Just want to take a little poll. Show of hands: Is anyone weary of this pandemic?
We are weary of this pandemic—weary of staying apart from each other, weary of not being able to go to restaurants, cinema, live theater, music performances, parties, sports events like (ahem) the Super Bowl. We can’t worship in person. Children are weary of trying to learn remotely, not seeing their friends, not going to games and birthday parties, not playing sports. We’ve canceled trips and vacations. We have foregone gatherings over the holidays. This past year doesn’t look like any year in memory. It is a time apart.
It’s hard to be patient. It’s challenging to keep coming up with new ideas, keep working out when the gyms are closed and we’re not going anywhere, keep finding ways to be out and about without touching anyone or breathing the same air.
At the same time, health care workers and others are working harder than ever, and at great personal risk. They are weary of this pandemic on a whole different level. They are exhausted.
Isaiah says that even energetic young people grow faint and weary, or fall exhausted. But God does not grow weary. The Creator of the universe never tires. And when we tap into that strength, we can find new energy. “Those who wait for God 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).
What we see in this reading from Mark is Jesus creating time to center himself in God, and this renews his strength. We’re still in chapter 1 of Mark—this is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He’s still feeling his way into it. It is new, and by any measure it is exhausting. Last week we read about him calling Simon and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, to leave their nets and follow him. They went to the synagogue, where Jesus cast out a demon and everyone was amazed. Today’s reading picks up in the very next verse: They leave the synagogue and go to the home of Simon and Andrew. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, whoo immediately gets up to serve them. (The hygiene-contagion part of me wants to say to her, “No, no, you just take the night off.” But that’s not part of this story.) After he heals her, the whole city shows up at the door at sunset—so, very late in the day—to be healed and have demons cast out. Not a big city, but still, everyone came. Which means that he was up way late taking care of them all.
And then he’s up again before anyone else, when it’s still dark out and everything’s quiet except for whoever is snoring in the next room. Not a lot of sleep, but finding time alone with God is that important. He ditches everyone, doesn’t even leave a note, and goes off to a deserted place. Maybe he walks up in the hills and sits down where he can see moonlight reflected off the glassy Sea of Galilee. I imagine he takes some deep breaths and allows himself to become still.
Breathe in, breathe out. God is here. God is all around you.
Whatever cares, fears, and concerns woke him up in that crowded house down below melt away.
Breathe in, breathe out. God is here. God is listening.
It’s a huge responsibility, God, this ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. He really did heal people last night. And the evil spirits in those demon-possessed people recognized the capital-S Spirit in him. He is doing something new, something powerful, something dangerous. Can he really do this? And yet he is really doing it. Simon’s mother-in-law got right back up out of bed. Spirit is flowing through him. God, where does this lead?
Breathe in, breathe out. An owl calls softly. A breeze ripples the water and then dies away.
Ripples. This ministry is going to create some ripples. Maybe some tidal waves. What an opportunity. What does it look like to walk around with Spirit flowing through you, touching people who have been cast aside, who are considered untouchable, and suddenly they are well? What potential is there to create a world where everyone has access to that love, that Spirit, that healing power? It’s too much for one person—so many more will need to be shown the way, to become disciples, to learn to be healers, preachers, and teachers. So much to do. So many lives to transform.
Daylight has begun to creep over the ridge across the lake. A few early risers begin to stir, fanning the embers of cooking fires down among the houses by the shore. The smell of smoke rises through the air. An eagle rises from a tree above him, swoops down over the water and snags a fish with a great splash, then flies off. So many fish to catch.
Breathe in, breathe out. Simon comes puffing up the hillside. “There you are!” he shouts. He always shouts. “We’ve been looking all over for you! Come on down—we’re making breakfast. You know, I was thinking: After last night, I think we could set up a modest ministry right here in town.”
Jesus finally focuses his eyes on Simon. “This is bigger than that,” he says. “Let’s have that breakfast, and then we’ll be off to the neighboring towns. So many people, so much to do….” He rises, and together they walk down the hill.
We have been in this pandemic time apart for months now—almost a year. Perhaps, like Jesus, you have taken advantage of this time apart to center yourself in God, to be renewed so that you can rise up with wings like eagles and soar through God’s creation. So that Spirit can flow through you, transforming you and everyone around you with God’s healing love. If you haven’t been carving out intentional time to center yourself in God, well, Lent is coming. We will mark the beginning of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service on February 17. Lent has traditionally been a time apart, a time to center oneself in God without other distractions, just as Jesus did in this reading. I plan to be more intentional about carving out time for prayer every day, and I invite you to consider doing so as well. Breathing in, breathing out, being present to God.
And in that prayer time we might consider our own demons—whatever keeps us apart from God. Is it addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, food? Busyness? Fear?
Breathe in, breathe out. One clergywoman I know recently asked her congregation if they had ever had some transcendent experience—perhaps we could call it a God moment. A number of them had had such an experience, and often it was in nature. A mountaintop experience, perhaps, or just sitting for a long time beside a brook until they felt connected to everything, part of creation, one with the universe. In such moments we may realize that our cares of this day and this place will pass, but God is present with us always.
The pandemic will not be with us forever. And when we come out of this time apart and can worship in person again, we will not be going back. Jesus did not go back to Capernaum; he went on to other towns. We are changed by this time apart. We are not the same people that we were when it began, and the world is not the same either. So we don’t just go back; we move forward. Use the gift of this time to center in God intentionally, to listen for God. Breathe in, breathe out. God is present. Even as so much else has come to a halt, winter is turning toward spring. The bulbs are beginning to pop up greenery in the garden. It’s time to think about planting seeds in pots so they can grow into something fabulous later in the year. But unless we take the time to listen for how God is calling us to be in this moving forward motion, we won’t know what seeds to plant, what path to follow, how to be, how to get up from our beds and serve, like Simon’s mother-in-law.
The needs are great. So many people, so much to do. It’s exhausting. Wait on God, listen for God. Breathe in, breathe out. God is present. God loves you. God is not exhausted but will renew our strength for whatever lies ahead. And we will rise up with wings like eagles. May it be so. Amen.