Joy in the Morning

Meditation on Mark 1:29-39

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th Street, Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Feb. 7, 2021

A stained glass window in The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH.

    Someone at our Zoom presbytery meeting yesterday commented on the beauty of the stained-glass windows in my virtual backgrounds. We mourned what may be a vanishing art form.

    That may be one of the first things visitors notice when they come to the sanctuary of The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton. The many art windows help us picture scenes from the Bible, especially from the life of Christ. They help us to know God more.

    Most of the windows date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The stone worship home was built in 1905. The exception is one art window that dates back to the former brick church of 1868. This window illustrates the Mary and Martha story in Luke—the day Jesus comes to dinner, and Martha is more than a little overwhelmed and distracted. What’s unusual about this window is the addition of the dog to the story, sleeping at Christ’s feet.

    One of my favorite art windows in our sanctuary is the dome ceiling. The story goes that contributions from members of the church choir in 1905 paid for the window that portrays angelic forms, cobalt blue irises, and the musical instruments named in Psalm 150:

“Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!”

Another art window that has brought me peace, especially during the pandemic, is a rare depiction of the Risen Christ with Thomas in the gospel of John. You know, the one who doubted when the other disciples said they saw Jesus raised from the dead. “Except I shall see on his hands the print of the nails,” Thomas says, “and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus appears to him later and invites him to touch his scars in his hands and side. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” In the window, he is humbly kneeling, with his hands clasped; you can imagine him declaring his belief.

Have you ever wondered why the Risen Christ had scars in his glorified body? More and more, I am beginning to realize that beauty and bodily perfection in human understanding is not anything like the way God sees and knows beauty in us.

The Lord uses the marks of our suffering, wounds and scars, seen and unseen, emotional and physical, to reveal his glory and power through us.

Yes, we are the clay and the Lord is our Potter, as Isaiah 64 tells us. We are God’s “handiwork,” says Ephesians, “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God continually shapes and molds our hearts and minds until our faith and life of loving service is a work of art, exquisite in the Master’s hands.

***

Everything moves so fast in Mark’s gospel! He uses the Greek word translated “immediately” (euthys) 8 times in this chapter alone and twice in today’s passage. Jesus’ fame is spreading quickly throughout the surrounding region of Galilee after he casts out an unclean spirit during his first sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum. Everyone is talking about him. News is traveling quickly, and it’s ALL word of mouth. No cell phones, Facebook or CNN.

Next thing we know, Jesus is going to the house of Simon and Andrew. And immediately they tell him about Simon (Peter’s) mother-in-law. They have seen Jesus demonstrate his power over a man possessed by demons. Can Jesus also make a sick woman well?

That she is in bed with a fever speaks of the seriousness of the situation. Before antibiotics and other effective treatments of modern medicine, many people died of what are now curable illnesses and disease. How long had she been ill and bedridden? How helpless and hopeless was she feeling, not being able to serve and care for her family and do all the things she is used to doing? Was she lying there thinking about what wasn’t getting done and worrying that she was becoming a burden to others? And how much longer did she have to live if Jesus had not intervened?

In our germ-conscious, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing, social-distancing world, we can barely imagine that Jesus approaches the sick woman, without hesitation. He takes her by the hand!!! And without a word, he simply lifts her up!!!  Her fever is gone! This Greek word translated “lifted up” foreshadows what is to come. For it is the same word used to describe Christ’s resurrection—when he is lifted up from the grave.  

Why did he do this for this older woman, perhaps a widow, since a husband is not mentioned? Even Mark doesn’t think she’s significant; he tells her entire story in 2 verses—and never says her name. All that matters, it seems, is her relationship to the apostle. She may have been in her 60s or older because Peter is thought to have been the oldest disciple—perhaps in his 40s–when he first answers the call to follow Jesus. At an age when the average life expectancy was 35 or 40 years, why did Jesus think her life was so valuable that she needed immediate and complete healing?

The answer to all these questions is, “because our compassionate, gracious, loving and merciful God had a plan.” God wants to use her for His glory! The one who had been suffering is now healed and made whole. She responds by serving them—and the Greek word for serve—diekonei—is the origin of our word “deacon.”

This first healing in Andrew and Simon’s house stirs the entire city to gather around their door. And Jesus cures “many” people and casts out “many” demons, not permitting them to speak, because they knew him. It wasn’t time for everyone to know what the voice from heaven declared as he came up from the waters of baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Who knows how late Jesus and his disciples stayed up that night after the city came to the door, seeking healing and release from unclean spirits? The disciples and Peter’s mother-in-law must have still been sleeping when Jesus got up while it was “still very dark” and went to a “deserted place to pray.”

This is another of my favorite scenes portrayed in stained glass at our church, a reproduction of Hunt’s famous painting, “Jesus on the Mountain in Prayer.”

I have often wondered what Jesus and God the Father talked about that morning—the morning after he preached his first sermon, healed many people, and cast out many demons. I used to think he was probably worn out from all that happened and he just needed His Heavenly Father to renew His strength and power. And I still think that he was seeking God’s will for His ministry, because he will tell his annoyed disciples who complain, “Everyone is searching for you”:

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 

But now I think, after witnessing all those deeds of healing power that God has worked through him, Jesus has gone to offer the Heavenly Father his thanks and praise for the wondrous things God has done!

For there is joy in the morning!

***

Friends, we are still journeying through the wilderness. We are walking through darkness, still feeling vulnerable. Wondering, what will happen next? Is the worst of the pandemic over? How long till we can return to what used to be? We are wondering if the world will be different now—and in what ways WE have changed.

We ALL have scars—emotional and spiritual wounds that only God can heal.

Someday, we will look back, remembering how hard it was. How we longed for our routines, what was familiar and comfortable. How we missed our loved ones. How we missed our church. How we missed seeing smiles and being able to eat together, laugh, talk, and weep together. How we missed giving and receiving hugs.

We will remember those who struggled with illness—friends and family, strangers and neighbors. We will swap stories.

But we will also remember how God has always been there for us and always been present with us. Patiently waiting and desiring us to speak with Him!

I invite you now to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. To rise in the morning, while it is still dark, and go to a deserted place. Make a holy space. You don’t have to leave your home! Seek the One who wants to whisper to His beloved child—you!  And give you His peace.

Draw near to the One who has a plan for your ministry, just like he did for Peter’s mother-in-law. He wants to lift you up so you will take the world by your hand and serve others in His name. He wants you to allow His glory to shine through your scars, so that others will say, “My Lord and my God. I believe.”

He wants to pour out His love on this hurting world—through your deeds of compassion and words of encouragement.

Come now to the One who will comfort and heal, restore and redeem, strengthen, shape, and mold.

You will find JOY in the morning.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we give you all glory and honor and thanks and praise! You call us, “Beloved.” You take us by the hand, just as Jesus did for Peter’s mother-in-law, lift us up, and cleanse us from our sins. You have made us whole and offer us your peace, if only we would receive it. You call us now to use your power to help and heal the world, proclaiming the good news of your kingdom through deeds of compassion and words of encouragement. Be with those who are sick and those who care for the sick. Grant them comfort and restore them to health—body, mind, and soul. Stir us to make a holy space to be with you and to rise early, before the busyness of the day distracts us. Help us to stay focused on your will, listening for your voice as we minister in your name. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio since January 2019. Come and visit! God's love is here for you!

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