There is a rhythm to most things in the world. Music, of course, has rhythm – that’s the obvious one. But simple things, too: the church year has a predictable, steady rhythm; as well as waves crashing on a beach; the cycle of the moon; the four seasons. We notice the rhythms of other things in life, too, when we give them a thought. Our parents take care of us as children, and as we get older, the caregiving starts going the other way. We all once thought our parents old and outdated, and as we age, we find a new, younger generation thinks about us the same way. We see cycles in the lives of children and grandchildren, as they age and experience the same things we did, making the same stupid mistakes and learning the same important lessons. Rhythm, paces, patterns – these are the things that give balance to life, that make it predictable, that help us when things turn.
Because as much as things are predictable and rhythmic most of the time, we can all think of exceptions, when patterns are broken. In my lifetime, I would certainly say that the events of 9/11 were the biggest such thing on a national scale. There have been other things that have rattled us as a society, though. But regardless of how we experienced those things, we all have things in our own lives that serve as event horizons, after which nothing is the same – a new relationship that changes the direction of our lives, the loss of a friend or loved one, the breakdown of an institution we once held dear. These changes are, in their own way, inevitable; but at the same time, they’re unpredictable. We never see them coming, because they don’t adhere to the strict, rhythmic sense in which the world usually operates. Something pulls us out of our usual patterns, disrupting how we view the world, and it changes everything around us. I have friends for whom this is the reason they don’t attend church: “If God exists,” they say, “nothing bad would happen.”
And yet, here we are, gathered in church together – even though all of us, at some time or other, have experienced something that’s changed our patterns. Church is one of those things that falls into the “rhythmic” category, isn’t it? There are those certain holy days every year, yes. But even those have a rhythm. And for the most part, our experience of church is that incredibly rhythmic, every-seven-days trip to the corner of 1st and Broadway, so that we can hear and sing songs, share time in prayer, and hear the words of Scripture, both in their own context, and expounded upon. I mean, have you ever heard the Lord’s Prayer in another language? Whenever you do, you know exactly where people are, because it has that rhythm that’s the same in every language.
The patterns of worship are life-giving, and they helps us understand the world and God’s role in it. And, as we meditate on the unpredictable breaks to the usually-rhythmic nature of our lives, in fact, I think the most important thing this pattern of worship gives us is that it helps us keep order in the times of chaos. While we know that those unpredictable times will come, it is the order and the rhythm of our weekly worship that can help ground us and keep us connected to God, even when the world seems to be changing too rapidly for our own good.
In Mark’s Gospel today, we read about Jesus and the disciples, of course. But I want to set the stage of where they came from. It’s early in Mark’s gospel – only the first chapter, after all – but already Jesus has performed his first great miracles in Mark. He teaches in the synagogue, and a man confronts him, more or less during his little sermon. Jesus casts a demon out of the man. And that’s what happened immediately before our passage from today.
So what happens after that earth-shaking, strange, and miraculous event? Jesus, for the first time, takes the disciples through the pattern that will define his ministry. That pattern is this: healing, praying, and sharing.
It’s a really simple little pattern, but it’s critical that we learn it, because it’s meant to define our lives in Christ, too. After this event, Jesus and the disciples go to Simon and Andrew’s house, and find Simon’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. And Jesus starts with her – but soon, more people gather. People are coming from all over to see him. These are people in need of healing, either physically or through possession. Either way, Jesus removes the things that are burdening them.
But think of how exhausting that would be! Jesus has basically just been put in charge of the well-being of a whole town. So how do you take a load off after that? Well, we hear from the text in verse 35 that Jesus goes off on his own, early in the morning, to pray. I’m not going to tell you that prayer is somehow more effective early in the morning. In fact, I may or may not be married to someone who’s not more effective at anything early in the morning. But either way, Jesus retreats by himself to connect with God. He needs that time, away from the hustle and bustle, so he takes it.
Then does he immediately go back to work? Is it about work and rest, in a never-ending cycle? Sometimes, that’s how we think of life, isn’t it? We’re just moving from one thing to the next, and in the middle, we’re resting. But that’s not what Jesus does. Instead, he and the disciples go out preaching the Good News. They start sharing. Human life necessitates interaction with others – verbal interaction, in which we exchange ideas, share our emotions, share our experiences, and communicate with others what the deepest longings of our souls are. Sharing is not just about “taking turns,” which is how it’s so often explained to little kids; true sharing is about giving from what you have, and making what you have, someone else’s.
Sharing, in a church context, necessarily involves sharing our faith: where it comes from, what it is, and (most of all!) why Jesus is good news to you! You’re here today because Jesus is somehow good news to you, and that’s worth sharing with others.
This simple pattern of healing, praying, sharing is what keeps Jesus going in the difficult times he faces. Believe it or not, you can see it in the most difficult time of his life, though not necessarily in this order. In the final days before Jesus’ execution on the cross, he went out healing (as ever), shared his faith both publicly and shared of himself with the disciples at the Last Supper, and he prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus’ pattern of getting by in the world is not just for him – this is a pattern for us, too. We are meant to heal. Now, in our cases, that may not be physical healing (though for the people who do that work, it certainly counts, I think!), but we have many opportunities to heal others. Kind words, kind actions, bringing justice to the wronged, carrying food to the hungry and giving clothes to the naked are all forms of healing. In other words, doing the work that Jesus gives us to do is our pattern for healing the world! We can’t take that responsibility lightly. It’s our job to do the work of Christ in the world.
But of course, our whole lives cannot be work; no one can function like that. So how do we “refill our cup,” after we’ve poured out what we have? That’s where Jesus turns to prayer. We need to connect with God. Now, some of the “righteous” Christians we meet seem to think that all we need to do in life is pray and read the Bible; those folks miss the point, though. Connecting with God is our first calling, but not our only calling. We need to be out loving others, as well. But if we spend all our time doing that, we neglect God. So prayer, particularly private prayer, is a time to get brutally honest with ourselves, to bear our whole being before God, and to truly allow ourselves to be fed by God’s presence.
And finally, filled with God and having served, we live our lives in the world, sharing with others. This is the disciples in our story, gathering again with one another at the end of the day, sharing what they’ve accomplished, and getting ready to go back out into the world to share with others. We share the highs and the lows, and we share what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future. We connect with people, truly and deeply, and we get them to yearn for the sense of satisfaction we feel from doing the work of God; we get them to desire the sense of connection we feel through our prayers and our worship. When we do those things, we create and environment in which people want to come along on this walk with Christ.
We cannot possibly go through life doing only one thing; we aren’t built just to work, nor just to pray, nor just to connect with others. Rather, we are meant to do as Jesus did: to do all of these things, to be fed by them, and to, through them, discover the life abundant that God has in store for each and every one of us. Amen.