Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Musing to Myself: Information Overload

Yesterday at one of my favorite facebook pages, there was an invitation to join a tweetchat for a discussion on social media and ministry.  As I read through the comments, I thought, "Hmm.  Maybe I should take another look at Twitter.  This may be vital to doing ministry in the 21st century - even in a small rural community. 

Now, I had first become aware of Twitter while I was on internship.  My internship congregation was dipping their toe in the social media pool - beyond the website.  So I signed up and started to tweet.  Once.  Or maybe twice.  I don't remember.  I 'm the type of person who doesn't update her facebook status much because I can never think of anything cool or pithy to say.  So the very tell-all premise of Twitter was a bit much for this dyed-in-the-wool-introvert.

But I hung on for a week or two.  I thought being able to follow various news outlets and my favorite shows and authors and charities would be wonderful.  And I love facebook for keeping me in touch with friends and family.  I hope twitter would do the same for me.

Even with the small number of people/things I followed, I was quickly overwhelmed with information overload.  I started to panic - I mean a full blown anxiety attack.  I couldn't breathe - how was I going to keep up with all these tweets and still have a life? 

But that was 3 years ago.  And the trends say that the way to reach the under 30 group is through twitter.  And the promised tweetchat sounded so beneficial, I just had to try again.

So I set up a new account.  I have to admit, twitter has improved in the last 3 years.  It's much easier to set up an account and much easier to find people/things to follow.  On the other hand, it's been about 18 hours since I set up my twitter account, and I'm already on information overload!

Some of that is due to my choices of who to follow.  There is one news organization which, as much as I love it, I will have to unfollow (is that a word?) - they just send too many tweets.  So there's apparently a balance to using twitter -how do you decide who you want to follow, how do you sift through the informational deluge to attend to tweets that interest you? 

It's a question for our age:  how do you balance the overwhelming amount of information available with your need to know what you need to know, and having a life outside of the Internet?  I would suggest that this is a spiritual question.  It's about balance - striking that happy medium between work and play, worship and rest, time with family and time with God.  Basically, it's asking, "what is important to me?" and not allowing interesting but ultimately extraneous information (as a rabid trivia lover, this a huge trap for me!) to get in the way of focusing on the important.

In other words - sometimes there are things, good things, we choose to let go in order to do/have those things that we really want or need.

BTW - once I figured how to tweetchat, the advertised conversation was very thought provoking.  While I am not nearly as social media sophisticated as those who did the tweeting (I mostly lurked), it was enlightening to hear the experiences of those integrating social media and ministry.  And while I'm not ready to take tweets from the pulpit - my imagination has been set on fire! 

Time to dip a toe in the social media pool.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Sunday in Lent: Why are We Afraid?

Scripture readings for the week (I am off lectionary):  1 Kings 19:1-13; Psalm 55:1-8, 16; 2 Timothy 1:5-10, Mark 4:35-41

We started our study of the Max Lucado’s “Fearless this week.  The first chapter is titled, “Why are we afraid?”

Why are we afraid?

Let’s see.  The nightly news is enough to frighten anyone. 
  • Rising gas prices make us fear that other prices will rise and we won’t be able to afford the things we need.  
  • Every few days a common product is determined to cause cancer or to be defective and needs recalled.  
  • The jobs report and the rate of unemployment make us fear that maybe we’ll be next in the unemployment line.  
  • We hear stories of violence, sometimes in response to trivial offenses, sometimes seemingly random, and sometimes heartbreakingly against the perpetrator’s own family.  
  • In our global world, economies are tied to economies and reports of Greece’s economic woes spike fears for our own fragile economy.  
  • The Cold War may be only a memory, but the thought of small, erratic nations with nuclear weapons makes our blood run cold.
Why are we afraid?
  • We fear for our health and that of our families.  
  • We fear our children will get sick, 
    • or be bullied, 
    • or have a car accident, 
    • or experiment with drugs or alcohol. 
  • We worry that our spouse might leave.  
  • We secretly worry that we ourselves are somehow just not good enough, and someday everyone will realize it.
Why are you afraid?

