Sermon: “Jesus Lifts You Up” (February 8, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus Lifts You Up” (Mark 1:31)
February 8, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today I am beginning with some lyrics from classic pop song from the 60’s—Jackie Wilson’s 1967 hit, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” You may prefer Rita Coolidge’s 1977 cover, which has a slower tempo and some disco flavor, but either way, the lyrics are encouraging:

Your love is liftin’ me higher
Than I’ve ever been lifted before
So keep it up, quench my desire
And I’ll be at your side forevermore

You know your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Keeps on liftin’ me (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher (liftin’ me, liftin’ me), higher, and higher (higher)
I said your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Keeps on (liftin’ me, liftin’ me)
Liftin’ me (liftin’ me) higher and higher (higher)

Now once I was downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
But then you came and he soon departed
And he never showed his face again

That’s why your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Keeps on liftin’ me (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher, (liftin’ me, liftin’ me), higher, and higher (higher)
I said your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Keeps on (liftin’ me, liftin’ me) Liftin’ me (liftin’ me) higher and higher (higher)

In today’s gospel passage Mark records one of the first healing miracles of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Mark tells us:

“As soon as (Jesus and his disciples) 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” (1:29-31).

When he heard that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, Jesus took the initiative and went to her, Jesus took her by the hand, and Jesus lifted her up. This miracle is a microcosm of the entire gospel.

The gospel is not “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” The gospel is “The Lord helps those who cannot help themselves.”

The gospel is not “God is my co-pilot.” The gospel is “God is my pilot”—thankfully!

And this is good news, because just like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, at times we will find ourselves unable to help ourselves, unable to help fly the plane.

At times we experience what Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn describes in his song “The Whole Night Sky”:

Derailed and desperate
How did I get here?
Hanging from this high wire by the tatters of my faith
Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere and knocks you off your feet
And look, see my tears, they fill the whole night sky
(from his 1996 album The Charity of Night).

Many types of winds can “come out of nowhere” and knock us off our feet—physical illness (as with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law), cyber bullies, a job crisis, a divorce, financial collapse, depression, the death of a loved one, on and on.

And that is when, as he did with Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus comes to us and takes us by the hand.

We see a picture of this toward the end of J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn, the returning king of Middle Earth (and a Christ-like figure throughout the trilogy), hears about Eowyn, a noblewoman of Rohan who is in bed deathly ill, and he comes to her. Tolkien writes:

“Then Aragorn stooped and looked in her face, and it was indeed white as a lily, cold as frost, and hard as graven stone. But he bent and kissed her on the brow, and called her softly, saying: ‘Eowyn, awake! For your enemy has passed away!’ She did not stir, but now she began again to breathe deeply, so that her breast rose and fell beneath the white linen of the sheet… ‘Awake, Eowyn, Lady of Rohan!’ said Aragorn again, and he took her right hand in his and felt it warm with life returning. ‘Awake! The shadow is gone and all darkness is washed clean!’” (The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One Volume Edition, 867-868).

And not only does Jesus take us by the hand, he also lifts us up, just as Jesus lifted up Simon Peter’s mother-in-law—as we read in the Psalm earlier, “(The Lord) heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds…The Lord lifts up the lowly” (Psalm 147:3 and 6).

Another illustration…this time from ESPN. At ESPN’s 2013 ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Awards Team Hoyt was presented the Jimmy Valvano Perseverance Award. Team Hoyt is a racing team composed of two people—a father and his son Ricky. Ricky was born in the 1960’s with a severe form of cerebral palsy, unable to walk. His parents were encouraged to place him in an institution because he could never have a “normal” life, but his parents would not do that.

Years later Ricky wanted to do a marathon and so in 1981 they completed their first one, father pushing son in a stroller and completing none other than the Boston Marathon. They went on to complete over 1,100 races, including over 70 marathons and six Iron Man triathlons.

A few years ago I came across an inspiring Youtube video of Team Hoyt completing an Iron Man Triathlon. The video is a montage of images of Ricky’s father who lifted him up and gently placed him in a raft that he then pulled for the 2.4 mile swim, then he lifted him out of the raft and gently placed him a trailer that he pulled behind his bicycle for the 112 mile bike race, then he lifted him up and gently placed him in a stroller that he pushed throughout the 26.2 mile marathon. At the end of the triathlon as Team Hoyt crosses the finish line they are showered with applause and water by the onlookers—Ricky grinning and waving his arms and his father beaming with love for his son, gently caressing his face—joy and laughter all around (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdA3Equ1I3s).

At the ESPY Awards, with the aid of a speech generating device, Ricky Hoyt said this to the audience:

“I am so excited to be here in LA to receive the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. I can hardly believe we are here. Thirty-seven years ago nobody would even talk to us, but because my dad said yes, I asked him to push me in the first race. And my family has always stood by us and helped us persevere, even with so many people telling us that we did not belong. We are here.”

After Ricky spoke a little longer, his dad added, “Ricky is my inspiration. He has taught me a great many things over the years, and every day I consider myself lucky to be his father and teammate.”

When something in your lives knocks you off your feet and you are on your back, like Aragorn Jesus comes to you and takes you by the hand, and like Ricky’s Hoyt’s father, Jesus lifts you up and takes you where you need to go…and considers himself lucky to be your teammate.

And again, this miracle of Jesus lifting up Simon Peter’s mother-in-law foreshadows the saving work of Jesus Christ not just for you, but for the world, a saving work that is itself foreshadowed in the Book of Numbers from the Old Testament, when God commands Moses to tell Aaron the priest to bless the children of Israel with the following blessing:

“The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

In Jesus Christ the Lord lifted up his countenance upon the whole world, including you. Moreover, in John’s account of the gospel Jesus states, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

And that is exactly what happened on Good Friday, when Jesus was ungently placed on the cross and lifted up, where he died for all those who have been knocked off their feet by the winds of life, for all those who are told they do not belong—and in his death Jesus bent down and kissed the brow of the world with mercy and grace, to dispel the shadow and wash the darkness clean.

Jesus’ death was how your Heavenly Dad said yes to you.

In other words, the good news of the gospel is that because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, Jesus lifts you up.

How can you respond?

Well, one of the most influential Church Fathers of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Jerome, who is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, puts it this way:

“Can you imagine Jesus standing before your bed and you continue sleeping? Where is Jesus? He is already offering himself to us…See how costly is the compassion of the Savior…Therefore, let us ask the Lord to grasp our hand” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament, Volume II: Mark, 25).

So for any of you who feel “derailed and desperate,” today, be encouraged.

No matter what knocks you off your feet, Jesus lifts you up.

And even when death knocks you off your earthly feet permanently and you cross the finish line, Jesus will lift you up “higher, higher and higher”…all the way to heaven.

And you will be at his side forevermore, joy and laughter all around.

Amen.