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Set Free we desire others to be free

God is our rescuer, our healer, our ever present companion in times of trouble who desires to lift us up and set us free. And set free we desire others to be free. (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany. Mark 1:29-39; Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; and 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.)

You may like to read what I wrote three years ago focused on the Gospel – A Day in the Life of Jesus.


In the beautiful language of Isaiah the prophet we are reminded: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary ... 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.” Isaiah told his charges these words of encouragement as they were growing faint hearted in exile and doubting that their God remembered them. These words brought hope then. And for those of us listening to them now in front of the evening news, in churches struggling to stay relevant or even open, in bodies stumbling with age and illness, in families and communities torn apart by fear and anger, misunderstanding and competition, these words still bring good news and hope.


And in the gospel Jesus, having taught and healed in holy and public places, comes into the home of his new disciple and tenderly shows us what a God who lifts up and restores the fainting looks like. As so often in the gospel of Mark we see Jesus doing God like things in very human ways entering into the domestic and the political, the particular and the universal, bringing into blighted lives the power of a loving creator, a faithful companion, and a hope inspiring teacher and healer.


And how does this lifted up restored woman respond? She responds by serving! At first I have to confess, as a good twenty first century feminist, that at first I am disheartened that she serves others as her first expression of gratitude for healing. However the word translated as ‘to serve’ diakoneo is the same word also translated as deacon or minister. Peter’s mother-in-law serves in a way that may appear “merely” domestic but is seen by the gospel writer as having the same impulse and value as serving or ministering in a more public and religious way. It is the same word in Mark’s gospel as to how the angels ministered to Jesus when he was in the wilderness or the women at the foot of the cross. There is nothing unimportant about her expression of gratitude and wholeness through service.


Which is part of the way we might understand the argument of Paul that he is compelled to share the gospel, the same gospel that turned his life around, so that he might share in its blessings. We have a choice here. We can hear his words as describing a transactional sales strategy in which he is selling salvation so that he might get a commission?! (Which is truely abhorrent and yet many of us might suspect some preachers seem to be operating out of this sort of motivation.) Or, as I have become convicted by my own experience, Paul is describing that compulsion to share the goodnews that set him free with those who do not yet enjoy it. Paul, who was converted in one of the most spectacular conversion experiences and who counts himself the least among the disciples, is so grateful and filled with passion for the vision of God’s great love that has been revealed to him that he urgently wants to share this with others. To the point that he does not stay safely and comfortably in his new found state of grace but that he joins in with those who are still under the law or weak in some way so that he might share what has turned his life around. Once again we need to decide how to read the text as it can read that Paul “fakes” being all sorts of people in order to gain their trust and pitch his sales line. Or we hear that Paul finds what he has in common with others and draws near to them even in their struggles and bound state so that he can share what has set him free.


If any of us (surely that is all of us?) have people in our lives that still struggle with addiction, or mental health battles, or any illness or other burden, then we know how much, how deeply we desire that they be set free to live full lives. When we experience freedom and peace we deeply desire this for those we love. And as we grow in love we desire this for everyone that God loves (which is absolutely everyone). And so it is with our faith, with our experience of God’s love, we desire that for others because we care for them and are convinced that it has made, and is making, our live better. We may not seek to compel others or force our views on others but I imagine that our desire to share good things, good times, good and hopeful news with others is informed by our experience of grace. We do not preach from a high place but rather we are called to share from whatever place we find ourselves. However we express our desire to share – whether like Peter’s mother-in-law, or like the women at the foot of the cross, or like Isaiah the prophet reminding his people in dark times of the goodness of God, or like Paul filled with the passion to share the gospel – we are all called to overflow with the same love that has, and is, setting us free.

Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, and flow through us that we might be healed and that we might reach out to others that they too know healing and wholeness and your whole world come to celebrate.





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