Sunday, February 7, 2021
When my husband Rich flew out to Chicago for the first time to visit the seminary that we both ended up attending, he caught a cab from the airport. He was surprised when he asked the cab driver to go to “the Lutheran School of Theology on 55th Street,” and the man knew right where it was. “I love the Lutherans!” he said. “It was the Lutherans who helped my family come here to America. God is good!” He was originally from Somalia and had been resettled in Chicago from through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. What were the chances that Rich would’ve gotten that cab driver, of all of the taxis at O’Hare International Airport? For Rich, this encounter was one of many that solidified his decision to go to seminary and pursue a degree in mental health at the same time – he heard firsthand how the Lutheran church made a difference and how faith could make a difference in serving others. He could have a positive impact, too!
We’ve gone through a few discipleship practices now which are all promises we or our parents make at our baptism: to live among God’s faithful people (fellowship), hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper (worship), proclaim the good news of God in word and deed (evangelism) and now we turn to service: to serve all people, following the example of Jesus. If we reflect on the gospel for today, we might at first feel intimidated that part of our baptismal call is to try to follow the example of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I can’t cast out demons. I can’t cure people of their fevers or other physical illnesses, like Jesus does with Peter’s mother-in-law. How are we supposed to follow Jesus’ example when we can’t perform miracles? Even in our best days, we know we are not Jesus. Part of the reason I have faith in God is that I recognize that I am NOT God and can’t save myself! I need Jesus to help myself and others! But let’s look again at this short gospel story from Mark to understand why and how God calls us to serve anyway, despite our limitations.
Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Her fever leaves immediately and then, she begins to serve them. Now as a woman myself I would guess a lot of us ladies are thinking, “Typical men, they just want this poor woman to get better so she can wait on them hand and foot. They’re hungry and want some dinner!” However, the word “serve” in this instance is a Greek word you may recognize: diakonia. It’s where we get the word, “deacon,” traditionally a minister of teaching and preaching God’s word and service. Jesus heals the woman so she can be a deacon, a leader in this new Jesus movement that will become the Christian church. Jesus not only relieves her fever, he restores her back into the community, so that she can serve, proclaim Jesus’ message in word and deed, and follow him.
Similarly, while we can’t do everything that Jesus does, Jesus saves us to serve, in the ways that God created us with different abilities and talents. Some of us have chosen work in the service industry, whether we are in finance, public service: firefighters or police officers or working in the courts, educators and teachers, secretaries, nurses and doctors. Others of you I know volunteer regularly here at church or with other organizations in retirement. We collect food year-round for the Lutheran New Life Food Pantry in Uniondale. And while we may not personally be able to help refugees fleeing violence and oppression around the world like the cab driver in Chicago, or directly fight famine and drought in the poorest of countries, our mission support that our church contributes to the larger church supports those missions like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief and ELCA World Hunger to serve people around the world. God can use the unique gifts each of us has to make a difference in other people’s lives. And as I discussed last week, through our service, like Rich learned from the Somali taxi driver, we can proclaim good news to those who need to hear it through word AND deed. Service, as we see in Mark’s gospel for today as well, can lead to evangelism.
Today is also a good day for us to reflect on what else we could do, either as individuals or as a church to serve all people, especially those slipping through the cracks in our own community. The pandemic has been hard on so many families locally. I have learned from nearby colleagues that our local food pantries are seeing 100% or more increase in services. One in seven Americans right now are suffering from food insecurity. We have families moving into our community who don’t know how to speak English very well or how to navigate living in New York – believe me, even I am still a little confused about how we are in the town of Oyster Bay in the Syosset School District which also includes parts of Woodbury and Muttontown…. We have an increase in participants coming to our church for weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – for us, it may not seem like much, but simply opening our doors to those battling addiction can be a life line for many.
One of Martin Luther’s most well-known treatises is called “The Freedom of a Christian.” In it is one of my favorite quotes. You may hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the 1 Corinthians when Paul says, “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” Luther says, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” What Paul and Luther mean is that we don’t have to serve others exactly like Jesus does to get extra brownie points with God or get a better spot in heaven – thank goodness we don’t have to, because we can’t. Later on in Mark’s gospel, Jesus says that “the son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.” We serve God and others not because we have to, but because we want to out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. I’d like to imagine my freedom to serve all people like Peter’s mother-in-law, who freed from her fever jumps up to do what she knows how to do best, taking the lead to provide hospitality to her guests and looking for additional ways she can share the goods news of God in Christ Jesus because Jesus has changed her life for the better. She wants to give back!
Yesterday, we celebrated the gift of baptism as we welcomed baby Olivia officially into God’s family, and I asked her parents these questions about teaching her to follow Jesus. We gave her a candle and said, “Let your light so shine before others, that they might see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” That light doesn’t come from us, it comes from the light of Christ. A baby can’t do much, but she can smile and give joy to others, especially in the midst of a difficult time for so many of us. We don’t know how Olivia might end up serving all people following the example of Jesus, but we hope and pray that we as the church will help the light of Christ continue to shine through her as she grows. Through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, there’s at least one taxi driver in Chicago that has seen this light. And in sharing his story, he shares that same light with others. Let your light so shine! We are freed to serve, we are saved to serve, we are blessed to be a blessing. Amen.