A Listening Heart

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
January 28, 2018
Scripture: Mark 1: 29-39
Sermon: “A Listening Heart”

Jesus is a busy guy. The Greek word euthys ii (meaning immediately ) used 34 times in Mark. Jesus has lots to do, and he does it immediately. There is an urgency in this fast-paced, intense story of Jesus. Mark gives us a sample of Jesus’ day at the start of his story: Jesus taught in the synagogue that morning. When he left, he healed a tormented man in the afternoon. Then the disciples and he went over to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house to visit and take a break; they plan to stay the night with her. When they get there, they learn that their hostess is sick in bed. Jesus is back on duty as he heals her. They have some supper; the sun goes down. Finally, it’s time for some rest and well-earned down-time.

There’s a knock on the door, and feet are heard shuffling in the street. Voices are calling to one another, ‘over here,’ ‘this way,’ ‘here’s the house.’ ‘I hope he can…’ is laced in each one. People have heard that Jesus can heal. His fame has spread. People are bringing their sick and their loved ones. People are pressing in on him. J esus gives new life and freedom to all who come. Finally, exhausted, long after the sun has set, Jesus gets to make a place to sleep. He steps over the sleeping bodies of Simon and Andrew, and James and John; they crashed immediately. There’s not much floor space left. He tosses his tunic in the corner maybe with some sweet hay pushed up under it to soften the hard dirt floor. Finally, he gets to stretch out. His body is spent, but his mind is still churning as the day’s actin runs through his mind. His teaching in the synagogue that morning seemed so long ago; the gratitude on the man’s face he healed brings a smile to his own face. The crowds surrounding the house in the evening haunt him. There’s a long to-do list and a short calendar. (sound familiar?) Maybe Jesus needs a secretary? Andrew could become his personal planner? James could issue a ticket number system or set appointments? Maybe he should plan an extension on this leg of the trip? There’s so much hurt and pain here; he could just setup shop permanently and take care of these people. People really love him here; it’s nice to stay where you are loved and appreciated. Options and possibilities tumble about his head as he lays down, but soon fatigue overwhelms him, and his snoring joins the chorus of the other disciples filling the room with their symphony of rest.

You might think Jesus would take the next day off or at least sleep in a while, but something stirs him out of sleep before the sun rises. While it is still dark, he tip toes over the sleeping bodies of the other men crashing on the floor at Simon’s in-laws house. He stumbles out the doorway into the darkness and begins to walk towards the outskirts of town facing east to watch for the light to turn dawning sky from black to blue. In the quiet, he sits down to breathe. He needs some alone time. He needs some God time.

This might have been the end of his first day on the job as Mark tells the story.

Maybe he wants to talk to God about this preaching, healing gig, and renegotiate his contract. Is every day going to be a 16 hour day? God, we have to talk. Jesus goes to a desolate place, a deserted place, to start his busy day in relationship and communion with God.

His quiet, peaceful, life-giving time with God is broken as Simon and Andrew and James and John come crashing into his desolate space announcing ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ Imagine walking into your workplace, and immediately getting hit with, “Everyone’s looking for you!—Where have you been?” Before, ‘hi, or good morning’, before your first cup of coffee or you’ve even set your backpack down, demands are made of you. You know how that feels?

Imagine sitting in the quiet of your morning prayer time in your prayer space at home, when your children break the silence calling out, “MOM! I need…,” Your spouse is slamming cabinet doors when she yells, “Honey, have you seen…?” Your text message dings; a friend’s car won’t start. Someone in the other room flips on the TV and the morning news begins sucking at your soul. Then your calendar alerts to remind you of your commitments for the day. It’s comforting to know Jesus had mornings like that too.

After a weary day, and a short night, Jesus got up before the sun and found a deserted place. Before the others found him and began making their demands, he had already created sacred time to start his day. Jesus’ followers have been looking for deserted places in which to pray ever since we began attempting to follow his teachings. Followers of Jesus have gone to literal deserts. The so-called desert mothers and fathers were hermits who lived primarily in the deserts of Egypt in the third century in order to be closer to God. Between the sixth and eighth centuries, a monastic community moved to Skellig Michael, an island off the west coast of Ireland as a “deserted place” surrounded by ocean. Around the world, Jesus followers set up retreat houses, hermitages, and monasteries, far away from civilizations to find God, but the truth be told, that God-space we need is closer than we think.

