Simon’s Mother-in-Law: a Joyful Life of Diakonia and Stewardship

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pender, Nebraska.

I had the pleasure of being with the good people of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Pender, Nebraska this morning. Thanks to Nebraska Synod Sttewardship Table member, and friend and colleague, Pastor Kathy Montira for the invitation to visit and preach. I preached on the appointed gospel from the revised common lectionary, Mark 1:29-39, and the majority of the manuscript that I preached from is as follows. 

Grace and peace from God in Christ who loves you, is with you, and is for you. Amen. Good morning again St. Peter’s Lutheran. It’s great to be with you today. Thank you, Pastor Kathy, for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I also bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, and from your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kristen Van Stee.

I’m excited to be with you as part of your stewardship focus this year. I’m grateful for the opportunity to wonder with you a bit about what God might be up to today, to think with you about today’s stories, and how we are all a part of God’s work in serving as stewards of God’s love.

Dwelling in Today’s Stories
Today we hear a couple stories about Jesus’ work. We’re still in the first chapter of Mark, and Jesus’ ministry is off to a fast and busy start. Last week he healed a man possessed by a demon. This week he’s healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and then practically the whole city turns up outside, seeking the healing of “all who were sick or possessed with demons.”[1]

A beautiful winter morning (even with negative windchills) with views of the fields surrounding St. Peter’s in rural Pender. Perhaps not quite the same view as Jesus had in Galilee, but a view of the context for ministry nonetheless. 

Of course Jesus does what he does. He cured the sick, and cast out the demons. He didn’t want the demons to speak and reveal who he was, perhaps hoping for some anonymity. But the spirits didn’t need to testify, because Jesus’ work and ministry was being talked about, and already bringing the crowds. So, it’s no wonder that Jesus needed a break and went out to pray in a deserted or quiet place.[2] It’s no surprise that Jesus might have wanted to move on from there, and spread the good news of God before being swallowed up by the crowds who were searching for him.

That leads us to today’s second story. It’s about Jesus moving on, and serves as a nice simple summary of Jesus’ activity.[3] Jesus says to the disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”[4]

As we know of Jesus’ ministry, he did just this throughout all of Galilee- spreading the good news, curing and healing the sick and possessed, and serving those in need.

These stories are about Jesus being Jesus. They aren’t overly extravagant. Yes, they definitely are impressive, but perhaps aren’t as well known as the stories of Jesus’ miracles of healing the lepers, turning water into wine, or meeting the woman by the well. They aren’t anything less in terms of the healing involved. They just prove a little forgettable, because we don’t have as many details.

But today, I want to invite you into this story a little bit more. Imagine with me for a minute that you are part of the crowds of the city, which has shown up at the door. What are you searching for? What are you hoping for? What are you looking for? Do you want to see this celebrity everyone is talking about? Are you so intrigued about what you have heard, that you want to see it with your own eyes?

Now, imagine that you are Simon’s mother-in-law. What are you hoping for by meeting this man named Jesus? How does his hand feel in your hand? In being healed, why do you so suddenly begin to serve Jesus and the disciples with him?

Now, imagine that you are Simon, Andrew, James, and John. As you have heard about this Jesus and perhaps seen a few things already of his work, including the healing of the man with the unclean spirit, what has been going through your head? Why are you following this Jesus? What are you hoping for? What might God be up to before your very eyes?

On top of all of these questions as if we were in the story, I have so many others that are going through my head. These are more questions about us, and what today’s story might mean for us, as we wonder about what God might be up to here in Pender, and how we might be a part of God’s work. I wonder, how are we called and sent to continue God’s work, and point to it?

Some serving in action here- Pastor Kathy and some of the faithful getting ready for communion before worship.

How are we called to share the story of God in Christ’s gifts and promises of salvation, life, health, mercy, grace, and redemption? How are we called to share and steward this good news?

Regardless of what questions might be on your mind, as we think about this story we have plenty of questions. Perhaps not as many answers. But I think that’s okay. There aren’t always obvious or easy answers in this life as a disciple and steward. Jesus never says that it’s going to be easy to be a follower.

But in this invitation today, like the crowd heard, to “come and see,” we see that God is truly up to something. Indeed, “The Lord is good.” And God calls us, invites us here to this place and to this table, meets us wherever we are at, heals our brokenness, and sends us out much like Jesus himself went out to share the good news and serve the neighbor.

Simon’s Mother-in-law and Stewardship
I know what you might be wondering. “What might this have to do with stewardship?” Well, would you be surprised if I said, “everything?” In today’s story we hear about Simon’s mother-in-law. She is cured and healed, and then what does she do? She starts serving.

Now, before you think that this is some bizarre justification for a woman serving men, that’s not what is going on here at all. Here me loud and clear on this. My pregnant wife is a pastor, if I tried to make some ridiculous argument like this, well, imagine the results of how that might go.

Preaching at St. Peter’s, with a Deacon stole for the first time. (Picture credit to Pr. Kathy Montira.)

In the Greek, this passage includes the word Diakonia, which means service. It’s the same root for the word and title like I have, of Deacon. This sense of service is for the sake of the world and the neighbor. So, when Simon’s mother-in-law starts serving, it’s because she is caught up in gratitude and joy.

