First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

God Created Winter

First United Methodist Church
February 4, 2024
Rev. Lauren Hall

God Created Winter

Have you ever been diagnosed with an overuse injury? When I was in the military, I was diagnosed with one, and to my delight, I discovered that the cure is to stop using it. In other words, the muscle that is damaged needs to rest for a while, and then be strengthened through physical therapy. Whatever activity caused the overuse has to be limited so that muscle isn’t continuously damaged during the recovery period.

At the time, the way the military handled these kinds of injuries was to place you on restricted duty while you recovered, and your only work responsibility was to go to your physical therapy and doctor’s appointments. You were also required to remain in the barracks if you were not admitted to the hospital so that you didn’t go out and do something stupid with all the extra free time you had.

It was during this time that I discovered that the original Star Trek series was on every day at 6:00 pm on one channel and the same episode would play at 7:00 on another channel 3 days later. Since I had very little else to do, I watched them, over and over, for the six weeks I was recovering, and then I continued for awhile afterwards because it had become a habit. It didn’t take long before I became very familiar with every episode.

As my life slowly got back to normal, I didn’t have as much time to watch television, but I still wanted my Star Trek “fix” every day, so I would turn the TV on at 6:00, watch the first few minutes of it, replay the entire episode in my head, and then go about my business. I had become so familiar with each episode that I was able to enjoy the episode without actually watching it!

It’s important that we don’t allow the same thing to happen when we read the Bible. There are times when it seems as though the narrative is so familiar that we don’t have to read the entire passage. We know the Christmas story. We know the Easter story. We know about Adam and Eve and Noah and Moses. And we know more than we want to know about the woman who gave all she had and the Parable of the Talents. So what’s left? Is there any reason, after you’ve read through the Bible three or four times, to read it again?

Well, you know that I am going to say, “yes.” And the reason I’m going to say yes is because God’s grace is complicated. Whether we are reading a passage from Isaiah or the Psalms, which offer a litany of the wondrous attributes of God, or today’s passage from Mark, which focuses on the more personal and private details of Christ’s ministry, we begin to get a sense of the nature of God’s work in the world as well as in our own lives. As we read through the gospel of Mark, we have a series of events that are somewhat familiar to us. Jesus arrives on the scene, announces the coming Kingdom of God, calls together his disciples, casts out demons, and then suddenly he pauses for a moment to care for a woman suffering from a fever. Then he gets back to the business of tending to all who came to him for his help. If we read this passage too quickly, we can miss the significance that our God is not above caring for us as individuals. Our relatively small problems are not insignificant to the God who tends the cosmos.

Let’s take a moment to think about winter. Not everybody likes winter, but it is something we have to deal with every year. There are people who have learned to embrace this season, and these are the folks we might see in the Winter Olympics. But for the rest of us, winter is cold and uncomfortable. We have to worry about whether the roads will be ok when we need to travel or whether the pipes will freeze. In the past, having enough food and fuel for heat was a worry, and the summer months were spent planting and nurturing crops so that we could harvest and prepare enough food to last through the winter months.

So why did God create winter? Why not simply have a growing season that lasts year-round? Well, just as our muscles break down if we continuously stress them and don’t allow them to rest, we can’t spend all of our time preparing and nurturing the harvest. The land has to rest. We have to rest. And we have to take the time to simply enjoy life and trust that we have enough. I think God created winter so that we would have to take some time to stop, rest, and appreciate life.

Mark’s presentation of Jesus gives us a vision of what God’s reign looks like, and it has real effects as it delivers people, heals people, restores people to community, forgives people and speaks truth to Christ’s authority. Although our first encounter with Jesus may occur under different circumstances, we also experience healing in our lives when we are restored to wholeness. We may not always recognize this healing at first because we sit there with one arm and say to God, “OK, grow me a new arm.” When that doesn’t happen, we focus on the shortcomings of our own life and reflect that back onto God.