Face it - we live in a world ruled by fear.  There are terrors all around us.  We all have our fears.  Some are named above, some only you know in your heart.  Whatever it is that keeps you up at night and robs the joy right out of your life – whatever threatens to throw you orderly world into chaos.
Why are you afraid?

That was Jesus’ question to his disciples.  It’s been a long day of teaching and Jesus decides to catch a quick nap as the disciples row across the Sea of Galilee to the next place he wants to teach.  And heal.  And cast out demons.  And care for his lost, frightened sheep.
So Jesus settles down in the back of the boat, safely out of the way of Peter and company, to rest.  The rocking waves lull him to sleep.

Soon the rocking picks up.  The waves become larger, the winds stronger.  Soon the disciples are battling a fierce storm.  Some are rowing as hard as they can, others are bailing as fast as they can. 
Jesus sleeps.

They can’t keep up.  The waves are swamping them faster than they can bail.  The boat sits lower and lower in the water.  The disciples are beyond frightened – they are terrified, panicked, absolutely sure they are going to die.
Jesus sleeps.

Finally, they turn to Jesus – Rabbi, do you care that we are out here and this storm is going to kill us all!?!
Jesus wakes up.

And says -  2 words.
Just 2 words:  “Peace! Be still!” (Yes I know that’s 3 words, but it’s only 2 words in Greek.)

Having handled the storm, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid?”
“Um – Jesus – large waves, little boat?”

"Um, massive storm, uh, little boat?  Why do you think we were afraid?!”
Actually the disciples didn’t get to say that, because Jesus answers his first question with a second:

“Have you still no faith?”
Jesus gets the whole ‘large waves, little boat’ thing.  The disciples had good reason to be afraid.  But they didn’t have good reason to STAY afraid.  After all, Jesus was right there with them. 

Maybe it never occurred to them that this man who cast out demons, healed the sick, and forgave sins would also have the power to calm a storm.  Although the forgiving sins should have tipped them off that there was something extraordinary about this man, since only God can forgive sins. 
Maybe they were too focused on the storm to remember Jesus was right there with them, sleeping in the back of the boat.

That storm – Matthew uses the word ‘seimos’ to describe it.  It means a trembling eruption of sea and land and sky.  That’s a good description of how it feels when fear really grabs hold.  The very earth seems to fall away from under you.  Your world swirls out of control into chaos.
Matthew uses this word just three times.  Here, at the moment of Jesus’ death and on Easter morning when the stone is rolled away.  All three times were moments of chaos and fear in the disciples’ lives.  All three are moments when Jesus demonstrates that he is firmly in control:

  • Two little words still the raging storm,  showing his control over all creation;
  • The earth shakes and the sky darkens and the veil separating God from humans is torn apart, showing his defeat of sin and all that separates us from God;
  • The earth shakes and the stone rolls away and the tomb is empty, showing his defeat of death.
Have you still no faith?

We’re going to have fears.  Baptism is not a vaccine against the tragedies of this world –
  • Christians still get sick,
    • lose jobs, 
    • have trouble making ends meet, 
    • get in accidents, 
    • go homeless,
    • lose loved ones, 
    • and die. 
And not all fears are bad – sometimes fear is a very good thing, motivating us to get out of the way of danger, or reminding us how A-W-E-some our God is.

We’re going to have fears.  That’s just part of the world we live in.  There’s real evil out there.  Jesus didn’t promise clear skies and smooth sailing.  In fact, he promised the opposite – “in this world you are going to have trials (John 16:33).” 
In fact, if you live as Jesus teaches, the way God intended humans to live, then there will be times when you buck the system and make the powers that be angry with you.  If you doubt that, just remember Jesus, who lived exactly how God intended humans to live, ended up on a cross.    

Paul writes to Timothy from prison.  It’s his last letter to Timothy – Paul knows his execution is coming very soon.  We would expect him to be full of fear, but he’s not.  Paul is not looking at the storm around him, his eyes are firmly focused on Jesus.  Paul’s concern as he faces death?  That his protégée remembers to keep his own focus on Jesus.  Paul reminds Timothy (and us), God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).” 
We live in a fear-ful world.  And we can let those fears overcome us.  But God has already given us the tool to face our fears – the Spirit, full of power, and love, and self-control. 

