressed on Him that night at the home of Simon and Andrew. I think I know part of what He might well have been praying in the dark.

"Father, give me strength to serve. And give to me a servant's heart." Let's make that our prayer as well.

AMEN.
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