Working Toward "Downtime"

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The following is a sermon preached this past Sunday, February 8th. The scripture is from the Revised Common Lectionary for that day (the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time).

1 Corinthians 9.16-23
Mark 1.29-39

Paul lays out an interesting, and at times troubling, explanation of what this “faith” thing is all about. He writes that his charge is to keep the Gospel free of charge. That is, to make sure it is widely available to all who seek it; that it is easily accessible; that it may reach and change as many people as possible. You see, for Paul the Gospel, that is, “the good news” of God revealed through Jesus, was, and is, an invitation from God to all of humanity. It’s an invitation into a different way of life than the one most people live. It’s an invitation into a life centered on a profound relationship with God.

There is no obligation, Paul writes. Rather, this gospel is an invitation into a life of service where the reward is not pay of any sort, and not really a reward at all, so much as an awakening! In this “new” life that has been available to us since the beginning of time we become ever more emotionally, spiritually, and intentionally connected to the One who loves us and wishes only the best for us. In this relationship our eyes become opened to new possibilities founded on God’s great hope for all humanity to live in peace and fullness. Once realized, our vision changes and we begin to see the world, indeed all of creation, as God sees it—with eyes of grace instead of revenge, with eyes of compassion instead of hatred and division, with eyes of justice rather than exploitation.

This new life that Jesus brought was and is a life founded on the principle of resting in the presence of God. This sounds like those insurance commercials where the guy goes into the dry cleaner and tells the woman across the counter that he wants both starch and no starch on his shirts. She, of course, says, “You can’t do that! It’s either starch or no starch, I can’t have both.” Yet, Jesus invites us to live out our relationship with God, resting in the peace of God, even in the midst of our work, our troubles, our frustrations, and even our anger.

Resting in the peace of God even when we’re angry?

Yes! Especially when we’re angry or frustrated or worried or otherwise distracted.

There’s a story about a minister who, after years of service to the church, retired and moved to the country to enjoy life and finally do the thing he loved the most: gardening and yard work. Needing a lawn mower, he headed into town to buy one. On the way he saw a sign advertising a lawn mower for sale. He stopped at the house and a young boy came out to greet him.

The minister asked about the lawn mower and the boy said it was behind the house, so the two went to look at it. The boy started it up and the engine sputtered along at idle speed. The minister increased the speed of the engine and mowed a few strips. Satisfied that it would do the job they settled on a price of $50.00.

Later in the day, the young boy was riding his bicycle when he saw the preacher pulling on the engine starter rope over and over. The boy stopped and watched for a couple of minutes and then asked, “What’s wrong?”

The reply came, “I can’t get this mower started! Do you know how?”

The boy said, “Yep.”

“Well, how do you do it? Tell me!”, the preacher yelled, obviously tired and frustrated.

The boy said, calmly and assuredly, “You have to cuss at it.”

Cuss at it? The preacher rose up indignantly. “Now you listen here. I am a preacher and if I ever did cuss, not saying I have, I’ve forgotten how to do it after all these years.”

With a wise look on his face well beyond his years, the young boy looked at the minister and said, “Preacher, you keep on pulling that rope and, trust me, it’ll all come back to ya.”

Jesus invites us to live out our relationship with God, resting in the peace of God, even in the midst of our work, our troubles, our frustrations, and even our anger. Jesus invites us to create what Mark Yaconelli, who will be our guest leader at the end of this month for our Lenten retreat, calls “downtime”—not veg time, not sitting in front of the TV hoping our minds will just go numb so we can zone out all that is going on around us, but downtime with God. This is intentional time. Rather than being mind numbing, it is about becoming ever more aware of ourselves, owning the fact that we may be tired, frustrated, or even angry, or owning the fact that we are feeling pretty good, joyful even. Or maybe owning the fact that we just aren’t feeling anything. Maybe we are coming into this time with God already feeling numb, and what we really need, what we really want, is for God to take away the cloud that shrouds our vision of ourselves and the world around us, and help us to truly see the world as God sees it.

In the part of the gospel of Mark that we read today we hear Jesus doing what Jesus did: healing, teaching not just with words, and otherwise engaging in the community that was building around him. He had received his call, being baptized with the Holy Spirit, and immediately engages in the life of the community to which he had been called. In verse 29 we find Jesus leaving the synagogue, the center of Jewish life in every town. He then enters the house of Simon and Andrew and there finds their mother ill. Somehow in the midst of Jesus lifting the woman up her fever leaves and she is healed—notice how Mark doesn’t explicitly tell us that Jesus healed her. Immediately, she begins attending to her tasks. What I get out of this is that God heals us, relieves us, so that we may attend to the thing at hand: serving God’s children, just as Paul wrote.

