sandwiches and stewards of life and love

So, there is a story in Bible
and once again, we’re picking up where we left off last week.
When you get a bit of altitude on this, you can see that we're in the middle of a series of short snappy stories about Jesus, all of them meant to give us an idea of who Jesus is and what he’s all about.

A couple weeks ago we had that story where Jesus gives us the slogan for his movement -  “God is here, so change how you live and believe!,” and through it letting us know about this new way of understanding of what faith and spirituality are about; letting people know all of this isn’t about convincing God to come to us, but embracing the fact that God is already here and let that pull us into new ways of living and being. 

Last week we had that story of Jesus healing the man afflicted with an unclean spirit, and through it teaching us that our power isn’t to be used for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others and the community. 

And today, we have this story about Jesus and four of his disciples going over to one of Simon's mother in laws. 

Now curiously enough, 
for all you trivia geeks out there,
this is actually the only part of the Bible where we hear about a disciple's family. 
Which makes us wonder if the other disciples have families, 
which makes us wonder just what the disciples were leaving behind as they went to go and follow after Jesus,
which makes us ask ourselves a pretty hard question: 
how does our following Jesus rearrange, reshape, and realign our priorities and lives? 

It’s a good question because with the kind of faith and spirituality Jesus is offering here,
one that's about letting divine love lead us forward into new things and places, 
that is a question we’ll have to rumble with. 
So I’ll let you chew on that one yourselves, cause again, 
just like last week’s question,  
that’s a question I can’t answer for you.  

So back to the story. 
Jesus and the disciples are heading to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house,
a woman who, despite being a big part of this story, isn’t given a name. 
So because we’re spending some time with her,
and because we believe and affirm that women aren’t just set pieces and plot devices,
let’s give her the dignity of having a name and call her Gladys. 

And we’re told dear old Gladys isn’t doing too well. We’re told that she’s in bed burning up with a fever. 

Which we can relate to, right? 
No one likes being sick. 
Being sick is the worst. 

So Jesus and the guys go into her house.
They’ve had a long day following Jesus around so maybe Simon was all
‘Lets go grab some sandwiches at my place,’
and when they arrive, 
Jesus, being the nice house guest that he is, asks Simon where his mother in law is, 
he tells him “Oh she’s sick and resting in bed.” 

Then Jesus,
without saying a word, 
heads to the bedroom, 
"lifts her up" and “heals" her, 
whereupon she immediately gets up and makes sandwiches for everyone. 


Now I dont know about you, but this part of the story is a bit strange to me. 

But just like last week, it’s not the actual healing part that is strange to me. 

The strange part of this story is that after being healed Gladys gets up and makes them all dinner. 

Its strange, because she’s been sick for god knows how long,
and as any of us who have been sick - like laid up in bed sick - would know, most of that time is spent imagining every other thing you could possibly be doing instead of being sick in bed. 
And after being healed, 
and we know this has gotta be more than simply a ‘my fever is gone’ kind of healing, 
with it being the very Spirit of Life doing the healing, it’s gotta be more like a ‘I feel like Im 20 again’ kind of healing, like a ‘I could go and do anything and just own it' kind of healing, 
the first thing she does is goes and makes them sandwiches.


So what’s going on here?

Well, a couple options:

Is this just good ol’ patriarchy? 
Is this just a story about a powerful man healing a powerless woman so she can gratefully get back to the kitchen where she belongs to cook them dinner? 

It could be that. 
The Bible is, and let’s just own this, pretty blatantly patriarchal. 
it is a book written by and for patriarchal societies. 
So sure, this story could be a symptom of that. 

But here’s the thing we need to remember before we camp out there:

While the Bible is patriarchal, Jesus is a feminist. 
Jesus actively critiqued and deconstructed patriarchal culture, 
and offered an alternative vision of a new kind of world where men and women and everyone in-between were seen and treated as equals. 

And so knowing that Jesus wouldn’t be working in that way, 
we need to look a bit harder at our question of whats up with the sandwiches,
and if we look hard enough
we can find something more Jesusy, 
something more life-giving, 
and something tied to a really important truth our faith offers us:

to be human is to be spiritual. 
to be truly human, 
to experience the fullness of being alive in this world,
is to be fully connected not just to ourselves and each other,
but to Something Bigger Than Ourselves,
that very Spirit that holds us together and drives us all forward. 

And to get to see what that has to do with this story, we need to go back to Gladys. 


Being sick, like we said, is the worst isn’t it? 

But it’s not just the physical symptoms that make being sick the worst, is it?

The worst part is what’s happening to the other parts of our interiors and being: our souls, our minds, and our emotions. 
The worst part of being sick is how it defeats and deflates us,
takes us out of our groove.
and takes us away from living life as we are meant to.

I mean, let’s just put ourselves in Glady’s shoes.
Not only is she all phlegmy, pukey, exhausted, and hurting, 
she’s also feeling guilty and shameful for not fulfilling her duties at the house,
she’s feeling remorseful at missing out on the laughter outside her door,  
she’s distraught with questions about 'why her,’ 
she’s pretty old so maybe she’s rumbling with mortality and all the questions which come with that, 
and no doubt she’s probably a bit miffed that that fisher-man son in law of hers brought company over knowing she was sick,
which only reinforces the guilt and shame and remorse she’s feeling.

We get it, don’t we?

Being sick is the worst. 
It impacts our entire being. 
It takes us away from the kind of life we feel deep down in our souls we were meant to have.

Anyone know what Im talking about? Anyone know that feeling? 

And that feeling is important because it helps us tap into what is really going on in this story,
it brings us out of the particular and into the universal, 
showing us how this story really is our story. 

This isn’t a story about someone just being physically sick,
this is a story of someone being spiritually sick. 

It’s a story about something we all experience,
this feeling of a lack of life,
which in our tradition we’d call a lack of wholeness, 
this feeling of being soulfully off, 
a feeling of being disconnected, 
a feeling of like we’re plugged into something thats actually not good for us, 
that we're living in pieces, 
that everything is out of harmony,                                                                                                                                                              that feeling that this isn’t the life I want,
Im not meant to live like this,
Im more dead than I am alive.

Are ya with me?


So if thats whats going on here,
if that is what Gladys was experiencing, 
and if thats what Gladys was healed and saved from,
then maybe that explains the sandwiches. 

What we see here,
what this story is showing us,
is the movement of grace:

It shows the God who comes into our sickness, our brokenness, and deaths, 
and takes us by the hand and lifts us up out of it,
bringing us back into health, back into wholeness, and back into life as it was meant to be. 

And that life, 
as Thomas Merton said,  
is a life of being who you truly are,

which is to say the life living as God made you to be, 
a life of living as you were always meant to live:
in harmony with God, each other, and yourself,

but also, 
a life of being stewards of life and love. 


Gladys didn’t serve sandwiches because of patriarchy,
she didn’t serve sandwiches because there wasn’t anything better she could be doing,
she served sandwiches because that is who she is,
thats how she spreads life and love in the world. 

The question this story leaves us with is a big one.

When you are sick, 
when you are lacking wholeness and your soul is deflated, 
and God comes to you,
taking you by the hand, 
lifting and raising you up,
bringing you back into health, back into wholeness, and back into the life you were meant to have,

how will you be a steward of life and love? 

Sandwiches? Amazing. Fred Penner salutes you. 
Shovelling the side walk of your neighbour? Beautiful. 
Creating art? Wonderful. 

Whatever it is that makes you you, go and do that. 

May you know you’ve been lifted out of death for life, go and be a steward of it. 


sermonsNicholas Coates