Perhaps the special character of the stories in the New Testament lies in the fact that they are not told for themselves, that they are not only about other people, but that they are always about us.
They locate us in the very midst of the great story and plot of all time and space, and they relate us to God and relate God to us.
It is interesting to note that we are only at verse 29 in the Gospel of Mark. Marks story has taken us from Christ coming to John in the wilderness, being baptized by John, the sky opening up and proclaiming “You are my Beloved, my own. On you my favor rests.” (John 1:11) In just a few verses, we have been swept up into an exciting crescendo of activity. Even when Jesus astonishingly announces that the "good news" of God's reign has already arrived and calls hearers to repentance and faith, we might be just a little taken aback when a group of fisher folk suddenly abandon their former lives and follow Him. But the writer leaves us no time to take a breath. Immediately, Jesus leads them to a synagogue on the Sabbath where the crowds marvel at His authoritative teaching and power to exorcise demonic powers.
Even in today's reading, there is no slowing of the pace. As the Sabbath ends, it might have been tempting for Jesus to bask in the successful exorcism, the accolades of his authoritative teaching and a reputation that has already spread "immediately" throughout all of Galilee" (Mark 1:28). But in this story there is no time for resting on laurels. Three times in succession, once in the verse, Mark 1:28, and now twice in the opening words of our lesson, we hear the word "immediately," a word whose repetitive impact (fourteen times in Mark 1 and 2) many readers of Mark have noted. It needs to be allowed its effect. With this word, the story fairly bursts through the synagogue doors and pushes towards the rest of Galilee – to the rest of the week, to the rest of our lives and to the place this story of Jesus will take us. The gospel for this day reminds us that the story of Jesus is always on the move and will not allow any of us hearers to remain who or where we are. Within a few short verses, the end of today's lesson will invite us to join this Jesus whose "preaching" and healing of the demonic in life will take him "throughout the whole of Galilee" (Mark 1:29).
This mission has a grand sweep. It is also particular and close to home. It is at least of some interest, if not a bit puzzling, that we find those same four fishermen who answered Jesus' call and "abandoned everything" (Mark 1:14-20) back at home and still concerned with the realities of day-to-day life. For example, a mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Yet, Jesus' power extends even here, and we get an anticipatory glimpse of just where this story and mission might lead us. Jesus took her by the hand and "lifted her up" (verse 31). The Greek literally reads "he raised her." It is surely no accident that here for the first time our imaginations are teased with this promissory "good news" word which will follow this story of Jesus (eighteen times in the gospel) to its surprising, climactic resurrection ending.
Yet, even now, this anticipatory Epiphany promise fairly bursts upon the scene. From the healing of one person, the numbers in the story have a staggering effect that no attempt to discount them as mere hyperbole can undo. People bring "all" who are sick to Jesus; the "whole city" is at the door. He heals "many" who are sick with "all sorts" of diseases and casts out "many" demons. The success seems palpable and unstoppable. Jesus' power is clear.
Except for the demons! Before he has exorcised them with only a word (Mark 1:21-28); now He is more forceful as He "casts them out" and will not permit them to speak (Mark 1:34). However, the final note "because they knew him" is a sobering reminder these demonic powers will not go quietly and so a premonition of where this battle will ultimately take this Jesus.
It is to that battle and its purpose that the rest of today's story now directs us. In the morning Jesus is up early and once again we find him in the wilderness he went “to a lonely place in the desert and prayed there.” I have asked the deacons to read a book for discussion called “Sabbath” by Wayne Muller. Sometimes being Pastor, deacon, musician, usher, greeter or anyone who is involved in the ministry of church, the Sabbath isn’t Sabbath for we are working, ministering in one way or another, please know that I am not complaining nor do I think anyone else would for this is what we are called to do, we are compelled to serve in his fashion.
Here we find Jesus compelled to teach, preach and heal. It is all part of the ministry and the proclamation of kindom yet to be realized. Yet Jesus too needed Sabbath. The literal translation of Sabbath is to rest. In the sacred term it means to take rest in God.
