Lectionary blog for Feb. 4
The fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 20c;
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you” (Mark 1:35-37). 

When our son was in college in Chattanooga, my wife and I frequently traveled down I-24 from our home in Nashville to visit. There is a long stretch where the interstate is squeezed in between the Tennessee River on one side and Lookout Mountain on the other. On one occasion traffic had almost come to a complete halt. We were to meet our son and a few of his classmates for dinner, and we were running late. Finally, I had had enough—I eased off on the shoulder and made for the exit a few hundred yards ahead.

I went to the left under the interstate, driving well over the speed limit as I headed north, looking for a sideroad with a bridge over the river. We wound around to the east, and then back south and then, back under the interstate again. My wife calmly pointed out that the delivery truck that we had been following was directly above us on the exit. I continued to fly around the side roads, looking for a way around into the city. Nothing doing, there was a mountain in the way. Again, we found ourselves under the interstate; again my wife pointed out the delivery truck.

I was, unfortunately, completely serious when I looked at her and said, “Look, I know we’re not getting anywhere—but we’re making good time.”

I remembered that frustrating and silly moment while doing some research for this sermon. “Ben Hunnicutt, professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa, explains (that) busy is actually one of the seven deadly sins; it is slothfulness. In the Middle Ages, slothfulness had two forms: one is lazy, the other—acedia—is running around frantically. ‘There is no real place I’m going, but by God, I’m making great time getting there'” (Personnel Today, May 11, 2016).

I was, unfortunately, completely serious when I looked at her and said, “Look, I know we’re not getting anywhere—but we’re making good time.”

“When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’” Which, being interpreted, means, “There was no real place they were going, but by God, they were making great time getting there.”

This story takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized. He has been tempted in the wilderness. He has gathered up his disciples. He has been doing some teaching in the synagogue. And he has been doing some healings. First, it’s the with man at the synagogue with “unclean spirits.” Then, while at Simon’s house for dinner, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law.

The news of these healings spreads quickly and, instead of enjoying a restful Sabbath afternoon, Jesus spends the day healing and casting out demons. A very full work load for anybody, even the Son of God. Early the next morning Jesus sets out to take a day off, to find some “me time.” Or, perhaps more correctly, some “me and God time.” Time to think, to pray, to just be in the presence of the holy.

But it was not to be. Here come “Simon and his companions,” rushing about frantically, not sure where this kingdom of God caravan is going but eager to make sure it makes good time. When they find him sitting quietly alone they say, Time’s awastin’! Everybody is searching for you. We have got to get a move on!” They probably expected Jesus to jump up and say, “My goodness, where did the time go? Boy, I’ve got to get back to town and get on those healings and exorcisms right away. Thanks for coming to get me.”

But that’s not what he said. And that’s not what he did. Instead, Jesus got up, put his Scriptures away, stretched, and then said, “Let us go to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also for that is what I came out to do.” One of the keys to reading and understanding Mark’s Gospel is to realize that all the healings and exorcisms are there to show us not only who Jesus is but also who God is—present and not far off, a God of love and compassion, a God who is active in the world and in our lives.

These stories are there to remind us that we are a people whom God loves deeply, loves enough to touch and heal and care for. We are also a people invited by God to join Jesus in this divine mission and ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world.

The “value” of God, and Jesus and the church, in our increasingly materialistic and consumerist culture is often calculated purely on their effectiveness in “making my life better.” In a culture in which “what’s in it for me,” has leapt far ahead of “do unto others” as a personal motto, running around frantically trying to get one’s spiritual needs met makes perfect sense. And for a new religious leader like Jesus, trying to get his ministry off the ground, responding to people’s excitement about his ability to meet their needs would seem to be the way forward. And yet Jesus goes off alone to pray, and then leaves those clamoring for his attention behind. What are we to make of this?

Jesus is on a mission to proclaim the good news of God’s love and grace. This is hard work. Even Jesus couldn’t do it alone. Jesus went to worship, to synagogue, to be with God’s people. Jesus had a small group, the disciples. Jesus spent time alone in prayer. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom publicly. Jesus actively met people’s basic needs—healing their bodies and souls, feeding their stomachs and spirits, working for peace between people, and working for peace between people and God.

For us to answer God’s call to follow Jesus (and in order to avoid going nowhere while making good time) we need public time gathered around word and sacrament; we need the support and conversation of like-minded folk; we need private prayer and meditation; we need to be out in the world sharing God’s love in word and deed with God’s suffering people. We are called to a life of prayer and service, of living within God’s community so that we will be strengthened and empowered to love, serve, heal and save the world. We are called to come apart from the world and spend time in the presence of God so that we may be sent back out into God’s world, proclaiming God’s love, healing God’s people, being genuinely active doing what we have “come out to do.”

Amen and amen.

Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Read more about: