Feverish Living (Sermon)

“Feverish Living”

Mark 1:29-39

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

2/7/21

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.  (NRSV)

         I wonder if the first-century writer of Mark wouldn’t have felt somewhat at home in the feverish pace of life of the twenty-first century. As we noted last week, in Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story, much of the action happens “immediately.” In the first chapter, “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness,” (Mark 1:12) That urgency continues into the first verse of chapter 15 when, “As soon as it was morning,” (“In the Greek, “As soon as” is the same word translated as “immediately.”) “the chief priests…elders…scribes…and the whole council…bound Jesus…led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.” After that, things slow down. In the words of Joshua, “the sun stood still” (Joshua 10:13) for those who had grown impatient with Jesus.

         Today’s passage begins with that same immediacy. “As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue,” says Mark, “they entered the house of Simon and Andrew.” And at once they tell Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law is bedridden with a fever.

How’s that for irony? Everywhere Jesus goes, feverishness hounds him.

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and afterward she hurries to the kitchen and gets back to work.

By sundown, the end of that Sabbath day, a crowd stands at the door. They’ve come to be healed or to watch healing happen. Jesus tends to as many as he can until everyone finally goes home.

Now, to some folks, this sermon may begin to feel rather cliché, but maybe some ideas and expressions become cliché because they need to be heard over and over.

         Who among us doesn’t know, or remember all too well, the feverishness of life? And I include young children in this. At what age do we start them in organized sports requiring multiple practices every week, and weekend-long tournaments in far-away towns?

In our culture, busyness has become a badge of honor. “How are you doing?” we ask, and most of the time we either say, “Fine,” or proudly declare that we’re too busy to know what day it is. It seems to me, too, that even more of the time, all we want to hear from others is that they’re either fine or busy. We’re so caught up in our own fevered lives that we seldom have the physical stillness and the spiritual peace required to listen to one another, and to offer compassion to people in need.

The sad paradox is that while many folks try to use busyness to validate their lives, the cost of feverish living is life itself. Frenetic existence is about achieving and acquiring rather than growing and sharing. It numbs us to people we claim to love and to systemic iniquities and inequities that destroy community.

Returning to our story, we see Jesus rise before the sun and slip away by himself. He escapes to a private, quiet place to pray. After sunrise, the disciples launch a desperate search for Jesus. They finally locate him and interrupt his prayer.

“Everyone is searching for you,” they say. (Translation: Jesus, let’s go! We’ve gotta get busy!)

Jesus doesn’t disagree, but he does redirect. Yes, we’re moving on, he says. But there are other people for me to see, and other places for me to go.

Jesus’ feverish pace continues, but all along the way he prepares for that busyness. He prepares by entering, over and over, like a cliché, the relationship-restoring peace of solitude, and the invigorating stillness of prayer.

I think that Jesus’ pulling away from the people who need him is the very point of today’s story. Precisely because of his disciplined retreat from the relentless demands, Jesus is able to fulfill his calling as the Christ. In yet another paradox, only by continually making time to avoid people can Jesus truly be with them and love them.

Years ago I read that the reformer Martin Luther said that the busier his life got the more time he needed to commit to the renewing peace of contemplation. As one who kept on the move in order to avoid arrest and execution for heresy, Luther lived a terribly feverish life, and he could not write, preach, travel—and thrive—if he didn’t carve out ample time simply to sit in the presence of God.

Folks like me are usually expected to provide good examples of faithfulness in prayer. And while I may be well-practiced at cluttering up silences with words, I struggle as much as anyone with the rare gifts of stillness and peace. I struggle with making adequate time for the kind of contemplative prayer that causes fevers to break, wounds to heal, and that opens our eyes to the Spirited Holiness at work creating and uniting all things in love.

Such a confession is no excuse, but it can be a starting place. If we claim to be the body of Christ, doesn’t it make sense, that, to prepare ourselves for Christian mission, we, too, would regularly pull away from the world? For us as a community, that means more than simply shutting ourselves up for church services once a week. It means making time to lay aside even all the decent and orderly ways of corporate worship and committee protocol so we can sit silently together. For each of us individually, it means creating time and space where we hit the off switch and surrender to the embrace of Spirit, where we just listen and feel. And all of that takes practice—lots and lots of practice.

Covid has required isolation, but not true sabbath. Our world is still as fevered as ever, and prayerful retreat is indispensable to our individual well-being and to our corporate ministry. Through sabbath time we place ourselves in the hands of God who heals our fevers, and deepens our capacity for giving and receiving love.

The Quakers seem to have learned this better than many other Christian groups. Quakers are well known for honoring silence in individual practice and in corporate worship. The hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” is an adaptation of the poem “The Brewing of Soma” by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.1 The story behind the poem is quite interesting, but for our purposes, it’s enough to recognize that this hymn invites us into stillness and peace.

So, instead of filling more time with my words, we are going to sing this hymn together. As we sing, I invite you to contemplate God’s healing and comforting presence in that stillness and peace.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,

Forgive our foolish ways!

Reclothe us in our rightful mind,

In purer lives Thy service find,

In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard

Beside the Syrian sea

The gracious calling of the Lord,

Let us, like them, without a word

Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,

O calm of hills above,

Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee

The silence of eternity

Interpreted by love!

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire

Thy coolness and Thy balm;

Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;

Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.


Benediction
:

When I Am Among the Trees*

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”2

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Lord_and_Father_of_Mankind

2”When I Am Among the Trees,” by Mary Oliver. Published in Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006. Pg. 4.

*In Mary Oliver’s poem, I interpret trees as a symbol for God. Thus my reading of her poetic reflection invites us to imagine ourselves walking among the reality of God.

