Tuesday, February 7, 2012

you raise me up

Here's my sermon for this week (The 5th Sunday after Epiphany)! The text is Mark 1:29-39.

“When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary; when troubles come and my heart burdened be; then, I am still and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me.”[1]

May only God's word be spoken and may only God's word be heard. Amen.

The thing that strikes me the most about the passage from Mark is the sense of urgency. It’s as if there’s not enough time to get everything done. The scene opens with Jesus and his disciples as they leave the synagogue. Jesus has just spent the day teaching and performing an exorcism, and I bet he is pretty tired. He and his disciples go to Simon and Andrew’s house, presumably to rest. But he barely gets his foot in the door when they tell him about Simon’s mother-in-law, “at once.” I bet most of you can relate; you come home after a busy day at work, hoping for a quiet evening to wind down, but little Johnny gets sick and you have to take him to the E.R. Or you get ready to watch a TV show after school but then remember that huge science fair project that is due the following morning. And you haven’t started yet. And it doesn’t look like a snow day will be a possibility. Know what I’m talking about?

Well, I’m guessing that this is something like what Jesus must have felt like. But he keeps his cool and comes over to where Simon’s mother-in-law is lying. He takes her hand, lifts her up, and she is healed.

Now at this point the feminist in me gets distracted by the mother-in-law’s response to being healed. Really, mother-in-law? You were just lying down on the couch with a fever and the first thing you’re going to do when you get up is go into the kitchen? But, as tempting as it is to get caught up in this part, I’m going to have to come back to it another time, because the story doesn’t stop there.

I’m not sure how long Jesus has a break before people from town start showing up at the house. Perhaps they trickle in, after rumors of his healing power have circulated. Or maybe they show up as a mob, minus the pitchforks. Regardless, every sick person in town is brought to Jesus to be healed.

The whole city is gathered; that’s a lot of people! When I picture this scene, I imagine it must be similar to a war hospital: people everywhere, some weeping, some wringing their hands, some exuding strange and powerful smells—in short, utter chaos. But, just as doctors and nurses must put all of their fear and sadness and tiredness aside in order to focus on the task at hand, Jesus puts his own needs on the back burner so he can heal these hurting people.

How long does Jesus spend healing people? Well, we don’t know, but at some point either he or someone else in the house (I’m betting it was the mother-in-law) must turn away folks so everyone can get some rest. All we know for sure from the passage is that Jesus doesn’t heal all of the people—yes, he heals many, but there are some people who are turned away.

Maybe thinking about these people is what wakes him up early the next morning. Maybe there was just too much on his mind for him to sleep and he needed to take a walk to clear his head. Maybe he just wanted some alone time from all the people around him—from the townspeople, from the mother-in-law, from his disciples. 

He leaves the house when it’s still dark out and finds a place where he can be completely alone. In the stillness, away from distraction and the chaos of the previous day, Jesus prays.

Have any of you experienced something like that? Maybe it’s like how after you bring little Johnny home from the E.R. and you see that he’s resting peacefully, you are finally able to relax a little. You stop and take a breath. Maybe even whisper a quiet “thank you” into the night. Or like when you look up after finishing the science fair project to see the first few pink clouds in the sky and you pause to watch the sunrise for a few minutes before slipping back under the covers.

While Jesus is praying, the disciples wake up and begin to panic when they see Jesus is not there. The passage says they are hunting for him—not just searching but pursuing, like you hunt after game or even enemies. Simon and the disciples must be relieved when they finally find him. At this point I like to picture Simon as Jesus’ frantic personal assistant. I can just hear him going off on Jesus: “There you are! Everyone’s been searching for you. Okay, now we’ve got a busy day ahead of us; first my house is going to serve as a healing station, where you’re going to heal some of the people you didn’t get to yesterday. Then in the afternoon we’ll go back to the synagogue where you will teach some more. You know, the people in this town love you—I think we could set up our ministry here and be set for life!”

Jesus looks at him, amused, and replies, “That sounds nice, Simon, but actually, we’re not gonna stay here. I think we should go to the nearby towns and tell them the Good News, too. Yep. That’s why I’m here.” And he does exactly that, continuing to heal and preach his message wherever he goes.

What can we take away from this passage? Personally, I can relate to the sense of urgency, of anxiety, and it’s no wonder: 18.1% of adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder,[2] and one article I read said that last year the National Institute of Mental Health ranked the U.S. as the “most anxious nation in the world.”[3] We can get so busy with work and school and extracurricular events and social obligations and…and…and…the list goes on and on. With all of these responsibilities, it’s hard to fit in time for God. Yes, we are here this morning when we could be sleeping in, and that’s really important, but do we make time during the week to be with God?

If you’re like me, then being disciplined in your prayer life is a huge challenge. In the midst of all the busyness, it’s easy to let prayer slide because God is not always as direct at trying to get our attention as some of our friends are. But God is always waiting for us, yearning for us.

We can start responding to God with baby steps. Maybe try setting our alarm 10 minutes earlier to pray or journaling for 10 minutes before going to bed. Or when we’re at a red light or stuck in traffic we can take a few deep breaths and ask for patience or say a prayer for the friend who’s been on our mind lately. I’ve found that having a prayer partner helps keep me accountable.

No matter how we respond, the world is going to keep moving along at break-neck speed. It will be easy to get caught up in the rat race and lose sight of what centers us. Carving space out of our busy schedules to spend time with God can give us the strength we need to face whatever comes our way. Try it this week and see what happens! After all, in the beautiful poetry of Isaiah, “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles…”

[1] You Raise Me Up, lyrics by Brendan Graham 

image found on http://itsourblog.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5512b1361883301157024e0b0970b-800wi

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts! And actually, I preached on Peter's mother-in-law on Sunday. On the surface it's weird, I know, but actually I think she represents what all Christians are supposed to do. In fact, she lives right into Jesus' own mission statement in Mark: "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (10:45).

    Here's a link to the sermon. http://jimmyabbottsblog.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/super-service/