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Sermon for February 8, 2009

The Demands of Discipleship
Mark 1:29-39
February 8, 2008

After Jesus left the synagogue with James and John, they went to Simon and Andrew’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. They told Jesus about her right away. So he went to her bedside, took her by the hand, and helped her sit up. Then the fever left her, and she prepared a meal for them. That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. The whole town gathered at the door to watch. So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak. Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.

The previous day had been quite demanding for Jesus. The new one promises to be the same. The previous day he taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. He called the demons out of a possessed man. Now the people will not leave him alone. News about him spreads quickly over the whole region of Galilee. The people press upon him with their problems, bringing him their diseased to be healed.

It was for this reason that Jesus came to us. His mission was to meet the needs of humankind, but there were so many of them. How would Jesus them all? Given his own humanity, where would he get the strength to keep up the pace, to continually face the crowd with the fresh new teaching that they desperately needed, to keep on giving of himself in limitless ways?

Sound familiar? If Jesus needed help, what about you and me? Given the demands placed upon our time, our energies, our resources that are simply a part of living from day to day, how do we find the time and energy to be faithful followers of God. Everyday there are needs to be met, decisions to be made, business to be attended to. Everyday there are people to relate to, conflicts to be resolved, actions that require more than we in our own strength alone can achieve. If Jesus needed help, what about you and me?

Here’s how Jesus did it, “Before daybreak Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.”

Jesus knew he needed help. He knew that he could not live in this world without God. If he was going to spend himself for others, he must spend time spiritually refreshing himself. Jesus knew that it was not humanly possible to accomplish all that he needed to complete every day of his life by his own strength alone. He also knew that he didn't have to. Not when his loving Father was ever present, ready to provide, whatever he needed, whenever he needed it, however he needed it. All he had to do was ask. Remember, the Bible says we have not because we ask not. If we ask, we will receive.

Jesus didn't leave his meeting with God to chance. It appears from this text that he had an appointed time and place. His favorite time for his meeting with God was early morning. It takes discipline to get up in the morning for anything, and yet Jesus felt it was important enough. Some of us wouldn’t think of starting our day without a cup of coffee, but we start the day without God. We wouldn’t dare leave the house without a shower, but we leave without a serious time of prayer. My question is, can we manage not to? We already know that tomorrow will be a busy day. The demands put upon us will drain our energy and put our knowledge and talents to use. But what does our discipleship demand? How can we meet the needs around us without being filled with the energy and authority that only God can give?

That’s why we pray. Prayer is coming to God. Prayer is seeking God. Prayer is the appeal of the soul to God. Prayer is standing before God as “an empty pitcher before a full fountain.” Prayer is connecting with God who is the power source. Prayer is opening ourselves up to God for nourishment, as the flowers and trees open up to their environment: the air, the sunlight, and the rain. Prayer is communing with God. Prayer is living an intimate relationship with God. In prayer, we surrender all that we are to all that God is. In prayer, Jesus sought the strength that only communion with God could provide. If Jesus needed this in his life, what about you and me?

Prayer is everything. It’s what we do on Sunday, and what we do on Monday. Prayer is life. Prayer is an inner journey, and a relationship with a lover or friend. Prayer is practice and reflection. Prayer is silence and sound. Prayer is union and communion. Prayer is protest and passion. Prayer is intimacy and obedience. Prayer is everything.

Let’s be honest, shall we? Most of our meetings with God are not planned. Our prayers are occasional, spontaneous, spur of the moment prayers. If we meet with God, it’s usually an emergency or a crisis. Our backs are up against the wall, bills are due, a child is sick, it’s the end of the semester and there are exams to take, too many papers to write, too many proposals to get in, we need help. “I know what I’ll do,” we say, “I’ll ask God for help.” If the truth be told, we have tried everything else, now we will try God.

Is that the way to carry on a relationship with the lover of our souls? Is that how we should approach the one who loves us above all else – the one whom we say we love with heart, soul, mind, and strength? If you love God, why not take time to talk to God and let God talk to you?

In the Christian mystic tradition, there is a spiritual discipline called “practicing the presence of God.” It means really believing what we learned in Sunday School classes, confirmation sessions, and what we hear in sermons is actually true —God exists; God is always with us; God always loves us; God always helps us even when we don’t understand what God is doing. God is doing something new, even when we fear that God is doing nothing at all. “Practicing the presence of God,” means trusting that God are loves us fully and eternally. There is not a single moment in time when God is not with us. There is not a single experience in which God is absent.

Prayer grows out of the awareness that God is everywhere and in everything we do. Mary Oliver expresses this awareness in her poem “The Summer Day”:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

We practice the presence of God as we go about our daily tasks. Routine chores take on a sacred dimension when we practice the presence of God while doing them. Something as simple as eating has the power to make us sensitive to God’s presence. This form of praying is one of the easiest ways to pray. All in requires is that you accept the reality of God’s presence with you. Because of God’s presence, every thing we do, every movement we make, has a spiritual, a sacred dimension to it.

I think that some of us have a hard time with this because we don’t know what to say. We want to pray, but our minds go blank. We are like the child who accompanied his father to run some errands. When lunchtime arrived, the two of them went to a diner for a sandwich. The father sat down on one of the stools at the counter and lifted the boy up to the seat beside him. They ordered lunch, and when the waiter brought the food, the father said, “Son, we’ll just have a silent prayer.” Dad got through praying first and waited for the boy to finish his prayer, but he just sat with his head bowed for an unusually long time. When he finally looked up, his father asked him, “What in the world were you praying about all that time?” With the innocence and honesty of a child, he replied, “How do I know? It was a silent prayer.”

So, let me give you some words to try out. When you are about to begin a job or task, pause and offer up a prayer like this:
You, O God, are the creator of the whole world and of everything that is in it. You are found, not in lofty words or elaborate plans, but here, in the simple moments of life. Help me to know your presence, no matter what tasks lays before me. Use my heart and my hands for your glory. Amen.
Try it. Say something like this throughout your day, every day. Image what will happen inside of you, within your family, within our church if we began to pray like this. I think a few things will begin to happen.

First we will see Christ. Rather than looking for seeing sinners and unclean folk, we will see the world through what one church father called “grace-healed eyes.” We will look at the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcasts of society and see none other than the very image of the Son of God. This day I will not look for an enemy. In prayer, I see the potential for new relationships as I look at others with grace-healed eyes. When we practice the presence of God, we will see Christ.

Not only that, when we practice the presence of God, we will become like Christ. That’s the goal of our faith, isn’t it? We begin to take on the character traits of Jesus. His voice is my voice. His love is my love. His heart is my heart. His anger is my anger. His suffering for the world is mine. His involvement with the outcast is mine. His emphasis on the weightier matters will be mine. His impatience with religious squabbles that hurt people will be implanted in my own heart.
I think we will find something else begin to happen. We will find strength to be disciples. We will face the demands around us with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. The presence of God will refresh us. Our relationship with God will renew us. And you will begin to live in a spirit of prayer.

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