February 4, 2018

What A Resurrected Life Means

Mark 1:29-39

1 Corinthians 9:16-23


My son, Abinaya, was sick a few weeks ago. For no apparent reason, he suddenly had high temperature and became generally weak and tired as the result. We took him to the doctor and the doctor suspected that my son had a minor viral or bacterial infection

After only a few days, however, he got better again (and returned to his cheeky self), but it was my turn to pick up the bug. I had terrible cold with runny nose and sore throat and swollen gums, and it was very painful to swallow anything. It was a very unpleasant experience, but I was in no way in danger of losing my own life.

Friends, in modern world today, illnesses like fever or cold may only be mild illnesses that will go away after a few days or weeks. In most cases, people won’t lose their life because of them. There are cases of severe fever or cold that cost people’s life of course, but these are only a minority.

That wasn’t the case in Jesus’ time however. Any infection then could be deadly. In our reading from Mark’s Gospel, we don’t know for sure whether Simon mother in law was dying because of her fever or not. What we know was that she had been completely knocked over by the fever. She was bed ridden and was unable to function normally.

When Jesus met her, we are told that he took her hand and lifted her up. The Greek word that is translated as “to lift up” actually means “to raise up”.[1] In other words, Jesus raised up Simon’s mother in law and she was healed from her debilitating illness. The word “raise” is used again and again in Jesus’ other healings told later in Mark’s Gospel. The word “raise” also reminds us of Jesus himself who would later be “raised” from the dead. In other words, the story of Simon’s mother in law’s healing is the first story of the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel. And we hear, in our reading this morning, that there are countless of other resurrection events that were happening in the surrounding area where Jesus healed and cured the sick.

But the story of Simon’s mother in law did not end only with her healing. After she had been “raised” by Jesus, we are told that she began to serve. We can safely assume that “serving” means that Simon’s mother in law began serving food and drinks to Jesus and his companions.

But the Greek word that is translated as “serve’”, diakonein, in other places means “to provide” or “to do ministry”.[2] So Simon’s mother in law was not only serving food and drinks to Jesus and his companions; she was doing ministry to them. Her service was not a mere act of serving her guests, but a form of ministry. The healing from her debilitating illness resulted not in a selfish or indulgent life, but in a life of service and ministry. As such, her life fits into the pattern of the life of Jesus who himself came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10: 45).

Friends, just like Simon’s mother in law, we all too have been raised from the power of death by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and by his resurrection from the grave. As believers, we all have been freed from the power of sin and perpetual guilt in our life. But our freedom does not mean that we can now do whatever we like with and in our life. To be resurrected with Jesus means that we are resurrected into a life of service to God and to others.

Let me tell you about one Christian family who know about how to live a life of service to others. The Halls family was a typical white upper-middle class family who live in a well-to-do suburb in America. The family was a part of a large sub-urban congregation with thousands of memberships, most of whom were well-paid professionals, just like them.

Despite all these, they felt that there was something missing in their life as Christians and a family. They wanted to do more. But they didn’t want to do the typical activities that others in their church community usually did. They wanted to reach beyond their own community to places and people that were outside of their comfort zone.

So they decided to put their names up for volunteering for the children recreation program of the Calvary Methodist Church, a small inner-city black American congregation with a big vision. They recently just transformed one of their parking areas into a safe place for children to play. They put fences around and brought in play equipment and picnic tables. All they needed now were a group of adult volunteers who could look after the children who played there.

The Halls decided that they would help as volunteers in the Calvary church children’s program once a week. When they came for the first time, it was obvious that they were the only non-black people there. The people who came to the Calvary church were also different to the kind of people that they usually spent time with in their own affluent church community. Most of the people in the Calvary church were nothing like the upper middle-class professionals who went to their church community.

But the differences didn’t’ stop them from enjoying their time spent with the children and other adults from the Calvary church. Every week, the Halls learned something new and made new friends. Connecting with people from the Calvary church also made them realize how fortunate they were. It also made them want to serve those who were not as fortunate as they were even more. But soon they realized that it was not only them who were helping the people in the Calvary church; the people that they met in their new community had also helped them find new and deeper meanings in their life as Christians. As they helped the children in the Calvary church to open up their world, they realized that their world too was opened up.[3]

Friends, the Halls family teach us that being in a place of advantage means that more responsibility has been put on our shoulders. We hear something similar in our next reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

In the reading, Paul was addressing a situation that was quite particular to the believers in Corinth. Most people in Paul’s time were not wealthy and they did not have houses big enough to hold public gatherings. As such, people in the city of Corinth often had to use pagan temples to hold public events.[4] The Christians in Corinth, many of them were converted Greeks, were often invited to attend such public gatherings held in these temples.

But coming to celebrations held in the temples came with its own problems: food that was provided there had often been already offered to the idol of the temple. Because of this, the Christians in the city of Corinth were divided into two camps.

On one side were the people who believed that there was only one God, the God of Jesus Christ. For these people, the other gods or idols simply didn’t exist. As such, they had no problem with eating food that had been offered to pagan idols in the temples because these idols didn’t exist in their eyes.

One the other side were newly converted Christians whose faith was still fragile. They believed that other gods did exist and Christians should not eat the food that had been offered to idols because that would be tantamount to worshipping the idols themselves. Witnessing other Christians eating food that had been offered to idols had shaken their new faith and put them in danger of returning to their old pagan religion.

Paul’s solution to the issue was not to chastise the ones with “less knowledge” for not having stronger faith. On the contrary, he asked those who had “more knowledge” to help those with “less knowledge”.[5] They had been freed by Christ, as such they had to use their freedom not to make others fail in their faith, but to help them. Paul asked those with “more knowledge” to put aside their rights and privileges so that the faith of the newly converted Christians would not be undermined.

This was the background for our reading today from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. For Paul, the freedom that he had received from Christ did not mean that he could now do whatever he liked. On the contrary, his freedom meant that he was now ‘bound’ to share the Gospel with others, including with those who were different from him, free of charge

Now, the passage that we hear today may sound as if Paul was acting like a chameleon: changing his attitude or approach according to the people he was with. But it was nothing like that. Paul was reminding the Christians in the city of Corinth to use their newfound freedom in Christ to bind themselves to service to others so that others may also receive Christ.

Ultimately friends, the greatest freedom is not freedom from, but freedom for. We have been freed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross not so that we can serve ourselves, but so that we can be like Jesus who spent his life serving and ministering others. This is the only sign that shows that we have been resurrected into a new life with Jesus: that we are using our life to be in the service of others, for the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Toby Keva

[1] Cynthia Briggs Kittredge. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. On www.workingpreacher.org (January 4 2018).

[2] Cynthia Briggs Kittredge. Commentary on Mark 1:29-39. On www.workingpreacher.org (January 4 2018).

[3] From Diana R. Garland, Family Ministry – A Comprehensive Guide, IVP Academic (2002), p. 415-421.

[4] Carla Works. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. On www.workingpreacher.org (January 4 2018).

[5] See 1 Corinthians 8.