"SAVOR" - Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor

Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39


            Do you sometimes feel like your life is a total BLUR?

            What were you doing Friday morning? How about Tuesday afternoon? How about Wednesday evening? Oh, okay . . . if you are in the bell choir, or the choir, that one was easy – practice,  . .  at the church.

            But what was a major highlight of the past week? For me and Ginger, that’s pretty easy – we had a new grandson – beautiful and amazing. But most weeks are not like that.

And what about last month?  What would be the highlight there? Maybe you had something significant – like a special trip, or a birthday, . . . or maybe a new diagnosis, or a new emerging challenge that sets a difficult course ahead. 

But generally, most of us get caught up in the BLUR –

Here is what Rob Bell says - it is so easy for one day to become like all the others. We wake up and eat, then go to work or school or exercise or head for an errand or return emails or walk the dog or take someone here or see a client or go to the dentist or book a flight or all of the above. And we do all that as we water the plants and pick up a few things from the store and mail a package and stop by the bank and go by the dry cleaning and check on this or that, . . . and brush our teeth before going to bed. And we do all that so we can get up and do it again. Our days can easily become a blur, the parts and pieces blending together, and all of it losing connection and depth and significance, . . . cut off from any sense that there is way more going on here. (See R Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, loc 2096)

There is always way more going on – and our task and calling is to pay attention, and be engaged with our hearts, souls, minds, and might.

We have a story today . . . . about Jesus. And it is pretty much a BLUR too. Listen as I read it.

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.

            This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

            Wow. That is a lot of BLUR – a lot of going back and forth. There are intimate moments healing Simon’s mother-in-law, and then that evening, at sunset, very public actions that involve more healing. It says. “He cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast our many demons.”

            Then in the morning, Jesus got up while it was still dark and went to a place to pray. And Simon and his companions hunted for him, and when they found him - it becomes quickly so blurry again – “everyone is searching for you.” And it looks like Jesus jumps up and starts running again – to neighboring towns – “proclaiming the message” – for that is what he came to do.

            Most of you know that I love words. I love thinking about words, playing with words and what they mean.  Think about this: the difference between AMOROUS and AMORPHOUS is tissue-thin. In the spelling of those words, a ‘ph’ gets inserted to distinguish them. And yet as close as they are in spelling and in sound, they are almost extremely opposite.

            My Webster’s dictionary – and these words are right next to each other  - defines AMOROUS as “inclined to love, being in love; full of love.”

            And AMORPHOUS – the very next word - means “shapeless, formless;” it means ill-organized, “lacking clear structure and focus.”

            When life gets BLURRY, our lives can become amorphous – lacking structure and focus, without form. We just go and come, wake up and go to bed, do our stuff, try to be where we are supposed to be. But then it can feel without purpose and without focus, . . . and maybe even without love.

            There is certainly a great deal of activity and movement in this passage about Jesus. A lot happens in a short time – healing and casting out demons, going fast and slowing down and then going on again with his message, for that is what he came to do.

            And yet all that happens is full of focus – full of form – AND full of love. Jesus is inclined to love, inclined to let his love lead to healing, for Simon’s mother-in-law, and for the many who are sick and with demons. Jesus’ purpose and focus is to bring about the healing and love of God in the world.

            At various moments in our lives, we find ourselves asking – what is life about? What is my life about? What should it be about? What am I doing? What should I be doing?

            Just this week, I had four different conversations along these lines with different ones of you. We keep wanting and needing to sort this out. We want and need focus.

            Are our lives more amorphous?  .  . . . without focus and structure – just going and coming, waking and going to bed, going to work, doing this and that? And calling it another day?

Or are our lives more amorous? . . .Inclined toward love, indicative of love.

This is what theologian Leonard Sweet says: your life is not your own; it belongs to God. To “be yourself” is not to just be anything you want to be. To “be yourself” is to be and do what God wants you to be and do, knowing that God created you for a mission . . . (L. Sweet, SoulSalsa, p. 16) And for all of us, our mission is to love God and love what God loves – healing and wholeness, justice and kindness, tenderness and compassion, goodness and mercy.

