There is something exhausting in the water. Multiple times every day I have a version of this same conversation: One of you say – or I say myself: I am so tired. The kids are going every direction, all at once. I try to be intentional about what our family does, but we are running around all the time. Work keeps on piling on, the burden is crushing. I can’t move at the rate I used to, can’t accomplish as much as I want. I feel like I’m caring for so many people, both parent and kids. There are too many balls in the air. It’s too much…
David Gray, a pastor in Virginia and a director at the New America Foundation, writes:
… too often the busyness of life dominates us. Our desire to do it all can leave us spread too thin – "Stretched," as Bilbo Baggins said in the movie Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, "like butter scraped over too much bread." This is a central challenge for millions of Americans.
National statistics [these are from 2008] reveal the extent of work-life imbalance for U.S. families. In recent years:
- 73 percent of mothers and 41 percent of fathers complain that they are multitasking "most of the time."
- 69 percent of mothers and 68 percent of fathers say they have "too little time" with their spouse.
- 53 percent of mothers and 37 percent of fathers report "always feeling rushed."
- 52 percent of mothers and 58 percent of fathers express that they have "too little time" for their youngest child.
We make some of this bed ourselves. The roots of these struggles lie in our desire to succeed, to link our worldly accomplishments with our value. Others lie in theological problems – as much as we speak about grace, we are a society that makes you earn what you get. As much as we say, God LOVES US for who we are, we still, still act like we don’t quite believe it.
Mark’s gospel moves quickly, but he is not frantic. His first line book shouts the headline: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Before the words of the prophet Isaiah sink in, John the Baptist bursts onto the scene, Jesus shows up, is baptized. He is tempted in the wilderness, John is arrested, Jesus’ public ministry begins. Disciples are called off their boats – they respond IMMEDIATELY (Mark uses this word 42 times). In the text Taylor walked us through last week, Jesus and these first four disciples are in Capernaum, and it’s the Sabbath. Jesus’ preaching is interrupted by a man with an unclean spirit, Jesus casts this spirit out, people are amazed at his authority, his fame begins to spread. Mark’s pace in all of this is something to behold, but it happens with precision and focus. I became interested this week in why Mark constructs this first chapter as he does, and this text’s role in it. What is Mark trying to tell us about the way Jesus’ ministry begins, and what might we learn that can inform our lives of discipleship?
Today’s text begins with deep compassion. Immediately after Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue, they head back home. I find it comforting that even though just a few verses ago Jesus calls these disciples away from their families, that now they are back home. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. Jesus goes to her, likely in the more private quarters of the home, violating social and religious codes about who is allowed to go where. Jesus heals this woman with a touch.4 There is something tender and beautiful here – there is a need, Jesus steps forward to meet it. Mark offers proof of her healing, her service to them.
But one need always leads to another. Jesus healed one person and, before you can blink, word is out. Same thing happens when you pay a bill for someone, or give money to someone on the street. More people call. More people ask. Then you begin to get involved, and the stories come, stories of brokenness and lack of opportunity and addiction and bad decisions and unbelievably difficult circumstances. The house is swamped – ‘they brought ALL who were sick or possessed,’ ‘the WHOLE CITY was gathered around the door.’ Jesus responds, but he doesn’t heal all of them – Mark says he cured ‘many,’ – but we don’t get any sense of how he decided who he might heal and who he might not. I would love to know this, as much as we all juggle seemingly endless needs with our deep desire to help, limited resources to do so, and not knowing what is best sometimes. Jesus cast out many demons, but he doesn’t allow them to speak. This is something Jesus does throughout Mark, calling the demons to keep silent because they understand something about who he is that most people don’t yet know. It is not yet time.
The pace builds in the swarming crowds, so Jesus escapes. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place where he prayed. He could feel the burdens already, knew he had to find the right rhythm early on. Maybe he knew ministry like this would consume him if he tried to keep up this pace. We don’t know what he prayed, what that marvelous conversation might have been like, but he carves out space. He listens. Soon enough, though, the disciples get anxious. Where did he go? You can imagine them, out of breath, coming around the corner to find Jesus praying, "EVERYONE is trying to find you, Jesus." There’s a lot to do. But Jesus redirects them – Let us go on. There are more towns, more people. And the journey continued, throughout Galilee, Mark says, proclaiming the message and casting out demons.
It seems to be, especially in these frantic days, that Mark has something to say to us here about the rhythm of discipleship. The disciples leave church and are immediately drawn into the needs of the world. A church that is worth anything MUST to go out to encounter the world as it is. This is why we partner with so many agencies throughout town, as Jim Maxwell really helpfully chronicled our long involvement with Urban Ministries last Sunday, as we welcome brothers and sisters without homes to our campus this week, as we partner with local schools. As we head to the mountains through Appalachian service project. As we dig more deeply into relationship with Haiti, which I think has wonderful potential to engage all of us, as we make dresses and visit and make medical kits and gather school supplies. As Scouts – such an important partner – camp and learn and serve their communities.
But it is the stepping out to pray that gives Jesus rhythm, which allows the work to go on. All of these essential mission efforts must find their foundation in prayer, flowing out of our desire to serve God and neighbor. We need helping finding the right kind of pace. It’s a pain to try and figure out when we have time to do this sometimes, but this kind of investment is what moves us deeper into the heart of God’s call for us, for the world.
I confess I wasn’t sure how this past Wednesday night was going to go. It was our first WOW, a new collaborative effort between Christian Education and fellowship and assimilation and worship. This is something we knew, but our strategic planning survey screamed of people who were busy and exhausted, but also expressed a deep need to know those around them, especially folks who have been here a long time really wanting to know a lot of our newer, esp. young families. The food trucks pulled in, and people came! About 90 of us, by the time we were finished. The food was delicious, and we gathered for recreation, led by a group called Interplay. We moved in and out of conversation with individuals and small groups. I learned some small things, like Eileen’s clothes dryer eats one sock per cycle, that Lily has just moved from the bassinette in her parents’ room down the hall to the nursery, that Jack is saving up his money and is really excited about buying a new ipad. We played. We let our hair down for a little bit, which is so important because all of us work so hard trying to be important and responsible and appropriate. We walked in here for worship, for about 10 minutes, candles filling the communion table, lights dim. We named places we had seen the light in each other, in picking up trash, in laughter, in sharing, in checking in on each other when we are sick. In serving those who are hungry. We sang ‘this little light of mine’, walked out into the brilliant moonlit courtyard. When you take just a moment to think about your rhythm, your pace, and let God step in, then you are able to engage in the essential work of mission differently. Better, perhaps.
Because the pace rarely slows. There are always more needs, more hurt, more pain. But the important work is worth it. In today’s text Jesus escapes for prayer. But when the needs rush back in he lifts up his head, ready to move, ready to step out, recommit, again. He begins to walk down the hill, throughout Galilee, Mark says, sharing with all. The pieces didn’t quite fit entirely together, but the rhythm of work and prayer had been renewed. The weariness would come again, and Christ our Lord would stop to pray, and step back out to serve. And he calls us, who seek to follow, to join him.
All praise be to the One who calls us into relationship, then out to a hurting world, serving in prayer. Amen.
1. David Erman Gray, Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life, (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2012), p 14.
2. I am grateful to the Rev. Elizabeth Goodrich for this background, from her paper at The Well, 2011, Austin.
3. I am grateful to Elizabeth for this particular phrase – ‘precision and focus.’
4. Also from Elizabeth’s paper.