Loved into Being

Mark 1:29-39 and I Corinthians, 13:1-3



Mark’s Gospel rushes us to the start of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus gets baptized!. He’s tempted in the desert! He goes to Galilee to start his ministry! Come and see!


Mark is rushing because he needs to get to his main theme: Jesus as the Suffering Servant, which was one version of the prophesied Messiah. Mark wants to show the escalating sacrifices Jesus makes as his ministry moves toward its conclusion. All through this Gospel, we see Jesus just trying to get a little time for himself to pray and rest. And always, the crowds of needy people find him. And always, he puts aside his own needs, and heals and exorcises and teaches, even though he is exhausted.


So Mark starts his story of the ministry with one very eventful day. Jesus and his first disciples attend Sabbath services at the local synagogue. Jesus teaches there and he also frees a man from an “unclean spirit” that greets him as the Holy One of God.


By evening, everyone in town has heard of Jesus’s powers, and as Mark says, “The whole city was gathered around the door.” And Jesus works well into the night, bringing healing to the people who come to him.


But between these two very public events, Mark inserts an intimate little story that includes another healing.

After synagogue, Simon invites Jesus and the other disciples home to lunch. “Hey guys! Why don’t you all come over to my place for lunch! No, really—my mother-in-law will love to see you. She’s a great cook, loves to put on a spread. It’ll be a nice surprise for her.”


It's a shock to find that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. Nobody seems to be able to identify her illness. But Jesus approaches her and takes her hand, and the fever leaves her. And she gets out of bed and begins to serve them.


I am troubled by this story about a woman who rises straight out of her sickbed and begins to serve the men. Mark says all this happened on the Sabbath—so where is her day of rest?


I wonder if maybe she was exhausted by her endless chores as the elder woman in the house. She was sick of being taken for granted. She had a headache. Did she maybe feel her own forehead and announce that she had a fever and she was going to bed?


Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth. To refresh your memory, the story tells how a great truth came out of the sky and landed on earth, but it broke into two pieces on the way down. Someone found one of the pieces—the half that said, “You are loved,”—and took it home. And of course everyone there welcomed the wonderful message that he or she was loved.


But eventually that half-truth began to cause conflict, because the people who possessed it grew to believe it was meant only for them, and of course everyone else wanted it. Finally, when the conflict grew unbearable, a little girl went in search of a wise old turtle who knew where the other half was, and the whole truth was finally revealed: “You are loved. And so are they.”


That story tells us how people behave when they only know that they are loved and special. That part of the truth eventually led to greed, jealousy, hatred, crime, and war. And all of those sins arise from the notion that the words mean “Only I am loved. Therefore, all others are here to serve me and make my life more enjoyable.”


And that’s how Mark’s model of Jesus as the Suffering Servant can be made into a weapon. Someone has to suffer and serve, and if I’m loved, it’s obvious that it shouldn’t be me! And so powerful people make sure someone else gets to do that job.


And way too often, the “someone else” is women. In some evangelical churches, women are counseled to stay with husbands who are abusing them or their children, because their suffering—like that of Jesus—can help redeem the abuser.


Non-profit organizations are staffed largely by underpaid women. Professions that are still considered women’s work are chronically low-paying jobs.


Suffering Servants are also often brown or Black people. Housekeepers, janitors, sanitation workers, nurses’ aides, agricultural workers—these vital jobs are mostly filled by people of color, who work in unpleasant and dangerous conditions for wages that keep them in poverty.


What would happen in the story of Old Turtle if someone found the second half of the truth instead, without knowing about the first half? How would it be to have only the part that says that someone else gets love, without any assurance that I do too? That the only way for me to be worthwhile or loveable or valued is to concentrate completely on loving others and not myself? What do I have to do, who do I have to be, how must I change to be one of them?


Those who are shown only this part may be always volunteering, always working twice as hard as anyone else, always the first one to take on the work that nobody else is interested in doing, and even to turn down offers of help because they don’t want to inconvenience anyone. They rate their own self-worth by how much they can give or do with no returns or thanks.


And the resentment begins to build. How much more do I have to do? Why am I so taken for granted? Why do people just assume I’ll take care of it? It would be nice if someone offered to help. I’d probably refuse the offer, but still…And then comes guilt about those negative feelings.


And sometimes those sentiments express themselves as a tantrum, a cruel remark, forgetting to keep a promise or doing it badly. Or the feelings turn inward, into depression or headaches or acute sensitivity to aches and pains. Accidents. General exhaustion. Even heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer. Or a sudden fever, just when five hungry men show up at my house for lunch.


And all this grief arises from the idea that I or you—we—can only be loved if…we make ourselves perfect in some way, if we sacrifice ourselves to become more loveable than we think we are.


And we try to find reasons we’re not loved. We’ve done something we believe can’t be forgiven. Or we’ve failed to live up to the expectations of our parents or friends or partner. We’ve made stupid or hurtful mistakes. If only we’d been perfect. Or beautiful. Or smarter. If only, if only…


Paul tells us that everything we try to do to be good enough is pointless if we don’t have love. This can mean that a bad attitude will poison our good actions. But it also means that all that we try to achieve is useless if its purpose is to make us worthy of the love we believe we don’t deserve.

It doesn’t work that way.


There is no “if” in God’s love for you. There are no conditions. There is no entrance requirement into the love of God. God has loved you since before your birth.

Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments in Torah were “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul—and your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. You are worthy of love. Whatever your failings and shortcomings, you cannot get away from God’s promise to love you.


Now, this can feel like just a collection of words. They feel especially hollow when you are in the depths of your suffering. Why would a loving God do this, let this happen? Why don’t I feel loved?


Fortunately, there’s proof that you are loveable and loved. Remember Tom Hanks repeating a message from Mr. Rogers? Hanks as Mr. Rogers looked directly into the camera—at us, you and me—and said,

   “Just take a minute and think about all the people who loved you into being.”

So I ask you to take that minute right now, and think about all the people and other parts of creation who have loved you into being.


[1 minute pause]


So we can now solve the problem of Simon’s mother-in-law getting out of her sickbed to serve. She did it as an expression of love and gratitude for the immense gift Jesus gave her. He saw her, he acknowledged her suffering, and he loved her back into being.


May you recognize and embrace the love that is always there for you.



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