The Fifth Word: Rejuvenation

(Or with Wings Like Eagles)

Sermon for Sunday, February 8, 2015 || Epiphany 5B || Isaiah 40:20-31; Mark 1:29-39

(No audio this week: I forgot at the early service, and then I thought I pressed record at the later service, but didn’t. Sorry!)

Word5RejuvenationNext week ends our Epiphany sermon series, which means today we have come to our fifth word. But let’s start with a recap. Our first word was Affirmation: Nothing can take away God’s affirmation of us as God’s good and beloved children. Our second word was Invitation: God’s holy invitations most often originate in the center of our brokenness. Our third word was Mission: When we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, we find God’s missions for us where the plank of the world’s need intersects with the plank of our passions. Our fourth word was Confrontation: All the forces of this fallen world fight back when we embrace God’s mission of healing and reconciliation.

And this brings us to today, to our fifth word. And that word is Rejuvenation. When I was deciding on the six words to highlight during this series, today’s word was the most difficult to find. I read the Gospel lesson over and over again, but nothing stood out. The whole passage was just more confrontation. But then on the tenth or eleventh reading, I noticed a verse I had always skimmed over before. “In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

How wonderful is it that Mark, in all his hurry to move the narrative forward, would stop for a brief moment and give us this insight into Jesus’ character. Jesus must have been bone weary after the day he had. He spent most of the day at the Sabbath assembly, where we heard last week’s story of casting out the unclean spirit. Then he went to Simon and Andrew’s house, presumably for some respite. But he was needed there, too, as Simon’s mother-in-law was abed with fever. That evening, perhaps Jesus was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. But no. The people of Capernaum heard tell of his power, and “the whole city” (Mark tells us) gathered around the door clamoring for healing. Who knows how late into the night Jesus spent confronting demons and diseases. It seems no one, not even Jesus, can keep the pace he set that bone weary day in Capernaum.

And so we find Jesus in the wee hours of the morning escape to a deserted place. “And there he prayed.” And there he found his own Sabbath rest. And there he took a deep breath and reconnected with God his father. And there he reflected on the events of today so he’s better equipped for the events of tomorrow. And there he was rejuvenated.

This rejuvenation lasts only a single verse. In the next, Simon and his companions hunt for Jesus, find him, and he’s right back in the melee again, confronting all that separates his people from God. But for this one indefinite moment of time early in the morning in the deserted place, Jesus teaches us the value of rejuvenation: of Sabbath rest, prayerful reconnection, and spiritual reflection. Let’s take these three pieces of rejuvenation in turn.

We live out our missions from God throughout our daily lives and during special times of confrontation with the entrenched sins of the world. But what most of us fail to realize most of the time is that Sabbath rest is part of our missions. We have been suckered in by the myth of the full calendar. In recent years, school-aged children have started getting scheduled to within an inch of their lives. When I was a child and adolescent, I played a lot of sports, but I still remember spending plenty of time just hanging out with my friends, too. Those days seem to be long gone. And the over-scheduling we are subjecting our young ones to is now infecting us all.

Taking time to pause when this maelstrom of activity is swirling around you is totally countercultural. Over-scheduling is a form of the sin of gluttony, to which society is addicted in the extreme. But when we take Sabbath rest, we resist the false claim that doing more leads to greater happiness. You don’t need to take this rest on the actual day of the Sabbath, but I urge you to carve some white space out on your full calendar. Start with an hour of rejuvenation and try over time to stretch it to a full day.

Our time of rejuvenation begins with rest, which then deepens into prayerful reconnection with God. Engaging in our God-given missions, confronting the demons of the world, and – for that matter – just living our lives tend to untether us from our moorings. The currents of entrenched sin pull us out to sea. And the farther we drift from the source of all goodness, the more our priorities rearrange themselves. Greed and self-preservation rise up the list even as love and self-sacrifice fall. But returning to God regularly in prayer helps us examine those priorities and order them in the way God desires us to do. We come together each week to share Holy Communion because the Eucharist both physically reconnects us to the nourishment of God in Christ and reminds us of our true priorities: gratitude, community, love, and service.

Our rejuvenation begins with rest, continues with reconnection, and concludes with reflection. When we intentionally make available enough free space and time for reflection, then everything we do becomes more effective. I can hear my father’s voice in my head saying over and over again as I was growing up: “You don’t learn from experience. You learn from reflection on experience.” The most productive form of reflection couples self-examination with counsel from a coach, mentor, or friend. The best athletes in the world still have coaches to help them reflect on their games, learn from the mistakes, and get better at sports they are already the best at. The same holds true in our walks with Jesus Christ. Each of us can follow more nearly when others help us to reflect on our experiences to learn what holds us back.

When Jesus sneaks off by himself to be alone in prayer, he rests for a few precious moments, away from the demands of his ministry. He reconnects in prayer with the source of his strength. And I imagine that he reflects on an action packed day so that the days ahead can be more effective. And in so doing, God rejuvenates him to continue his mission. Likewise, God offers us this same opportunity to retreat strategically from our confrontations, engage a different piece of our mission, and rediscover ourselves moored to God’s goodness and love. When we accept the invitation to this opportunity, we find ourselves rejuvenated to continue our journeys towards the sixth and final word. That word is Revelation. But that will have to wait until next week.

For now, I urge you to carve that white space out on your calendar so that you have the space to hear one of God’s great and enduring promises, which the prophet Isaiah proclaims in today’s reading: “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 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” (40:30-31).

