Sunday, February 4, 2018

and she was serving them (Mark 1:29-39)

Ok we have been off and running with Mark.  I remind you there is an urgency in marks Gospel we have gone from John Baptizing in the desert to Jesus being baptized Jesus goes out into the wilderness right after wards “and immediately the spirit hurls him out into the desert” John 1:12 where he prayed and fasted for forty days.

Then Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming the good news; “The Right-Time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near.” John 1:14 and then going along the sea calls four disciples then goes to the synagogue and he teaches, with authority, and they are amazed and then a demon cries out and he rebukes the spirit.

They leave and “immediately coming out of the synagogue they enter the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.  This Gospel moves fast there is a lot of coming and going.  Events happen fast!

The exorcism occurred in a synagogue, a more public setting than this private home. The exorcism involved a man; now Jesus will deliver a woman. Mark does not suggest the woman’s ailment is demonic, but we shouldn’t underestimate the seriousness of a fever, either; in a world without antibiotics, her condition may prove fatal, depending on the circumstances”

Mark hints here at that Jesus ministry is wide ranged and meant for many. But there is something about this healing that is unnerving.  Especially when viewed in these modern times.

“Why is the healed woman’s first response to serve Jesus and his four disciples? When we learn that “serve” translates diakoneo, most likely indicating food service, and means she “waited on” them, it doesn’t help. Why didn’t Simon tell his mother-in-law to take it easy while he made sandwiches this time?”

Yes, many preachers in breathless attempts Have tried to explain away the discomfort, or to ignore this detail altogether and yet that little detail matters.

One way it is explained is that it means only to indicate that the woman was fully healed at once. What a miracle -- no recuperation period needed!

“Or: yes, she served the men, but her service was a way of showing respect and gratitude to her healer. Maybe she was also serving God as a means of doing so. Jesus always commends humble service and describes himself as one who came to serve (diakoneo; 10:45) -- what a faithful response!”

Note this is even better because Jesus used the same word to describe his ministry.

“Yes, the explanations continue, in that culture it would have been shameful for a woman in a household to neglect a guest. To feed Jesus would have honored him, but it would also have restored the woman’s own honor and dignity. Healed, she could do what her society expected her to do and what her fever had prevented her from doing. She was set free!”

“All of these responses are true, but they still exacerbate the frustration generated by this aspect of Mark 1:31. The woman’s appropriate response is to serve? Appropriate in whose eyes? Wouldn’t true healing and liberation allow her to take on other roles? After all, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11, Lazarus doesn’t respond with service. He reclines at a dinner table in John 12:2 while his sister Martha “serves” (diakoneo). Jesus’ healing of the mother-in-law and the miracle’s outcome remain indelibly gendered, and gendered in ways that veer too close to the stereotypes we know to be tired and destructive.”

“Simon Peter's mother-in-law "served" immediately after having been raised. The verb( now this is very important) is diakoneo, the same verb Jesus uses to describe the essence of his own ministry in Mark 10:45. It is "to serve" rather than "to be served" that characterizes the Christ of God. It is also "to serve" that characterizes his disciples. Simon Peter's mother-in-law is far from being an exemplar of a pathetic, un-liberated woman for whom serving men is her whole life. Rather she is the first character in Mark's gospel who exemplifies true discipleship. (Side bar: it will be women who are described as having served Jesus in 15:41 as well. This is not a verb used of Jesus' male disciples who famously do not quite "get it" within the gospel itself.)”

It is at the very end of marks Gospel we are let in on a secret. The secret that the crowd of Jesus’ regular disciples includes more than twelve men. We learn about the group of women who watched Jesus’ execution “from a distance” whater that means .  I mean all the others had left only the women remain. (14:50) and Simon was last seen weeping in a courtyard (14:72). Now not all of these women are named, so we know little about them. Still, we learn that they “provided for [Jesus] when he was in Galilee.” The verb the NRSV translates as “provided for” in 15:41? It’s diakoneo. To Serve, perhaps Simon’s mother-in-law is among the serving women who observe the crucifixion.

“If she’s among them, then she’s more than a cook, waiter, and dishwasher. She’s also a follower.

If she’s a follower, and a follower who is willing to serve as she goes (unlike the oafish James and John in 10:35-45), then she’s also a disciple.

If she’s a disciple, then to her “has been given the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11).”

The Church has a sad history of overlooking, disparaging or simply burying the role woman have played in it’s history. Back in 2003 three the United Church of Christ happily celebrated 150 years of women Clergy.  150 years Really??  I am not sure that is something to be proud of.

“The date was Sept. 15, 1853. On that day a woman named Antoinette Brown, at the age of 28, was ordained in a small Congregational Church in South Butler, N.Y. Brown received her theological education at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to affirm coeducation. She was a well-known lecturer on temperance and the abolition of slavery.

Brown's ordination caused little national controversy, because the polity of Congregationalism empowers local churches, supported by nearby congregations, to call and ordain their pastors. At her ordination a progressive Wesleyan Methodist preacher named Luther Lee entitled his sermon "A Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel." He used Joel 2:28, as quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." He insisted that the church does not "make a minister," rather God calls ministers, and the churches under the "Lordship of Jesus Christ" gather to celebrate that fact.

Unfortunately, Brown's ministry in South Butler was short. After a few years she resigned due to ill health and doctrinal doubts. In 1856 she married Samuel C. Blackwell, the brother of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, early women physicians. She raised a large family, but remained intellectually and theologically active, writing many books on philosophy and science. After her family was grown she returned to active ministry as a Unitarian.

In 1889, over 30 years after her ordination, there were only four ordained Congregational women listed in the annual Congregational Yearbook. By 1899, that number had risen to 49. In 1920, a commission on the status of clergywomen in Congregationalism reported that there were 67 ordained women out of 5,695 clergy. It took until the 1970s before these small percentages made dramatic increases.”

At the end of 2016 9897 ordained ministers 4997were women…more than half.  I would say that this probably reflects more truth to the nature of the early ministry of the church than many men or historians care to admit.

“Historians Gary Macy, Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek have identified documented instances of ordained women in the Early Church. And Paul's letter to the Romans, written in the first century AD, mentions a woman deacon:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.— Rom 16:1, “

Unfortunatly this practiced phased out with the Final condemnation happening  in “AD 494, in response to reports that women were serving at the altar in the south of Italy, Pope Gelasius I wrote a letter condemning female participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, a role he felt was reserved for men.”

Today the call for equal pay for equal work, the me-too movement, all stand as upright and just calls that have been ignored for too long.

 I believe we need to lift up our heroines and saints who have been ignored for too long.  Mary the Magdalene, the desert Mothers and Julian of Norwich have so much to teach us. We need to pay more attention to Indira Gandhi, Rosa parks and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. How many have read call me Malaia as a young girl she called for education in her country for which the Taliban tried to silence her for. Has anyone sought out the work of Lynn Gilbert who back in the 80’s wrote Particular Passions women who shaped our times.

Women have always been called to serve and not in the submissive form but in the active form as Christ was called to serve.  Today as Peters mother in law is honored to be the first to answer that call, Diokoneo, that call to serve as Christ served. I pray we can each answer that call as Boldly as many women have in the past and still are today. 

I pray that the day comes when we as people serve as those who came before, who served in spite of oppression, who served in spite of be written out of history, who served even though their service was taken for granite. Today we lift up all who serve but I am especially lifting up our women because we do not do it enough so thank you each and every one of you for your service. Amen.

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