February 4, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

“Immediately Rest! Immediately Serve!”

The Revised Common Lectionary is a 3-year cycle of readings for Sunday worship, and this is Year B – the year that focusses on Mark’s Gospel. That means that we’ll be reading lots of short passages from Mark this year, like the one I just read.

And I do mean SHORT! Compared to the other Gospels, the stories in Mark are very brief. They tell us about what happened, but leave out any superfluous details or interpretation. I suggested a couple of weeks ago that the Gospel of Mark would be a good choice of a Gospel to read straight through to get a sense of Jesus’ whole life and ministry. After all, Mark’s version is the shortest, and yet it does tell the whole story.

I think Mark’s Gospel is a good fit for the pace of our contemporary society. More than any generation before us, we are used to moving through life at a fast pace. We go from one communication to the next, from one activity to the next, from one meeting to the next with amazing speed. And many of us are getting better and better at doing more than one thing at a time even – multi-tasking is a most valuable skill!

Sure, we complain that our attention spans are getting shorter because of our new culture of quickly-changing images and brief sound bites, but Mark’s Gospel seems particularly well-suited to the pace of our world today.

Mark tells the Jesus story with a sense of urgency and immediacy. In fact, Mark’s favourite word (the Greek word euthys) is translated into the English phrase, “at once” or “immediately.” And Mark uses that word over and over again.

Mark tells us things like this: “Jesus healed someone, and then immediately he went on to the next town. After preaching a bit, he immediately fed the crowd, and then immediately he withdrew to pray.”

It reminds me of re-reading a story that I wrote when I was in about grade one. I was telling about my summer holiday, and the story went something like this: First we did this, and then we did that, and then we went there, and then we came back. And then, and then, and then…

Not exactly beautiful poetic writing style, but my point was conveyed. My family had had a busy summer, packed full of activities and trips and fun for us all.

Mark’s Gospel conveys the sense that Jesus’ short time of ministry in the world was packed full of urgent and important activity as well. He had a mission from God to accomplish in a brief time, and the people he met made demands on his time and attention as well.

We’ve been reading passages from Mark chapter 1 since the beginning of January. Jesus has already been baptized by John, been tempted by the devil, and started his preaching ministry in Galilee. He has called his first disciples, taught in the synagogue, and healed a man with an unclean spirit.

And now, as the story continues, today’s passage gives us an example of “a day in the life of” Jesus’ ministry. It is the Sabbath day, and Jesus has already been teaching in the synagogue, and he’s performed a healing as well. Immediately, the news of what he is doing starts to spread and he is getting famous.

After the Sabbath gathering, Jesus and his disciples immediately go back to Simon’s house to rest. Like a minister on Sunday afternoon, I imagine that Jesus could have been looking forward to a nap… but it is not to be.

Simon’s mother-in-law is sick so the first order of business is, of course, to help her out immediately. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The fever leaves her, and she begins to serve them.

In Bible study, there’s always lots of discussion about that part. She’s barely recovered from her illness, and already she’s taking care of the men. “Just like a woman,” many people comment, “back to work right away, as soon as she is able!”

But some commentators point out that Simon’s mother-in-law does what Jesus does. Jesus says, in Mark’s Gospel, that he came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life for others. And her story shows that way of life also.

She can’t serve when she is ill. But when she is healed, immediately she returns to her service, fulfilling her calling, giving her time, energy, and care for others, just as Jesus has given his time, energy, and care for her.

As the “day in the life of Jesus’ ministry” continues, evening comes and the whole population of the city shows up at the door of Simon’s house. And immediately, Jesus gets to work, healing, and helping, and casting out demons.

It makes me wonder about how late he was up ministering that night, and how many hours of sleep he could possibly have gotten. After such a physically draining day, he would have benefitted from some restful sleep, if his mind and heart were ready to settle down.

I wonder if that’s why Jesus got up so early the next morning – maybe he couldn’t sleep with all the thoughts and feelings rushing through him. Or maybe he just knew that the renewal he needed in order to continue the work he was doing included both physical and spiritual renewal.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Ahhh… the peace and calm of being alone, of quieting your mind, of listening for God, of resting in the Spirit’s presence…

Those of you who have been parents of young children can probably relate to the desire to find just a short time and space to be alone. I’ve heard you talk about barely finding time for a shower, let alone the peace and quiet needed for reflection and prayer!

