Sunday, February 08, 2015

"The Liberty of that Abundant Life"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 8, 2015

Year B: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

“The Liberty of that Abundant Life”

            As many of you know, I took this past week off for vacation.
            After our annual meeting last Sunday, Sue drove me to the airport and I flew off to San Francisco for a few days of rest.
            I’m really grateful to Sue and to the church staff for picking up the slack while I was away.
            Now, I don’t want to rub it in for all of you who were stick here with the cold and the snow and the ice…but it was a really good week.
            The weather was close to perfect, with temperatures mostly in the high 50s and low 60s and a lot of sunshine, which as you may know is not always the case in the Bay Area.
            I didn’t do very much at all.
            I started each day early, going to an old style café where I sipped my coffee and read the paper including working on the crossword puzzle. I eavesdropped on some of the political conversations going on around me among the regulars who seemed to camp out in the café for hours.
            I took some walking tours of different neighborhoods and had dinner one evening with friends and lunch one afternoon with one of our seminarians who is studying in Berkeley.
            On Friday morning, the weather turned cloudy and some much-needed rain began to fall.
            I went to the café as usual but this time the guy making the coffee spotted me on line and had my coffee waiting for me when I got to the counter! I was about to become a regular… but it was time to come home.
            A few days of rest in a beautiful place were a powerful reminder of how out of whack my life can get and has gotten. That little break with good strong coffee was a wake up call to me to rediscover the healthy, abundant life that God wants for me and for all of us.
            And, sure enough, in today’s collect at the start of the service, we prayed:
            “Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.”
            We all have our own various sins that keep us in bondage, that prevent us from living the kind of life that we see in Jesus.
            But, collectively, I think one of our biggest and most destructive sins that we live lives that our almost totally out of whack with the kind of life that God wants for us.
            There are lots of reasons for this “out of whackness.”
            First of all, our society and our economy are designed to keep us really, really busy.
            In our country, middle class wages have been flat for decades, meaning that we have to work harder and harder, longer and longer, just to keep up, let alone get ahead.
            And, some of us know, or have known, the incredibly hard work of being poor.
            We know the frustration of looking for work, the stress of figuring out what bills must get paid this month and what bills will have to wait, the fear of homelessness, the dread of failure.
            Individually, there’s not much we can do about this out of whackness of our society, though I’m hopeful that together churches and other people of faith and goodwill can start to have our voices heard and make change happen.
            But, we also choose to turn away from the abundant life that God wants for us.
            We fill our lives with stuff.
            We allow ourselves to get distracted by our TVs and radios always blaring.
            Our younger generations – but not just them – have become pretty much addicted to our phones, the constant chatter of text messages and Instagram and Snapchat and all the rest – leaving little time for face to face communication or much reflection or prayer.
            But, God offers us a different way.
            God has made known to us an abundant life in Jesus.
            And, what does this abundant life look like for Jesus and for us?
            I think we get a good glimpse of this abundant life in today’s gospel passage.
            If you were here last week, you may remember that we heard about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – what I called Jesus’ first day at work.
            Jesus went to the synagogue at Capernaum where we’re told he cast out an unclean spirit, beginning his work of healing.
            Today we pick up right where we left off with Jesus still in Capernaum where he heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. He heals others in the evening and then the next morning he went to a deserted place to pray.
            We see the abundant life in this rhythm of Jesus’ life.
            In the creation story, God creates the world and then rests on the seventh day, living out the Sabbath, setting aside a time of no work.
            This is the rhythm of life.
            This is the abundant, healthy life that God wants for us.
            Jesus does his work, heals Peter’s mother-in-law and others, but then carves out time for himself to rest and to pray.
            Notice that this isn’t easy even for Jesus.
            We’re told that the disciples “hunted for” Jesus. And, “everyone is searching” for Jesus.
            We also see the abundant life in the brief mention of the mother-in-law.
            We’re told that she was in bed with a fever. The family must be concerned because they tell Jesus about her right away. Jesus seems to waste no time, healing her immediately.
            Finally, there’s that last little, almost comical, detail: “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
            You’d think she’d get a little more time to rest – and maybe she did – but I think Mark is making a larger point about the rhythm of our abundant lives.
            We come here week after week, for many reasons, but in part to be healed by Jesus.
            But then we’re expected to not just go out and live like everybody else.
            No, after we’re healed, we’re expected to go out and serve others.
            Through just a few words, in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, we get a look at the kind of life God wants for us all.
            In today’s gospel lesson, through Jesus, we see the rhythm of an abundant and holy life: work, rest, and prayer.
            In today’s gospel lesson, through Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, we see the rhythm of an abundant and holy life: healing and service.
            So, yes, I had a good vacation. It was a restful time. And that good, strong coffee I drank each morning was a wake up call to rediscover the rhythm of the abundant and holy life that God wants for me - and for us all.