Grabbing her by the hand, Jesus lifted Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed. Sitting upright, she felt the dangerous fever that had been keeping her down melt away. Her body cooled, her head cleared, and immediately she rose to her feet with a smile involuntarily brightening her face. In that instance, she passed from burdensome weariness to a lightness of being that made her want to jump, to dance, to share her newfound energy with the world and those around her. God’s healing made her want to serve.
It was the #1 result of our “Asset mapping” planning meeting last fall – it was the ministry with the most post-it notes on the wall and the most people voting with their feet to stand beside the project that they would most want to help with. Caring. This is what our church should be doing, they said. We should be looking after each other, keeping in touch with those who are sick, visiting those in the hospital or homebound, taking meals to those who are incapacitated, providing transportation for people having trouble getting around. Sure, that stuff happens here and there, now and then, as friends and neighbors care for the ones they know, but what about the others? What about the people on the margins of the congregation who we haven’t seen for many Sundays and who we don’t really know how they’re doing? What about the people who fall through the cracks?
Jesus was just passing through Capernaum. He wasn’t going to settle down in that city and start a hospital, though he did hold a public healing session there. Word had spread, and the populace came and brought their sick and disturbed friends and family members, and Jesus spent the evening praying over them and curing them. Physical maladies were healed, demons were cast out, broken lives were put back together. But in the morning, after a high-level conference between the Son of God and his Abba, Jesus told his disciples it was time to move on.
Some may have felt that it was unkind of Jesus not to stay and take care of the sick who remained in Capernaum. He could have spent years there just tending to the needs in that one city. He could have spent a lifetime there. But just like Peter’s mother-in-law, who wasted no time helping others after God restored her health, Jesus left behind a host of people who had received healing who were in the perfect position to help the others. They may not have the ability to restore sight to the blind, or to make the lame walk. They may not be able to banish a fever with a single touch the way Jesus could. But they could sit with, tend, pray for, and care for those around them. They could engage in caring ministry, and be extensions of Christ’s own healing presence.
We who have known the touch of Jesus in our lives, who have been lifted up in many ways by the love of our savior, are called to caring ministry. As Christians, we understand that all people have value and are loved by God, especially the vulnerable and weak among us. Because of the care and well-being given us by God, we are able to share our time, prayer, knowledge, and resources in service to those in need. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are able to care because we’ve been so well cared for ourselves.
I’m not entirely comfortable with the word “wholistic” because it often gets applied to some flaky concepts in the non-traditional health field. But the basic idea is sound – our body, mind, emotions, soul and spirit are all linked. We are each one being, one whole, but at the same time none of us is entirely whole when any of those things is off balance. Care for others, or for yourself for that matter, involves looking at the whole and finding ways to bring it together and maintain balance. Peter’s mother-in-law was no doubt very much like many in our congregation. I imagine she was a doer, a go-getter, used to keeping the household in order, more comfortable with taking care of others than being taken care of. Her fever slowed her body down, made her feel miserable, and kept her from doing the things she loved to do. And the more those things remained undone, the lower her spirits sank. The lower her spirits sank, the less able she was to fight off that fever, and down and down she spiraled. Until Jesus.
This is where Caring Ministry comes in. Even without miraculous powers, ordinary people like you and me can release the power of God’s love by standing by people who are sick and in distress. Simply by supporting them, spending time with them, helping them with little chores and tasks, we can make a big difference. And what price can you put on making a new friend?
Karen Erickson and her husband Paul, who recently joined Atonement, have been leading the newly formed Caring Team. They have met with the team twice already, and are well on the way towards laying the groundwork for some important caring ministries. The caring team also touches on Parish nursing ministries, Stephen’s ministry, Eucharistic ministry, and a host of other areas where we have room to grow as a church. Parish nursing involves bringing health and wellness awareness and resources to our members. Stephen’s ministry is an in-depth training program for people who want to work closely one-on-one with people in crisis. Eucharistic ministers bring communion to our homebound or hospitalized members on a regular basis.
A Christian man was traveling on an airplane. The lady sitting next to him asked him what he did. “I work with a world-wide, multi-national, multicultural organization,” he said. “We have outlets in every country, and every major city. We run hospitals and relief agencies. We care for people – body, mind and spirit, and we specialize in personal development and self-improvement.” “Really!?” his seatmate exclaimed with genuine wonder. “What is it called?” “The church,” he said.
We are all privileged to be part of this amazing global network of servants. We have been cared for by a God who made us and a Savior who shed his blood for us. We are called to reach out and carry that love to all in need. If we don’t care for them, who will? As we contemplate how the ministry of caring will be a part of our lives, we require a wisdom and guidance that will not steer us wrong. A high-level conference with our Abba seems in order.