There will always be fears and times we are fearful.  It’s just part of the human experience.
The difference is how we, as Christians, respond to those fears.  We can focus on the storm, or we can focus on Jesus.

We can keep rowing as hard as we can, we can keep bailing as fast as we can, trying to control the storms raging around us...or…
                              We can remember Jesus is in the boat with us.

We can stop rowing and bailing and struggling to maintain control, take a breath and listen as he says those simple words:
Peace. Be still!

Peace. Be still! – to the storms that rage around us.
Peace.  Be still! - to the storms that rage within us.

Peace.  Be still!

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I wanted to say about why I love Lent, but Nadia said it better

I've been telling everyone about how much I love Lent and Holy Week.  I know - it's an odd thing to say, especially since as a pastor, this is a crazy busy time of year for me.  Today, which catching up with my social network, one of my pastor friends posted a link to Nadia Bolz-Weber's Lenten reflection (thanks Kent!).  If you've not heard of her, Nadia is the pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints church in Denver (ELCA and emerging).  I love her passion for God and her insights into the Gospel, so of course I had to check out the link.

So I bopped over to her blog, and -wow!  You know how it is when you are trying to describe something and then some one else says what you mean.  That's just what happened.  So instead of meandering through my jumbled thoughts on Lent, I direct you to someone who sums my feelings up wonderfully: Why I Love Ash Wednesday and Lent.  As of today, there are 2 parts (with more to come), so you'll want to scroll down to read part 1 first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Ashes, Giving Up and Hope

I love Lent.  I love the solemn Ash Wednesday service, the ashes on my forehead, and now that I am a pastor, placing ashes on the foreheads of my congregation.  There's something about marking an ash cross on a woman, saying "Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return" and then making the same mark saying the same words to the infant tenderly cradled in her arms.  It's shocking and scandalous and altogether true.

I love the Lenten mid-week services.  I love the fellowship of the soup suppers, or as my congregation is doing "lunch after." (In this part of South Dakota, lunch is not a specific meal, but any meal at any time other than breakfast, noon - which is dinner -  or supper, and can consist of desserts only, sandwiches and bars, or a full meal.)  I love the flexibility of Wednesday Lent worship.  There's no lectionary - so what shall we do this year?  Focus on the Lord's Prayer?  Book Study?  Dramatizations of the Jesus' Passion?  Dig deeper into ways of discipleship?  There's room for creativity in those Lent services.  

This year, I'm participating in a round-robin with 2 other pastors in the area.  We're using a purchased program - I think the idea is that having everything prepared for you will save time, but I'm finding I have to re-write the bulletins and edit the dramatic monologues for length.  So I'm not sure it's really saving much time.  But the dramatic monologues will give me a chance to stretch my theatre-wings, and hopefully by hearing the voices of Jesus' accusers (it's called "The Trial of Jesus, and we get to hear from Satan, Annas, Herod, Caiaphas and the like) it will stretch the imaginations of my congregation and challenge us to see those places where we also 'accuse.'

We're also participating in a synod-wide book study on Max Lucado's Fearless.  Again, I am finding that I want to re-write some of the 'canned' discussion guide.  The first study starts today and I am looking forward to this Lenten journey through the valley of the shadow as we name our fears, and more importantly, discover those mountaintop-Transfiguration moments that we cling to in the valley.

I almost forgot to schedule a personal Lenten study for myself and then, on RevGalsBlogPals, there was a link to a 40-day study guide for Lauren Winner's new book, "Still, notes on a mid-faith crisis."  I just got the book (thanks Lauren!)  and hadn't even been able to crack the cover.  I just did the first study this morning - I've only read the preface (and preface ii) but I want to do this book with my congregation too!  I'm looking forward to some great Lenten reflections on God's presence in the midst of God's absence. 

