Sermon preached February 8, 2015
Texts: Mark 1:29-39
Technology has changed dramatically in my lifetime. If you enjoy movies, today you can stream them onto your television, or your computer, even your phone with services like Netflix and Hulu, and a host of others. I still remember when watching movies at home became a part of our family. We were living in Roseau, MN and had just two of our three children, David and Beth. We bought our first VCR at K-Mart in Thief River Fall, an almost 70 mile drive from our home. The VCR made possible a new wrinkle in what we called “Family Fun Nights.” We often watched movies.
There was one movie that David and Beth really fell in love with, and we watched it countless times, “Follow That Bird.” It is the only full-length film featuring the characters from Sesame Street. The story revolves around Big Bird being adopted by a bird family in Oceanview, Illinois and leaving Sesame Street. As he prepares to leave, his friends offer some advice about bringing warm clothing and writing. Grover offers advice too. “Don’t forget to breathe, in and out.”
Grover’s advice is meant to make us chuckle. Who would forget to breathe? Well… maybe.
The story of Jesus in this early part of Mark’s gospel is pretty dramatic. In fact, Mark is really the drama king among the gospel writers. There is a lot of activity in Mark, and things happen quickly. “As soon as they left the synagogue” – bing, boom bam. The action continues. They go to the house of Simon, whose mother-in-law is sick in bed. Jesus takes her by the hand, and she becomes well and serves them. By the way, there is something special in this service. The only other time this same word is used in Mark is when Jesus serves the disciples at his final meal.
When sundown comes, the whole city seems to gather around Jesus. They bring the sick and demon-possessed. “And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”
Then there is a shift in the story. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
Don’t forget to breathe, in and out. This part of Mark’s gospel suggests a rhythm of spirituality that I would suggest we sometimes do forget. It is a rhythm of in and out, of quiet and busyness, of activity and stillness.
Another image comes to mind, that of ripples. Seamus Heaney once spoke of poetry in terms of ripples. He saw his poetry as a pulse coming out from this center of his being, but that it was also important to have messages sent back into that center. “Ripples are wonderful because they look and are coming out from the center, but they are also traveling inwards to it” (1996 Guthrie lecture). A Jesus spirituality is a spirituality of ripples.
A Jesus spirituality tends to the inner life. It is a spirituality of prayer in all its beauty – including meditation, silent prayer, centering prayer. It is a spirituality of worship. Gathered here we tend to our souls. We listen both for the Spirit of God and for our own spirits – our hopes, fears, longings, regrets, desires, aspirations. It is a spirituality of reflection – thinking, pondering, musing.
A Jesus spirituality tends to the inner life. We, however, need to allow for variety in that tending to the inner life. We need not force our models of what tending to the inner life is on others. Not all of us are drawn towards long periods of silence in our praying. Not all of us get up before dawn to pray. Our reflecting can be different – some reflect and ponder as they walk outside, and some love the kind of reflecting and pondering that happens as we engage with writings – theology, poetry. Each of us needs to find ways to tend to that center in our lives, but there are no simple formulas for this.
We need to tend to that center, because the activity to which we are called as followers of Jesus is not always simple and not always easy. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and she serves. We are touched by God’s love in Jesus and we serve. We have a message to share, healing to share, demons to challenge. Following Jesus, engaging in ministry in the name and spirit of Jesus goes beyond “being nice” or “being good.” Following Jesus actively is not less than this, but it is more or different than this.
When Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, he broke the rules. Touch between males and females in Jesus culture was strictly regulated. Jesus touching a sick woman would have been cutting against the grain, upsetting the status quo. Bringing the healing love of God in Jesus to others may also mean something different than physical healing. When that doesn’t happen, we can be a healing presence in the midst of hurting, and that is not an easy task.
Jesus challenged demons. He challenged powers that entrap persons. Sometime we imagine demons as little gremlin like creatures that come and go. We would do better to think today in terms of all that might keep people down, all that might hurt and harm. I see the demonic in addictions, in systemic injustices, in our being paralyzed to act in the face of challenges – perhaps because we are so cynical that we don’t believe we make any difference.
This Jesus work in the world can be tough stuff. We need to tend to that inner life so that when the ripples of the world come crashing in, we can send out ripples of love and compassion.
The author Brian McLaren writes about spirituality as an “encounter with the holy mystery and pure loving presence that people commonly call God” (Naked Spirituality, 3). He goes on to say if… you and I strengthen the sacred connection in the midst of life’s complexities, what will happen then? Won’t we become – habitually, radically, truly – more aligned with God’s compassion, more empowered by it, more resonant with its holy frequency? And won’t more of us who are more filled with God’s compassion help make a better world? (139) This is the rhythm of a Jesus spirituality, ripples coming in and going out.
One final way of looking at this. Earlier this year, reading through a lovely book of daily thoughts, I encountered these words of the Persian poet Rumi. Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. (Daily Calm, January 15)
Let’s not forget to breathe, in and out. Let’s not allow our lives to become spiritually paralyzed, stuck in either the inner or the active. Instead, may we cultivate a Jesus spirituality that rides ripples and dances to beautiful rhythms. Amen.