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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Epiphany 5, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

‘Jesus cares for his friends as for a new family’

Jesus was a preacher of good news among a people weighed down and made sick by bad news. God be with you

His country was occupied/controlled by a powerful empire, and people felt the pain of this in many ways. Mark wrote his gospel during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in the year 70CE.

There was widespread poverty, hunger, distrust, lies, envy, greed, violence. It made some people very sick. It made many feel they were possessed by evil forces or demons.

We might think about refugees and the pain they feel, longing to be safe and free.

We might think about Indigenous Australians who find it difficult or impossible to celebrate Australia Day in the absence of proper understanding and recognition of their sovereignty/power/dignity and rights. They know too well what it’s like to feel invaded, controlled, disrespected …

Mark mentions preaching and exorcism again and again. Two words to summarise the ministry of Jesus. Talk about freedom (preaching), and action that frees and heals people (exorcism).

In the early centuries, the church developed a liturgy of exorcism as part of baptism. The candidates for baptism were questioned by the bishop and the key question was: “Are you living your life under the fear of Rome, or are you turning towards the joy of Jesus?” A sign of the cross was then made upon the ears and eyes of a candidate, against the reinvasion of fearful forces.

As we approach Lent and our own rituals of reaffirmation and baptism, we might ponder: In what ways have the controlling forces of our dominant culture and time come to dominate our lives? In what ways have they made us afraid – afraid for our financial futures, or anxious about social and vocational “success”?

How have we taken on harmful values, giving in to their demands because we feel there is no other way – no other way than to live in competition with our neighbours, no other way than to live in lonely houses, in debt to the big banks, at the mercy of big food corporations; no other way but to work longer hours and build bigger prisons and “detention” camps, and protect ourselves against the practice of hospitality and compassion?

Mark’s message to us is this: There is another way, another possibility. Controlling forces or demons are like shadows that recede/disappear when the light of truth is brought to bear.

During Lent we hear the call of God to take our baptismal vows seriously – to cast aside the bad influences of our culture and time, and turn instead to Christ – his way.

The promise of Easter lies before us: that if we lose our colonised/bullied selves for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, then we shall find ourselves anew, in a new form of human life and community we could not have imagined before.

“The promise of Easter is lives filled with the Holy Spirit and with freedom” [Garry Deverell].

In this light, we may notice how Jesus cares for his disciples/friends as for a new family. We are told that he raises up Simon’s mother-in-law, grasping her by the hand … an early image of resurrection, new life …

In that time there was deep fear around touching a sick person. Jesus’ action shows another way – a holy and healing touch. (Jesus does not say anything at all.)

We are told that Simon’s mother-in-law then “went about her work”. The Greek word used here is diakonein, from which comes the English “deacon” or “minister”.

Jesus uses the same word to describe his saving mission: “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve …” (10:45). Toward the close of the gospel, following his death on the cross, the women who, in contrast to the male disciples, have stayed to the end, are described as those who “had followed him and served him (15:40-41).

The mention of this “service” on the part of women at the beginning and end of the gospel, and associations with Jesus’ own service, makes Simon’s mother-in-law a model for all, especially women disciples, who are “raised” for the life of the kindom and give expression to this new life by sharing in his ministry [Brendan Byrne].

Here’s the good news:

Ministers are men and women, transgender people too. Children can be ministers. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can share in ministry. Refugees, hospital patients, nurses, carers, farmers, gardeners, teachers, prisoners, athletes and artists … everybody can share in ministry. Ministry is for everyone called and committed to talk about freedom. Ministry is for everyone called and committed to action that frees and heals people.

Perhaps you can keep going with this. When it comes to good news, there’s always more to say and do … How might you complete the sentence: Ministry is for everyoneAmen.