Yes, Lent is a wonderful season - study and growth, contemplation and busyness, solitude and fellowship, penitential and hopeful.  After, all the solemn Ash Wednesday, the thoughtful Lenten journey may lead us to the cross, but also lead to the empty tomb.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Transfiguration Sunday: Getting Ready for the Journey

Scripture readings for Sunday:  2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

So, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a little mountaintop retreat – time for a little prayer and reflection.  Jesus often retreated into a quiet place to pray.  Perhaps it was not uncommon for him to take his inner circle with him from time to time. 

I don’t know what Peter, James, and John expected, but I am pretty sure it was not what happened. 

They get to the top of the mountain, and admire the view while they catch their breath.  Suddenly Jesus changes right before their eyes.  His clothes are dazzling white and he seems to glow!  Not only that, but there are two men with Jesus – Moses and Elijah!

The disciples don’t know what to think, or what to do.  They are terrified.  Peter, always impulsive, blurts out, “It’s good to be here!  Let us build you guys some shelter.” 

What a strange thing to say!

Peter is clearly not ready to go back down the mountain anytime soon.  Perhaps he thought God’s kingdom was coming right now and he and James and John were privileged officials in that kingdom.  Perhaps he thought they should build a shrine at this holy place so others could come and worship there.  Perhaps he just wanted to make Jesus, Moses, and Elijah comfortable for their conference.  Perhaps he just blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

Whatever Peter’s motives, the response was clear.  A voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly beloved Son.  LISTEN…TO…HIM!!!”

And just like that the experience was over.  Jesus stood there alone, looking very much like he always did.

Pretty exciting stuff!  Imagine being able to see Jesus revealed in all his glory.  It was just the kind of image the disciples thought about when they imagined Jesus as Messiah!

Now remember, these disciples already had many revelations of who Jesus was.  They’ve seen him heal and cast out demons.  They’ve heard him teach with authority, besting the Pharisees.  They’ve been sent out themselves on a little missionary journey, teaching about the reign of God and healing in Jesus’ name.  They’ve participated in two miraculous feedings of large numbers of people with very little food.  They’ve seen Jesus walk on water and calm the sea.  And only six days before, Peter proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah!

And now this – to hear God’s voice telling them that they were in the presence of God’s son!  Wow!

They start back down the mountain.  What an experience – it was breath-taking, life-changing! 

But you know what happens when you come back from retreat – it’s hard to hold on to all that stuff you learned, all those good feelings.  The world presses in.  That’s exactly what happens here: Jesus starts to talk to them about his coming suffering, death and resurrection - surely that can’t be right.  There is a crowd at the bottom of the mountain wanting healing – so much work to do.  And confusing teachings from Jesus on greatness – who ever heard of one being great by being a servant? 

They don’t know it, but they are on the road to Jerusalem, and a meal, and a cross, and an empty tomb.   The glory they saw on the mountain top quickly becomes overshadowed by life, and for awhile, they totally miss that God’s greatest glory is shown, not on that mountaintop, but on a dark afternoon on a cross, where a hated Roman, echoing God’s words from the mountaintop, proclaims, “Truly, this man was God’s Son.”   

So what was the point of the Transfiguration?  We often focus on what it says about Jesus – here, once again, Jesus is revealed as God’s Son.  But…what if that’s not really the point? Or at least not the whole point? After all, the disciples have had lots of proof so far of who Jesus is, not that they really understand it. 

What if this event was just what these three leaders among the disciples needed to strengthen them for those dark three days ahead?  Sure, James and John go on to argue about who is the greatest, and want to sit at Jesus’ hand in the coming kingdom.  And Peter, ever led by his impulses, sits frightened in the courtyard of the house where Jesus stands trial, and denies him.   But what if something changed in those three on the mountaintop, something that gave them inner strength among the fear and confusion to gather everyone together, to try and figure out just what was happening to the Messiah of their dreams, to question again what all this talk about rising from the dead meant? 

