Sermon: Everyone is Searching for You

February 7, 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39

by Eric Anderson

A long time ago, it’s said, the mynas fought all the time. You and I think they fight all the time, but in the old days they really did fight all the time. Arguments, wing flutters, cries and screeches, and of course the occasional hard peck with a sharp yellow beak.

All day. All night.

To quote a camp song, this is when I’d like some angels watching over me, my Lord.

As a result, mynas were generally pretty unhappy. First of all, even somebody who wins all their fights – and no myna ever won all their fights – is going to get unhappy when they go from one fight to another and they can’t even catch their breath. Second, anyone who is fighting all the time isn’t getting enough to eat. Third, anyone who is fighting all the time hasn’t taken the time to preen their feathers, so they all looked pretty bedraggled and scruffy. And fourth, anyone who is fighting all the time isn’t sleeping. Anybody who isn’t sleeping is pretty unhappy.

And probably inclined to pick a fight, so there’s a vicious circle going there.

The story goes that it was one bird who changed it all.

In the midst of all this argument, noise, and myna chaos, you wouldn’t think that anyone would notice that a bird was missing. Strangely enough, however, that’s exactly what happened. One bird who should have been there wasn’t there. I grant you that most of the mynas didn’t notice. In fact, only one myna did. But he was determined to go find her and get her back, to rejoin the myna flock. It’s possible that he also meant to pick a fight. So off he went to find her.

It didn’t take long. She hadn’t gone far. In fact, you could still hear echoes of the myna fighting. She was simply standing in the middle of an open grassy area much like the one she’d left, but it only had one myna in it.

She wasn’t doing anything at all. Not fighting, not preening, not sleeping, not even eating. She was just standing, breathing, and being silent.

The myna who’d found her perched in a tree and stayed just as silent.

After a bit he fluttered down next to her. Neither one said anything. Every once in a while one would eat a worm or a seed. She started to smooth down some ruffled feathers.

Another myna came looking for the other two. She opened her beak to screech, but closed it again because the quiet was so strong. The three of them stood and foraged and preened and the first bird took a nap.

One by one, the other mynas went looking, and one by one the other mynas joined the quiet, which eventually became silence as the sound of fighting dwindled away to nothing.

It didn’t last, of course. Eventually one bird snagged a worm that another bird had set his eyes on, and that started a new argument. Unlike the old arguments, however, it dwindled away. So did all the other arguments.

The mynas had learned the value of quiet, of silence, of companionship, and of rest – and that is why you can see them today quietly foraging in the grasses together, even just before, or even just after, another myna argument breaks the silence.

It’s hard to resist the contrast between two figures in this story: Jesus on the one hand, and Simon’s mother-in-law on the other. Simon, I’ll remind you, is the one to whom Jesus gave the nickname “Peter,” or The Rock, so this is your opportunity to do two things: First, realize that having a mother-in-law usually comes from having a spouse, so Simon Peter was married. Second, I invite you to picture Simon Peter as looking something like Dwayne Johnson.

Back to the contrast between Jesus and Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She was ill in bed, and Jesus raised her from her rest, after which she began to serve. Jesus, on the other hand, did a great deal of work, and then sought rest in solitude.

The Greek word Mark used that we translate “served” is diakoneo, which the early Christians gave as a title to one variety of their leadership. We still use it. It is the root of the word “Deacons,” those who lead the church through service. As Sarah Henrich writes at Working Preacher, “It is ‘to serve’ rather than ‘to be served’ that characterizes the Christ of God. It is also ‘to serve’ that characterizes his disciples. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is far from being an exemplar of a pathetic, un-liberated woman for whom serving men is her whole life. Rather she is the first character in Mark’s gospel who exemplifies true discipleship.”

Dr. Henrich notes with a keen sense of irony that in Mark’s gospel Jesus’ female disciples are described as having served with the word diakoneo, whereas the male disciples never are.

Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law served and worked more-or-less side by side as the night went on, Jesus treating the sick and banishing the demons, Simon’s mother-in-law honoring the traditions of hospitality, no doubt, to her son-in-law’s special guest and, I would guess to those neighbors who probably left refreshed by a gift of water or bread.

Having served, Jesus then went out to a deserted place, seeking in prayer the renewal of his own body, mind, and spirit. Curiously enough, Mark’s gospel contains only four accounts of Jesus withdrawing to pray. The first occurred after his baptism, just a little bit earlier in this chapter. This is the second. The third happened after the execution of John the Baptist. The fourth happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of his own crucifixion. These times of prayer in Mark are not trivial. They reflect deep stresses on Jesus. I don’t think it is overstating it to say that Jesus needed this time of renewal to truly launch his ministry of teaching and healing as much as Simon’s mother-in-law needed healing from her fever to take up her ministry of hospitality.

You and I are not Jesus. We bear a much closer resemblance to Simon’s mother-in-law. We have been, we are, and we will continue to be under considerable strain for some time. And look! It’s a fever that put her in her sickbed. It’s a pandemic disease where fever is one of the symptoms that has isolated us and stressed us and, yes, sickened some of us, taken the lives of some of us, in this time.

Where is our deserted place? Where will we find the restoration and renewal to take on the next stage of our journey?

This is a difficult question for us. The solitude Jesus sought to enable him to converse with God may very well be for any of us as much of a distraction as an aid. Many of us have spent a lot of time alone. We have not embraced much of anyone. We have not shared breath, and the Hawaiian language, in which “aloha” includes the word “ha” for breath, reflects the terrible loss that that is.. Modern media technology makes it easy to fill our alone-time with flickering pictures on a screen, with words or music flowing over us, turning our solitude into distraction.

I’ve done it. I’m sure you’ve done it, too.

One challenge for us to restore our souls is to make alone-time into prayer time, into God-time, into renewal time.

I think, however, that we might also want to invite some relationship-time into our God-time.

I will be sharing next week an approach to Lenten devotion that involves partners. The basic idea is to make time on a regular basis – daily, weekly, every three days, whatever works for you – to take a look at your spirits together. This may involve reading Scripture or sharing thoughts. It could just be talking story with an awareness of God. The point is to add some more human interaction to our distanced existence. By all means do it safely – by phone or video conference – but how precious could such time be, time with human connection and affection, time with divine communion and guidance?

Everyone might be looking for you, but make that time sacred and precious for you and your partner.

We still have a long way to go in this pandemic, and we need refreshment to do it. As I said last week, that refreshment might mean mental health therapy. That refreshment might mean solitude without distraction. That refreshment might mean a pairing of human and divine relationship.

We need that refreshment. We need that renewal. We need that revival. Because when our healing has taken hold, we will still need to serve.

Amen.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

Time means change. There was time between writing the sermon text above and when it was delivered. There were changes, too.

The image is Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law by Rembrandt – www.zeno.org : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5187227.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on February 7, 2021

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