I used to love to get on airplanes. No, not the packing or the rush to the airport or the hassle of getting through security. Rather, I loved actually getting on board and settling into a seat. I loved the fact that for the next few hours no one could reach me. For me then, the requirement of having to turn off the cell phone always felt like a gift. (Of course, this was in a period in my life when everyone I loved was happy and healthy and my being temporarily ‘out of touch’ wouldn’t likely have a negative impact on those most dear to me.) It was, for a certain period in my life anyway, the only time when I could without guilt or distraction sit in the quiet and think and read and write and pray.
And so it is as I read the Gospel lesson before us now, I have some sense of why Jesus was sneaking out before dawn in order to have time and space to pray. In fact, I found myself reading back again from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel to be reminded of what had come before. You know the story. After John’s announcement of who Jesus was we hear of Jesus’ baptism and then about his forty days of being tempted in the wilderness. Right after that he begins to call his disciples and next we hear of the start of his ministry of preaching and teaching and casting out demons. It’s been quite a beginning and one where the word of his ‘success’ has spread quickly — so much so, in fact, that by the time we catch up with Jesus today the ‘whole city’ is gathered outside the door, waiting to bring to his attention their deepest hopes and hurts. Indeed, we can be certain that some of those who have heard of what Jesus could do for them — some of the most desperate among them probably spent the night there outside Simon’s mother-in-law’s front door, hoping to be ‘first in line’ the next morning. Indeed can’t you just picture Jesus walking lightly as he did his best not to wake anyone — perhaps even using the back door to evade the crowd — all the while holding his breath as he prayed that for a little while at least he could put some distance between himself and all those hurting people.
Because of course, Jesus knew in a way I all too often forget that he needed that time apart. He knew that ‘success’ itself can be an idol that leads us to forget what we are here for, who we are called to be, even Who it is we represent. Indeed, Jesus knew that was something he needed to be grounded in again and again and again as he moved forward into all that lay before him.
An odd thing happened to me the other day as I was trying to put some thoughts together on this text. I was writing away in “Microsoft Word” when suddenly an advertisement appeared in the bottom right hand corner of my computer screen. (I have to say that at first I found myself a little surprised by this as I’d never had this happen before and my first response was to feel a little ‘invaded’ — but that’s a direction for another day’s writing.) It didn’t happen only once of course and so the second or third time through I paused to pay attention to it. It turned out it was touting the value of ‘Microsoft Outlook’ and it displayed a scrolling calendar with various commitments highlighted next to the times on one particular day. And then at the end the words were simply “Manage What Matters.”
“Manage What Matters.” I thought this a rather odd and interesting coincidence, for in many ways, although the details differ, just like Jesus did, you and I have all kinds of demands competing to be counted among what ‘matters’ on our calendars. We have work obligations and families to tend to. We squeeze in time for exercise and put forth the effort to make sure we connect with friends. We carve out time for worship and to be a part of the community of God’s people. All of it ‘matters.’ All of these may be good and important and sometimes, yes, even life-changing things. Even so, if you’re in the business of working with people at all you know what I mean when I say that people’s needs in this world are endless and we do need to be reminded that we can’t always fix it, heal it, or make the kind of difference that is so desperately needed. And we can certainly never do so on our own. Not without remembering the Source of our own meaning and strength and hope.
And so like Jesus, we would do well to do what we have to do to ‘sneak out before dawn’ to find the time and space to pray.
We would do well to ‘manage’ to do so not only when life’s circumstances make it easy, like when we’re climbing onto airplanes, but every day in the midst of all that life throws at us.
We would surely do well to pause every day to be renewed and strengthened and reminded of what matters in the presence of the Holy One whose people we are called to serve in the first place.
Some things I’m wondering….
- What do you think went through Jesus’ mind as he headed out in the early morning darkness to pray?
- Can you identify times in your own life when the need for time apart to be in prayer was so obvious that you felt you had no choice but to do so?
- Are you like me? Do you find yourself grateful for those times life hands you the time and space you need to simply put it all back in God’s hands, but maybe you aren’t always so good at making the effort to do so in other times? Why do you suppose that is so?
- Have you had stretches of time which seemed to be something like the time that Jesus has just been through before he takes that early morning hike away from all those demands? What difference did it make to you then to be reminded of who you were and what you were called to be and do? What difference did it make to you to be embraced again by the Holy One who crafted your very life and yearns only to fill you with meaning and strength and hope?
- What does it mean to you to “Manage What Matters?”