Fifth Sunday after Epiphany Lectionary Reflection, Year B, February 8, 2015
And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:34-35
We’re still in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, and already Jesus is teaching us a thing or two about vocational stewardship. Whether you’re a “ministry professional” or are simply deeply engaged and involved in ministry in your congregation or through your judicatory body, this week’s lesson speaks to you. It also speaks in more general terms to all of us, especially Lutherans who take to heart Luther’s idea that all vocations are sacred and pleasing to God:
“What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and work flow.” — Martin Luther
Some say that Luther eliminated the laity, stressing the “priesthood of all believers” where we glorify God and serve our neighbor through our vocation–be one a pastor, a teacher, a farmer, or an assembly line worker. This means that all of us should be attuned to the stewardship of our vocational life.
Jesus provides a fine model for vocation in this week’s short Gospel passage by lifting up three key points that apply to all of us today.
The first thing is to know what you are called to do and then do it, trusting you are equipped for the tasks at hand. A few verses earlier he inaugurates his ministry by teaching in the temple. Now he’s goes on to heal Simon’s mother-in-law and a whole bunch of other folks. The whole town has shown up for the occasion, and it must have been a sight to behold. Jesus gets right down to work, to helping and serving, to healing and restoring those around him. Note, too, that he’s already diversifying. Last week he was teaching in the temple. Now he’s healing and casting out demons.
The second thing is to tend to what really matters. Jesus keeps perspective and doesn’t focus only on work. Early in the morning, before dawn, he’s slipped away to a quiet place to pray. He’s attending to his spiritual needs and to his relationship with his Father. It’s important; it matters to set aside time for prayer, for meditation, for connection to God. Unfortunately, this is an area that all too often gets the short shrift in life or put off for a more opportune moment. Take a hint from Jesus and give your faith life early billing.
Finally, we learn from Jesus to keep your focus and your eyes on the prize. Simon and others come looking for Jesus to tell him that people are seeking him. Instead of responding to the tyranny of the immediate, Jesus keeps his focus on his mission by traveling to other towns to proclaim the message and cast out demons. He didn’t allow the needs of one place to consume him but instead remembered that he needed to cover a wider territory. How often do you let your email in-box consume you, or your Facebook feed? Jesus teaches us to focus on the big picture and make sure we stick to our mission.
How we approach our work, our sense of wholeness and balance, and our mission to love God and serve neighbor in all that we do is part of stewardship. It’s worth considering. It’s important to talk about. And it’s key to one’s discipleship journey and the life of faith.
Consider singing “Earth and All Stars” (Text: Herbert E. Brokering, Music: David N. Johnson, 1968 Augsburg Publishing House).
Give people a chance to think about how their vocations are part of their role as the priesthood of all believers. How do they minister to others through their jobs? How do they serve each other and glorify God?
Consider today’s lesson from Isaiah 40, particularly verse 30-31 “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Invite your youth to talk about the challenges they face. What makes them weary and tired? What stressors do they face, and how are they coping with them? Talk about how God renews strength. You might show a few scenes from the 1981 film Chariots of Fire or the recently released film Unbroken (2014).
Take Time to Pray!
Have with you a clock, day planner, and smartphone. Ask the children what these three things have in common. You may get a variety of answers. Tell them one thing these three items have in common is that they help us keep track of time. Ask the children if it is sometimes difficult for them to remember to do something. Maybe they start playing with friends and forget what time they’re supposed to come in to eat. Maybe they oversleep and run late for school or worship. Clocks, day planners, and even our smartphones and other devices can help us remember the important things we need to do.
One thing we learn in today’s gospel reading is that Jesus took time to pray. In fact, he got up early and went somewhere quiet to do it. Invite the children to think about when they might make time to pray during the day. If you can find one at the dollar store, give them a small calendar, clock charm, or inexpensive digital clock to remind them to take time to pray.
Photos: FaceMePLS and Eric Chan, Creative Commons. Thanks!)