Wayne reminds us that “on the seventh day, God rests. Jewish texts prohibit 39 specific acts during Sabbath- acts traditionally associated with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. If God could rest in creating the universe, God’s people could rest in building of the sacred temple. Tasks such as sowing, plowing, reaping, threshing and winnowing are prohibited.” By the way winnowing is an agricultural method developed by ancient cultures for separating grain from chaff. I had to look it up. Wayne goes on to explain that “beyond the legalism is an idea that by saying no to making some things happen, deep permission arises for other things to happen.” Allowing a deep sacred rest in God allows other energies, spiritual energies to grow that empower us throughout the week.
This is what Jesus does in the midst of the immediacy of marks Gospel. We usually consider Jesus as “Teaching, healing, or being accosted by the hordes of sick or possessed who sought his touch.” Yet throughout the Gospels we are told Jesus either went off alone, sent people away or invited the disciples to join him in quiet prayer. Today we are told that Jesus went off in the early hours of the morning to a lonely place.
In the Book Sabbath we are told that “Jesus did not wait until everyone had been properly cared for, until all who sought him were healed. He did not ask permission to go, nor did he leave anyone behind “on Call,” or even let his disciples know where he was going. Jesus obeyed a deeper rhythm. When the moment for rest had come, the time for healing was over. He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray.” Interesting that one translation of the phrase “to pray” as it is used in the biblical writings is “to come to rest”.
If Jesus, God incarnate on earth could take time to come to rest in God imagine how much more we all could use time to come to rest in God. We who are merely human, with our busy lives and complex schedules should take time to rest in God. Perhaps that is taking quiet time in the morning, at noon and again in the evening. Perhaps your Sabbath time might be a time of quiet writing, or painting or simply walking in an open field allowing your soul to touch God and God to touch you.
I don’t know about you but Sunday isn’t enough for me. I need to take time in the morning and throughout the day to just stop, breathe deep and reach out with my spirit to God and allow God to grant me rest. I encourage each of you to seek out your own unique way to constantly have Sabbath during the week. That doesn’t mean TBowing in the middle of the street for all to see but to take a moment just privately with you and your creator.
One way I use is the Liturgy of the hours these are a collection of prayers readings and meditations that are said three times a day by Christians all over the world. I used to get very frustrated trying to figure out where I was or supposed to be in the Book of Common Prayer. One needs a road map to figure it out. However Phyllis tickle took all the prayers and readings and created a straight through series of books. Now I am not saying this method of prayer or anyone method is better than another. Each must find their own way, your own way of connecting and finding rest in God.
Of course you know we offer experiences here during the week as well. Every Thursday we have a spiritual practices be it taize style meditation, drumming circle or labyrinth. These are ways to get connected here. Also the movie night and game nights are also viable ways to take rest with community members and build relationships as well. Stillpoint also offers day retreats once a month that are very inexpensive and quite nurturing for the spirit.
Wayne Muller goes on to remind us that “when Jesus prayed he was at rest, nourished by the healing spirit that saturates those still, quiet places. In the Jesus tradition, prayer can be a practice of simply being in the presence of God, allowing the mind to rest in the heart.” This need for spiritual rest is built into our system and is essential to our spiritual well being. I do not believe it is by any coincidence that the story of creation mentions God resting, I don’t believe it was mere happenstance that God told Moses when he was weary that “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14) Certainly Jesus led by example and so we see time and again Jesus goes off to pray and, as I said before, sometimes he would take his disciples with him. That means there was a communal practice as well as the private practice of prayer.
Through all of this Jesus is teaching us a practice of Sabbath not the Sabbath that occurs strictly on Sunday at MCC in the Valley between 10:30 and noon but a Sabbath that is every day. Every day it waits for us to take the time, to stop, to rest in God and allow Gods rest to come to us. This is one of the most compelling calls in Jesus’ ministry. Yet often it is one we most often ignore.
So today I encourage you to remember the Sabbath. Remember to take the time throughout your day, week, year and lives to just rest in God. Take that extra moment to experience the simple touch of the creator, active in your life, giving you rest so that you may have the energy and perseverance to continue to do Gods work, to do what God has called you to do throughout your day in Gods ever loving presence and to be that presence to the world. To be well rested in God so that you, we may get back to that “Immediacy” that is our lives. I pray these words bless you and perhaps inspire you today. Amen.
Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (New York: Bantam Books, 1999), 29.