We’re in this series called The Way of Jesus, focusing on Jesus, his ministry, life, death, and resurrection…what does it mean to follow and adapt his way, to live in union with the Spirit wisdom of Jesus in our lives?
Jesus showed us how to live by what He preached and how He lived, what He said and what He did. What I’d like to talk about today is how He lived a life of both connection with God AND connection to the people around him. Because He does this balance work of both doing the WORK of God AND BEING WITH God–both. Some people refer to this through a diagram of the line up and down, your relationship with God and God with you, and a horizontal line, your relationship with others, how you relate with others. It’s about Worship AND Fellowship. Prayer AND Service.
Justice AND Renewal as Christina Cleveland, a black female public theologian, named her work that is for Social Action and Spiritual vigor. And Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, calls his educational non profit that offers a contemplative Christian path of transformation, the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because their vision is
“Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.”
So it’s BOTH, the holy transformation of self and the outward work. You Guys feel me? Spirituality and community. So what does it mean to try to live a life that follows Jesus’ way of both Contemplation and Action?
Let’s meditate on a Scripture text from the Bible to wonder together what that might mean for us. For you, today. I’m getting this from the Gospel of Mark chapter 1. One of the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that primarily hold the stories of Jesus.
But first, it’s SIDE NOTE Time!
So those, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the Gospels that we have now in our current form of the Bible, the current Cannon, meaning, the current collection of books councils upon councils of committees decided on which books and writing would be included in the “main” text of the Holy Bible. AAAAAAAAND there are also other writings from the time that have been found that are not included, for example The Gospel of Mary, a 5th century text, or the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of James, etc.
They’re called New Testament apocrypha, “Apocrypha” meaning “hidden” or “put away”–the ones that are not included in our Bible today. I just think that’s so interesting! There are other writings from the early Christian years that many of us, most of us do not even know about. They’re like extra readings, cause let’s be honest, who actually did the extra readings from your syllabus?
I think this makes the diversity of even among the four Gospels even more important to note and notice.
So Mark, for example, does not have a Christmas story. Yeah. It just starts with Jesus as an adult. There’s no birth story or baby story. It begins with the baptism of Jesus. I’ll summarize the first part of Chapter 1 and then get to our text today.
So Mark Chapter 1 opens with,
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah”
Jesus is baptized and as he came out of the water, he saw the heaven being torn open, God’s realm breaking in, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove, a voice came from heaven saying,
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
And then the Spirit sent him out into the desert for 40 days.
And then he went to Galilee, saying,
“The kingdom of God is near!”
God is no longer distant!
He meets Simon and his brother Andrew, and invites them to become fishers of men. He builds a team.
And then he goes to Capernaum, on the Sabbath he went to the synagogue and began to teach. Clears out the evil spirit, it says.
This recap vibe is pretty similar to how Mark is actually written. And this happened, and that happened. He uses this word And, “kai” in Greek, pretty much at the beginning of every paragraph. That’s one Greek word I did learn in seminary, Kai! Because my Greek professor had a hamster named Kai. Yes I have the learning style of a preschooler. That’s right, one might call a child-like faith.
Okay let’s get to our text for today then.
Mark 1:29-45. Let me read for us:
29 And as soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.
30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.
31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.
33 The whole town gathered at the door,
34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place
35 And Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
36 Simon and his companions went to look for him,
37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy
40 And a man with leprosy[h] came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant.[i] (other translations also say filled with compassion) He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:
44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
This guy was busy! He was all over the place. But wedged in his busy schedule, essentially at the very start up of his ministry were already patterns that I’d love for us to notice. He did this thing, where he went back and forth from the community to by himself, to the community to by himself. He’d talk and teach and then he would go off and pray. From the desert, to a friend’s house, to the synagogue, to another friend’s house, and off again to some alone time and then back to the nearby villages. From the beginning it was a part of his ministry and his lifestyle to do this. It’s always couched in there, that desert time and that solitary time.
Where in your life do you have desert time and solitary time inserted into your schedules? Have you set up any kind of rhythms of self reflection and prayer, alone time with God in your busy days?
