May the words of my mouth be heard, written in our hearts, and acknowledged to God in prayer. Amen.
We are beginning a study of the Gospel of Mark, and as Father Philip told us last week, Mark is the first gospel, and in many ways a “just the facts, ma’am” account of Jesus’ ministry, In this rather short gospel (there are only 16 chapters), there are 65 stories of healing and 10 parables! As Jesus traveled through small villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee and onto Jerusalem, we learn of His encounters with 122 people as He walked and visited homes and markets – and another 100 people in temples and synagogues. He had a mission – He knew He only had a short time to accomplish it – and He had to be about the work God had sent Him to do!
Last Sunday we learned that the first person He healed was a man possessed by a demon as He taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. It is noteworthy to learn, as we do in today’s reading, that the next person He healed later that same morning was a woman: Simon’s mother-in-law. We read that after leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew for lunch. Simon told Jesus that his mother-in-law was ill with a fever, and asked Jesus to heal her. Immediately, He went to her, took her hand, and she was healed, and rose up to minister to Jesus and those with him.
Let’s take a moment to be aware of several interesting points in this encounter that illustrate the uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning.
First of all, the second person Jesus healed in His new ministry was a woman! Since women had a much less important place in the structure of Jewish society at that time, this was startling! Already we can see the work and world of Jesus was going to break the boundaries of both Heaven and earth. Women were to be of value – they became a part of His following, and in some cases, traveled with Him; they not only served, but they supported and witnessed to His ministry. Many of the parables and healings involve women.
Secondly, as was customary in Jesus’ time, women were often restricted to the home to protect their innocence and the reputation of the family; they were not ever involved with men outside the family except to serve food, and were certainly never in physical contact with them. In this case, the men asked Jesus to heal the older woman – as was proper – but Jesus went into her sleeping quarters, took her hand and she was healed forever. She rose up and went to work – everyone was so astonished and grateful that setting aside of long-held social ‘norms’ didn’t matter at all!
Finally, later that day, as the recovered woman served Jesus and His disciples, the house became overrun with crowds, seeking the healing power of Jesus and His message – and surely this woman, sick just a few hours earlier, had much to do to facilitate the gathering and miracles that occurred.
We know that Biblical writers often equated being healed with being ‘made whole’ – demons and fevers were symbols of dis-ease, fear, or depression – and when these ‘demons’ were cast out, the person was, in reality, made stronger in faith and wisdom. No rest or recovery was needed – those healed went forth at once to serve, to proclaim the good news, and praise God.
We further hear in today’s reading that after Jesus tended to the sick and broken at Simon’s house, he goes to a deserted place to pray. As is so often the case in Jesus’ ministry, his opportunities to find solitude were few and far between. Tending to the sick and the outcast can be hard work; He must have been physically and spiritually exhausted. This is just another occasion, and there are many in the Gospels, where Jesus goes off alone to pray.
Jesus didn’t “just happen” to find himself alone with time to pray. He took the time; He wanted to hear His Father’s voice. . . in solitude, and peace. Beset on every hand by the demands of His disciples and the multitudes who sought His help, Jesus looked for, and cherished that quietness. When He could clear his mind and be strengthened by God’s voice giving Him direction and courage – times when He could withdraw from the cares and clamor of the world and re-connect with the peace and love pf the eternal world of God. If He was to do the work of God, Jesus had to have time with God! And so must we; we must make time to be alone with God for prayer and meditation, and to hear His voice, and get direction. It is the time that some people have called – “God Time”.
“God Time” – those words even sound good, don’t they? So many times, when we speak of prayer time, we think of such words and ideas as duty, habit, laborious, tedious, demanding, and a host of other words. The truth is, for many people, prayer has become a ‘thing,’ rather than a part of a growing relationship with God. Prayer is seen more as an exercise in being able to say certain words the right way, or as ‘talking to the ceiling’. Many see prayer as something abstract, an exercise to be conquered, an encounter that we know we need to experience, but one which we would really rather avoid. We know it is something that we are supposed to do, but it is also something that we are not sure does much good.
I would suggest to you that true prayer, real prayer is merely talking to God; an ongoing conversation between ourselves and God. It can be open, peaceful, enjoyable, challenging, insightful, and transformative. At times it involves debating and questioning while at other times, it may involve thanksgiving and peace.
Talking to God is never to be a chore. It is never to be stuffy or laborious. There is this idea that if we say the right things to please God, then we will get our answer, blessings or miracle. And if we don’t say what pleases God, well, then we are just ‘out-of-luck’. Our talking to God, and God talking to us is the core essence of prayer: our talking, listening, sharing life with God; our opening up our hearts, minds and our souls to be in one another’s presence; experiencing what it means to be one with God, and allowing God to be one with us.
Have you ever noticed what happened each time Jesus prayed? Heaven and earth came together; connected, and Heaven impacted earth in wonderful and marvelous ways. Jesus goes out into the wilderness to pray, and Heaven and earth touch one another. As a result, Jesus can come out of the desert and begin to rescue, redeem and restore all of creation. Jesus can come out of the wilderness, proclaim the Kingdom of God, preach repentance, forgiveness, redemption, heal and cast out demons, and call His disciples to His ministry.
Mark tells us that Jesus goes to a desolate place – a place without distractions. Jesus went out early in the morning while everyone was still asleep, and spends time in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Then, after spending time with the Father, Jesus begins pouring out His life into the lives of others all around the Sea of Galilee.
Prayer (“God Talk”) leads us to being in God’s presence. Like any other practice, it gets easier the more we do it – it becomes less awkward, then begins to flow, and finally is essential to our day! Prayer leads us to be empowered by God so that we can help rescue and redeem those around us. Prayer leads us to open our hearts and our minds, to reach out, and receive those who need to find Jesus. Prayer leads us to understand that we can trust God, depend on God, and know that God will lead us the right way.
Today, more than ever, we need to get away as individuals and as churches to go to a quiet place, and invite God for some ‘God Talk’. We need to confess, surrender, open our hearts and minds, and commit to God to do whatever He calls us to do. We need to commit that we will do, and go, and be, whatever, wherever, and whoever He wants us to be. And, like the healed woman, then rise up ‘whole’ and ready to serve.
When I pray with parishioners in the Chapel, I don’t try to be flashy, but only express what is in our hearts. Sometimes it is halting and a little disjointed, but God doesn’t care. He is always there for some ‘God Time’.
We don’t have to use a lot of fancy words when we pray. You may feel that you don’t know what to say; or you don’t know how to say it. Just speak what is on your mind; God knows what is in our hearts and reads between the lines.
Let our minds be open, our hearts open, and our ears listening. Prayer is not a scary thing, it is the exact opposite – it brings peace, a calm, and a rest. The more we talk to God, the closer we will be to God, and the more we will know how to live the wonderful life He prepares for us.
Let me invite you to try it a new this week – find a quiet place, (maybe get up a bit earlier so you can be alone) – and begin your practice of “God Talk” – and listen – and then, go forth and serve!
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 4 February 2018