“Not Just a Free Lunch” Sermon 2.5.12

February 5, 2012 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

‘Not Just a Free Lunch’
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
St Paul and Salona Lutheran Churches
Epiphany 5B: February 5, 2012

Help me complete this sentence:
‘There’s no such thing as a…free lunch.’
How many times did your dad or your grandfather tell you that?
It was an exhortation to work hard –
your food wasn’t just going to fall out of the sky, you know.
And yet here in the first chapter of Mark
we seem to have free lunches everywhere.

The first ‘free lunch’ mentioned today seems to come from Peter’s mother-in-law.
In Mark’s sparse prose
we are simply told that she is lying in bed with a fever,
immediately they tell him about her,
he comes and takes her by the hand and lifts her up,
the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them.

Do some of you remember the ‘church lady’ from Saturday Night Live?
What would she always say?
‘How convenient.’
The menfolk come home from a hard day at synagogue and need a meal,
but the woman is sick.
Presto! says Jesus,
and she’s back on her feet, ready to do the cooking and the washing
and all that needs done.
Don’t you think that perhaps
she could have been given a little time to rest and recuperate
before she got back on her feet?
But she owes Jesus one, after all.
How convenient.

That’s one way to read the story.
The other way is to read the story as a miniature death and resurrection story.
And that’s of course the way we are called to read it.
Jesus raises to renewed life a woman for whom death is near.
In our day we can hardly remember a time when the word ‘fever’
struck terror into people’s hearts.
But this illness is serious business,
not just the sort of thing you treat with acetaminophen and wait to pass.

She is nearly gone,
gone from her family, her community,
without a place in the world.
And when no one else will touch her
not because they are afraid of germs
but because they are afraid to become ritually impure,
he breaks through the barrier and touches her.
He does not merely deal with the symptoms,
but he restores her to well-being of body,  mind, and spirit.
He heals and saves her.
He raises her up.

What else could she do but serve him and those he loves?
Not out of ‘owing him one,’ not because it’s her place in the world,
but because here is someone who has taken her faintness,
taken her weariness, and given her strength.
She mounts up with wings as an eagle to serve God.

Jesus himself says,
‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life a ransom for many.’
And yet Jesus is never merely Servant, but Lord;
just as we are never merely servants of God, but friends of God.
When we serve God, we do so in humble thankfulness
and in imitation of the Servant-King, our friend, who knelt at our feet,
who by his crucified life saved us from sin, death, and the evil One.

The second ‘free lunch’ seems to come from Jesus himself.
As soon as the Sabbath is over, and the people can move freely about,
they come to the door of the house where Jesus is staying,
bringing with them everyone who is oppressed.
He cures many free of charge
and charges the demons not to speak.

After healing far into the night,
it seems as if Jesus, like Peter’s mother-in-law, is due for a long-deserved rest.
But what do we find Jesus doing?
Finding a deserted place and spending the night in prayer.
Now we could feel guilty about this,
remembering days when we worked hard at the church
and then skipped our evening Bible reading or morning prayers.
But again, that’s not the point of this story.

The point of this story, I think, is this:
Early in his ministry, Jesus has a decision to make.
The people in the town will want to keep him there forever.
Peter and the disciples are about to hunt him down
so that the people can put him in a cage.
He is the goose that lays the golden egg.
He is an endless supply of free lunches.

But there were a lot of ‘miracle-workers’
that went around in those days.
Like most so-called ‘miracle-workers’ up to our own day,
they didn’t work for free.
Jesus can give in to the temptation to be just another miracle-worker,
exchanging his healing power for his own endless supply of free lunches
from the people of Capernaum,
or he can choose God’s path for him:
the one that leads to a cross on the hill of Calvary outside of Jerusalem.
As his authority comes from his Father,
so he prays to know the will of the Father.
And by his Father’s will, he is sent out from Capernaum,
to proclaim the message in the neighboring towns,
the message that will meet with opposition from demons and people alike:
‘The Kingdom of God is come near.’

We in the Church today have the same temptation to be useful.
We tend to reduce our mission to giving free stuff to those who need it.
Now we need to keep doing that,
just as Jesus freely gave of himself to meet the needs of the people,
but we need to make sure that we understand
that the Church is not merely another helping organization.
We are not justified by our own good works –
we are justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sake.
We are called to proclaim a message with our lives:
In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come near.
That message of good news is never just a free lunch,
but it is good news for those who are oppressed by sin, death, and evil,
and bad news for those who have thrown in their lot with sin, death, and evil.

This message is what every work, every healing, every feeding, should witness to.
It’s quite possible to distribute goods without distributing good.
It’s quite possible to be fed without being satisfied,
to be cured without being healed,
to be alive and still fear death.
But we have good news to proclaim,
in both word and deed:
In Jesus Christ, God has come near to us
to forgive us our sin, deliver us from evil, and raise us to new life.
That good news empowers us to serve God and others
in the name of the Servant who gave himself for us.
Not just a free lunch –
in Jesus Christ, God casts out old life and gives us new life,
life in community with Him and with all people through Him.

Amen

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