The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthans 9:16-23
In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen
Where do you pray? When do you stop and reflect and talk to God and then listen to Him?
Contemporary culture forces us to be busy. The more urbanized you are, the more you are likely to be busy. We keep inventing machines to save time, and yet we keep complaining that there is NO TIME! Whether our time is spend productively or not, we stay busy. We are busy checking email. We are busy talking on the phone or texting messages. When we are not busy we are busy planning to be busy. Are you a busy person? How do you feel about your busy-ness? Do you feel restless? Or, do you feel engaged?
Today’s gospel describes the busy schedule of Jesus as his public ministry gathers momentum. The story picks up from where we left it last Sunday. It was the Sabbath and Jesus was in the synagogue where “he taught them as one having authority” and cured a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
The gospel stresses just how popular Jesus’ healing ministry was by indicating that it went on into the evening. No doubt this made Jesus’ reputation as a healer spread rapidly. Even though Jesus is depicted as needing to get away from the nonstop demands of daily ministry in order to pray in solitude, Simon Peter and the others are not willing to allow Jesus his time away to pray. They are caught up in this healing ministry, and they want Jesus to stay at it. The impression is that the disciples would like Jesus to stay put and to make a career out of his healings and casting out demons. His popularity is spreading. His power is becoming evident to all who experience it and hear about it. Thus, it must have seemed strange to his disciples when Jesus refused to stay put and wanted to move on, indicating that his calling is to preach the Good News to other towns and villages. He seems to be passing up a great opportunity to make a name for himself as a great healer. Jesus is far more than that.
This gospel reminds me of a conversation I had with one of our young doctors on Preview Night Tuesday evening where all parents are invited to hear the exciting things that will happen in the next year’s grade. One of my responsibilities is to help those parents get to the right classroom as quickly as possible and make them feel welcome especially if they are running late. So I started down the middle school hall with a doctor in scrubs who was apologizing that he was 30 minutes late and would have to go into a room filled with parents during the presentation which was half way over. I said how glad I was that he came and he was welcome to stay afterward and ask any questions that he might still have afterward. Then he began to tell me why he was delayed to relieve his guilt feelings. He said it was 5:00 and the office was closing when the phone rang. He was just about to leave to come to the 5:30 presentation and the person wanted his time RIGHT THEN. You see the person on the other end of the phone was a person who had a brain tumor. This young doctor decided to take the time to be with this person who has just been diagnosed with a brain tumor instead of waiting until the following day. Naturally if we put ourselves that the patients place we would want the very same thing!
Healing people drained Jesus of power. In a similar way, working with people drains us of power. That is why we need to do what Jesus did. We need to recharge ourselves spiritually. We need to get away to pray.
When disaster strikes on a British naval vessel, a signal called “The Still” is sounded. This signal means: “STOP what you’re doing. PAUSE. CHECK your situation. PREPARE to do the WISE thing. Today is Scout Sunday and we are so proud of Pack 115. We want to thank our parents and Cub Scouts for attending our church service today to celebrate the 105 th birthday of scouting. Most of you will know that “Always be prepared” is one of the hallmarks of scouting.
Let’s go back to the British naval story for just a minute. Before the signal is sounded, the sailors did not know what the wise thing to do was. During the PAUSE they learn what it is. “THE STILL” has saved thousands of British lives and millions of British dollars. We too run into emergencies in our daily lives. We too don’t know what to do immediately. We cry out, “What can we do? We sometimes make a hasty reaction that we regret later. Actually, the best thing to do is to pause and be still. Pausing often spells the difference between success and failure.
Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves: Do we follow the example Jesus gave us in his life?
Do we pause periodically to get in touch with ourselves?
Do we pause often enough to listen to God’s voice in our heart?
The musician Andre Kostelanetz was a well know conductor who began his career in Russia and proceeded to conduct the New Your Philharmonic and orchestras all over the world. He once visited the famous French artist Henri Matisse. When Kostelanetz go to Matisse’s home, his nerves were frayed and he was exhausted. (I am sure many of us can identify with that feeling.) Matisse noticed this and said to him good-humoredly, “My friend you must find the artichokes in your life.” With that he took Kostelanetz outside to his garden.
When they came to a patch of artichokes, Matisse stopped. He told Kostelanetz that every morning, after he has worked for a while, he comes out to his patch of artichokes to pause and be still. He just stands there looking at the artichokes. Matisse then added: (and I quote) “Though I have painted over 200 canvases, I always find new combinations of colors and fantastic patterns. No one is allowed to disturb be in this ritual….It gives me fresh inspiration necessary relation, and a new perspective toward my work. “ (end quote).
Now I love to garden but the one ritual that re-charges my spiritual battery is the time I pray with Claire Mack and Lucie Earhart from 9:00 – 10:00 on Wednesday mornings. We have met for the last 15 or 20 years. Like Matisse – no one interrupts this time when we pray for the needs and concerns of all those who have asked for our prayers and those we know.
Each one of us must take to heart Matisse’s advice. We must find the artichokes in our life. We must do what British sailors do in a crises situation. We must pause and be still. We must do what Jesus did. We must find “our best time” to pray, yes, even if it means getting up early to find the stillness. We draw strength and inspiration from prayer. This is the important message of today’s gospel: Amid the turmoil of his day, Jesus took time to pause and pray. So should we!
I would like to close with this prayer today:
Slow me down, Lord.
Slow me down.
Ease my pounding heart: quite my racing mind; soothe my frayed nerves; relax my tired muscles.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations and 30 second brain breaks so that I can keep in touch with myself and listen to the voice of God who gives me new light, new strength and new courage.
Help me develop the ritual of prayer to be restored.
Slow me down, Lord. Slow me down.