Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 5, 2012
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; for that is what I came out to do.” Mark 1:37-38
The lessons this week are laden with praise for God and hope for the weary, the wounded, and the wanderer. Jesus continues his healing ministry by restoring Simon’s mother-in-law to her role of household management and dispenser of hospitality. The news spreads, and the sick and demon-possessed flock to Jesus for healing. There are rich possibilities for preaching and teaching on healing and wholeness and on God’s ability to lift up God’s people, particularly in Mark’s gospel, in the lesson from Isaiah, and even in the verses from Psalm 147. That said, this week I want to focus on you who preach, teach, lead worship, and provide music.
Leadership in the church can be downright hard work. Even the most devoted servant of the Lord experiences weariness, fatigue of mind, body, and spirit. Some days it is difficult to find a shred of hope to keep on keeping on. If you are like a lot of mainline church leaders, you may be serving in small to mid-size congregations where the buildings are aging right along with the faithful and the budget is declining right along with the numbers in worship.
Just this past week, I enjoyed breakfast with some good friends and colleagues, faithful people who love their flocks and are dedicated in their service to God. Most of them are facing serious challenges in their ministry; some of them are wondering if they might just be the pastor who has to turn out the lights and lock the doors. Worry walks with them, and concern for the future is etched on their faces.
When this happens, it is all too easy to be sucked into a downward spiral that leads to burnout and sometimes even a vocational realignment. Dear friends and fellow workers in the vineyard of the Lord, if this describes you in some form or fashion, take heart. The readings this week may just be the balm you need for your weary soul.
To start, here’s a question we all need to ask. When the going gets tough, what happens to your spiritual life, to your health and well-being, to your important relationships with family and friends? If you’re like most of us, intentional time devoted to prayer and study of scripture is easily pushed aside to make one more visit, or try to find better stewardship campaign materials, or a new program or project that will infuse a wind of hope into sagging congregational sails. Exercise gives way to minutia, and family time is often compromised for meetings and an attempt to be more visible and involved in the life of the congregation.
If this describes you more than just a little bit, reread Isaiah 40: 29-31. These verses aren’t just for the grief-stricken at funerals. They speak to all of us who are so busy serving that we forget the origin of our power source. We neglect the One with the power to lift us up and restore our souls to wholeness and spiritual health.
Jesus understood the demands of leadership and of announcing the reign of God come near. Mark’s gospel reminds us that the first thing Jesus did in the morning after a long day’s work of teaching and healing — he went off alone to pray. He centered himself in God’s abundant grace and light, recharging his spiritual batteries and allowing his father to lift him as on the wings of an eagle. He focused himself for the work to come.
When his disciples found him and wanted to take him back to town for more of the same, Jesus reminds them of his purpose, saying “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus was clear about his mission and ministry. He didn’t worry about pleasing the good townsfolk or about increasing numbers and meeting budget. He focused first on seeking and saving the lost, on meeting people wherever they needed to be met, on being present in the moment, yet fully anchored in the Spirit.
Yes, budgets, denominational reports, and a changing church landscape are very much realities with which we must all cope. Just remember that you are not in this alone. This is God’s business to which you have been called, and God will not leave abandon you. Tap into the divine power source, let the demons of this world that would sidetrack and dissuade you be driven out in the name of Christ.
Love and care for yourself. Be a good steward of all things, including your health. Love the people you serve (even those who are tough to like). Most of all, love the Lord your God and center yourself in the presence and love of the Divine One who created, called, and claimed you.
Blessings and peace to you as you serve! God is good. You are of great value. The world needs your voice proclaiming the good news, your gifts for ministry, and your hands of service and love. This, dear friends, is what we come to do.