What if the Transfiguration became a point of reference for them?  That night after a stone shut the tomb, and they huddled together in the upper room, listening for the tromp of soldiers feet coming for them too, did they remember seeing Moses and Elijah, and shielding their eyes against the brightness of Jesus’ clothes, and that thundering voice from heaven?   In their fear and confusion, maybe they took heart remembering:  “But God said this was his son!  We heard it there on the mountaintop.  There must be something more happening!  God, show us what is going on here!” 

We understand their fear – both the awe-filled terror Peter and James and John felt that morning on the mountaintop when Jesus was revealed in all his glory and the dread and shock of those dark days between Good Friday and Easter.  We know fear in all its manifestation – we live in a terrifying world.

This week, we begin our book study on fear, acknowledging that we do live in a world where fear reigns. During our time together we will name our fears and look for those moments of Epiphany – where God is revealed to us – and for Transfiguration – how those revelations of God changed and strengthen us.           

What are those places of Epiphany and Transfiguration where God is encountered?  What is your mountaintop, where Jesus is revealed as Son of God and God speaks to your heart, reminding you to listen to what Jesus says and does?

Today is the last Sunday in Epiphany. Today, we stand on the mountaintop, in the presence of God.  Coming down from the mountain top, Jesus led his disciples on the road to Jerusalem and to the cross. Wednesday, we will put ashes on our brows as we begin a 40 day journey that leads us also to the cross.  We begin again to look at our own path as disciples.  How has the revelation of God in our lives changed us and prepared us for the journey?

Right here, right now, we stand on the mountain top and hear God say, “This is my beloved son.  Listen to him.”  Jesus is revealed and the reign of God is lived out in this place.  But in a little while, we descend with Jesus into the valley.  How will you listen to him this week?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sixth Sunday in Epiphany: Four Words

Readings for this Sunday:  2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

If you had to describe Jesus or God in four words, what would those 4 words be?  Just 4 word, nouns and adjectives, not a sentence.  Take a minute and think.  If you’ve got a pen, write them on your bulletin.
How do you describe God?  That’s not a rhetorical question – this morning I want to do something that might be a little frightening for you.  I want to ask a question and give you all a chance to answer. 

Remember – this is not a test.  There is no right or wrong answers.  Nobody really has the definitive answer on who God is, and it would certainly take more than 4 words even if they did.

So, anyone, what words do you use to describe God?

I’ll share mine.  Of course, I did this little exercise on my own before I presented it to you.  I came up with the first couple of words pretty easy:  love, forgiving.  The third word came harder:  holy.  And I really had to think for the last word – I wanted to capture as much of who I believed Jesus was in only four words.  And I cheated a bit.  I wanted to say ‘God as one of us’ so I picked “Emmanuel” as my last word, which of course means “God with us” and reminds me of the incarnation – that God is one of us.
There are lots of ways of describing God.  And those words you came up with, especially the first one or two that came to mind, say a lot about what God means to you – how God speaks to your soul.  And it says a lot about your experiences with God.

Now, I’m going to read today’s gospel again, slowly.
And I want you to think about what it tells you about who Jesus is: 

A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. "If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean," he said.  Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. "I am willing," he said. "Be healed!"  Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed.  Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning:   "Don't tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the Law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed."  But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn't publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.[i]

 If you had to describe who Jesus is, using only four words, based on this story, what would those words be?  If we asked Mark, what do you think his four words would be?  Or perhaps the leper’s four words?

I found this little exercise on one of the websites I study when I’m preparing sermons.[ii]  The author suggested these words: touch, compassion, willing, lonely. 
Touch.  I remember hearing a story once a long time ago.  A young boy went to church with his grandmother.  When it came time to share the peace, he enthusiastically went around shaking hands and saying, “Peace of God with you.”  As the activity wore down and people began sitting down, the boy continued shaking as many hands as he could.  His grandmother had to go get him and return him to his seat.