Even so, it’s hard it is to find the space; it’s hard to carve out these few moments of God-time. It can be hard to find quite God-space if your house of full of roommates, children, pets with early morning demands. It can be hard to find quite God-space if your calendar print is so tight it makes your eyes water and your breath catch. Some of you with full houses, might think it would be easier to find God space if you were living alone? “If I didn’t have_____ interrupting me, then I could do a morning meditation.” or “When the kids move out, I’ll have time then.” Some of you with job demands, think it will be easier when in retirement years. “If I didn’t have to get to work, then I could/will do a morning devotion.” Just a note, singles or retirees can fill our time, thoughts, morning routines and calendars just the same as at any other time in our lives, especially if that has been our habit all our lives.

Jesus grew into greater union with God throughout his life, all his life. Jesus became aware of God’s calling in his life and God’s purpose for his life. Jesus had the courage to live by God’s dream, even in the face of hardships, because he was intentional in listening, because he MADE time for God. He didn’t get to his morning meditation by accident; he made space for God in his busy life. Sometimes that meant disappointing his fans and all those who were pressing in on him and demanding that he take care of them.

Jesus was in his morning prayer, when the disciples burst in saying, “Everyone is looking for you! The crowds are back, Jesus. There’s the lady with a sick baby, and there’s an old man who can’t see, and there’s so many people who need you. Come, come on Jesus, we have to get back to work! Do your miracles, Jesus!”

Jesus had a strange look on his face when he answered them. Compassion for those who were looking for him mingled with compassion for those who had never heard of him. He announced, “let’s go.” Instead of heading back towards the crowds that were already gathering near Simon’s in-law’s house, he turned and headed toward the next town to proclaim God’s love there also knowing that is what I must do.

You see, Jesus shows us what it’s like to build a relationship with the Divine. He shows us how to connect with the Holy. He teaches that God is always present and available for us. The Holy Divine is in our ‘desolate place.’ I have come to believe that the ‘desolate place’ where we encounter God is the quiet place within. God is there waiting for us to show up. God, the Holy Divine Essence of Goodness, the Eternal Energy Presence of the World is accessible to us. Jesus knew that because the teachers and prophets of ancient Judaism had announced the word of the Lord saying,
“I will be their God; they will be my People… I will lead them not just by a bold pillar of fire by night or clouds by day, but in the quite stillness of their listening hearts. I will write upon their hearts.” Jesus spent time allowing God to write upon his heart.

When we practice stopping all our important and demanding good deeds and care, for a sacred morning moment, we can listen. When we truly listen for Divine leading, then we come to know ourselves better then we understand our purpose better then we realize what it is we must do to live out God’s purpose in us. If we rush off to do our good deeds without having first listened, how do we know what we are doing is what we must be doing? How are we empowered and enabled to do God’s work if we don’t spend time with God’s Spirit first?

Where shall you practice your sacred God-time? Where can you hear God’s whisper best? Is it with a cup of coffee in one hand and a devotional in the other at your morning waking up space, kitchen table, or favorite chair? God is there, Listen. Is it on a walk as morning light beings to creep across velvety darkness? God is there, Listen. Is it in Mead Chapel, as you get lost in the mosaic swirling colors? God is there, Listen. Is it in this Sanctuary, with colors coming to life through the stories of Jesus? God is here, Listen. (You all know the church is open during the week. You can come in here to sit with God and listen.)

It is not easy, this path that Jesus shows us. It requires change in our lives. Reorientation of our priorities, sacrifices. It means rearranging of busy, important, routines and creation of new habits. It is not easy to follow Jesus Way, but it is possible. We can listen- wherever we are- whenever we stop and clear precious space within. We can help each other, encourage one another, support each other, we can ask how is your listening going today?

Several years ago, I was given a small daily devotional book. There is a page for each day of the year, but like I said it is small. It’s only two or three sentences and a prayer. It takes only two or three minutes. I like the book. Well, I like the January pages. I can’t really tell you what June or July is like, or even much of February for that matter. But this year I’m going to do better because I have a group and we are sharing it together. We will ask each other, “How is your listening going?”

How is your listening going? What song is God singing into your heart today? I know it’s beautiful.