February 4, 2024 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Holy Communion


Rev. Scott Landis

Mark 1: 29-39

Sometimes the gospel writers expand our view of Jesus by giving us an enlightening glimpse into his humanity. Today’s story is a case in point. You may remember last Sunday we considered the challenges faced by Jesus as he taught in the synagogue and cast out demons from those seemingly possessed. Mark, in his typical terse fashion, describes an abrupt transition stating, “As soon as they left the synagogue they went to Simon and Andrew’s house, and he healed Simon’s mother-in-law.” 

Well, news traveled fast. By sundown all kinds of people were showing up looking for help. In fact, it says the “whole city lined up at the door.” Jesus cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits, but we can infer from the next line that he was exhausted or at least somewhat overwhelmed and in need of a break and some direction. We can probably all identify. But notice how Jesus handled this moment. 

Mark records, “before daybreak he got up, went out to a secluded spot, and prayed. 

The disciples were beside themselves and bewildered – wondering where Jesus had gone. They searched all over looking for him and when they found him said something in Aramaic like, “What the heck were you thinking, Jesus? Everybody’s looking for you. They NEED you.” 

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is what I have come to do. 

Odd. He seemed to be needed right there but Jesus knew it was time to move on. There was other work that had to be done. Direction that was obviously given to him in prayer.

I find this oft-times overlooked aspect of this story incredibly important and instructive for our lives today. We all know how easily we can become overwhelmed, distracted, or find ourselves at wits end given all the stressors we face daily, but what do we do with that? What is our response – to go faster, work harder, become more efficient? Or do we do the opposite – slow down, retreat, carve out time for prayer to receive some much-needed direction? 

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this. But there’s more to it. Prayer is more than simply taking a break and retreating to a silent place to spend time with God as important as that might be. 

Our lives are complicated. No matter our age – we each face a whole host of issues that can, at times, throw us completely off track. Or our schedules simply become overwhelming and the demands almost insurmountable. If you’re like me that’s when I begin to lose sleep. As if lying awake in my bed for several hours is somehow going to solve the problem. 

So, while I WILL make the case for the importance of pulling away, and being still, and listening for God as essential – sometimes it’s completely impossible and we need to find our prayer in the DOING as much as in the being. 

I was reminded of that the other day when we were discussing prayer in our Wednesday Zoom group. My bias is so heavily skewed by my need for silence and time alone to sense the presence of God that I had forgotten just how much our whole life can be a prayer – IF, we would but notice – and practice viewing all of life as holy. 

Buddhists refer to this as mindfulness – being aware of God’s presence and ability to communicate with us no matter what we are doing. If our lives become more in tune to the presence of God in all things and in all matters – we can be in prayer at all times. In that case, all of life becomes our prayer.

But more often than not we probably feel the need to connect with God in ways that many of us were taught from our childhood. Sit down, bow your heads, fold your hands, close your eyes … and pray. We may have rote prayers that we draw upon from our memory bank, but here is where many of us get stumped. We simply don’t know what to say. Perhaps we feel our language is inadequate, that we don’t have the right words. Prayer is too often left for the kahu or to those we deem much more spiritual than ourselves. If this is your experience I invite you to listen to the wisdom of my favorite poet Mary Oliver who offers some insight. 

She writes in her poem “Praying”:

It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
It could be weeds in a vacant lot,
Or a few small stones,
Just pay attention,
Then patch together a few words,
And don’t try to make them elaborate,
This isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks,
And a silence in which another voice may speak.

Praying – Thirst

Oliver reminds us of our NEED to pray – AND that it is nothing more or less than our own personal conversation with God. All we need to do is “patch a few words together.” Let God know what’s on your mind – good and bad. No need to hold back. Remember, God created you and already knows what you are thinking and what you are dealing with. I believe God rather enjoys the fact that we want to share it. 

Spiritual writer Anne Lamotte reduces her basic prayer to three words, “Help! Thanks! Wow! That’s it – and it’s a perfect prayer – because it expresses with all sincerity, her experience. In fact, there are no imperfect prayers … when they come from your heart. 

But I want to draw your attention to Oliver’s last line of the poem which may help explain a practice you have seen me include in worship each week during our time together, and one I commend to you as the highest form of prayer. She concludes, “This isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks. And a silence in which another voice may speak.

And a silence in which another voice may speak. St. Francis of Assisi is remembered for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” The same could be said of prayer. “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul commends, to which we might add, “and when necessary, use words.”

Whether your prayer is one of action or that of words, or is neither, make sure it is grounded in deep listening – which we might note, ought to be the best way we can approach life. 

Have you even noticed how noisy our lives have become? With television, and radio, and cars, and airplanes, the yammering of politicians and pundits, yack, yack, yack, yack, yack. The world needs more silence in which another voice may speak – the voice of God so desperately wants to speak to you. The voice of God needs to be heard. 

That’s why I invite the bell to call us into silence following my mana’o every Sunday. We preachers have contributed mightily to the cacophony of voices that SOMETIMES get in the way of God’s still small voice trying desperately to whisper into your ear. 

So, I invite you to approach life embodying a posture of listening:  to the reassuring sounds of nature, the peel of the church bell inviting us to “enter, rejoice, and come in, the call of the pū beckoning us to the holy moment of worship or the setting sun, the cry of a child needing our love, even the sound of your own heartbeat reminding you of your own humanity and limited time on earth. Set aside time to be still, to be silent, to listen for another voice that may seek to be heard. Prayer — It could very well be the voice of God. 


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