As I prepared for the sermon this week, today’s readings jumped off the pages and smacked me upside the head!
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
In today’s gospel, Jesus went to the house of his friends. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. And I think we can safely assume she was gravely ill since we are told the friends inform Jesus at once about her condition. Jesus took the sick woman’s hand and lifted her up. She was healed (and here’s the part that seems a little strange…..)
She began to serve them.
Serve them? What? Sure…they were probably hungry and tired? Did she rustle up a casserole dish full of chicken enchiladas? Did she pop open a few beers and fill the blender with margaritas? The woman had been sick, for crying out loud. And the first thing she does after being miraculously healed it to serve them?
I’m sure most of you know I am not a scholar of ancient languages. In fact, while I’m able to read and learn most anything, scholarly study is not my strong suit. But I dug a little deeper into this idea that Simon’s mother-in-law felt compelled to serve Jesus and his friends after having been sick in bed.
Here’s where I got smacked in the head. In the original Greek, the word translated to “serve” is diakonia. (dee-ak-on-ee-ah). This word – diakonia – can be translated to mean “to serve tables” – like a waiter or waitress – and it also interpreted to mean “the call to serve the poor and oppressed.”
And what does diakonia sound like? Sure enough, diakonia is the root of our words diaconate and deacon.
So here I am this week, reading the story of someone who was gravely ill – near death perhaps – being healed and deciding the first thing they should do is to serve. She was called to serve. She was called to serve the poor and oppressed.
Gee. Now who does that sounds like? Who could it be? It sounds so familiar.
That’s because it sounds like me.
Have I not known?
Have I not heard?
In July 2012, I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-hodgkins lymphoma. I was in the hospital for 3 months receiving intense chemotherapy. I was very sick! As many of you who visited me can attest, I was near death.
And then I was lifted up. I recovered and I was healed. And although I can’t claim quick recovery, I can say that I am here to serve. Diakonia. I am going to be a deacon and serve the poor, the oppressed and anyone who needs serving.
And to play the metaphor out completely, I have worked as a waiter and am a licensed alcohol server in the state of New Mexico.
But this sermon isn’t about me. I only used my own experience as an example of what is possible through the power of God….the power of Jesus….working among us….and working THROUGH us….and working IN us!
Today we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah. He reminded us that those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.
Let’s look closely at those who have their strength renewed. Our translation says “those who wait for the Lord.” Another translation I found says “those who wait on the Lord.”
And now I want to throw out the study of ancient languages and think about common vernacular American English usage of the words “wait “ and “serve.” They can mean the same thing – to wait on a table….to serve a table.
Diakonia. To serve. To serve the poor and the oppressed OR to serve tables….to wait on tables.
So waiting ON the Lord can mean serving the Lord. And waiting FOR the Lord can mean serving FOR the Lord.
It’s a circle…..see?
We are called to serve. Jesus calls us to serve. We are called to serve Jesus and to serve FOR Jesus. And frankly, those two points are splitting hairs because our favorite Bibles passage of Matthew 25 clearly tells us that it doesn’t matter who we serve because serving everyone is serving Jesus.
Jesus isn’t here with us today in human. We are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this world. So we serve one another. We serve one another for Jesus. We serve one another with the knowledge that in serving someone else, we are serving Jesus.
And the beautiful part of all that service is that eventually you are on the receiving end of that wonderful circle of service. Being a part of a living, caring, serving spiritual community lets you serve and be served.
When I was sick, Jesus did not personally come to my bed and take my hand and lift me up and heal me. But Jesus DID appear in the form of
Every person who came and visited me in my room.
Every person who sent a card, a phone call, a text, an e-mail, a PRAYER.
Every nurse who took my vitals every single hour
Every doctor who planned my treatment and administered the drugs
Every technician who read my test results and determined what was wrong with me.
Every cafeteria worker who could find something I could tolerate to eat.
So you, as part of this amazing faith community are asked to serve and when the time comes, you will be served as well.
What is the illness that keeps you in bed? From what do you need to be lifted? Maybe you are physically ill and praying for healing. Maybe you have an addiction. Perhaps you are lonely or afraid of the future. Perhaps you need help with a family member. Maybe you are simply lost and don’t know where to turn.
We, as Christians, are called to diakonia. We are called to serve one another.
And the beauty of that service in which Jesus has asked us to participate is this: we can help one another renew our strength, mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.
And that circle of service will continue. When you are able to get out of bed, you’ll start serving. It usually doesn’t all happen as quickly as the miracle of Simon’s mother-in-law being healed and immediately serving dinner. But it will happen. It must happen because we are called to serve. We are called to diakonia.
Have we not known?
Have we not heard?
Well…..now we have.