<<The Fourth Word: Confrontation || The Sixth Word: Revelation>>

A Note from my Mother (devo180 recap)

A new weekly feature here on brings a week’s worth of devotions from my other website and puts them together in one long blog post. I will be editing them for continuity, so the text isn’t exactly like it is on the other site. You can go there and get the original. This one is from the first week of September.

I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. (2 Timothy 1-5; context)

“May you continue to have the space for reflection, the silence for relationship with God, the time for relaxation, and the temperament to recognize and rejoice in all of creation.” You probably don’t recognize the name of the person who wrote this quotation. And that’s okay, because she’s not famous (except in genetically exclusive circles). She’s my mother, and she is one of the wisest and gentlest people I know. She could easily be a saint except that her miracles aren’t the flashy kind that gets you noticed by the canonization committee. Anyway, she wrote those words to me over the summer in a card celebrating the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. The card has been propped open on my desk ever since, and I’m excited that I get to share it with you.

So I invite you to dig up some wisdom from your own mother. If you can’t, dig up some wisdom from one of those surrogate mothers that everyone seems to collect (I’ve got about five, I think). Reflect on that wisdom, and then we’ll pick up with the first phrase of my mother’s message.

Space for Reflection

In her note to me, my mother prayed that I have “the space for reflection.” Now, the word “reflection” is one of my all time favorite words, so I’m sure my mother knew that it would resonate with me. We use the word “reflection” in two main contexts: we see our reflection in mirrors or still ponds and we engage in reflection when we think back on previous events. In both of these contexts, gaining space – both spatial and temporal – allows us to make the most out of reflective moments.

They say that you don’t learn from experience; rather, you learn from reflection on experience. If the middle linebacker (yea football season!!) takes a bad angle and gets blocked out of the play by the left guard, he now has gained some vital experience. But there’s a good chance he’s going to get blocked out of the play again unless he reflects on the mistake and takes time to correct it. For football players, the space for reflection is the film room. For the rest of us, the space happens when we intentionally pause to look back over our days and discern how we succeeded and failed at living the lives God desires for us.

Now let’s get back to the mirror context of the word “reflection.” The word comes from the Latin word flecto, which means “to bend.” Literally, “reflection” is “to bend again” or “to bend back.” So when we allow ourselves the space for reflection, we literally “bend” or, to make the action physical, we “bow.” We bow to the God who is patiently waiting for us to hold up the mirror to our days and see God reflected back at us.

Silence for Relationship with God

My mother prayed that I develop the silence for relationship with God. On the surface, this may seem like a strange juxtaposition – silence and relationship don’t usually go very well together. In a human relationship, a “silent” party may be accused of being incommunicative or may be cowed by an aggressive partner into non-speaking.

But there’s where we make our mistake – too often, we think of silence as a “non-something,” as an absence of something. But silence, when we are speaking about how it functions in our relationships with God, is the exact opposite. Silence is a full something. Practicing silence does not mean shutting off all the noises around and within you. Rather, practicing silence means replacing those noises with attention to what is there, hidden in the background beneath the noise.

This fullness of something beneath is God’s presence. It is beneath the noise because God’s presence is the framework of existence, the structure, the undergirding support for all things. It makes sense, then, that when we find ourselves in silence, we notice this behind-the-scenes presence. When we become attentive to this presence, we can begin to participate in our relationship with God. And it is then that we will notice that God has always and forever been participating in God’s relationship with us.

Time for Relaxation

The third prayer my mother had for me was that I find the time for relaxation. She apparently has some inkling into the fact that I would probably work all the time if I didn’t have people around me to tell me to slow down.

I remember during my first year of college having so much work and reading to do that I never had any time to relax. I always told myself that I would relax when my work was done. The trouble was that when I finished reading for one class, I would need to start it for another, and by the time I was done with that reading it was time to start reading again for the first class. And then there were papers and projects and studying for exams and…and…and…

Finally, a day came when there was just too much hitting me all at once. Then I realized that there was never a time when I wouldn’t have some work for class to do. So I started scheduling relaxation time in order to be more effective when I was working. And that put me on the right path.

The best time to relax is at the moment when you say to yourself, “I am just too busy right now to even think about relaxing.” You (not to mention everyone around you) will be better for it. Remember, Jesus often went off by himself for a bit of a recharge. You can too.

The Temperament to Recognize and Rejoice in All of Creation

The final prayer my mother had for me in that card back in June was that I have “the temperament to recognize and rejoice in all of creation.” I love that she didn’t simply pray for me to recognize and rejoice in creation. Rather, she prayed that I have the “temperament” to do so. In so doing, she asked God that I be granted a specific tool for my faith’s toolbox, not just the effect the tool brings.

Growing into a temperament that recognizes and rejoices means nurturing a certain demeanor, a set of behaviors that leads to the expectation that there is and always will be something to rejoice about. This temperament is not about glossing over the bad stuff or pretending that everything is fine and dandy when it’s not. We aren’t trying to delude ourselves when we seek this temperament. In fact, we are trying to do just the opposite.

Remember two days ago, when I talked about the fullness of God’s presence being the something beneath the silence. In the same way, nurturing the kind of temperament my mother is talking about has to do with searching for the greater reality around and upon which all transient reality clings. Discovering God’s presence in our lives, both when times are great and when times are tough, is all about acknowledging that God is there, undergirding our existence with God’s own greater existence. When we discover this, or more often, when we rediscover this (considering we have a tendency to forget about it), we can recognize and rejoice in creation.

And in so doing, we recognize and rejoice in God’s creating movement in our lives.

I leave this moment with you, God, wishing for open ears to listen, a sensitive mouth to speak, and strong arms to embrace your people.