Doug Norris (Is.40 : 27-31 , Mk 1 : 29-39)
I’ll begin with a confession. I have been caught sleeping on the job. Among the various odd items sitting around my office – there is a 4 foot long pencil, 2 guitars that I never use, a shovel, my bobble-head Jesus statue – and there are a couple of pillows.
I tell people that the pillows are there in case while working on a sermon I put myself to sleep. This is a reliable sign that it’s not going very well. In fact, the pillows are for the practice of meditation. I was partway through a course in mindfulness meditation. And part of the process was an ongoing and regular schedule of meditation. 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 3 minutes, various intervals several times each day. I was not keeping up.
I had 30 minutes free before a scheduled appointment was to arrive, and I had a 30 minute meditation to do, so quickly out come the pillows to see if I can squeeze this in, quickly put the CD on, quickly go still… A couple of obvious lessons were learned. A – you can’t quickly do meditation. B – you can easily fall asleep during meditation. So sure enough at the 20 minute mark just as I dozed off, my scheduled appointment arrived ten minutes early, I jolted awake, answered the door with bed-head, a dozy look, a pillow under my arm.
‘Those who wait for the Lord’, said Isaiah to the people of Judah, ‘will be renewed, find strength, and power to carry on…’ Part of me really wants to spend time ‘waiting for the Lord’, to go to deep inner places, to live in that centred way. And to be renewed, that original light/fire/voltage God puts in us lit up again. We have running through us at every moment a small share of the oxygen that fires up the universe. To go deep is to find that again…
So why is this so difficult? It is perhaps the single most common personal spiritual question of our time – why can’t I get still? Why is there no time to stay whole and well, in the midst of work and children and parents and baking muffins for school… Like the bumper sticker says : ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’ Hold onto this thought for a moment – we’ll come back to it.
The reading : We are in Capernaum, a small town, a fishing port on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is about the size of Lake Joseph. To the north, and in fact all around are the hills, the land rising up. To the south is the Jordan River and the road to Jerusalem. Capernaum is the site of much of the ministry of Jesus. He calls his disciples there, preaches in the synagogue there, it is the hometown of Peter, and the house of Peter became one of the first churches.
On a trip in Israel/Palestine some years ago our guide, Leslie, took us to Capernaum. We walked around. He said it is also situated low, right by the shores of Galilee, and rising above it is the hill country. And he said that in the cold season it was harder for the people who lived in the hills, especially any who might be weak, or sick, and so they would come down to the town, to the warmer air by the shore. So the population of Capernaum often included a number of people who were not well, and likely the companions who had brought them.
So – here’s the reading. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And 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.
Here in this geography is the perennial human dance, with three clear steps : there is, amid all of the beauty, trouble for us, weakness and grief. And in this we will find companions to carry us. And there will be healing. (be aware – healing is not curing…) Trouble, and companionship, and healing. Maybe, if only one snippet stays with you today, this : Here’s a version of the human condition – trouble, and companionship, and healing.
Here is another part of that passage : In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you. He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; that’s what I came to do.”
Let’s picture that scene : Jesus creeps out of the house – carrying his sandals so as not to wake anybody up – slips out to the edge of town where nobody can see him – I recall it as a place of high soft grasses – and he puts his pillows down on the office floor to spend some time in meditation, waiting for the Lord. And 20 minutes later he hears them – thrashing through the grass – Jesus ! Hey, Jesus ! You have appointments, man ! How can we get this movement rolling if you just lie here meditating ! Let’s go! You’re the man !
Maybe they were imagining already the words of that hymn we sing : O Jesus, from the mountainside, make haste to heal these hearts of pain. Among the restless throngs, abide, and tread the city streets again!
So he goes with the cycle – as we do, time and again, back into the fray, with bed-head and a pillow under our arm, knowing that while we have not been long enough in the deep centre of the Holy, there is work to do.
And so very often it is precisely that return to the fray that comes in the voice of the Church – we are Simon Peter tramping through the grass looking for people who could be called on for our holy work – and the voice of the church is so often a song of demand – won’t you come to do this work with us ? To feed the hungry and to house the poor and build new ways – and this is without question holy work. But the voice of the Church is also Jesus calling ‘Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest…’
So, some invitations. If you are caring for others, your partner, your child, your parent, you are pouring yourself out and you need to be filled. Jesus who went to the door of the house in Capernaum and saw a sea of faces, saw the vast quiet swaying dance going on, and understood : there is beauty and there is trouble, and the people with trouble have companions who have bring them, and God has in mind that there be healing, and life… Where cross the crowded ways of life, we hear your voice O Son of Man…