This past week much of our country experienced the coldest temperatures ever recorded. Actual all-time temperature records that were broken extended through much of the Midwest: Cotton, Minnesota: -56. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: -30; Rockford, Illinois: -30 (actual temps, not just wind chills). The photographs and video I saw of Chicago were enough to make anyone in colder climates long for the Caribbean in January! Though tragically there have even been incidents of deaths due to the brutal weather, the severe cold seems to have brought out the best in many places as folks in colder places open their hearts and their doors to many who are at risk. We continue to keep the vulnerable in our prayers.
I couldn’t help calling to mind images of ice boulders on Lake Michigan’s shore this past week as I read the appointed Gospel lesson for this Sunday. A man in the Capernaum synagogue suffers as one bound by an unclean spirit. His words are not the words that his loved ones would recognize as his own. The real man seems shut up…frozen…somewhere inside the shell of his body. Outside the synagogue there is woman, the mother-in-law of Simon Peter, who is bed-ridden (St. Mark adds that detail) and tormented by a grave illness: a fever, which before the invention of antibiotics, could be deadly. We don’t know much about the synagogue man or the woman in Simon Peter’s household, but they are bound by some combination of physical, spiritual, or emotional circumstances which are outside their control.
Jesus strides into both scenes—the house of worship and the house of Peter—as One whom we will see elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel is remarkably unfrozen by the customary Sabbath restrictions. Here it is merely His Word, a Word spoken with authority (a rebuke of the evil spirit and rebuke of the fever), which rescues the man and unfreezes the ailing woman so that both are free to worship God and serve as God empowers them to do. When the people of Capernaum surround Jesus as if to prevent Him from leaving them, He continues to move and pulse with life as He reminds them that He “must preach the Good News of the Kingdom” elsewhere because He has been sent for that purpose (44).
God’s authoritative Word of forgiveness which we hear each Sunday while gathered in our own houses of worship, is what unfreezes us. Jesus has defeated the Enemy. Jesus will one day deliver full restoration of body and soul to all who call on His name today…no matter the physical distress they might find themselves in now. The power of His Word grants us hope FROM spiritual distress and hope FOR tomorrow. What joy to accompany others as they discover the freeing power of God’s grace at work in their own lives when “frozen” and unable to move ahead for one reason or another.
Last weekend I was privileged to gather with many of you and our fellow Lutherans from around Southern Maryland to learn from Southeastern District Mission Engagement Facilitator Rev. Travis Guse how to serve our community as Christian life coaches. It was a productive gathering. I hope that if you are feeling frozen in understanding God’s purpose for you you might not only hear His renewing and life-giving Word again this Sunday but consider seeking out one of our newly-trained Christian coaches. As a brother in Christ once shared with me when I felt paralyzed and frozen by a major life decision: “Whichever door you choose to open, know that you have the grace of God to find the same Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, standing on the other side.” Jesus has given us the life and health to enjoy another day of His mercy. What will we do with it? Whom have we been sent to serve?