Words from Our Pastor

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pentecost 9, 7/22/18: The Still Point

Sermon for Pentecost 9, 7/22/18                       Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56                          The Still Point                                                                                             

Today’s Gospel is another of Mark’s ‘sandwich stories,’ and if you had heard the whole story, including those two dramatic, in-the-middle miracles, and I’d asked you, “Where’s the beef?” you’d have said the miracles. And I would have agreed. But this morning we aren’t focusing on them—thanks to those who craft our Sunday to Sunday lectionary (the ones who gave Pastor Brook last week’s ‘heartwarming’ story of the beheading of John the Baptist), those miracles were left out.
So we get to focus on the bun, the big, fluffy bun—that is, the stories of the crowds before and after the miracles, wearing themselves out trying to get at Jesus. This rushing around has been common in Mark’s Gospel so far. Everywhere Jesus goes, crowds gather and pursue him. The world around Jesus is spinning.
I remember the world spinning around in my own life. I remember sunny summer mornings as a kid, when my friends and I had run at top speed through the neighborhood yards and then through my side yard and into the backyard green. We stopped there, breathing hard, and then started to twirl. Round and round in place, arms out and sky spinning above us, we twirled until we tumbled down dizzily into the grass and lay still. It was pure joy, that moment of being suddenly still, as all around me continued to spin. At age 9, even with boundless energy, I was tired. I welcomed the still moment.
The disciples who returned from their first assignment in ministry were like twirling 9 yr-olds. They ran out of steam and ran out of words as they breathlessly narrated their adventures to their Lord. All they’d seen and said, those who had welcomed them and those who had not, the generous meals they’d been served, the times they’d shaken the dust off their feet and moved on, weary and worn. They’d performed miracles, and they wanted to tell Jesus everything. They were full of themselves—spinning around.  
Come away, he said, take a load off and rest. Let’s find a deserted place and a still moment, to recover. Maybe he was, very simply, taking care of them. But maybe he also wanted to show them something—that all that busy-ness, while it had paid off in impressive successes, was not the most important thing for them. Maybe he wanted them to see the value of being still and finding their center again—finding him.   
Jesus wanted that for the crowds, too. Did you notice that just at the place in the story where our reading stops and skips over the big miracles, Jesus had begun to teach the crowd many things. So the teaching comes before the miracle. Teachers can make a difference in our lives—if you’ve ever had an excellent teacher, you know that. One sentence, one image created by inspired teaching can stick with you through your whole life.
The flashy miracles may pack a more powerful punch. But for Jesus the teaching part seems pretty important—more substance than flash. Maybe the teaching is a different kind of miracle, happening not in a grand moment, but in a still moment.  
And Jesus just kept going at the teaching (and the healing that came later), with a store of energy that never ran out. Jesus had energy enough for every sick person lying on a mat, squirming forward for a chance to touch his cloak. Slowly and deliberately he moved through the marketplaces, person by person. A young boy with crooked legs here, an old woman coughing and gasping for breath there, someone’s father, or sister—someone like you, someone like me.
Oh I love the flash as much as the next person: walking on water, making food for thousands from a basket of 5 small loaves, casting out ‘large and in charge’ demons. But for my faith and my trust, I’ll take the ‘savior’ over the ‘performer’ any day—the one with loving hands that move slowly, the one with quiet words that are life-changing, the one with gentle eyes and open arms.
In today’s times, that kind of savior may appear weak to some, and even trivial. Stillness and gentleness may look ineffectual against the strong forces of this time, when on any given day world powers and their dangerous quarrels may seem to hang in the balance of one sentence and how it’s heard, how it’s meant.
But appearances can fool us. We can forget that God has redefined what it means to be powerful. Isn’t our savior a God whose foolishness flies against the wisdom of worldly powers? And isn’t it true that our God’s power comes in the most unlikely forms—a broken body hanging on a cross that becomes the bread and wine for our very lives?
*  Jesus is that broken body…. But at the same time Jesus is the powerful body whose wholeness brings wholeness to anyone he touches.
*  Jesus is the powerhouse of abundance…. But at the same time Jesus is the one still point in the swirling chaos of a storm, or a restless crowd, or a band of disciples that’s breathless to describe all that they’ve done.  
In the midst of confusion, chaos, weariness or just plain busy-ness, Jesus IS a still moment—a gift of grace.
Writer Frederick Buechner assures us: grace “means something like this: [God says] Here is your life. …. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us.” (Listening to Your Life, October 30)
We are saved by grace, Buechner says. But grace is a gift. He puts it this way: “There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.”
All the breathless talk-talk-talk, all the twirling in place that makes you so dizzy you collapse, all the rushing around to get things done…none of that makes you any more filled up with God. And grace doesn’t come your way on account of any of that. The odd truth is that lying still on your mat in the marketplace and allowing him to come to you, or simply collapsing into God’s arms—that’s when grace can touch you. Jesus wanted that for his disciples. He wanted that for the crowds. And he wants that for us.
I’m not advising any of us to stop ‘doing.’ I am simply saying this: No matter how much good we are doing, let’s not sell short the peace and promise of being still, and in the stillness feeling Jesus right there. Let’s fall gladly and often into his everlasting arms. … 
(sing with me)
            What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
            Leaning on the everlasting arms.
            I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
            Leaning on the everlasting arms.
                        Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms.
                        Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Amen, and Amen.