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Taking the Time to Be Still…

February 3, 2018

Last March I took this photograph as the sun was setting at Hollowell Park in Rocky. It was an opportunity to simply spend some time in the midst of the Lord’s creation. In our Gospel reading, Jesus takes time away from the busyness of his life to simply be with God. I don’t know about you, but I know I need to do a better job of following Jesus’ example in the reading.

If you look at the context of Sunday’s reading, it has been a whirlwind thus far for Jesus according to the account in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is baptized by his cousin John and immediately driven out into the wilderness where he faces 40 days and nights of fasting and the temptation. Next we find him calling his disciples. Then we find him teaching in the synagogue as one who had authority. The people were wowed by Jesus’s authority. When he cast out the demon, they couldn’t believe their eyes and ears. Who is this guy?!

It is no small wonder that news of Jesus spread throughout the region. This was someone who rivaled John the Baptist and who stirred their hearts and spirits like nobody else could. Jesus was more than hot news, his words and his healing touch were literally transforming people. By the time he got to the house of Simon and Andrew, he discovered that their mother was ill. Once more, Jesus healed someone. Her immediate response was to serve. That would be a topic for a sermon on responding to the Lord’s healing in our own lives. Yet that is not what I am focusing on this evening.

Word indeed spread quickly and before you knew it, Jesus was inundated with requests for healing. He did as much healing and casting out of demons as he could while the sun was still up. At the end of another very exhausting day, he must have collapsed. I can’t even begin to imagine how taxing all of this had been for Jesus. What happens next is a lesson that I know I need to learn for myself.

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) Jesus had to retreat from the crowd and seek spiritual nourishment and refreshment. Even the disciples didn’t know where he went. I would say that Jesus went out and took a Sabbath break. Heaven knows he needed it!

There is a funny story that my wife and partner in ministry Denise and I share about Sabbath. In October of 2016 we took a class for the Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation through Columbia Seminary. The course title was, “Practicing Sabbath”. It was at Montreat in North Carolina and we both arrived exhausted. Upon our return we hit Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and a trip to Alabama for a late Christmas with family. We hadn’t been practicing what we had learned about Sabbath rest it seems and we had to ask for an extension on our final paper!

This past year (2017) was no different for us. Between houseguests, illnesses and death in the church, my Mom’s death the day before Thanksgiving, and assorted other ministry events you might say that I flunked Sabbath rest again! It finally took my late Christmas gift to myself (the flu in Alabama) to bring me to a grinding halt. I have spent this past month trying to recover from the flu and being a pastor to four families who lost loved ones in the first twelve days of the new year. Once again it took exhaustion to slow me down.

Is your Padre learning from these experiences? That answer would be… slowly and sort of! I guess that is why this particular portion of the Gospel reading for this Sunday hit me so hard.

The Isaiah reading is one I have read and proclaimed at multiple funeral and memorial services during my 31 years of ministry. I wonder if the words of the prophet came to the heart of Jesus when he was running on empty and searching for that sabbath break in his ministry.

Lord, did the words of the prophet speak to your heart that early morning when you stole away from the crowds long before dawn to pray? Did these words come to mind? “…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.” (Isaiah 40:31)

To my mind and heart, these words of promise are also a reminder. If we don’t wait for the Lord… if we don’t make time to be still and know… then how can we possibly be renewed? That is the challenge before me now.

Will you join with me, dear reader, and take that time? To be blunt with myself… if Jesus took that time, then who am I to say that I don’t need to!

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