“Feverish Living”

Mark 1:29-39

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

2/7/21

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.  (NRSV)

         I wonder if the first-century writer of Mark wouldn’t have felt somewhat at home in the feverish pace of life of the twenty-first century. As we noted last week, in Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story, much of the action happens “immediately.” In the first chapter, “the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness,” (Mark 1:12) That urgency continues into the first verse of chapter 15 when, “As soon as it was morning,” (“In the Greek, “As soon as” is the same word translated as “immediately.”) “the chief priests…elders…scribes…and the whole council…bound Jesus…led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.” After that, things slow down. In the words of Joshua, “the sun stood still” (Joshua 10:13) for those who had grown impatient with Jesus.

         Today’s passage begins with that same immediacy. “As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue,” says Mark, “they entered the house of Simon and Andrew.” And at once they tell Jesus that Simon’s mother-in-law is bedridden with a fever.

How’s that for irony? Everywhere Jesus goes, feverishness hounds him.

Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and afterward she hurries to the kitchen and gets back to work.

By sundown, the end of that Sabbath day, a crowd stands at the door. They’ve come to be healed or to watch healing happen. Jesus tends to as many as he can until everyone finally goes home.

Now, to some folks, this sermon may begin to feel rather cliché, but maybe some ideas and expressions become cliché because they need to be heard over and over.

         Who among us doesn’t know, or remember all too well, the feverishness of life? And I include young children in this. At what age do we start them in organized sports requiring multiple practices every week, and weekend-long tournaments in far-away towns?

In our culture, busyness has become a badge of honor. “How are you doing?” we ask, and most of the time we either say, “Fine,” or proudly declare that we’re too busy to know what day it is. It seems to me, too, that even more of the time, all we want to hear from others is that they’re either fine or busy. We’re so caught up in our own fevered lives that we seldom have the physical stillness and the spiritual peace required to listen to one another, and to offer compassion to people in need.

The sad paradox is that while many folks try to use busyness to validate their lives, the cost of feverish living is life itself. Frenetic existence is about achieving and acquiring rather than growing and sharing. It numbs us to people we claim to love and to systemic iniquities and inequities that destroy community.

Returning to our story, we see Jesus rise before the sun and slip away by himself. He escapes to a private, quiet place to pray. After sunrise, the disciples launch a desperate search for Jesus. They finally locate him and interrupt his prayer.

“Everyone is searching for you,” they say. (Translation: Jesus, let’s go! We’ve gotta get busy!)

Jesus doesn’t disagree, but he does redirect. Yes, we’re moving on, he says. But there are other people for me to see, and other places for me to go.

Jesus’ feverish pace continues, but all along the way he prepares for that busyness. He prepares by entering, over and over, like a cliché, the relationship-restoring peace of solitude, and the invigorating stillness of prayer.

I think that Jesus’ pulling away from the people who need him is the very point of today’s story. Precisely because of his disciplined retreat from the relentless demands, Jesus is able to fulfill his calling as the Christ. In yet another paradox, only by continually making time to avoid people can Jesus truly be with them and love them.

Years ago I read that the reformer Martin Luther said that the busier his life got the more time he needed to commit to the renewing peace of contemplation. As one who kept on the move in order to avoid arrest and execution for heresy, Luther lived a terribly feverish life, and he could not write, preach, travel—and thrive—if he didn’t carve out ample time simply to sit in the presence of God.

Folks like me are usually expected to provide good examples of faithfulness in prayer. And while I may be well-practiced at cluttering up silences with words, I struggle as much as anyone with the rare gifts of stillness and peace. I struggle with making adequate time for the kind of contemplative prayer that causes fevers to break, wounds to heal, and that opens our eyes to the Spirited Holiness at work creating and uniting all things in love.

Such a confession is no excuse, but it can be a starting place. If we claim to be the body of Christ, doesn’t it make sense, that, to prepare ourselves for Christian mission, we, too, would regularly pull away from the world? For us as a community, that means more than simply shutting ourselves up for church services once a week. It means making time to lay aside even all the decent and orderly ways of corporate worship and committee protocol so we can sit silently together. For each of us individually, it means creating time and space where we hit the off switch and surrender to the embrace of Spirit, where we just listen and feel. And all of that takes practice—lots and lots of practice.

Covid has required isolation, but not true sabbath. Our world is still as fevered as ever, and prayerful retreat is indispensable to our individual well-being and to our corporate ministry. Through sabbath time we place ourselves in the hands of God who heals our fevers, and deepens our capacity for giving and receiving love.

The Quakers seem to have learned this better than many other Christian groups. Quakers are well known for honoring silence in individual practice and in corporate worship. The hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” is an adaptation of the poem “The Brewing of Soma” by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.1 The story behind the poem is quite interesting, but for our purposes, it’s enough to recognize that this hymn invites us into stillness and peace.

So, instead of filling more time with my words, we are going to sing this hymn together. As we sing, I invite you to contemplate God’s healing and comforting presence in that stillness and peace.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,

Forgive our foolish ways!

Reclothe us in our rightful mind,

In purer lives Thy service find,

In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard

Beside the Syrian sea

The gracious calling of the Lord,

Let us, like them, without a word

Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,

O calm of hills above,

Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee

The silence of eternity

Interpreted by love!

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire

Thy coolness and Thy balm;

Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;

Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.
Benediction
:

When I Am Among the Trees*

by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”2

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Lord_and_Father_of_Mankind

2”When I Am Among the Trees,” by Mary Oliver. Published in Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006. Pg. 4.

*In Mary Oliver’s poem, I interpret trees as a symbol for God. Thus my reading of her poetic reflection invites us to imagine ourselves walking among the reality of God.

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