19 Miles

Rev. Megan Huston
February 8, 2015

Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 

35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

While watching the news this week, I learned about James Robertson and his heroic 19 mile commute to work on foot each week day. Robertson’s car broke down about 10 years ago and hasn’t been able to afford to replace it, making $10.55 an hour. But rather than stay home and feel sorry for himself, Robertson makes the long commute and sleeps only 2 hours a night during the week.

When I watched this story I was moved and inspired by his determination. I was relieved to learn that when his story was published in the paper that a 19 year old began a campaign to raise money for a new car for Robertson and they have raised $300,000. After watching the story on the news I saw it go viral on social media, as people commented how much they loved the story before sharing it.

What impressed me the most about Robertson, was his positive disposition. He said he could have stayed home, but “his girlfriend didn’t want to hear any of his excuses.” How is it possible to live that story and not become resentful?

To be honest, I don’t think I’m that good of a person. I mean, I get resentful just hearing other people’s stories. Like, take Simon’s mother-in-law for example, in today’s Gospel lesson. She is in bed, with a fever, so sick that it took the son of God to make her well, and the first thing she does upon recovering is to start serving all the guys in the house. I read that, and I’m all like, that is messed up. And my cultural context radars go off.

So my instinct is to just push that part of the story aside, save it for a week I have a little more energy, and focus on verse 35. Ahh, verse 35, is what I long to hear, to read, to preach every Sunday. In a culture where we value hard work more than anything, I want to shout this verse from the mountain tops, that Jesus goes off, alone, in the dark and prays.

So to be honest, that was my plan this week, was to preach on renewal and prayer and solitude. But Simon’s mother-in-law just kept nagging at me. And then I saw it, in my commentary it described the Greek word for serve was actually diakoneo. By the way, I don’t know how to say that word, and no offense but I don’t really care how to say that word. In my last church, someone left a pronunciation dictionary on my desk one week, which I took as a hint, but I've since dug my heels in a bit further on the issue because to me pronouncing the words correctly just isn’t really what is important. Anyways, so Simon’s mother-in-law could be the first deacon we see in the New Testament. When I read this all of the sudden it dawned on me that my sense of resentment for her came from my context, not necessarily from hers. And then it hit me, this beautiful connection between the life she receives from Christ that empowers her to immediately begin serving again and the power that Christ receives from God when he goes out in the dark to pray, so that even when his disciples literally “hunt” him down and need him, saying “everyone is searching for you,” he doesn’t freak out and say “Please just give me a minute” but instead he says, “Ok let’s go.” Because he has tapped into the source of all life and so his service is no longer a burden but this beautiful opportunity to tap into the power of God that fuels him and fuels the world. And I wonder if it is the same for Simon’s mother-in-law. That she serves the best way she knows how because she has encountered the power of God- its healing and renewal- and her only response is to then share her gifts.

Two weeks ago I went to a pastors conference in Nashville. It is a gathering of senior ministers from the top 100 largest disciples congregations. I was not expecting a lot to be honest. Randy Johnson from the Christian Church Foundation kept asking me to attend, but I knew it was because I was one of the few women invited, and I thought this was going to be just a bunch of old boys with big egos wanting to brag about how big their churches were and I thought I don’t have time for this, but fine I will go and represent the women-folk. It is in a different location each year, and this year it was in Nashville, so I thought well I really can’t not go with it being so close.

So I went to this dude-fest, a bit nervous about being the only woman there. I had a moment to myself before attending the opening dinner and I sort of gave myself a pep talk, like, don’t be an angry woman and judge all these guys before you talk to them. I tried to remind myself that you can learn something from everyone and to be open to the conference. I saw a friend from college first. He looked sort of surprised to see me, but then said, “it is so good to see you! Can I introduce you to some folks?” It was completely gracious and from that point on I felt at ease and welcome.

The biggest surprise of the event was that while I was expecting to meet a bunch of entitled, power hungry men, instead I met a group of sincere, passionate, balanced pastors who were excited about the ministry happening in their churches and hopeful about following the Spirit of God in the world. What I became aware of through this conference is how much the narrative of the church has become so negative that it seems like every time pastors get together it is often really depressing and I do not really share the same view of the church. I have had overwhelmingly positive experiences in both my last congregation and this one and it was so refreshing and renewing to be around other pastors who feel excited about the direction their churches are going. Also, I did not sense burn out or exhaustion from the pastors who were there. I felt like most of them seemed to have a genuinely healthy balance of work and personal life. And it wasn’t because most of us don’t work more hours than normal, I really think it was because they have found joy in our work and know when we need to take time alone to tap into the source of life and joy and strength.

So I watched the news story on James Robertson and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside about it. But then I started considering the resentment I felt about Simon’s mother-in-law and I started to feel a connection between these two stories. In our culture we have turned work into an idol. We have learned that our value comes from our accomplishments and that self reliance is essential. We have decided that it is better to sleep 2 hours a night, fuel our bodies with coca-cola and mountain dew, walk 19 miles to work for $10 an hour than to ask for help. And I just wonder how long we can sustain this way of life?

Because even though I doubt anyone here walks 19 miles to work, I think a lot of us are completely exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked and possibly even underpaid. But I wonder who we have to blame?

 At our board retreat a couple of weeks ago, we had three ministry leaders come talk to the board about their ministry area. We invited Jeri Marsh from the Food Bank, Mike Morris, from youth group, and Jeanie Smith from hospitality. What struck me as most exciting after their presentation was not any one feature of their ministries, although the work they do is quite impressive. What I found myself thanking God for, was that each of them had this fire in their belly about their ministry area. You know how you can just tell when someone is dedicated to something with their entire heart and soul? And these three, they were.

Something about setting the table, about playing with youth, about feeding the hungry I think allows these three to tap into the source of life and joy. And so even though they are working their tails off constantly to ensure the success of their ministries, they are having fun while they do it and they are embodying diaconos service. I want to be like that.

I don’t know what it is that reconnects your spirit to the Holy Spirit. But I do know that our lives are not defined by what culture tells us. That working harder is not going to give us more value. That being exhausted is not an asset. And that we have the power to choose to define our lives by the Holy.

Jesus goes off alone to pray. Simon’s mother-in-law is touched by the hand of Christ. Jeri fills bags of food. Mike plays games, lights candles, and listens to the youth’s highs and lows. Jeanie peels potatoes and organizes volunteers. So what about you?

 

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