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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Out to a Deserted Place

Muynak, Uzbekistan

A sermon preached at St. Martin in the Field, Selbyville
Epiphany V – February 4, 2018

This morning’s gospel (Mark 1:29-39) continues the story we heard last week when Jesus healed the man with the unclean spirits in temple. They went directly from the synagogue to the house of Andrew and Simon Peter, where his mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever.

Jesus cures her, of course. Scripture says he “took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

I’m just going to leave that last sentence right there and try really hard not to talk about why she had to get right up out of her sick bed and why those men couldn’t let her rest up just a bit and why they couldn't serve themselves, right ladies? I mean . . . . . . Seriously??? .......

...... Okay...... Sorry. I’m back.

What really caught my imagination was what happened in the morning – after a night of healing people who were sick or possessed of unclean spirits or “demons”. Apparently, sometime in the middle of the night, Jesus slipped out of the house and went to “a deserted place”.

The disciples – who were, you will remember, from Capernaum – knew the area.

And yet, they couldn’t find him.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth. He would have known his home town but Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John would have known Capernum like the back of their hands. And yet, they "hunted for him" but couldn't find him.

Where did he go? Okay, he went off to "a deserted place" somewhere in Capernaum.

More to the point of my curiosity, why? Why did he go?

That’s the question I’ve been wondering about all week. 

Why did he go off to a deserted place? 

Well, remember, this is at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He has just begun to assemble his ministry team (aka “disciples”).

I can only imagine what it felt like to heal that man in the Temple, and then come to his friend’s house to heal his mother-in-law of a fever. But, it didn’t end there. He spent the whole evening, healing every sick person that was brought to him.

I imagine the human side of him might have been just a little overwhelmed, especially as he allowed the reality of his ministry begin to sink in. 

When the realization of the amount of pain and suffering in the world became too much. When he just had to step away from it all and take a deep breath before he could roll up his sleeves again and get on with the work he was given to do.

I had a moment like that just last week. I went into a facility in Seaford to visit a new Hospice patient. She was a woman in her 80s who had been living with Parkinsons for years. Her condition had begun to deteriorate in the past few months and she needed more assistance to have quality of life at the end of her life.

I went into her room but she was in the bathroom with her CNA. While I was waiting, I looked at the pictures in her room.

Her bed faced the window and there, on the window sill, stood what I immediately identified as her high school graduation picture. I assumed the picture next to has was her husband’s high school graduation picture. 

I made a mental note to ask if they had been high school sweethearts.

I was looking around at all the other many pictures in her room when the noise behind me indicated that the patient and her CNA were coming out of the bathroom. I turned around and saw her. And, my heart sank right to my feet.

I looked at her and looked back at the picture on the window sill and then looked back at her and I tried not to gasp. I made some excuse about my phone and stepped outside into the hallway to catch my breath. 

I was absolutely overwhelmed by the cruelty of Parkinson’s Disease. I've been doing this a number of years. I've seen lots of Parkinson's patients. Somehow, this one caught me off guard.

There she was in her high school picture, a once beautiful, vibrant young woman with her whole life in front of her and now, here she was, completely disabled, barely able to speak above a whisper. 

The cruelty of the disease was unspeakable. But, unlike Jesus, I had no means to cure her, to liberate her from the disease that keeps her captive and in a wheelchair.

I took a few deep breaths, wiped the tears that were welling up in my eyes, shot up a prayer to Jesus for wisdom and the ability to bring her some comfort and solace.

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – the amount of suffering in the world becomes overwhelming and I just need to step away. Sometimes, to a deserted place.

But, you know – not as often as I’d like but sometimes – the amount of beauty in the world becomes overwhelming. Did you all see the amazing super blue blood moon the other night? Wasn’t it just incredible?

I saw an image of the super blue blood moon next to the Parthenon. There it was - the amazing work of human hands side-by-side with the even more amazing work of God's hands.  The limitations of human mortality overshadowed by the limitlessness of God's divinity.

And, I tell you, tears welled up in my eyes. The beauty was so amazing, it took my breath away.

I had to step away for a moment, just to be able to take it all in – the majesty of life, the beauty of creation, the amazing things humans are capable of creating – like the Parthenon – that pay homage to the every day miracles God is capable of creating.

In 10 days, Lent will begin. It will be a time – a season, 40 days and 40 nights – to step out to a deserted place. I always look forward to this time of year, to allow my soul a good cleaning and airing out.

Scripture tells us that, after Jesus went off to a deserted place, 

Simon and his companions hunted for him. 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.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons”.
Jesus teaches us this morning that sometimes, we don’t need to take a whole season to renew and refresh ourselves, our bodies and minds and souls..

Sometimes, we just need to step away – just for a bit – to a place where no one else is around, and just catch our breath and let the reality of the limits of our mortality and humanity sink in before we go back and do the work we are given to do.



Unknown said...
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Elizabeth Kaeton said...
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Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know what? I just checked out your website. Good day, Mari

Melody said...

About the woman who got up after being healed and served them: Right?! Get your own dang sandwich! Sheesh. Thanks for validating what I felt on Sunday during the readings.

I am looking forward to lent. To go to my own metaphorical wilderness. I love the different liturgical seasons to help me get my bearings through the year.

Thank you for your writings. ♥

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Posting sermons is always difficult b/c writing for the ear (preaching) is different from writing for the eye (sermons). I'm glad the preaching of my sermon came through.