The next time he visited his grandmother, he asked her, “I want to go to that place we went last time? Can we? Please?”  She thought back to his last visit, and couldn’t imagine what they did that was so special he’d be so excited about going again.  The boy told her, “Remember, that place where God shook my hand!”[iii]
God shakes our hand.  God touches us.  God took on our flesh, became one of us (my favorite images!).  Jesus walked this earth, touching blind eyes, putting fingers in deaf ears, a healing touch to the sick, a blessing touch to the children, even a ‘put your fingers in my wounds touch’ to a disciple who needed to physically feel Jesus’ resurrected body.  God still touches us.  The ELCA mission statement is “God’s work.  Our hands.”  God touches us through the hands and hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And God uses us to be Jesus’ hands and feet and heart to touch others.

Compassion – love.  Jesus had compassion on the leper.  He reached out and touched the untouchable because of his love.  We will discover through Mark’s gospel just how far Jesus will go to show God’s love.  In fact, we discover that it is only through the cross that we begin to know just who Jesus is and what it means for God to love us.
Willing.  I had to look – the NRSV, which we read before this sermon started, translates the Greek word use here as “choose.”  “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  If Jesus chooses?   So l looked at the Greek and the word is “thelo” or “will, want, desire.”   “Jesus, if you desire…if you want…if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  And, of course, Jesus is willing.  It is the desire of God’s very heart that we are made whole, restored to relationship.  That’s why Jesus came.

Lonely.  I had to think about this one for awhile.  It comes from the reversal of circumstances between the leper and Jesus.  At the beginning of the story, the leper is banished to the lonely places, the country, away from anyone whom he might infect with his disease.  Jesus is travelling from town to town proclaiming the kingdom of God.  At the end of his encounter with Jesus, the leper is restored to community, and goes back to his village, and tells everyone what Jesus did for him.  As a result, the crowds begin to mob Jesus, and he remains in the lonely places, where the crowds still seek him out. 
There was a cost to Jesus’ compassionate touch.  It changed his plans for his ministry.  Last week our reading ended with Jesus telling the disciples that they were going to proclaim the message in neighboring towns, but now he can’t go into the towns.  Still, Jesus was willing to heal regardless of the potential for altering his plans.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus makes choices that cost – forgiving sins which enrages the Pharisees, hanging out with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes, challenging the scribes and Pharisees when their interpretation of God’s will for the people binds the people in needless rules, turning over the money tables in the temple, going to the cross.  There is risk to loving someone, and Jesus was willing to take that risk even if it meant those agonizing hours on the cross, cut off from God and everyone.

And that’s really what the gospel – the good news is all about.  Mark begins his gospel with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. By the end of what we call the first chapter we are presented with “the image of a God who is compassionate; reaches out to touch us in love; is so willing and eager to embrace us in healing, forgiveness, and grace; and eagerly embraces the pain and sin of the world out of love for us, for us and the whole wide world we live in.”[iv]

[i] Mark 1:40-45, New Living Translation
[ii] Dear Working Preacher, David Lose,
[iii] I cannot remember where I heard the story and it’s been so long that I’m not sure I have all the details right.  My apologies to the original teller if I’ve altered the story.  The point of the story remains the same; the boy experienced the church as the place where God shook his hand.
[iv] I couldn’t put it better than David Lose did (see above citation).  Thank you David!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: There are Two Kinds of People....

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

There are two types of people in the world:

Those who need to be cared for.

And those who are called to care for others.[i]

Take Simon Peter’s mother in law.  She definitely needed to be cared for.

It’s the Sabbath – her day to shine.  Worship on the Sabbath is rooted in the home.  Sure, you may go to synagogue on the Sabbath, but the crux of the worship is the Sabbath meal in the home.

And that is where a woman could really shine.  It was the mother, the eldest woman in the household, who was responsible for the spiritual life in the home.  She lit the Sabbath candles and said the Sabbath prayer.  She would spend the day before preparing delicious foods for the Sabbath meals.  It was festive, special, holy –an honor no Jewish woman would want to miss it.

But this Sabbath, Peter’s mother in law – we’ll call her Ruth – was not at her usual place.  Ruth did not oversee every detail of preparation for the Sabbath.  At sundown, Ruth did not light the Sabbath candles and say the Sabbath prayer, as was her right as eldest woman in the household.  Ruth was not even able to welcome her son-in-law’s guests properly as they returned from the synagogue the morning of the Sabbath.

