Sunday, February 8, 2015

So you could call today mother-in-law Sunday. The one day we hear the story about the healing of Pater's mother-in-law, that only has a chance to occur once every three years, and even then there's a 40% chance we'll miss this reading because Easter falls early, and the season after Epiphany is short enough that we don't get to today's gospel. The story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only the Mark version makes it into the Sunday lectionary at all. It's almost like the people putting the lectionary together had it in for mothers-in-law. Mine has been out of town for the past two weeks, and I'm eager for her to to return home. She's a retired minister, and I usually talk with her about my sermons before I preach, so today you all might miss her too if this sermon turns out to lack something because I didn't talk to her.
In baptism, each candidate is asked Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
And  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
In the sacrament of confirmation, or in the renewal of our baptism, the bishop asks each candidate, Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
Our response is this: I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.
Claiming Jesus Christ as both our Savior and our Lord lies at the heart of our identity as Christians, central to our initiation into the Body of Christ, the Church. Despite this, the phrase "our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" might be such a set phrase that we tune it out. It's just a clue that the prayer is coming to an end — one more churchy thing people say, but does it mean anything? What does it mean for Jesus to be both Savior and Lord? Do they mean different things? Is this an abstract theological distinction, or does it shape how we live our lives? Today's lessons give us a clue.
The name of Jesus comes from the Hebrew for "YHWH saves," an affirmation that our right relationship with God is what gives us health and strength and deliverance from the forces that threaten us. Because Jesus himself came to reconcile us to God, to restore our right relationship with the source of our being, we can say by extension that Jesus saves.
St. Paul was not in right relationship with his God, despite trying with all his power. He upheld the Law of Moses with all his might, and was zealous in persecuting the followers of the Way, as the early church was known, because he thought they had turned away from true worship of God. And yet, he was deeply at unease, because he could not obey the law in its fullness. Despite his best efforts, he could not obey the Law of Moses completely, and did not feel connected with his God.
And then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul, and called him to transform his life. Through Jesus, Paul entered into a new relationship with his God, and was reconciled and healed.
In our own lives, Jesus heals. Jesus reconciles. Jesus loves. Jesus is our savior.
Today's lessons, though, point beyond the identity of Jesus as Savior to that of Lord:
Jesus gives us a mission. We have work to do, because our response to Jesus' saving love is to follow him as Lord. To work for the spread of the Kingdom.
Today's reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, though, tells us that Jesus is not just Paul's Savior. Jesus is clearly Paul's Lord. Paul was not healed and reconciled then spent the rest of his life basking in his newly restored relationship with God. Instead, he observes that "an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!"
The story of Peter's mother-in-law is perhaps one of the most striking connections between Jesus as Savior and Jesus as Lord. Simon Peter's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Not even a separate sentence. Jesus as Savior, and then, Pow! Jesus as Lord. The fever left her and she began to serve them.
We are not healed as an end unto itself; we are healed to be agents of the Kingdom of God. We are healed to spread healing to others. We are reconciled to bring reconciliation to others. We are loved and we then spread love in the world. We are restored to connectedness with our creator so we can help all creation also become new.
In one of our Eucharistic prayers, we ask God to "Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."
Today's lessons seem to drive home that Jesus is Lord. That discipleship is work, and that we are called not only to be in relationship with the God who heals, reconciles, empowers, restores, and strengthens us – that is, the God who saves us – but to act on that relationship in our lives. As the epistle of James reminds us, faith without works is dead. Our relationship with our savior empowers us to follow him as Lord.
Next week we will hear about the Transfiguration, a glorious mountain top experience where Peter and James and John encounter Moses and Elijah and Jesus in resplendent glory. And Jesus has to admonish Peter not to build tents to stay up on the mountaintop, but rather to go back down the mountain after the encounter, because there is work to be done. At the end of our liturgies, we are prodded to go out into the world bringing the peace of God we encounter at this altar to a world that so badly needs it.
And sometimes we need that prodding. Sometimes we need the encouragement these lesson seem to be giving us: don't just be in relationship with God; do something. Be healed, then get up and start serving.
But after Jesus healed so many people in Capernaum, he went out to a deserted place to pray. He spent time simply being in relationship with God, the source of his strength and love.
As much as we sometimes need prodding to be delivered from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal, we also need deliverance from the presumption of looking only for strength and not for solace; only for renewal and not for a restored relationship with God.
Eventually, our relationship with God needs to inspire us to spread God's love. Eventually, our relationship with our Savior inspires us to follow our Lord. But that must not discount the importance of healing. The importance of solace. The importance of drawing near our Savior and rejoicing in that loving presence. Yes, we will eventually be called to leave. But let's not forget to draw near. Let's not neglect to be healed, to be reconciled, to be present with our glorious God, whether on the mountaintop or at the altar or in healing or reconciliation or wherever we find our God. We can't stay there forever. We will need to get up and serve, to proclaim the Gospel, to share the love we receive. But we first need to receive it, to be fed, to be restored.
Sometimes, like Peter's mother-in-law, we move immediately from encountering God to serving God. Sometimes we need to spend more time on feeling God's healing love in our lives. Sometimes we need to linger at the altar, on the mountaintop, at Jesus' side. Sometimes we need to go out to that deserted place and spend time not doing, but being with our God who loves us. Sometimes it's hard to strike that balance between needing a Savior and following a Lord.
And that's when we need to pray and listen the most. We need solace AND strength, pardon AND renewal. There are times to get to work proclaiming the kingdom, and times to be still and know God. What is God saying to you today? Who is God to you now? Savior? Lord? W see God differently each day, but our God is both.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.