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This weekend, many of our vestry members traveled together for some time away with the vestry retreat. A time set apart for prayerful preparation and community building as they prepare to lead us through the year. Last night our middle school youth enjoyed a lock-in, sleeping over in the choir loft, playing games and exploring the beauty of St. Michael’s in the quiet hours of dark. This is the week of time set aside, and how timely with our gospel today!

This morning, the gospel of Mark gives us the gift of rest.

As we heard, Jesus and some of his disciples are visiting the house of Simon and Andrew, where we learn that Simon’s mother in law is in bed sick with fever. Even with cultural expectations of a woman to perform hospitality and all these male visitors in her house, the mother in law (who is not granted a name) is still in bed sick. Good! She doesn’t say “oh it’s just a cold” and pushes through like many of us are want to do- fighting off any sense of vulnerability to perform the her expected role. No. She is in bed when Jesus finds her. And in her rest, she allows herself to be healed. She gives space in the rest to be touched by Jesus and she is indeed healed- lifted up. For those of us who know what it feels like to experience the true healing power of Christ in our lives, it is a deeply vulnerable thing. To give oneself over, a relinquishing of control and ultimate trust in that which we cannot see. It is no small thing.

And then, after Jesus has laid hands and cured her from her illness, Mark tells us “she began to serve them.” Now in my modern understanding I imagine she went to make some tea and prepare a little platter for her guests, But I think Mark is trying to tell us more than that. In the original Greek, the word Mark uses is diakonos. Service. To the early Christians which Mark was writing to, that was charged language. Service, sure, but something deeper. A strong sense of service. The very same word from which we name our Sacred Order of Deacons. Those who serve as the link between the Church and the world. Service that is vocational. Service that puts the needs of the world in a focused view in order that others may be healed through the love and generosity of God.

Because this nameless mother in law has taken the time to rest, has given up the control of trying to do it all by herself, because she has has given herself over to Christ in vulnerability to accept his loving, healing power, she is able to embody diakonos, she becomes like a Deacon and she serves.

Well word clearly begins to spread because many others who are sick or held by demons are brought to him. Mark says “The whole city was at the door”. I feel that phrase so heavily. There are days when I step outside of my apartment building and it feels like the whole city is at my door all at once. There is so much need on our doorsteps, during our commute, and around corners that many of us will likely never truly see or experience. The need of the whole city was at the door. Jesus heals many of the people. He cast out demons, heals the sick, but there is still more to be done. The work is never ending. This city is never ending.

But more than the miracles in this story I am struck by what happens next. Jesus goes out to a deserted place all by himself, before it is light, to pray. To rest. To be in a place set apart. This scene of Jesus praying alone in the stillness of dark, so beautifully mirrors his time in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he is crucified. This is the only other time we see Jesus’ private nighttime prayers. That night in the garden, he prays for the cup of violence and death to pass his lips if at all possible, all the while knowing and accepting God’s will for his life. I mean, this is one of the most gut wrenching and deeply vulnerable moments that we are privy to in Christ’s life on earth. And in today’s gospel, to be alone in the dark, praying and receiving a resolve of understanding what his work truly is to be on this earth is a moment of foreshadowing for the prayers to come.

Darkness is a vulnerable place. Into the quiet darkness, Jesus goes for solace, to regain strength, to remember his diakonos.

When the disciples finally found Jesus in the light of day, they’re like “thank goodness we found you. There is so much more work to do” The crowd has grown even larger. People are coming from all over looking for healing and relief.

But, In the time and place set apart, through his prayers, Jesus has remembered that which he came here to do.

So he responds, “let us go on to the next towns so that I may proclaim the message there. For that is what I came out to do.”

He doesn’t discount there is work to be done here. He doesn’t say this town has had enough of me or they’re not important.

I imagine it’s a hard choice to make. Everytime I step out of my apartment and am faced with the overwhelming need of this city I am faced with hard realities and hard choices. Moments when I can help, and more often than not moments where I can only offer a sincere smile and grapple with the discomfort I feel not
being able, or willing, or whatever it is to do more. Not because those neighbors aren’t important or their need isn’t dire. They are and it is! And it is heartbreaking to not be able to do it all. I have to imagine Jesus felt conflicted as he moved on to the next town Well rested and reaffirmed in his call to service Jesus leads his disciples to continue their journey.

By recentering the mission which he was put on this earth to live out, the work which God sent him to do for all of us- Jesus gives us all the example of staying on task, remembering the big picture- that which God has called us to do. Because Lord knows there will always be just one more email to send, just one more task to complete, just one more, just one more. These things that are noble and good and things that are worthy of attention, but when that fixation takes us away from our diakonos- that is no longer serving the world. That is only serving this secular sense of urgency we all fall victim to. A deep, human desire for control sucks us into a belief that we, and only we, could fix the thing. If we want something done right, we must do it ourselves, right? No!

Jesus leaves a crowd full of people who he could help. But if he stayed healing and helping all the time in one place, that would be the only town those would be the only people who ever got to hear the message of God’s love through Christ.

This doesn’t mean it’s a first come first serve for God’s healing power. Absolutely not. This is a story of Jesus trusting in God and trusting the gospel message he has come to spread, and frankly trusting in God’s people- us. Because today’s gospel? It’s just the beginning. We are in chapter one of the story of Jesus through Mark’s writing. The story goes on, and he continues to spread the message and he continues to heal, and teach, and love and by the end of the story, in that final chapter of Mark he gives his commission to all of us- Mark 16:15- 17 tells us,

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;

The work is going to get done! We have been commissioned to continue spreading the story. Because Jesus trusted in the hard decision to look at the big picture, to stay on task, to disengage in false urgency. He empowers each of us to spread the gospel in our words, deeds, and love every day. To remember our diakonos.

But how do we stop ourselves from holding on so tightly to the desire for control in urgency? How do we trust enough to be in the same vulnerability of Simon’s mother in law? To open ourselves to healing? Well, I told you the gift of today’s story is rest.

Jesus goes into the darkness to pray. Following in his example, our Vestry went on retreat. Our youth spent the night in the church together. We rely on these places and times set apart to allow ourselves the rest and reset which prepares us for our service. How will you claim your rest? Where will you go to remember your diakonos?

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