Well, in case you didn’t know or haven’t heard it, the flu season is upon us. According the most recent CDC reports, the flu has been widespread in 49 states for three weeks in a row, that it continued to intensify this week, and that the season is perhaps only about halfway over. Most likely, you or someone you know has been ill. The hospitals have large signs in their lobbies discouraging visitors, particularly those under 12 years old,and doctor’s offices are requiring masks for anyone with flu-like symptoms. Take this as a reminder to wash your hands.
The symptoms of the flu, of course, include the following: cough, congestion, runny nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and fever.
Like the fever Simon’s mother-in-law had when Jesus came to her house. I wonder if that was a particularly intense flu season as well. Flu or not, she probably had some sort of infectious disease, since that’s what caused most deaths at the time and since a fever is a sign of infection–the invasion of her body by something that’s causing disease.
Or, to break down the word: dis-ease.
We could focus on individual healing here, but I’m struck by how the Bible uses the individual body as a metaphor for a larger body or community, for the body of Christ.
Think of Romans 12: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
Or 1 Corinthians 12: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
What that means, is that the ailments of the individual body, such as fever, can apply to the ailments of the collective body. We can be infected even though our individual bodies seem to be healthy.
Of course I don’t need to tell you that we are infected as a society. You know this as well as I do. The rhetoric of hate and fear and distrust of those who are different from us has risen to the surface recently. A body that functions well holds difference together. We are not all ears; we are not all eyes. We are different, but one.
Sadly, not everyone understands this. I am sometimes guilty of retracting into my own bubble believing that we’ve grown beyond some of these stereotypes and prejudices and then something like the anti-LGBT vandalism at our sister congregation in south Charlotte–Wedgwood Baptist–happens and my little bubble is burst.
Yes, the body of Christ has a fever.
But a fever is not only a sign of infection; it is also a sign that your body is fighting off whatever has invaded it, whatever has infected it. It’s a sign that our body’s natural response is to heal itself. And what I love about this story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law is that Jesus is right there with her, helping her body do its healing work.
Some people–myself included–might be frustrated by the fact that Simon’s mother-in-law is healed in order to serve them dinner. Really, Jesus? What kind of healing is that? To be boxed in to a stereotypical role of servant?
But the word here in the Greek that used for “serve” is “diakonia”–the same word that’s used elsewhere for “minister.” This is not a forced servitude, but a freedom to minister.
Here’s what I think it looks like in an individual.
As you all know, one of our members has gotten caught up in this flu epidemic and like Simon’s mother-in-law has been hospitalized and in bed with a fever which was severe enough to leave him unconscious for several days. Last Monday, I visited him and he has given me permission to share with you a little bit about that visit. First of all, it was a lovely visit and the the person you all know and love was right there and will be back with us when he is strong enough. Second, there were two things he said that caught my attention and are worth sharing with you. First, he thanked me for visiting him when he was in what he called “Armageddon”– and by that, he meant when he was unresponsive. He understood the severity of his situation.
And then, here’s what he said. Having experienced healing, he found himself thinking of the people he normally resents and lifting them up in prayer, even with gratitude, instead. His resentment of them had lost its power over him because he had been healed–“lifted up” is the word used in Mark–healed to minister.
I know very well that the body of Christ is in need of much healing. But I also know that we are feverish, in the sense that we are fighting off infection like crazy and that as a result we have made progress in terms of justice and equality. So I’m wondering if, realizing both that we have been healed and that Christ has lifted us up, but also that the body of Christ continues to need healing, we might today with Jesus’ help, fight off some infection in a very practical way.
Last October I told you about the Lutheran Church in Costa Rica and how that church exists for three primary functions: for migrants from Nicaragua, for indigenous people of Costa Rica, and for LGBT people, who do not share the same rights as LGBT people in the United States. Openly gay people, for example, cannot get jobs, and so often get stuck in marriages don’t make much sense just so they can work. That leads to depression and despair.
I have been in contact with their pastor and recently received this email from him:
The “Inclusive Peace” congregation of our Church has been accompanying LGTB+ people for 12 years. There are many experiences that we have accumulated from the biblical, theological, pastoral, liturgical point of view and from the work of diakonia. We also accompany LGBT+ social movements in the promotion of their rights and develop a pastoral focused on the rights of people with HIV.
Pastoral work with LGBT+ people is a challenge to the conservative and excluding society. We are the only church in Costa Rica committed to the human rights of LGBT+ people and many times we have to face criticism from the most conservative sectors of society. In spite of all that, we thank God for being able to carry out the message of God’s love to all people and to be able to offer a testimony committed to justice and mercy.
Dear Pastor Emily, convey a greeting from our “Inclusive Peace” congregation to your Holy Trinity congregation. Transmit our joy for this approach and our interest in making this link grow. I share your idea of beginning praying for our congregations.
I learned this weekend that there are a couple people from North Carolina traveling to Costa Rica in two weeks and will worship with the “Inclusive Peace” congregation. I wonder, as a part of our own diakonia–our own service and ministry–if we might send them with postcards from our own congregation–notes to remind them that they are loved, to encourage them in their ministry, and to let them know that we walk with them as they seek to do God’s work of inclusion.
As you came in this morning, you were given a notecard. As we reflect on being feverish and Jesus’ tug toward wholeness, I invite you to take a few minutes to write a note for our friends in Costa Rica. If you have the ability to write in Spanish, please do so. If not, no worries, there we someone to translate them. Place them in the offering plate as it passes and we’ll offer a special blessing for them during the prayers.
O body of Christ, yes, we are feverish. We are sick with infection, but we are fighting that infection has hard as we can. Let us thank Jesus for being with us in that fight and for always guiding us toward healing and wholeness.