When I was a young lad in Connecticut, my family attended the Congregational church. My mother was hired to play the piano for the Sunday services. My father attended simply because my mother obviously could not sit with us and tend to the squirmy trio of children. She came home one night after choir practice and told us about something new she had seen at the church. The church had renamed the Sunday school class. As she was leaving the church, she went by the classroom with the name on the door: "Tired Parents Class." I was a teen ager. It did not apply to me. Little did I know?
Fast-forward my life 50 years and I am starting to wonder if when I came to the fork in the road on the pathway of life if I took the wrong fork? Though change is constant in this old world, it seems as if change is coming at me with an ever-greater velocity. Parents or not...we are all tired. Often, it feels like we are no longer living the lives we have, but rather barely dealing with life as it comes at us.
I no sooner get used to my new cell phone or computer software or doctors on my insurance plan...and then the technology is out of date, my choices are no longer "supported," and the decisions I just made are as expired as a gallon of two-week old milk.
The evening news is no help. Instantly, we can feel the fear of Ebola or the rise and fall of the Stock Market or the spread of wars and rumors of wars from anywhere in the world. Just ask anyone, "How ya' doing?" and then listen for the word “overwhelmed”. It's like we are not so much living our lives, as it is that life is coming at us too fast to handle.
At this point, we encounter today's text in Mark's Gospel. It is "a day in the life" kind of story, and Jesus is the central figure. Within just a few verses, he bounces from need-to-need and place-to-place. The diary of his day could not be more jam-packed, even if he were a politician giving a stump speech at every whistle-stop. First, there is a high-profile synagogue situation; and that is followed by a personal encounter with a sick woman at her bedside; and that is followed by the private experience of prayer as Jesus steps aside for time alone with God. But then the disciples interrupt—(actually, the word means hunted him down) -- and the cycle reboots all over again
It is a hectic itinerary. However, maybe that is why it is in the Bible. This triptick of stories...one public, one personal, and one private...each invites us to eavesdrop on Jesus' spirituality...how he lived and the faith he practiced among the demands of an overwhelming world. Maybe in this story, Mark's church saw their own story as they tried to meet needs, deal with various venues of ministry...while at the same time tend their own spirituality which had drawn them to Jesus in the first place...that beautiful intersection of "the holy and the human."
Pastors and laypersons can appreciate the tension between "the external and the internal" or the choice between an action-oriented faith versus a contemplative one. I remember a transition point in my life in the early 1990's. I had lost my job, which had caused me to move to Pittsburgh. In Connecticut, I had been a bank vice president with 100 plus people working for me. I felt as if my battery had been drained. I will admit that there was some fear that, once again, my headlights would go dim under the shadow of the steeple.
So, I went to Tennessee to spend 90 days as a consultant to install computer systems. A southern drawl was hard to understand on the local TV station. I took some reading material with me; two books: a Bible and a historical fiction. These books were both judgment and grace; but most of all it was a call for balance. Action without contemplation is a ship without ballast; it is a set-up for sinking from disappointment. On the other hand, contemplation without action is inert; it needs interaction with the outer world to be fed and to feed. This balance is important...especially when it feels like life is coming at us at a high rate. I see this balance in the text. Here are two take-a ways I want to name:
First, if you live your life as a caring person, there will be pressure and tough choices. It happened to Jesus. It will happen to you. Do not be surprised. Spiritual maturity is rarely applauded for long.
Though every congregation is different, pastors and priesthood members have a lot in common. We hear stories at the sanctuary door--tales about inflamed gall bladders and graduation ceremonies--we attend committee meetings following worship, and we talk with the homeless person that has returned. Then there is the mid-afternoon hospital visit before the evening gathering. What a kaleidoscope!
However, it is not more so than being a parent. Between work and the kids' school and home management, life comes at you. For most, that is the landscape, and some terrains cannot be changed, but they can be accepted. That's number one. Here is number two: though we cannot stop life coming at us, we can attend to the life that is given us. This means attending to our relationship with God.
I do not want to get off on a rant here, but I never have liked the Apostle Paul's statement: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:22)." I affirm his honorable intention, as well as the noble need; but by Sunday night, it sounds like a grandiose recipe for burnout.
I much prefer the punch line of today's Hebrew Bible lectionary text. The poet/prophet Isaiah sings out:
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.
I suspect that is what Jesus was up to as he sequestered himself in a deserted place to pray. Perhaps by tending his prayer life, he found perspective above the fray...almost like the wings of an eagle, looking over the woes and foes of life.
The story ends with Jesus not following the advice of his wranglers. They had tracked him down, saying, "Everyone's looking for you!"
What a hook! If Jesus had not gotten his praying done, I wonder if the allure of pursuit or the price of fame could have done him in.
To his advisors, Jesus said, "Let's head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That's why I've come." Sounds to me he had the kind of clarity that comes out of one's deepest identity, which finds its source and sustenance in God.
Therefore, when life comes at you this week, you will be ready. You have paused, you have pondered, and you have prayed. You may be a tired parent or a tired pastor or both. In addition, yes, you have had to make tough choices, but you have tough faith. Even before the week begins, you have found a good place to remember: your life is grounded in the goodness of God.
Let us pray.
All-loving God, we give thanks that whatever terrain awaits us, you will meet us there and that will be enough. In the name of the one who came to dwell among us. Amen.