February 4, 2018: The Practice of Going by Rev. Beth Hayward (Mark 1: 29-39)

I’ve said before that Mark is my favourite gospel, which is at least in part because he doesn’t waste any words. As much as I love a good story, I also like it when people get to the point. Mark ploughs through the story of Jesus at record speed from birth to resurrection until you arrive at the end, out of breath and looking over your shoulder to see if you missed something. I love that he doesn’t fill in the blanks, that we get the most important bits without having it put all together for us.

We’ve been dancing with Mark on and off since Christmas and we’re still in the first chapter, which is ironic given what I’ve just said! If you’ve missed a week or two here’s a recap. Opening scene has John the Baptist with his fashion sense several centuries out of date appearing in the wilderness and baptizing his cousin Jesus. The heavens open up and Jesus is proclaimed the beloved. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness with Satan and the beasts and the angels only to emerge to gather a rag tag team of rugged fishermen and their friends. He heals in the Synagogue on the Sabbath and then off to Simon Peter’s home where he heals a sick mother in law from her fever. She gets out of bed and starts serving the men, (I don’t write this stuff), and before you know it the entire city is at the door. That’s what it says, the whole city. Fifteen hundred people, that’s what the archaeologist say. Wow!

Fifteen hundred people at the door! I don’t know if it really happened like that. That’s the thing about a story that professes to be true. With biblical stories it is about the truth they hold, not the facts. We will run with it as it’s presented. We’re not going to worry too much about whether all fifteen hundred people were at the door, for our purposes, our faith purposes, all we need is the story.

Can you imagine fifteen hundred people arriving at Simon Peter’s house? Presumably, they were not all in need of healing. Were they there for the spectacle? I think it was more than that. I think they were all there because they cared, because it mattered. Can you imagine fifteen hundred people caring? Fifteen hundred people all together caring about a missing indigenous woman, caring about a drug overdose crisis, caring about affordable housing?

It’s like a healing fest that evening, he cured the sick, cast out demons, you name it, one after another they came and they were healed. I don’t know how it all ended that night, whether Jesus’ handlers had to quietly slip him out the back when he just couldn’t do any more or did it go on until the wee hours with the whole city camping out in the front yard, not wanting it to ever end. What a night it must have been.

The next day before the sun rises, Jesus slips out the back and finds his way to a deserted place to pray because everyone needs to recharge now and then. It says he prayed but I don’t envision Jesus in his quiet place, in his meditation corner, on his yoga mat, sitting by the water’s edge like a well-practiced mystic. I imagine it more like one of those wrestling matches with God. You know the kind where you thought your life was going in the best direction possible until somewhere, somehow this call arises, a new version of your future story emerges and it floors you. You call out to the universe; you speak to the God that takes up residence in the pit of your stomach and insist: “I’ve got this, butt out Holy One.”

I wonder if Jesus went to pray because he was feeling so good about what went down at Simon Peter’s house that night? Imagine it: Hey Papa, did you see all those people I healed? I’m really getting the hang of this. Maybe I should rent a little shop on Main Street and people could come to me. The whole city was there, every last one of them. If everyone can easily find me on Google map we could be a whole lot more successful at building this kingdom.

Then God arises from deep within, as God is wont to do, and keeps pressing in on Jesus like a whisper that won’t cease – go, go, you can’t stay, the whole point is to show them how they don’t need you, they’ve got this, every one of them saw you, let them run with it now, you’re needed elsewhere. If you stay they’ll turn you into an idol, the people will begin to think that the only healing that can happen, the only social barriers that can be broken down are with you physically in their midst, they’ll never learn that they have it within them to do likewise. Beloved child remember your calling – remember your work, go. 

Do you know that place, that quiet place? It’s the moment where you pause, where you momentarily escape the spin that goes on constantly in your head and somehow in the pause, as you inhale the breath of life, the way forward opens up to a completely unanticipated direction? Do you know that quiet place? It can happen anywhere but more often it happens in the pause, in prayer, in the silence, on the yoga mat, at the waters edge.

The disciples break the silence in Jesus’ quiet place. Arriving breathless after a frantic search for him since daybreak. Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you. Come back you can finishing healing the whole lot of them and when you’re done you’ll have proven yourself and there’ll be no stopping us.

