I was one of “those preachers” who mentioned the Super Bowl during church today.
(My blog is called One Step Closer: Religion and Popular Culture. Feel free to visit sometime, but the whole sermon’s here for your convenience. Hope the sermon speaks to you, and enjoy the game!)
My friend Rosalind, from Trinity Cathedral Cleveland, was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood two weeks ago. She’s originally from England, but I still think she was joking when she posted this on Facebook last night:
“My fellow American preachers: Is it written in law that one must mention the Superbowl tomorrow?”
A lot of people responded to her query. Most of the clergy who responded scoffed at the idea: I think some were actually serious. Others attempted to be witty with comments like ”The Super Bowl’s tomorrow?”
One priest said: “The only sport worthy of sermon references is the church of baseball.” (I had some appreciation for that comment…)
It was the lay people who had the best responses. To the question if one must mention the Super Bowl, Adam, my former colleague wrote:
Dear Rosalind, in a word, yes. (Then in a second post, he amended): But only if you’re saying, “Go Giants!”
Robert, a New Testament scholar, wrote the most nuanced response:
What could be more sacred than the High Holy Day of American popular culture? At the end of the game, the golden calf, er, ah, Lombardi Trophy is given to the victorious team. And so on.
I happened to comment after him, so I quipped:
It’s not required, but as Robert just pointed out, not without potential!
Rosalind then concluded:
Ok – but just out of curiosity, who else is playing?
As I said: I think she was joking. It still led to her daughter Freya commenting:
“Thinking about it, they could probably rescind your citizenship for that question, mom.”
This is another example of why I love Facebook…
Now that I’ve done my part to mention the Super Bowl, I wanted to mention that there are other distractions concerning our focus on this morning’s Gospel.
Jesus returns from the public synagogue after healing a man with an unclean spirit. He enters a house belonging to brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. There he finds Peter’s mother-in-law, who is sick with fever. The proper thing for Jesus to do is to leave the house. Jesus does the completely unthinkable thing of touching her hand: this breaks all of the customs of the time. The fever then leaves her, and she gets up and serves them.
Now, there are two things that distract us from proper consideration of this scene. First off…Peter’s mother-in-law??? Peter’s married? Is his wife there? Did she die, leaving Peter free to follow Jesus? Perhaps he left her, or maybe she is following Jesus as well!
This distracts because it leads us to many unanswerable questions concerning the family relations of Jesus’ disciples, and for that matter, Jesus himself. In truth, the Gospel of Mark keeps us on a need-to-know basis, revealing relationships only when they matter to the story. So when we get a glimmer of a greater family picture: like Peter’s mother-in-law, or Jesus’ brothers and sisters, we can acknowledge it (to perhaps challenge our preconceived picture of Jesus and the disciples as a group of unmarried, unattached men), and then we are to move on.
The other distraction is what comes through to the modern reader like as a major male chauvinist picture: does a man heal a woman so that she can fix dinner??? My first reaction is one of anger towards the Gospel writer for presenting Jesus and the woman in this way.
However, without dismissing that feeling of anger, I realize that there may me more here that meets the eye. The Greek verb that we translate “to serve” might be better translated as “to minister,” and it is used elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel. When Jesus finishes being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, we are told that “the angels minister to him.” (Mk. 1:13)
Perhaps even more important, Jesus later says that he has come “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mk. 10:49)
Perhaps the Gospel writer has some sense after all. For it seems to me that Peter’s mother-in-law is in solidarity not only with the angels, but with Jesus himself.
It is the angels that are sent by God to minister to Jesus, and thus make him able to begin his mission of proclaiming the loving presence of God and his caring and healing of the sick.
It is the woman, after she is healed, that ministers to Jesus just as the angels do: refreshing him so he can continue his ministry by healing the crowds of people that came that evening.
And it is Jesus by ministering to us, that enables us to serve one another.
And that’s why it is so important for Jesus, after he prays in solitude to God and is refreshed, to press on to the next town and the next village. The disciples can’t understand why he wants to move on…they have a crowd assembled, and there are people to be healed…but Jesus has finished his work in this town. Jesus has shown the people what they are to do. They are to care for each other. Jesus knows…Jesus understands that it is his mission to spread the message of God’s presence and healing and then move on.
I believe in this message for the world: we are to be committed to each other. We are all called to serve. That’s what it means when we say that Jesus is the way: he has led by example, and left it to us to care for one another.
Then after we serve, we in turn must be refreshed by being ministered to: not just by taking care of ourselves, but by allowing others to care for us, and by reconnecting with God.
What is offered to us is a holy process of communal life: one that reflects the Kingdom of God.