Sunday 4th February 2024 – Rev Dan Yeazel

“Quiet Time”  (Mark 1:29-39)

I’ve got something of a silly question to begin with, has anyone experienced a “snow day”?  (Collect answers)  A snow day is when you were supposed to go to school or work, but then Mother Nature says SURPRISE!  (Now you have to change your plans!)  I love to op shop and I have come across a couple of books, the great snow storm of 1992 and the even greater storm of 2011.  Look at all these pictures, they are really impressive. snow on New Brighton Beach and downtown.   Now, where I come from, these books could be called “Tuesday” and “Wednesday”.   (My family has been sending pictures of the latest snow storms in the Midwest.)  

I did get to experience a “snow day” not too long ago when I caught on the wrong side of Burkes pass last winter and we had to cancel the worship service in Fairlie.  It felt weird, I was all prepared and ready to lead service, it was going to be the best sermon ever, it was communion Sunday, and it all got called off.  Instead of being at church, I sat by a fireplace and looked out the window at the beautiful scenery and read a book.   If a snow day comes, we are forced to change our plans.  For some, this is a burden, it requires a different set of chores – like shoveling.  For others, a day like that comes as a gift, proving a quiet spot – a break from the expected routines and it presents a strange, and possibly wonderful, time to be still. 

While “snow days” can’t be scheduled, or planned on, we do plan on taking vacations, (or even as a country New Zealand seems to say let’s all plan to slowdown from mid-December to mid-January.)  Have you ever noticed that sometimes a planned vacation can feel exhausting?  It takes a lot of work to get away from our work. Some of us struggle to know how to relax. For others, it is difficult to just sit, doing nothing, and simply being quiet, and for others, they go on their getaway and take everything with them: all the noise, all the commotion, all the music, all the clothing, all the stuff. They pack all their burdens in their suitcases and drag them along.   Sometimes we need to take a vacation after we return from the vacation.

Mark begins by reporting a “typical day” in the life of Jesus-it is actually one of his first days “at work” as Mark would tell the story.   Jesus teaches in the synagogue, casts out a demon, ruffles the feathers of a congregation, and cures a fever. Then he has a meal, served by the very person that he healed. Word spreads all over Capernaum. Friends tell their friends. Children tell their parents. By nightfall, the whole city is jammed around his door, says Mark.  It must have been exhausting.  We can understand why Jesus slips away for some quiet time, can’t we?

He goes to a quiet place and gets away from everybody and everything (even if just for a short while). Then he prays. We can applaud him for tending to his self-care. If he retreats for a bit of silence, the getaway promises to restore his soul or recharge his battery. No question that he needs some time away from all the activity. No question that even Jesus needs a “snow day” – or a “snow evening”.

All of us know about this feeling of fatigue. Life can be tiring and we yearn for some rest. There is physical exhaustion and mental weariness. We hear from the scriptures that Jesus was fully human, just like us. What that means is he got tired just like us.

After a hard day of doing the God’s work, he spends time in communion with God. After laboring long and hard on the Sabbath, he takes a Sabbath – and he prays. At the center of all his ministry of healing, teaching, and miracles,  Jesus pauses to speak to God, to listen for God, and to be still. 

In the story we’ve heard today, it sounds like we have a glimpse of the human side of Jesus: he’s tired, he’s worn out, he’s taking some time for prayer. Jesus knew that he needed help. He knew that he could not live in this world without God. If he was forever going to be giving out, he must sometimes be taking in. 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 accomplish every day of his life in his own strength alone. He also knew that he didn’t have to. Not when the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God, 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. The Bible says we have not because we ask not. If we ask, we will receive.

I think that preacher is on to something. That is why this scene from Jesus’ life is more than an escape. It is more substantial than a quick trip away.

It doesn’t last long. In fact, it lasts only for one sentence. It lasts only for verse 35. In the very next verse, Simon Peter hunts for Jesus and says, “Hey, you really impressed them. Everybody is hunting for you.” And that’s why Jesus gives his unusual reply: “Let’s get moving then. There are a lot of places where I need to preach and heal.” He has discerned the work of God is not about winning popularity contests. It is about getting on with the challenges God has set before him. He worked that through in the quiet, lonely place.

It strikes me that this kind of prayerful clarity is rare. He goes to a quiet place, and his prayer is for a purpose. It is not merely for spiritual refreshment, but for guidance and direction. It’s not merely filling the tank but steering the car. “God, why am I here?” Not merely asking what others expect of me or reflecting on what I want to do. It’s asking: What does God put before me today?

So, the Gospel text today calls us in two complimentary directions: be still and get to work. Listen to God and care for others. Pray in such a way that our souls are replenished and engage the pain of the neighborhood. It is both-and, a rhythm of contemplation and action. In the name of Jesus, they belong together.

There is a balance between what we do and what we refrain from doing. Hard work invites us to rest our bodies and tend our souls. Prayerful silence clarifies our purpose and reanimates our efforts. The spiritual life is an engaged life, rooted in God and directed toward others.

So, take advantage of our reflection and prayer time today. Lean back into the arms of a God who offers to restore our souls. Listen for the whispers of grace, and trust God will equip us for every challenge. And after you say Amen, open your eyes and look around. We are called to serve a world of need. That is why God granted moments of prayer and rest. And when we get right to the heart of it, selfless service to others is the reason we are here.  Where to?  What’s next?  AMEN.