I got an email from my friend Sara, who leads a Mindfulness Community Group, a forwarded Substack email about the “quest to find a daily contemplative rhythm that work” from a guy named Mark Longhurst, I don’t know him, but he wrote this:
I’ve been in a busy season. Between kid sports, family commitments, work, and finishing up a writing project, my days feel compressed and fly by. Before I know it, the New England day is at its earlier close, and it’s time to sleep and do it again. Don’t get me wrong, mine is a joyful life and I wouldn’t trade its full family and community-centric flow for anything. But, as any parent knows, it’s a lot. And as someone on a contemplative path, such seasons of responsibility can sometimes feel overwhelming, as if I’m never quite able to enjoy the slower pace and extended silences that a contemplative life promises to bring.”
Now listen to this:
“For me, though, busy and contemplative are not opposites. I also don’t believe that greener contemplative pastures are up ahead, say, when the kids go to college and I’m an empty-nester. Instead, the busy and contemplative parts of myself need each other. I approach my contemplative practices in these months and years as my soul’s daily and necessary rescue mission. My morning meditation sit snatches me out of the constant effort to accomplish tasks, holds me in Divine Presence and says, “Stay here and be loved for a while!” Chanting Psalms at different hours helps me maintain a heart-centered, gentle awareness of God throughout the day. A faster shuffle from one thing to the other gradually increases my anxiety and, by extension, my irritability—but when I sit myself down for my afternoon meditation, it’s sometimes like ramming a stick into bicycle spokes. I feel myself flying over the day’s handlebars, but I land on my butt. I stay there and eventually return to myself.”
Ramming a stick into bicycle spokes. Does wedging some desert time, solitary time, prayer or meditation ever feel like ramming a stick into bicycle spokes for you? I love this invitation to land on my butt. Just humbled. And the thing is, even if you don’t choose to do that, sometimes life will just do it for you, whether you end up in a car accident that causes you to stop in the middle of the road preventing you from getting to that meeting you were rushing to totally lost or a panic attack that comes out of nowhere.
A few weeks ago I had this happen to me, not like a full on panic attack but a breakdown. I had some really sad stuff come up for me and I was aware of it but I didn’t really sit with it. I didn’t have time. Have you seen that Instagram reel or TikTok thing where someone’s like, “this is my scatterbrain”. She needs to cook dinner, but the dishes are dirty, she starts washing but the dish washer is not unloaded. She starts unloading but the cabinets broken and so she go gets a screwdriver and as she returns with the screwdriver she sees the pile of dirty clothes, and you pick up the dirty laundry to the laundry machine and you open the washer and there’s a load in there already from GOD KNOWS WHEN!
So that’s what I was doing one morning. And I was like on my way to the bathroom with some dirty clothes to throw in the hamper, and it just hit me like a rock thrown on my head, and I just crouched down at the side wall to the entrance of the bathroom and broke down and cried. I mean it was really dramatic, I mean the place was not even a very inviting corner to cry in, like an awkward wedge of a wall. I just prowled down on the floor like a banana peel and had a straight up tantrum to God, kicking my feet and pounding the floor. That ever happen to you? No, just me?
That was my gentle invitation from the Lord to slow down and talk to him for a minute.
I know it’s hard. Especially for really important, efficient, effective high functioning hard working people like Jesus. When Jesus was out praying by himself, they found Him and were like, “Everyone is looking for you!” Of course they were! He’s in high demand! He’s got things to do. He’s gotta preach, teach, heal, make disciples, do miracles, save the world! He’s busy! You busier than him?
I know some of you are, like literally saving the world. Busy flying internationally to shape and transform health care systems, busy disrupting the financial industry with your software, busy being present to the underserved students that may literally have no other resource than your classroom, busy upholding your business above the water so you can provide for your family.
That’s why I love us doing this. Worshiping on a Sunday morning. We’re not very “productive.” We just sit around, and sing, and chat with people. Just sit down. And it helps that we do it together.
Activist circles talk about this a lot. Self-care work in activism is crucial. You can’t just be out there, advocating, fighting, protesting ALL the time. You have to get back into your room, your study, and reflect.