Jesus just looks at them as says, nope we’re moving on. I’m going to assume that the praying helped Jesus to turn his back on his ego, on the glow of having impacted the lives of fifteen hundred people so positively.

This moment when Jesus says we need to go on to the next town, we need to share the good news; it seems to exemplify what cosmologist Brian Swimme defines as the power of emergence.[1] Swimme’s research has suggested that there are twelve distinct powers at work at a macro level in all happenings in the universe but also at work at the micro level in cells. Twelve powers that pulse through our veins so to speak, that we can, because of our conscious abilities, work with, run with, and embrace as a means to tap into an inherent universal oneness. When we bring these powers to consciousness Swimme says we will be able to more creatively address the challenges of our time.

The power of emergence is the capacity to bring forth new things. From a molecular point of view it is what happens when a new and more complex organism emerges but for us at a human level, emergence is that power that draws us into a new future, into possibilities that were not possible before.

Emergence isn’t always easy. Jesus’ ego would have been much better served had he stayed in Capernaum. Do you know this power? It’s like the birth process where you know you can’t go back but the way forward doesn’t look easy. It shows up in our lives in new possibilities, new partnerships, new visions that offer more than before but without the trappings of ego. Emergence doesn’t always come from a place of disappointment. Jesus was on a high when he walked away.

Maybe today it is the power of emergence that is most at work in your heart. Maybe you need to find a quiet place where you can hush the voices in your head and hear the whisper of your divine heart. Maybe you need to walk away from the hypnotic of ego, and glory. Maybe you need to head down a different road, trusting in what might emerge, trusting that there is more to life than staying right here and watching the world build idols to false gods.

There’s another power at play in this story too, the power of allurement. You see it in the whole city that showed up that night. Allurement is attraction. It’s gravity but it’s also the energy that enables us to come into deeper relationship with one another and all creation.

Maybe that’s a place you can relate, knocking on the door the next morning and saying, I heard there was healing in this place only to turn around and realise that the healing and wholeness, the justice and equity he promises can emerge when we allow ourselves to become intermingled in the great power of allurement, and trust in the deep interconnection of it all. Jesus moved on so that the crowds could see that the healing was possible if only they turned to one another trusting this great power that draws us together.

As Jesus fled town to pursue his call, did it feel like abandonment for the city of Capernaum? Did they memorialize his visit with an annual day of healing; did they scurry home to make scrapbooks? Or did those left behind turn to one another holding on to the truth they had witnessed, that every last one of them was worthy. Did they turn to one another trusting that the great power of allurement was enough? Allurement can be difficult to ease into. We are socialized to be so fiercely independent but allurement insists we need one another.

Turn to someone near you, not the person you came with and find out one thing about that person. It’s easy to go home and say what a great service that was but there is a next step of transforming the feeling of worship into connection with one another.

We’ve been dancing with the first chapter of the gospel of Mark since Christmas, at the end of the day It takes a while to peel back the layers of these stories. Their truth is elusive and this idea that there is a Way of love and justice that is all encompassing, well, we seem to lose our grip on that truth again and again. You can’t rush this faith thing. I’ve seen people come to church, try it out for a while and then disappear and I wonder to myself, have you felt the call to move on, are you going to spread the good news in new ways? Are you running with the power of emergence? Or did the church fail to meet your consumerist needs? Did the feeling go away? Did you show up one Sunday and realise that Jesus had moved on to the next town and thought to yourself, well, there’s nothing left for me here. Sometimes we need to stay to learn from one another, from putting up with one another, from practicing to love one another what it means to be a people who come together no matter what. The edge of allurement can be a challenging place to stand. We think that Jesus is the place where hope lives in the space he leaves behind as he blows out of town.

“That’s the paradox of the kind of community Jesus creates. It is founded not on us having found him. Rather, it is founded in his absence, his once-and-future presence, his maddening vanishing act.”  Jesus is found not in glory or triumph but in the “deep, loving and generative absence that binds.”[2]

For in an organic world,…, all stories matter.”[3]

[1]http://www.journalrepository.org/media/journals/ARJASS_45/2018/Jan/Ma522017ARJASS38313.pdf This is an overview of the powers. Books and a video series are also available.

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2015/02/vanishing-jesus-and-the-absence-of-christ-a-lectionary-reflection/

[3] http://www.openhorizons.org/a-whole-universe-of-stories.html