I don’t know how long Jesus’ solitary place stayed quiet. Maybe an hour, maybe only a few minutes, because already Simon and his companions are “searching” for him, “hunting” for him. And when they find him, they call him back to the needy people of the city who already want Jesus’ help that morning.

If Jesus had time to read from the Scriptures that morning, perhaps he would have turned to the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. I can imagine him being encouraged by the words of the prophet first written to the People of Israel in exile in Babylon.

Because the words of Isaiah 40 are a wonderful reminder that whatever work we have to do, whatever challenges we have to encounter, whatever figurative mountains we have to climb, God will help us and give us strength.

The prophet tells us: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. [God] does not faint or grow weary… Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Jesus could accomplish the work he was sent to do because God was with him and in him. And we also can do great things as we serve one another, and the church, and the world – not because we are young, or rich, or extremely talented – but because God strengthens us by the Spirit.

I must admit that I feel tired when I hear the Apostle Paul’s description of his ministry from this morning’s passage from First Corinthians. He explains that he has made himself “a slave to all” so that he can “win more of them.”

He’s talking about sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with all kinds of different people – Jews and Gentiles, and people from various cultural backgrounds. In order to “win” these different people – to clearly express the gospel to them so that they hear, and understand, and turn their lives towards the way of Jesus – Paul become a kind of chameleon. He becomes like them, sharing in their lives and culture, so that he can understand them and speak to them in ways that make sense. He says, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

I suppose that’s what Jesus did before him – giving his life so fully and faithfully for the sake of the hurting and helpless people before him. Immediately healing, immediately helping.

Jesus’ ministry was certainly responsive to the needs of the people he encountered. He did not hesitate to do what was necessary, even when needs arose on the Sabbath, which was supposed to be a day of rest.

But Jesus’ ministry wasn’t completely directed by the immediate needs that he saw in front of him. He didn’t always do what seemed to be most urgent, but could choose intentionally to do what was most important.

For example, in our passage today, and in other places in the Gospels also, he snuck away from the urgent needs for healing, and took some time for the important work of prayer.

Have you ever thought about that distinction with your work, in your family life, or with regard to your ministry in the church? The difference between what is urgent and what is important?

Life can get quickly swallowed up with doing whatever seems most urgent so that important (but not so urgent tasks never get done). In our hectic lives today, we manage to cram in a lot of tasks and activities. And by multi-tasking we get even more accomplished! But some of the most important things cannot be done while doing something else.

Things like sleeping, like praying, like having quality time with your spouse, or kids, or best friend… things like visiting someone who is homebound, or imagining the future and looking for God’s vision and plan for us.

Imagine acknowledging that the house needs cleaning, and there is shopping to be done, and company is coming for dinner later, but you’re going to worship this morning anyway.

Imagine choosing to sit with your child, or friend, or fellow church member who is sad or struggling, and just to listen for an hour or more, even though you’re missing an appointment, or skipping a meeting, or letting go of another plan you had.

The Gospel of Mark speaks well to our busy, busy, busy, go, go, go culture and lives today. Immediately this, immediately that… But I think that we are called to cope with the fast pace of our lives and work by being as intentional as Jesus was in his ministry.

I titled this morning’s sermon, “Immediately Rest! Immediately Serve!” because I think that we very often do the serving bit, but forget the resting bit.

Simon’s mother-in-law could only get up immediately to serve because she had first rested, acknowledged her need, and let Jesus heal and help her. And Jesus himself could only get up immediately to heal and help and preach because he had gone off on his own to pray and regain his spiritual strength.

I’ve been told that the best way to take care of ourselves, to do good self-care, is to book it in our calendars like we would anything else. Don’t say, “If I get my work done, then I’ll rest.” Consider the rest, the quiet, the prayer, and the worship just as important as the urgent tasks yet to be done.

We gather today around the Word of God and around the Word made visible in bread and wine. We gather to pray, to rest, and to be nourished in body and spirit. It is not urgent, perhaps, that you be fed at the Table of the Lord, but it is important.

Immediately Rest! And may this food serve to renew your strength so that you can immediately serve when you are called upon to do so, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Amen.