Another theologian, Karl Barth, reminds us that our conversion is not ever a moment, it is a movement toward God’s redeeming ways in the world. I love that – our conversion is a movement toward God’s redeeming ways in the world. Since our life is not our own, our mission is to align our lives always with the love and justice, the light and healing of God in the world. (from C Barnes, sermon at Princeton Seminary, June, 2015)

We have a long ways to go with THAT in these days. So many things and so many voices pull us in directions that can leave us frazzled, discouraged, disheartened. It may be the daily news from far off places, . . . or daily encounters . . . that leave us feeling amorphous.

That just means, friends, we have lots of opportunities to be part of the movement toward God’s redeeming ways in the world – with love and focus and faithfulness. Our lives are not our own – we seek to wake up everyday and seek to be about God’s mission in the world. Not amorphous – spinning and searching, without form or faith or focus; but faithful, inclined toward love, spreading love in the world.

I suspect you have heard this. St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.”

Jesus’ preaching in this blurry passage today has almost no words – only actions. The actions are healing the woman in bed with a fever; in the town, he cured the sick and cast out many demons; and they went throughout Galilee doing the same – for that is what he came to do.

Jesus is NOT mostly worried about himself, as we tend to be. Not an amorphous, formless life. He is focused. Loving. Caring. Healing. This is his mission – and our mission – toward God’s redeeming ways in the world. That is to be our focus too – our calling – to live with faith and to strive to love and serve God, for healing and help in the world.

I have mentioned before a very inspiring new book by Father Gregory Boyle – Barking to the Choir. Every page is full of fresh insights for me. As I have said, Greg Boyle works with the harshest gangs and most violent community in Los Angeles. Yet the sub-title of his book is “the power of radical kinship.” What he talks about is tenderness, compassion, kinship. He has spent his life and ministry in the most challenging and dangerous setting – and he keeps talking about kinship, tenderness, compassion, mercy. His life and his work are part of the movement – the conversion – toward God’s redeeming ways, to which we are all called.

Listen to this passage: A woman, quite determined to join our efforts at Homeboy (his ministry with gangs and violence and intervention) once told me she HAD to volunteer with us. When I asked her why, she replied, “Because I believe I have a message these young people need to hear.”

Boyle responded. “The minute you lose that message, come back to us.” We don’t point the cursor at some lost soul and push the “save” button. Many high school volunteers, long accustomed to building the orphanage or feeding the homeless in a soup kitchen, ask me what they are supposed “to do” at Homeboy, and I always answer: “wrong question.” The right one is “What will HAPPEN to you here?”

We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world, or savor it. I want to propose that SAVORING is better, and that when we seek to “save” and “contribute” and “give back” and “rescue” folks, and EVEN “make a difference,” then it is all about you . . . .and the world stays stuck. The homies – the gangs, the troubled kids – are not waiting to be saved. They already are. The same is true for service providers and those in any ministry.

The good news, or course, is that when we choose to SAVOR the world, it gets saved. Don’t set out to change the world. Set out to wonder how people are doing. (p. 174-175)

Jesus so SAVORED the world – he reached out in compassion and touched the hand of Simon’s mother-in-law. He extended himself with love, curing the sick and casting our demons. He went about SAVORING every moment and every person and every day – with a message and a movement toward God’s redeeming ways in the world.

And this is what we strive for – SAVOR – with love and affection, not selfishness or suspicion. SAVOR with kindness and generosity – people and moments, and therefore we participate with God in the redeeming ways in the world.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.

Our life belongs to God. We live each day with love for God and for God’s healing in the world. May it be so. AMEN

Prayer of Commitment: O God, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to stand with you, to savor the world with you, that is to abide forever. We seek to follow Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during morning worship on Sunday, February 4, 2018. This is a rough manuscript.     

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