Her joyful response to what God in Christ has done for her, is that she is grateful and wants to share and give thanks and praise to God through her service. She doesn’t serve because she feels she has to serve them. She serves, because in this case, she is overjoyed with the gift of health and life that she has received. So her response is service and hospitality.

 Joyful Response and Diakonia
This diakonia could be a model of discipleship, a way of living out our lives in response to God’s gifts and promises. It could be our joyful response for all that God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us. How do you give thanks and praise to God?

When we think about stewardship, it starts with this recognition that God does the hard work. God heals, restores, and redeems. God in Christ is given, lives, dies, is resurrected, and ascended for us. This isn’t something we could ever earn. It’s a free gift of God. One, that we really can only respond to with gratitude and joy.

In this sense, our stewardship is one way we praise God. Just like the psalmist, we recognize all that the Lord does, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem… gathers the outcasts of Israel; heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds…”[5]

And for this, we respond like the psalmist with thanks and praise as the psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre…”[6]

But what might this look like for us?

The Holistic Nature of Stewardship- that God entrusts to us
As I am here and preaching on stewardship, I should probably confess something. I am not here to talk about money. So, if you were afraid that’s what stewardship meant, know that it does not. Stewardship rather is something much broader and holistic, which starts with an understanding that all that we have and all that we are, is God’s. [7]

What we have, has been entrusted to our care by God to use, manage, or steward. And though this can include money and finances, it also includes so much more. We are to steward our lives, health, bodies, souls, minds, and hearts; our time, ideas, dreams, questions, stories, and relationships; our talents, gifts, strengths, passions, and vocations; our treasures and assets; and all of creation that surrounds us and we are a part of.

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir here about this, since I know it’s been part of your theme, and that Pastor Kathy has been writing about stewardship in your newsletter. But as I think about today’s story of Jesus showing up and healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and then many in the larger community, I am thinking about stewardship especially of relationships.

Speaking of relationships, this is one of two quilts of families of this congregation showing symbols of faith in life and ministry in action, outside the sanctuary.

We don’t know much about Simon’s relationship with his mother-in-law. Historically it has been assumed that he is a widower, who cares for his mother-in-law. But it’s not obvious in this story. What is obvious though, is that Simon and the others care for this woman, and so much so, that they bring Jesus to see her, and to heal her. The healing and the seeing, that’s God’s work. And as God provides life, God calls us into this life of healing, meaning, purpose, and abundance. God calls us to join in God’s work, and share this Good News. This called life as a disciple and steward is deeply meaningful, but it’s not always easy, and certainly has its challenges.

It’s a life that the mother-in-law has a new lease on, and we can only assume she makes the most of it by jumping out of bed, and going about the work of discipleship and stewardship as a follower of this Jesus. 

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You
She gives thanks. And a big part of stewardship is indeed saying thank you. So, on that note, I want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for being the stewards of God’s love that you are. Thank you for continuing to be a part of this important ministry and faith community here in Pender. I have heard about you, and how in the midst of transitions and change, you have invested in remodeling the parsonage, asking what God might be up to, and continuing to support and participate in the ministry of the larger church.

Seeing this mission share note on the wall made me smile.

For that, I also want to say thank you. Thank you for continuing to participate in mission share, which is the sharing of undesignated offering with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA. Mission share allows you to do ministry that literally spans the globe. It supports the raising up of new leaders, pastors, and deacons in our church. It helps support missionaries, and new and renewing ministries, all of whom are sharing the good news much like Jesus says today is at the heart of his work, in going out and being sent with the disciples into the other communities of Galilee.

Mission share also helps produce new resources for ministry, and even supports the many serving arms of the church, doing ministry of serving our neighbors in need, near and far through service or diakonia. So with it, you are helping support the ministry of Mosaic, Lutheran Family Services, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry including Camp Carol Joy Holling, Lutheran World Relief, and many more. There’s much more you are a part of, and help support as we are the church together. Thank you for being a part of it.

We steward all that we have and all that we are, because of all that God has done for us. Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we can’t help but be grateful, and want to be a part of God’s work, in whatever small or big way we might be called to be a part of it. Regardless of who we each might be rooting for today- Eagles, Patriots, little puppies, kitties, a new favorite commercial, or just trying to get through the day without football, we each will be stewarding our day that God has given us.

Notice the lower center portion of the front page of “The Pender Times.” I’m pretty sure this is the first time I have made any paper in Nebraska, let alone a front page. Wow.

My hope for all of you, is that not only do you keep stewarding all that you have and all that you are, but you continue to grow into the joy of God’s gifts and promises, and continue to be swept up as part of God’s on-going story- through sharing that story with others, and serving in your various vocations as a beloved Child of God. May God’s love and peace continue to fill you, heal you, challenge you, guide you, and be with you this day and every day, Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Mark 1:32, NRSV.
[2] Mark 1:35, NRSV.
[3] Michael D. Coogan, Editor, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), New Testament page 59.
[4] Mark 1:38, NRSV.
[5] Psalm 147:2-4, NRSV.
[6] Psalm 147:7-9, NRSV.
[7] Psalm 24:1, NRSV.

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