For example, though Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have too much close interactions despite both of their life works, but when they did, this was one point that Thurman made to the rising leader King.
“According to Thurman’s autobiography, the only time that he and King were able to arrange a “serious talk” came in the fall of 1958, when King was recovering in New York after being stabbed by Izola Curry at a book signing (Thurman, 254). The day before their meeting, Thurman recalled having a “vibrant sensation” in which “Martin emerged in my awareness and would not leave” (Thurman, 255). When he met alone with King the following day, he asked how long King’s doctor had given him for his convalescence. (Thurman says this)
When he told me, I urged him to ask them to extend the period by an additional two weeks. This would give him time away from the immediate pressure of the movement to reassess himself in relation to the cause, to rest his body and mind with healing detachment, and to take a long look that only solitary brooding can provide. The movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own to which he must relate in fresh and extraordinary ways or be swallowed up by it (Thurman, 255).”
The reason why we need both contemplation and action is because just as Jesus as he was doing the work of healing, it can be alot to see the whole town lining up at your door for all kinds of disease and demons. I see this whole balance of contemplation and action is this. It is a balance work of grief and joy. Of taking on suffering and taking on gratitude. You need both. One might think, what is there to be joyful and grateful for, we don’t got time for that right now, babies are dying! And yet, to do the WORK of ESTABLlSHING justice, you need AUDACIOUS Hope. You don’t got time for cynicism and getting jaded, cause you have to get back to work. You need to hone your hope. Nurturing it with small joys and audacious gratitude to fuel the work of hope and the work of justice we’re in. Just as Jesus began his ministry by being blessed with the waters of baptism, hearing a voice from heaven saying to him, in you I am well pleased. Not, the world is a mess, I need you to get to work. Our work and call to action comes from not a desperate need for us to get busy fixing stuff.
I’m really curious what Jesus was saying in his prayers on that early morning. The morning after the whole town gathered at his door to heal the sick. After he had done miracles. I wonder if he was like,
“God, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Or if he was like,
“I did this but God there’s so many people who are sick. Too many that I can’t get to in time.”
“I’m tired from staying up and healing all these people but I need you. I need you to tell me that you’ll keep being with me as I continue to do your work.”
I always thought those superhero movies were so interesting because you get to imagine and see the intimate vulnerable parts of those big strong heroes. Batman pulling into his little cave after a hard day’s work of fighting villains. Superman coming back to ordinary clothes after saving the earth. In those moments, they find their true power that drives the super powers they have.
What is the thing that drives your superpower?
What’s it all for?
Why do you do it?
You go out there and fight the bad guys and then you come home looking for a spark of joy or a moment of gratitude that will fuel you for the next day.
I think that was the superpower of Jesus. Not his miracles to heal but the place in which he got his authority from. In his intimate lonely conversations with his Father, that called him in again and again, that reminded him, I am here with you. I am here with you. The kingdom of God is near, even though it doesn’t look like it, even though it looks nothing like the kingdom of God is here, even though the Roman Empire is running rampant and you have to go back out into what seems like a god-forsaken world, for now, even now, just for this moment, I want you to look here at the joy. Look here at the gratitude. I love you. You are my beloved child. In you I am pleased. That is the only way we have any chance in facing the grief and suffering that surrounds us and have the power to take action towards peace, love, and justice.
I want to create the space to do that now, even for a moment, if you’d be so willing, together. Let me guide us through some thought prompts in prayer now.
Close your eyes if you’re willing, maybe even kneel or huddle over yourself, like you got some magic invisible cloak that’ll take you to a solitary place.
What are you grieving these days?
What did you see in the last 24 hours that you are grieving?
Where have you seen unbridled joy?
What made you smile or laugh yesterday?
Where do you see suffering?
Who is suffering, friends, family, neighbors near and far?
What are you suffering with or through these days?
What are you grateful for?
What do you want to praise God for today?
May God be with us, through the longing and to the tasting of God’s good gifts of peace, love, and joy, even now we pray. Amen.