Sunday, February 5, 2012

5 Epiphany

February 5, 2012

Mark 1:29-39

+ You know that I am not one of those people who likes to rub things in. Right? Still…in case you might not have heard me at any point, I am leaving for Florida. Now, before you think that I am an arrogant, full-of-myself priest, just remember a phrase I often use.

For any of you who know me for any period of time, you will often hear me say this MANY times. The phrase is: “The chickens always come home to roost.”

And I know that I need to be very careful about boasting too much about leaving these cold, snowy lands for more tropical environments. Because, as you might know, every year I got to Florida, I end up getting the flu or, at least, a very bad cold. See…the chickens always come home to roost.

Of course, I’m fighting it this year. I doing everything I can to fight the flu. I had my flu shot. I’m eating right. I’m eating lots of fruit. I’m getting as much sleep as I can.

Still, for me, at least before I started getting the flu shot a couple of years ago, the flu hit me like a ton of bricks. I would get not only sick, but I would get horrible fevers. And, for anyone who has had a fever, I don’t need to tell you: fevers are horrible. There are moments when I am in the midst of a terrible fever when I can actually understand why people died of think like Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. I will lay there and just pray for God to come and take me away.

It just so happens that we encounter a fever in our Gospel reading for today. Simons’s mother-in-law was suffering with a severe fever—certainly a fever that caused everyone in her life to worry. Fevers, as we just established, are ugly, awful things. And for those of us who have suffered through fevers and illnesses, we can easily imagine what Simon’s poor mother-in-law dealt with in her illness.

I can tell you that, from my perspective anyway, givers are one of the most miserable things I have had to endure. The fever days were lost days for me. I just sort ended up shutting down when dealing with the flu and I often would find myself in a state in which I didn’t “think” anymore. I made feeble attempts at prayer—prayer beyond that simple prayer that I could just die—but for the most part, I simply just turned everything off and tried to escape into a self-protective cocoon of nothingness.

The worse part of the fever for me was that I couldn’t remember even what it felt like to be well, nor could I imagine what it would feel like to ever be well again. The fever encompassed me just that fully. It essentially took complete control of my life for that time I was sick.

Now, in our day and age, fevers are, for the most part, pretty mild things. We get them and we get over them. But in the days of Jesus, fevers were dangerous. They often led to death. So, you can imagine that Simon Peter and his family were worried about this woman. And what Jesus does for is what no one else could do for her at that time.

Of course, I think it is important that we look at the larger picture of what we are dealing with in today’s Gospel reading. Sometimes the fevers of our lives aren’t fevers in the traditional sense. Often the fevers of our lives are sometimes more than just physical illness. Sometimes the fevers in our lives are actually more like things like depression and addiction and anything else that completely encompasses our lives.

One of my favorite poets is Anne Sexton. Sexton was a brilliant. She was a middle-class housewife in Boston in the 1950s who all of a sudden started writing poetry as a way of dealing with her often manic depressive states. She did pretty well writing her poetry. Within a few years she had published a couple of books and garnered herself a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. But, Sexton suffered with severe depression throughout most of her adult life. And in October, 1974, she actually committed suicide as the ultimate way of finally dealing with her unrelenting depression. .

In her poems that word “fever” kept surfacing again and again. For her, her depression was very much an all-encompassing, unrelenting fever from which she felt she could not escape. For anyone who has suffered with depression, one finds a certain “shutting off” as well. Often times this “shutting off” is a survival tactic—sometimes the only way one can navigate through the encroaching fogs of depression or illness or what have you without resorting to absolute despair.

Fever is a terrible thing—whether it be a physical, mental or emotional fever. It shuts us down and puts us in a place that can be frightening. But…when fevers lift, we find ourselves almost….jubilant. We find ourselves refreshed and renewed. We, for that one moment, maybe understand fully what resurrection might really be.

In our Gospel reading, that single touch from Jesus allowed that fever to lift from Simon’s mother-in-law in her agony. And when she rose up from her bed, she did the only thing she no doubt could do to show her gratitude: She served Jesus.

The fevers in our lives will come upon us in many ways. And they come, they will dominate us. They will shut us off and they will make us think that nothing else exists or will ever exists except the fever.

But when Jesus comes to us in our illness, we find that his touch does, in fact heal. That touch is able to lift the fever from us. And when it does, we find that darkness replaced with light and joy and gladness.

There will be fevers in various forms in our lives. There will be times when we will be forced to “shut down,” to numb ourselves because of the intensity of things that happen in our lives. But Christ shows us thought those dark, feverish moments.

Today, of course, we are celebrating the baptism of Julia Breth. It is a glorious day today. Every time we celebrate a baptism it is, of course, a glorious day. But, today, is especially glorious.

Now, I have known both Janie and Adam for a pretty good period of time. I married them. I knew them for years before that. And I know that they know a few things, this morning, about rejuvenation and resurrection.

These past few years, waiting for this gorgeous little girl to come into their lives, have not been easy. There were some numbingly difficult moments. There were times when this day seemed to be a fantasy—something that might not actually be. There were moments when it seemed, no doubt, like the fevers of this life were encroaching and there might never be a healthy, clear-headed moment ever again.

But, then, that cool, healing hand came into their lives and cleared those foggy moments way. And now, we are here. We are celebrating the new birth of Julia Breth today. We are celebrating her baptism and we are marking her as Christ’s own for all eternity. I can tell you, as someone who walked with Janie and Adam through some pretty dark days, this day seems particularly glorious.

For those of us who have been through the “fevers” of this life, we know one very important fact: we can never let those fevers win out. We must not let the fires of those fevers consume us and turn us to ashes.

Rather, we should, when their fires rage, turn in our illness and despair to that healing hand which draws close to us in that fevered moment. That cool hand, when it touches us, drives the fires of our fevers away from us and replaces that fever with a sense of joy and renewal and wonderful life.

So, let us, with a feeling of joy and renewal, rise up from our sick beds and let us serve Christ. Let each of us get up and go out into the world renewed and rejuvenated so that we can proclaim the message to whomever will listen. And, now, let us do so by joining with sweet Julia as she is baptized.

And let us now remember our own baptismal vows.

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