Mark 1:29-39 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. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Busy, busy, busy.
As people were informally gathering for Wednesday Night Ministries this week I asked a half dozen people in casual conversation how there day was, and it was strange, but they all gave me the exact same answer. All they said was “busy.” And the truth is, they looked kind of haggard.
Jesus is busy, busy, busy, as we catch up with him in today’s gospel. He has taught with authority in the synagogue in Capernaum and has cast out demons, and now he is healing Peter’s Mother-in-law, restoring her to health so she can get up and serve her company.
Now I have been to some of your homes, and I can tell, you wouldn’t think of having company over without cleaning up the house. Peter’s Mother-in-Law is no different, except that for the Hebrews, hospitality was everything. So for Jesus to heal her so she can serve is the greatest of gifts. It is not only her health, but restoration of her family to the community.
So at sunset, all of Capernaum is gathered around the door of the house because they’ve heard the news there is a new doctor in town; one that can drive out demons, heal the sick, and has a message that liberates all who hear.
And Jesus is busy, busy, busy. He takes time to see each one, lay hands on each one of them, and heal each one of them.
But in the midst of all his work, in the deep of night, Jesus slips away to be alone and connect with God. While others are asleep, he gets up and goes to a deserted place to pray. Jesus takes the time, as busy as he is, to be silent and listen, knowing that his connection to God is what is driving his work.
If you are a student or know any students, you know how busy they are, trying to get homework done with all the distractions they have.
We know about young people and how busy they are and how many distractions they have: smartphones, sports, friends, theater, and band. And we know about the parents who make all that happen, plus juggle their own careers and calendars. We know about those in college navigating a new life, career hopes, and parental expectations. But I was genuinely curious, so at our healing service on Wednesday I asked our retirees: are you distracted too? And you are! You said, “We watch television too. We worry about our families, and our health, and our friends’ health, and we worry about whether there will be enough savings to last.”
So the question is, as busy and distracted as we all are, how do we find time to connect with God?
Talking about this with our Timothy Ministers, the adult leaders of our youth group, I was the recipient of some insightful thoughts.
Some of you have a place that you go all by yourself – a certain chair, a certain room, a certain walking path. Some of you find time to be alone when others are in bed at night, or you get up early in the morning. Some of you journal at the end of the day, giving yourself over to God in the written lines that capture the ups and downs. Some of you turn off the radio on the morning commute and commune with God over morning coffee.
I share these thoughts because these people have found ways to make it work – to take time for prayer – which can be genuinely tough.
Someone once asked St. Francis de Sales how much one should pray, and this wise Doctor of the Church replied that you should pray a half hour each day, unless you’re busy. If you’re busy, you should pray an hour.
A similar idea comes from our own Martin Luther, a tireless writer, translator, pastor, father, and husband, who was asked what his plans for the following day were. He answered: Work, work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do, that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.
At the risk of explaining the obvious: At least one interpretation of this idea is that The busier we are, the more people we come in contact with, the more our decisions and actions affect others, and so the more important it is we are sharing from the overflow of our own wellness that comes from allowing God to center us in Christ.
But also, this idea highlights that prayer is a gift.
The busier I am, the rougher it’s going to be and so the more I am going to need time with God to get strength from him.
One afternoon, when I was living in Baltimore, MD, I called my father on the phone. I was spending the year volunteering in a homeless shelter for veterans and men living with mental illness and AIDS and I was at a very low place. I was run down physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Over the phone, Dad said helping professions are hard and can take their toll on a person. It might be helpful to think of myself as a cup and my caregiving as its contents:
To care for others we must give of ourselves, but he encouraged me to care for others with the overflow of my own health… rather than depleting my health for the sake of others – because in the long run, I would not only be no help to the men I was serving, I would be empty myself.
He said he found it helpful to take time to let God fill him up – time for prayer, for quiet, for the renewal and the life that God wants to give all of us.
I have thought of this so many times when pastoring people and congregations, and in my interactions with others.
If I am not well, I can’t be well for you, and a large part of being well is letting God fill us up with his Spirit in times of regular prayer and worship. The busier we are the better prayer is for us, and the more difficult our circumstances, the more we need it.
Jesus is out in his deserted place praying, when Peter and his companions come intruding. They come with the message that everyone is clamoring for his return. The residents of the town, and maybe the disciples as well, would like Jesus to come back to Capernaum – to go back to where he was – but Jesus must press on, going forward to the neighboring towns, because he must proclaim the message, he must heal, he must bring the Kingdom of God to others as well.
Maybe it isn’t true here at Epiphany, I haven’t been here long enough to know, but in some places, the church can become frightened of going forward into the world with the gospel. Sometimes the church can be like the people of Capernaum and the disciples who say, let’s go back, let’s just do more of the same: we know how to do it, it’s comfortable, and it works.
But Jesus calls us forward and prayer is God’s special gift to us.
Prayer is God holding us.
Prayer is a moment of trusting God to hold us and our future. And that’s why, in part, prayer can be so difficult for busy people like us. Because at least a part of our busy-ness comes from our belief that the more we do and the more we accomplish the more valuable we are. If we sit in prayer for 10 minutes, some of us are just thinking about the time we’re “wasting” and all the emails we could be writing or who might be posting pictures on Instagram.
But prayer is a gift from God because God is the one acting. We are the one’s receiving. God’s grace is so all-encompassing. In one sense, we could even say, prayer is something we can’t take credit for. God does even that. Because his Spirit is always calling us to prayer. And God helps us answer the call.
Prayer is that amazing thing that happens when we stop and allow God to be the Busy One – when we allow God to be the One who is busy holding the universe together, the One who is busy stretching out the heavens like a curtain, the One who is busy sustaining our life from one moment to the next, the One busy renewing those who are weary, and the One who is busy loving and cherishing each one of us whom he knows by name.
Today, here and now, God is busy, busy, busy filling us up with his Spirit…Today God is coming to us again in bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins and to give us strength for the journey of faith together…Today God is coming to us as we gather in prayer before the throne.
And we simply give thanks. And pray:
Fill us up, Lord. Fill us up with your goodness, with your healing power, cast out our sin, and give us a new birth. Thank you for continuing always to come to us, to our neighborhood, to our lives again and again, always moving us forward into a future that you are preparing for us.
We are so thankful that we are your people!