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February 4-11, 2009 – Obama urges community service

Warm-up Question: What would you do the day before becoming president?

One day before his inauguration, then president-elect Obama was spotted painting a wall of a homeless shelter. He also visited a medical center that treats wounded U.S. soldiers and a high school where students volunteered in different ways.

Of course, Obama’s actions that day were not a private matter of goodwill but part of an effort to shape the tone of his new presidency. Obama said in one of the many interviews he gave that day: “I ask the American people to turn today’s efforts into an ongoing commitment to enriching the lives of others in their communities, their cities, and their country.”

Whenever a new president comes into office, the nation experiences a push of hope. Suddenly, the future seems brighter and people assume that things will be better this time around. But can a single man really change an entire country? Obama’s call to volunteer was followed all over the United States this year and was covered by the international media. Now, it is up to his administration and, last but not least, to the stamina of the American people whether this movement of volunteerism can be sustained. The new president has high hopes. He urges the doubters to not “underestimate the power for people to pull together and to accomplish amazing things.”

Discussion Questions

  • What, do you think, is the ideal way to spend the day before becoming president?
  • Did you volunteer on Martin Luther King’s day this year?
  • What have your experiences been in volunteer service?
  • Do you think that volunteering for a few hours at a single place such as a soup kitchen or day care center can really change lives? How?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 8, 2009.
(Text links are to
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Just two verses, 27 words, in the Greek original text of the New Testament, and 42 words in the English of the NRSV translation … This is probably the shortest miracle story in the Gospels!

A woman is in a house. She is bed-ridden because of a fever. Jesus is called to her. He heals her and she immediately goes about her business. This story is placed at the beginning stages of Mark’s recounting of Jesus’ public ministry, but it is not the first healing and not the first miracle that Jesus performs. Just before, he healed a man at a synagogue. And right after, Jesus is overrun by the sick and the possessed of the town including their relatives that bring them to him and ask for his help. It is as if Jesus circle of influence widens at this point. Only a few people witnessed the healing at the synagogue and this miracle in a private residence, but the news about Jesus and his amazing powers spread immediately.

The miracle itself is done in the simplest way. Jesus does not do anything special, he does not pray or say anything. He just takes the woman’s hand and helps her up, a sequence of events that Mark’s readers will encounter again in Mark 5:41 and 9:27.

What is unique about this healing is that Jesus here performs a miracle for the benefit of somebody within his closest circle of friends. It is the mother-in-law of his first disciple, Simon Peter, the “rock” upon which he will build his church (Matthew 16:18).

What is the result of this healing miracle? The Gospel writers usually add a note that, after being healed by Jesus, the person in question is actually able to walk, stand, see, or whatever else he or she was previously not able to do. Simon’s mother-in-law does more than simply get up or stand on her own, or get rid of a fever. She is healed, gets up, and begins to serve Jesus and his followers. Of course, being good hosts is what women were supposed to do when guests entered the house. Yet, her “serving” is something special.

The Greek verb “diakoneo,” from which the term “deacon” comes, is only used a few times in the New Testament. Aside from Simon’s mother-in-law, it is applied to a few special women such as Martha (John 12:2), the righteous (Matthew 25:44), Paul’s disciple Onesiphorus (1 Timothy 1:18), and the angels (Matthew 4:11, Mark 1:13). What these special servants have in common is that they all serve Jesus: the angels wait on him after he has rejected Satan, Martha and the other women provide for him and his disciples, Onesiphorus proclaims his word. Doing “diakoneo” work is thus human and angelic business, providing for Jesus when he still walked on earth and making sure that his message is spread throughout history in every place.

Discussion Questions

  • The term “servant” can refer to a person who does demeaning work or to somebody who needs to be praised for his or her willingness to put one’s own needs below the needs of others. Do you think that this expression is still a good description for somebody who works in the church or does acts of Christian charity or compassion? How do you understand the term today?
  • Where does your church do “service” in the way the verb “diakoneo” is used in this passage? Where do you?
  • Some scholars who studied the Gospel of Mark claimed that the disciples mention the woman’s illness to Jesus in order to apologize for the fact that Simon’s house is not inviting and that no feast is prepared. Do you think that the woman falls into the typical patterns of female behavior when she gets up from her sick-bed and immediately takes care of others? What do you think would be your first actions if you had been healed by Jesus?

Activity Suggestions

1. There is a pattern!
Healing stories in the Gospels often follow a certain pattern: 1) the miracle worker arrives, 2) the situation of the sick person is described, 3) the healing is performed, and 4) there is some kind of proof that the person was actually healed.

Find other healing stories in the Gospel of Mark and check which ones fit that pattern and which ones might deviate from it. For this activity, it would be helpful to provide a table with 5 columns and several rows. The 4 steps appear in the top row, columns 2-5. Students can then add the stories they found in the first column and fill in the details of each story in columns 2-5.

2. Deacons are …
Have your students read the stories mentioned above that use the Greek verb “diakoneo” and write a list of characteristics that identify someone as a “deacon” of that kind. Discuss what a modern person would have to do in order to be such a deacon and whether your students can imagine becoming such a person.

3. Divine Valentine
Have paper, scissors, ribbons, scrapbook materials, glue, and anything else available with which your students can make their own Valentine’s Day cards. Invite them to make “Divine Valentines,” cards that tell somebody that they are loved by God (this is one of the aspects of being a deacon, spreading the word about Jesus and God’s love!).

As they make their cards, talk with them about people who need to hear that God loves them. Either, leave it up to them who should receive their card or arrange for a special follow-up project where you take these cards to a group home, nursing home, shelter, or another place in your neighborhood where this message is needed. You can also leave it up to them whether they want to write a scripture verse inside (provide a few about God’s love) or whether they would like to add a personal note.

Closing Prayer

You are truly amazing, Lord:
You provide for us and guide our lives.
You give us friends and families that care for us and that we might care for.
But most amazing is that in your death and resurrection you became a servant for us. You died so that we may live.
Grant, that we can become your servants in turn:
That we can do your work on earth.
That we can proclaim your word.
And that we can spread the news of your love to people that have never heard it or experienced it. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Claudia Bergmann
Eisleben, Germany