Ruth was in bed with a fever.

It may not sound like much to us in this day of Tylenol and Advil and our knowledge of germs and advanced medicine.  A fever – that’s nothing to us.  But to Ruth, a fever was mysterious, dangerous.  It could very well be the onset of a deadly illness. 

Even more than the threat to her body, this fever threatened her place in society.  It isolated her from her community, removed her responsibilities, denied her privileges.

From care-giver to care-receiver in a matter of a few hours.  How helpless she must have felt when the others in the household not only took over HER duties, but also took care of her!

She was cut-off from the daily routine of the household – even worse, the need to care for her disrupted that routine.  Can’t you just hear her saying, “Now, don’t worry about me.  I don’t want to be a bother.”

How horrified she must have been that Peter brought guests into the house when she couldn’t make sure they were properly taken care of!

Was she mortified that Peter even ushered the most honored guest – Jesus - into her sickroom? 

Did she apologize for being sick in bed instead of greeting them at the door, even as Jesus took her hand and raised her from the bed? 

At Jesus’ touch, the fever was gone.  She was healed!

But even more – she was restored to her rightful place in her household.  Invalid no longer, she immediately began making sure her guests were properly welcomed and their needs cared for.

There are two types of people in the world:

Those who are called to care for others.

And those who need to be cared for.

It was a busy, exhausting day.  Jesus spent the morning teaching in Capernaum’s synagogue.  While there, a man possessed by a demon confronted him and Jesus cast out the demon.  Then he headed to Peter’s house for the afternoon and upon getting there discovered that Ruth was ill.  He immediately healed her, and she responded to his healing her by caring for his needs in return.  How wonderful that she responded so gratefully to him – sometimes it felt like everyone demanded something from him: healing, teaching, miracles.  But Ruth got it – she understood that being one of his followers meant to serve.  And she did, making sure he had the most comfortable seat in the house, offering him a refreshing cool drink, and serving a truly delightful Shabbat lunch. 

The respite Ruth’s hospitality gave him was short-lived.  By evening, it seemed that everyone in Capernaum was on Peter’s door step, wanting to see Jesus.  He spent hours listening to their fears and dreams, touching this one that was sick, blessing that little one, casting out demons.  It was hard work, but this was why he came – to proclaim the kingdom of God was near not only by his words but also by restoring people to health and wholeness and community, so that they may, like Ruth, care for each other. 

Before dawn, he awoke and quietly left the house.  He needed time alone - to think, to pray, to listen for God’s voice.  As he walked, did the words of Isaiah echo in his mind:  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.”[ii]

His time alone with the Father renewed him.  When his disciples finally find him, he’s ready to go on to the next town, to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near and to bring healing and restoration to even more people who longed for the touch of God’s hand.

There are two types of people in the world:

Those who need to be cared for.

And those who are called to care for others.

And the truth is sometimes each of us needs to be cared for,

And other times we are each called to care,

And yet other times we are both.

We are broken in need of repairing. 
                                           We are called to repair the brokenness. 

We are sick in need of healing. 
                                          We are called to bring healing.

We are frightened in need of comforting. 
                              We are called to bring comfort. 

We are worn and tired in need of restoration.
                                     We are called to restore others to community.

We are called to serve, yet often we need to be served.  

We find that we are reluctant to admit our need, and hesitant to accept our call.  

There are two types of people in the world:

Those who need to be cared for.
And those who are called to care for others.

Which are you today?

Do you need to be cared for? Do you need to wait upon the Lord to renew your strength?  Like the children of Israel in exile, do you need to experience once again God’s steadfast love? 

Maybe you’re on the other side – strengthened and nourished by God, are you being called to respond with grateful service to someone who needs you to be the hands of Jesus reaching out to raise them up?  

[i] This sermon is based on David Lose’s reflection “Two Kinds of People” found at
[ii] Isaiah 40:31