We experience wholeness and healing when we accept ourselves as God sees us, which is full of promise and potential, rather than being limited by what we can’t do. I remember in my own life a time when I had to stop identifying myself as a victim and begin seeing my situation as one that could help others. It took awhile, but I finally admitted to myself and to God that I was acting like a spoiled brat and that I was sorry. I basically said, “OK, God. You called me. I answered. And this is who I am now. Use me.” And guess what. I didn’t have to wait very long before God started sending me people that I was equipped to help because of the experiences I had had. It was a little like an answer to the prayer of Jabez. You know the one from 1 Chronicles [4:9-10], “O that you would bless me and expand my territory…”

What we have to remember is that Jesus sees each one of us as a potential disciple. Quite often we have to come to terms with our present situation before we are willing to fully offer ourselves in service. But whatever we may see, Jesus has a more complete vision.

I read a story about a young man serving 50 years in the Miami Correctional facility for a felony charge related to dealing methamphetamines. Although it is seemingly a life sentence, as he would be 72 when released, he has taken responsibility for what he did, is working to better his life and hopes to make it home someday. Through a program that offers paid employment for prisoners, he has shown himself that there are possibilities for the future.

Billy is currently signed up for the Recovery While Incarcerated Program and college classes.

"I know my future looks dark to most, but not to me. I know the best times of my life are ahead; I will prevail," Billy said from behind bars in Bunker Hill. "I have always believed in God, but this has really been a spiritual journey for me. I'm not going to just die to the hardships."

When Billy began his sentence in 2019, he had mixed emotions and was unsure of what his future held in a maximum security prison. But he quickly decided to embrace every program and opportunity available to him.

If you had asked me how I thought my life would be four years ago, I never thought I would have the job I have or be doing all of the positive things that I'm doing. I would have thought that my life was hopeless. What would be the reason to stay out of trouble? Why even talk to my family? I will never see them again. Well, here I am now. My life is not hopeless. I am doing good things and trying to better my life.

In the narrative we read today, Jesus is informed of the woman’s fever. He approaches her, takes her hand and helps her up. The fever leaves her, and she begins to wait on them. The passage then moves on to talk about other things. We may flinch initially at the way that this passage is worded, because in our 21st Century mindset it’s hard to accept the idea that Jesus heals her, and she gets up and waits on him. Really? Minutes earlier this woman was sick with a fever! Peter couldn’t have taken Jesus’ coat and offered him some water?

But that’s the challenge of this passage, isn’t it? Grace is a free and undeserved gift. But it is also a relational gift. When Peter’s mother-in-law was made well, she was restored to wholeness. She didn’t just get over her fever and rise from bed with all the weakness and sluggishness that accompanies being sick. She was healed. She had all the energy and enthusiasm she had before she got sick, and she was ready to do life as usual. Serving a guest such as Jesus was an honor, and she wanted to do it.

Christ invites us to respond in some way. When we find ourselves standing on the archery range holding a Bow with our only arm, we can say, “I’ve only got one arm; now what am I supposed to do?” Or, we can see ourselves as Jesus sees us, whole and full of potential, and say, “I’m a one-armed archer; use me.” That’s our choice.

When you come up for communion today, remember that Jesus takes what is already within us and transforms what we may see as bad into a life that produces fruit. Be willing to trust Jesus. Allow Jesus to establish the reign of God in your life and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results. Let’s pray…

Gracious and Loving God, we are caught up in the midst of this chaos. Everywhere we go, we are confronted with the reality of a world filled with violence and hatred. Calm our spirits, Lord. Help us to focus on the love you have given to us in Jesus Christ. Remind us again that his healing mercies extend to us this day as surely as they did to the people of long ago. We have gathered on this day to hear your word, to be forgiven and healed, to find ways in which we may serve you in peace. We lift up the names of those near and dear to us who stand in need of your healing mercies and compassionate love. Today we pray for [  names ]. Some names we have spoken aloud; and others we have uttered in our hearts. You have heard all our prayers. You know our needs and concerns before our voices can frame them. Let us accept the love you give to us. Empower us to take that love and use it for good in your world. Let the message of hope and compassion go forth from us again to this world which focuses on tragedy and turmoil. And once again, let us know fully that you are with us.