God Renews Us

[]If we look at the two lessons that are part of today's lectionary, we see that both of them have to do with God providing what is necessary for life. And we hear that echoed in the psalm: God providing the good earth, and the sunlight, and the waters, and the rain and the warmth, those things necessary that provide and sustain life. But in that same psalm, we hear a second message, that God does more than just provide that which is necessary for life, but God actually gathers up those who have been cast out. The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. So God doesn't simply give us what is necessary and leave us to our own devices. No, God's Spirit guides us in the ministries in this church, to do what we can to help bring back those who have been lost or to bind up those whose hearts are hurting.

So the Lord provides more than just what is necessary for life, but what is necessary for wholeness, what is necessary also for renewal. All of us have found ourselves with pains and ailments and emotional hurts in our lives as well. And our Lord does provide through the Holy Spirit some comfort and some healing and wholeness in those times. And that is echoed in the Gospel lesson for today. In his Gospel, Mark is making a point to the audience he is speaking to. Part of this was about the Holy Spirit being more powerful than any spirit that may be on the dark or evil side. There is this cosmic battle going on in Mark, which shows that God's love is superior. And here it is witnessed in Jesus who is filled with the Spirit and who, in the special relationship with God and embodied with the Spirit, is able to do all things with great power.

And so we join Jesus in the synagogue as he is healing people. Prior to going to the synagogue to do that, he goes to the house of one of the disciples whose mother-in-law who is sick with fever, who can't even get up. Jesus renews and restores her, and she is able to get up and to serve them. Now, just as a little aside, we might say, "Gee, that's terrible. They're making this poor woman get up and serve them." But in ancient times, it was a great honor for the most senior woman of the house to be able to provide hospitality and to serve the guest. So for her not to be able to do that would have felt disgraceful. So Jesus, in healing her, allows her to then provide the hospitality, which she does so freely.

But herein is one of the healing stories. And Mark is building up in his Gospel the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus, with the power of God's Holy Spirit in him, is able to conquer and to do all things that God calls him to do. So Jesus heals the mother-in-law. And Jesus goes to the Temple, and Jesus begins healing the sick. And there is someone who the Gospel says has a demon. We might look at that as someone with mental illness. But in this cosmic battle that is going on in here, a demon is a possibility. But Jesus is able to cure this man on sight and to hush those spirits which want to identify Jesus, which would be a very dangerous thing at this point in his ministry. He has just begun his ministry and he has yet to be identified as the Messiah. To be identified as the Messiah in the synagogue would probably have cost Jesus his life at that point before his ministry even began.

But Jesus heals this person. Then people outside begin to hear what Jesus has done, so they keep gathering everywhere he goes. And the disciples are bringing these people to Jesus and saying, "This is a holy one of God," and the people are seeking healing. And who wouldn't seek healing if we knew there was someone who could heal us? But Jesus, who heals the people of the household, finds himself so exhausted and tired that after he finally goes to sleep, in the morning he sneaks away. He sneaks away to a deserted place. Have you ever wanted to sneak away to a deserted place? I certainly do sometimes. Life can become very overwhelming and we need that time and that space, that time of sabbath, holy time with God where we can just relax, and pray, and be renewed. And Jesus demonstrates that very aptly for us today in this Gospel lesson. Jesus, who is in the midst of constantly healing people…and, in Mark's Gospel, building up the power of this authority of the Holy Spirit in convincing people that he is the Messiah…Jesus even needs renewal. And Jesus sneaks away before dawn to a quiet place, and he goes and prays.

The interesting thing that happens here is in the time of prayer, Jesus doesn't just get renewed and re-strengthened with the Spirit to go forth and to serve God by continuing to heal people. Instead, Jesus receives a word from God: "You need to continue to deliver the message. It is time for you to move on." So to his disciples who were upset and angry and saying, "We've been hunting all over for you, where have you been?" Jesus says, "It is time for us to go on to the next town because I am here to deliver the message.

Imagine their dismay. They had probably been gathering people for Jesus to heal and Jesus says, "No, we're not here just to do that. Let us go off to neighboring towns." And Jesus does, and Jesus' reputation builds. And so as we continue in this Gospel of Mark, we will see as Jesus goes from place to place, the crowds will get bigger. The crowds continue to follow him no matter where he goes. And Jesus will continue to have to seek times of solitude and prayer so that he may hear what God is calling him to do in delivering the message to the people, which does, by the way, include healing, but not solely healing. There is more to it than that. But is there a message in there for us, those of us who feel overwhelmed by the many things in life who want to just escape for a little while, to be able to put things down, to call in sick to work or take vacation? Is there a message in there for us that perhaps what we need to be doing is taking some time to spend in solitude and prayer? Jesus finds himself renewed, and through the Spirit is able to see the vision for what he is to do and is able to get himself focused and ready to do that.

How wonderful might that be in our lives if we could tap into that sense of renewal that comes through time of solitude and prayer? I believe that, after my time away at a seminar, this church is being called to renewal. How divinely today's lesson fits into that plan as I have called for our congregation to be in a year of prayer. Now, it doesn't mean to be in a year of solitude because it would get awfully lonely here in the sanctuary. But take time during the week to be in solitude and prayer. I know it's not easy to carve out that time. Believe me, I can attest to that. But there is renewal, and God is offering that renewal individually to us as well as to us as a church, that our spirits may be renewed, that our bodies may be refreshed and renewed, and that our focus may be renewed to do those things that God has called us to.

So let us do that. Let us carve out some time for solitude and prayer. Let us find those ways and methods in which God Is trying to renew us in our individual lives, to give us strength, to give us courage, and to give us a vision.

February 8, 2009

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve