Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 8, 2015
“Jesus Teaches Self Care”
“Hear now these words, allowing God to bless our understanding of them.”
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
“This ends our reading from the Gospel according to Mark.”
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We live in the 21st-century and we are told that we spent too much time being involved with ourselves; there’s a great concern over our being centered around one’s self. Christianity tells us that we must give of ourselves we must sacrifice we must do for others. When we put these two thoughts together one is led to believe that we are not supposed to lose sleep about taking care of ourselves, rather we are supposed to fret and be concerned about everyone else! Yet, nothing could be further from the truth!
What we need is a guide to help us find our way through the teachings of Jesus, such as this lesson that our scripture passage brings to us this morning. Jesus is our guide and he is offering us a moment in the world of his ministry! Jesus is offering himself as a guide to us as fearful people, fearful that we cannot rescue or save everyone! The truth is we can save no one; only God can do that! We can only follow in the example of Jesus and offer ourselves as a guide to others. Our guide was teaching and preaching to the crowds, this we know. As we delve into our scripture this morning we find Jesus giving a personal example for us to follow.
We do believe that the crowds gathered because of the healing work that Jesus was performing. Specifically, Jesus heals a women. Not just any women, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law and we find Jesus healing her fever and then ‘lifting up’ this woman. She is healed and thus turns around ‘in gratitude’ and begins to serve Jesus and the others. We could go on and talk about the multitude of healing he does while he is there, yet let us take a closer look at this one event. By healing this woman first, Jesus secures a place for he and the others while they are doing the work that they came to do. This is very interesting as it appears that Jesus needed a sort of base camp of operations. Have any of us ever considered the needs of Jesus the man and his closest followers as they worked within a community? Could it be that this is a secondary lesson that underlines the primary message of his ministry that leads us to see Jesus as the Messiah? If this is so then what is this secondary message. Could it be that Jesus is subliminally suggesting that it is ‘ok’ to ‘take care’ of ‘oneself’ while doing God’s work? Let’s continue on and see what else we can glean and learn from this accounting.
Our scripture today tells us that Jesus was teaching and ministering to the people, healing the sick, and because of this – large crowds were forming. Later in our passage we see Jesus pull away from the crowd, thus renewing and refreshing his own spirit, before moving on to continue his ministry. After curing many who were sick or possessing demons Jesus then: “While it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Here Jesus has once again, guided us to an important part of ministry! It is important to understand that we need to continually heal ourselves and care for ourselves for self-care is the only way that we shall ensure that we will be ready, when the need is there, when the opportunity to help someone else comes up.
The scene then switches back to the disciples who had start looking for him.
The scripture picks up on Jesus having slipped away from the disciples. When the disciples find him, it is a serene place, out away from everyone. It is this peaceful spot that they find Jesus simply relaxing and praying. He was saying his prayers and perhaps in meditation with his Father in heaven. You can just imagine the excitement in the voices of the disciples as they begin explaining to Jesus that the crowds are getting bigger and bigger! They explain that they were looking for him because they wanted him to continue his healing ministries and the people were calling and clamoring for him.
Let me interject this writing by Henry J Nouwen, a well-known theologian and writer, a thought process from out of his words in the book: “The Wounded Healer.” Within this book Henry talks about what he refers to as the ‘Wounded Healer.’ To grasp this you need to understand that he would describe all of us as having wounds or things in our lives that we need to take care of in the present time. Henry is saying the ‘Wounded Healer’ is: “The one who must look after his own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others.” Clearly, we are told that we must take care of ourselves and from our own healings, by taking care of our own wounds, (in the current moment, not left for another day or time) from there we will be able to reach out and be of worth to another.
Jesus’ response to the crowds searching for him is: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns.” He leaves! Was he, is Jesus the inspiration that caused Henry Nouwen to write about the Wounded Healer? Either way, Jesus was deciding that rather than go and give the crowd what they wanted, he after taking time for rest, reflection and prayer, Jesus decides that it is more important to spread his message, spread his teachings, thus taking his ministry to yet another community.
How many times, how many times does a care-giver respond to the needs of its community… to the point of exhaustion, before sneaking off for a bit of a respite? Perhaps, he or she sneaks off in the middle of various efforts at helping others, and simply takes a small retreat. They plead with the individual to come back and continue their work. How do we, as care-givers, respond to this persistent request to keep at it long after we are totally exhausted? How do we know when that moment comes when we need a little bit more downtime, some much needed self-care? So many of you know this feeling, when those around you are reaching out to you in so many different ways, what response is correct for you or that person, be it a lay leader, a volunteer, or even the pastor?
Now this is not a conversation about someone, anyone of us actually, whining or complaining about workload. What we are talking about is: how do we know, or when do we or how do we, decide that we need to let the things that need to be done – we need to let them go, undone!? When do we decide – we just need to sit there for a while, or we need to go – take care of ourselves!? When you or I look around this church we see a lot of really active people, good devoted and sincere people, trying hard to do what they believe they are called to do! Doing a lot of really good and important stuff, giving of themselves in so many special ways. Yes, we could spend an hour just naming them, the people, the deeds, and the tasks that so many here are doing. I won’t try to do that now, you know who and what they are. And those of you that aren’t giving to one of these opportunities for ministry in this way, maybe you can begin looking to those around you who are, and let them be powers of examples for you.
But, whichever you are: the over-active volunteer, or the under-active observer at this moment in time, heed these words: this may be the time to take care of you!
Let’s look back at what Jesus does when the disciples find him praying, while the people were gathering in ‘mass’ around Simon’s home. The disciples were asking Jesus to go back to the gathered crowd! Yet, in the midst of the chaos, Jesus does not respond in the way they expected him to respond. No, quite the contrary. Jesus’ ‘response’ to the crowds searching for him is: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns.” He leaves!
You see Jesus is setting an example for us to follow, yet we need to be careful about trying to fit this ancient accounting ‘literally’ into a recent activity! What we need to do here is ‘lift up’ the ‘spirit’ of the example that Jesus was setting and apply it to a present-day situation. Now as we keep this in mind let’s try to make sense of the message, the words of our scripture this morning from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus’ ministry was to teach the people that something new was happening and that he, Jesus, was sent by God for this purpose! Jesus also knew his task was not to heal all the afflicted at any cost or sacrifice! No, Jesus knew that it was more important to continue to move his ministry to other communities. So that they, also, would become more aware of the teachings and message that he wanted people to hear!
Jesus was saying, take care of yourself, heal yourself as you move forward in your journey, thus leaving yourself ready to reach out and help. If you do not continue to care for yourself in this manner, when someone really needs your help, you will be too wounded, too burnt out to respond in a useful and effective way. Rather, Jesus was suggesting that we take time to reflect, relax, rejuvenate and spend some time in prayer and meditation.
I believe that this is what Jesus did that day. The Living Spirit of Jesus in our midst may be reaching out to us to look at this passage with new understandings thus lifting up the need for self-care with new energy and new insights. Let us try to be teachable and allow the spirit of this lesson, based on Jesus’ actions, to find proper balance in our efforts and our outreach to others. Trust your instincts. It wouldn’t hurt if we paid a little more attention to taking care of our own personal needs – so that we can regenerate our energy and then we can create new avenues, thus opening up new ways that we can reach out. And yes, we shall do new things in the church and even help more people not less!