Friday, April 1, 2011

“A Solitary Place” - Mark 1:35-39 - April 3, 2011

I always get nervous when I hear someone tell a story with phrases like; “a friend of mine told me about…,” or “I heard about…,” or “there is a story about…” I cannot help but think of a game I learned in my childhood called “Telegraph” or “Gossip.” Maybe you played it too. The teacher would have us sit in a circle and she would whisper something in someone’s ear and they would turn and whisper what they heard into the next person’s ear and so on and so on until the words reached the last person in the circle who would stand up and tell us what they had heard. Every time we would laugh out loud when we heard how different what the last person said was from what the teacher had first said. With every telling of a single sentence it seems it was twisted and turned just a little bit so that the final words were almost unrecognizable to the original.This childhood game taught a lot of truth. It is important we go directly to the source when we want to hear a story with clarity. I want to claim this truth for our journey from here to Easter. So, for the next four weeks I want to hear the voice of one witness describing their walk with Jesus. I want to hear from one who could tell us about the kind of man Jesus was and the kind of Savior Jesus is for the world. For the next four weeks I want to us to hear from Peter.

I choose Peter because I think he looks a lot like us. He has moments when his faith is strong and other moments when he stumbles, bumbles, and falls. Peter means well but sometimes his temper gets in his way. He wants to be faithful, but sometimes old fashioned fear causes him to doubt. He wants to be like Jesus but sometimes his desire to get ahead pushes him to the back of the line. I think that the best character trait that I can see in Peter is that he available – he shows up and is ready to hear from Jesus. I really like Peter because in spite of his foibles and fumbles God works in him and through him. Peter has a lot to tell us about Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:16 we hear him declare; “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

This morning we start with a short but significant story. It tells us a lot about Jesus and even more about the kind of relationship we are called to as those who follow Jesus. We find it in the Book of Mark, Chapter 1, verses 35 through 39. In the NSRV it reads; In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon (Peter) 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

This story invites us to Jesus’ side when the dew of the morning was still fresh on the grass. In the New Living Translation, we hear verse 35 offered more succinctly, 35Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. In his interpretive translation The Message, Eugene Peterson sees it this way, “While it was still night, way before dawn he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed.” What both translations drive home it that Jesus was up well before the normal movements of the day. Before the people in the house stirred, before there was movement on the town’s dirt streets, before most had even thought about waking, Jesus was up and out headed to a secluded place. Jesus got way from everyone, finding a quiet place where he could talk with the Father. In the predawn hours Jesus looked for and found a place to pray in peace and quiet, without distractions.

This is a reoccurring theme with Jesus. Luke 5:16 reads, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” There is something critically important about alone time in prayer. Jesus models it because it matters. If this made a difference in Jesus’ life how much more do we need this kind of time with God? If we are going to deepen our relationship with God and care for others we need time for renewal and refreshing. We need times when we can talk to God and listen for the voice of God. When was the last time you had time with God with no distractions? Thomas Merton is an American Trappist Monk who I have come to appreciate says this about spiritual solitude; “Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.” In other words, times of solitude with God is something we have to look for, to plan, to make happen – not in some distant perfect moment in our spiritual journey – but in the now of our lives – in the midst of the chaos and confusion, demands and commitments.

Our story continues; 36 Later Simon (Peter) and the others went out to find him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” As surely as Jesus withdrawing to quiet places for prayer was a part of the gospel story, so are the disciples and others coming looking for Jesus. Jesus had escaped the demands of others for a little while, but they would not let him linger there too long. The crowds beckoned him. They brought their own wants, needs, and agendas. They had pain and brokenness they wanted Jesus to address. There were people they loved that they wanted healed. They wanted Jesus. The disciples brought the word, Everyone looking for him….at least everyone they knew. I imagine that they expected Jesus to come back to town with them. They had witnessed so many remarkable miracles. I image that Peter and Andrew we proud of their new found status in their hometown as disciples of the healer Jesus. The whole city was at their door. I would imagine that they would expect that Jesus would come back and build on his success and new found notoriety in Capernaum.

They were in for a huge surprise. 38 But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” The disciples came to get Jesus in response to the crowd, but after his time alone in prayer, Jesus was clear that his message and ministry was not just for Capernaum; it was time to move on. He did not allow his ministry to be held hostage by the expectations of others, but rather moved boldly forward in the ministry set before him. “In contrast to that wonderful past in Capernaum, the future, roaming around Galilee was uncertain -- but that is what Jesus has been called to do. He will not walk the safe and seemingly successful way, but follow the way God has set before him. It will not always be what his disciples want. It will not always be with the people want. It will be what God has determined.” (1)

I think it is important for us to hear that this time in prayer was defining for Jesus. The time with the Father kept him focused on why he was here and what he was called to do. It is important for us to hear that we desperately need this same kind of time in prayer in a solitary place to make sure the voice we hear is the voice of God and not the voices of the crowd – or even those closest to us -calling us another way. It is easy to get caught of meeting the demands of the others. It is easy to let the demands of the “immediate” get in the way of what is most important. It is easy to get so caught up doing what is good that we miss doing what is bigger, what is the will of God. It is true for us as individuals and as a family of faith. We must make sure we stay tuned into the voice of God and stay focused on the mission and ministry that God has entrusted to us.

39 So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons. Jesus time in the quiet place set the tone for his ministry. He claimed time for spiritual recharge and rest. He claimed time for uninterrupted conversations with the Father. He claimed to refocus and step out in ministry. Jesus time in a quiet place served as the launching pad for his Galilean ministry and the many, many lives he would touch along the way. We live in a world filled with distractions. Our time is often so consumed by email, Facebook, texts, television, phone calls, business meetings, homework, appointments, after-school activities, and calendar demands of family and friends that miss quiet all together. We miss pausing long enough to hear God speak. We miss hearing God pointing us the right way. As we move from this moment toward Easter let us hear Peter’s witness and claim solitary time with God. I wonder what word he has for us. I wonder how we might experience this Easter season differently if the voice that claims our ear is the voice of God.

(1) Soffergen, Brian, “Exegetical notes at Crossmark: Mark 1:29-29” available at on February 18, 2009

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