Jesus then finds himself being surrounded by people bringing their sick. He heals them by the power of God.

We don’t know if Jesus was healing people all night or if he did finally get some rest, but either way, early in the morning he goes out, leaves the group, and finds a quiet place to pray.

Jesus receives his call, engages the community, engages in the healing work to which he had been called, and then intentionally finds “downtime” to re-engage the One who called him, the One who loves endlessly, the One whose power heals all who ask.

I don’t fully understand, and I’m still working through this whole “fully human, fully divine” thing that our creeds espouse. I can’t tell you how God was fully present in and through Jesus—I believe it is true, but I can’t tell you the mechanics of it. But, what I do know, is that the Gospels are clear on the fact that Jesus needed rest, Jesus needed to tend to his spiritual life, Jesus needed downtime with God. Even through all the trials toward the end of his life, as he headed toward Jerusalem, as he headed toward the suffering of the cross, one thing remained constant: Jesus tended to and drew upon the peace that he received from God. He listened for God’s guidance. He intentionally breathed in the air of God’s Holy Spirit. He drew strength and calmness from the One who breathed life into all things. This was not by accident. This was not done only once or twice a year at a special retreat. This was a part of his regular every-day life. This was Jesus’ invitation into a new way of life that had been around since the beginning of time.

Jesus invites us to live out our relationship with God, resting in the peace of God, even in the midst of our work, our troubles, our frustrations, and even our anger. Jesus invites us to create “downtime” with God right, smack, in the middle of our lives, amidst all the joys and frustrations that life brings.

So what of the community that Jesus engaged? I hear all the time from people who are both connected and not connected to the Church, “You don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian!”

Ok, fine, I say, but you do need to be a part of a faith community that takes its faith seriously, with an appropriate dose of humility and humor, in order to grow in that faith and become a mature Child of God and to have a healthy relationship with God. Without community there is little or no accountability in our spiritual journeys. And without accountability we are very likely to walk down some pretty destructive paths, believing they are good and fulfilling.

So the questions become: How do we hold one another accountable in our faith lives? Do we? Or has the culture of avoidance leaked into our faith lives where we remain spiritually separated?

I’ve heard it said that faith is a private matter. The problem with that is the fact that Jesus’ faith was far from private—he shared it willingly, but always compassionately, even on the cross. He called his disciples into a community of accountability. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners (a ministry fighting poverty and hunger around the world, and engaged in all sorts of social justice issues from a particularly Christian perspective) has a saying, and I’m sure he got it from somewhere else: “Faith is always personal, but never private.” Our faith, for better or worse, informs our lives (how we think and act, and how we view the world around us). If we are weak in our relationship with God, which is strengthened not only by our own intentionality but by the accountability that comes from a mature faith community, then the lens of faith through which we see ourselves and the world can quickly become distorted.

What does all this say about our lives? What does this say about the fact that this message is so important and so prevalent, though often overlooked, throughout scripture?

  • Though we may succumb to the craziness of our culture, though we may be tired, though we may feel like we’re always racing the clock, the truth that Jesus brings is that we have a call, a purpose.
  • Despite the fact that we may feel the pressure to do everything ourselves, the truth that Jesus brings is that we are to live in community and we are to draw strength from that community for our call, our purpose.
  • We are to intentionally engage the Holy One, regularly, so that we too may draw upon the breath that gives life, so we too may have the cloud that often shrouds our vision lifted so that we may see life in a new way.

Jesus invites us to live out our relationship with God, resting in the peace of God, especially in the midst of our work, our troubles, our frustrations, and even our anger. Whether it’s a lawn mower that gives us trouble, a computer that just won’t do what we want it to, a job that we feel is sucking the very life out of us, or relationships with other people that we are finding difficult and even painful, or any number of other things that distract us and beat us down, we must remember God’s hope for us—to live in peace with God, ourselves, and all of God’s children.

Jesus invites us to live out our relationship with God, resting in the peace of God, especially in the midst of our work, our troubles, our frustrations, and even our anger. May we all follow Jesus’ example and not just “find” downtime in our lives, but may we intentionally “create” downtime, “carve out” downtime with God—time listening to what God is saying to us, listening for what God is sharing with us deep within our souls. And may God bless us in our journeys.

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