Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 7, 2021
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
I always smile when I read about Peter’s mother-in-law. You can imagine her life, an older woman, in an artisan family, in an oppressed nation, in a patriarchal, hierarchical culture. A life of endless servitude. By a miracle, she is healed by this new and amazing friend that the young people have brought home – and of course, immediately she has to jump up and serve them dinner. Some things never change! It’s a reminder to look around us and see who is living a life of endless servitude.
And other things are endless too. We see in the rest of the passage that Jesus too is under constant pressure. The needs of the people, for healing, for words of comfort and inspiration, for deliverance – those needs just never let up. He has to get up before dawn to find some time to pray.
One hopes that as he prayed, he will have remembered the words of Isaiah that Tyrone read to us. We hope that he will have been able to breathe deep and remember that promise – that God never tires, that the God who names each star and brings down the mighty will always replenish the strength of the weary, and bring power to the powerless.
This is a message that we all need on a cold gray February day, in the twelfth long month of covid, in Black History month in the year of massive protests about the brutal killing of George Floyd and others, and also of the inauguration of an American vice-president of colour, feted by a young black poet.
Perhaps you are tired of the cold weather, or of wearing a mask when you go out, or of being cooped up by covid restrictions, missing your friends, and hairdresser, and favourite restaurant. It does seem endless. And the fatigue is intensified by the uncertainty about the future. On the weather side, we can be fairly sure that winter will play itself out and spring will come, but as the groundhog reminded us this week, we don’t know exactly when. With covid, between precaution compliance and vaccinations, kids back in school next week, shops beginning to reopen soon after, it may well be that things will now just get better bit by bit, as we all hope. But with the new variants, no one can be sure. We’ll just have to live into it with the best grace we can.
It may be that your tiredness is more profound. Along with covid, this year has brought gruesome reminders of the stubbornness of anti-black racism in a world that purports to have left it behind. Often in Black History month we celebrate those who have been heroes and pace-setters in confronting the exclusions of the past. We hold up Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela, here in Canada Harry Jerome and Nathaniel Dett, Viola Desmond, and Wilbur Howard, and the list goes on. (Even now there are firsts – the United Church’s General Secretary.) People of all races revel in the music and art and literature of African and diaspora nations, giving thanks for the joyful sounds that permeate the February gloom. As we learn more together, we are taking part in an effort both within and beyond the black community to treasure the African, Caribbean, Afro-American, and Afro-Canadian heritage that enrich our country. Enrich the world.
The accomplishments are real, and the heritage important to celebrate, but the challenges for Canadians of African descent remain real. The justice system, the educational system, and the health system have been shown again and again to operate unfairly when it comes to black Canadians. Interlocking impediments arising from poverty and colonisation make it worse. And in polite, progressive circles, we chip away at our own unconsciousness, the micro-aggressions, the lack of grasp, without making enough progress.
Dismantling the attitudes and practices of racism is a long and discouraging job. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, we have to be ready to jump right back into action whenever a small healing is offered. All of us are called into that endless service. As the disciples discovered when they set out with Jesus through the Galilean hills, there will be no end of opportunities to learn, to teach, to heal. Perhaps like Jesus, they learned to get up before dawn, and find some time to pray. May we too find our courage replenished and our strength renewed. And may we know as we walk along that we are not alone on the path. Amen.
Image Credit: Tom Mossholder (unsplash.com)