We have five marks of discipleship—things that we can do to grow in understanding and appreciation of our relationship with God. These marks of discipleship are ways we can actively engage our faith. Some might balk at the notion that we can grow at all in our relationship with God, but we can. We deepen in knowledge and understanding of what it means to be God’s children when we are actively engaged in that relationship.
The fact of the matter is, though, that active engagement isn’t one and the same with simply doing something. Active engagement means awareness. It means intentionality. It means purposefulness. Active engagement produces fruit that is life-giving. When we actively engage the marks of discipleship, the Holy Spirit moves in us and brings us to a clearer understanding of what it is that God has already done for us in Jesus.
But simply sitting in worship on Sunday, doing this or that good deed for someone else, reading Scripture or putting money in the offering plate without reflection, or reciting a prayer from rote memory while your mind wanders about—these things are not active engagement. The marks of discipleship are not items on a list that need to be checked off; rather, they’re tools both we and God use to live together more fully in the love that is Jesus. And so, as we go into the sermon today, I challenge you contemplate how you are going to more actively engage your relationship with God in Jesus—and also with one folks, for as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, just as we do it to the least of these, we do it unto him.
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
A child arrived just the other day. He came to the world in the usual way, but there were planes to catch, and bills to pay. He learned to walk while I was away and he was talking before I knew it and as he grew, he said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad, you know I’m gonna be like you” And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man in the moon, When you comin’ home, Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, you know we’ll have a good time then.
Busy. That’s a word we say a lot. Busy. Busyness is one of our favorite conversation topics. We’ll complain when we’re not busy enough. “I wish I had more to do.” We’ll complain when we have too much to do. “I have so much going on!” Sometimes the way that people go on about being busy, whether we are busy or we aren’t busy, you’d get the impression that somehow that’s what defines us—what you do. It isn’t a question of who you are, but rather what we do. You might think we’re human doings, as opposed to human beings.
The value of busyness is high. Do. Do. Do. Go. Go. Go. Busy. People work. And then we have activities. We have this club we belong to. That organization that demands our attention. This meeting to attend. There are planes to catch. Bills to pay. Do. Do. Do. Go. Go. Go. Busy. And if you’re not busy with things to do, you might find yourself fretting that you’re not doing enough. Maybe people think you’re lazy. Maybe people are talking about you. And don’t worry. Some people do talk about folks who aren’t “busy enough.” That isn’t necessarily an unfounded worry. We love to talk about how busy other people are—as if they’re not busy enough. Thing is, they probably are busy—just not busy the way we think they should be. Do. Do. Do. Go. Go. Go. Busy.
We’re told today, in the gospel from Mark, that while Jesus is in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, he’s teaching—something that’s more akin to preaching as we know it as Christians. And suddenly he’s interrupted by a man who has “an unclean spirit.” Now, this we might rightly call this a demon—an evil spirit especially one that possesses a person and torments. We’re told the man is convulsing, thrown about in spasms and made to cry out by this demon. The demon speaks to Jesus, identifying him as “the Holy One of God,” and his purpose—to destroy all the powers that defy life as God intends. Jesus shuts the demon up, rebukes him, and casts him out of the man. The people are amazed, and his reputation starts spreading about. No boring episode, to be sure.
In a synagogue, on a Sabbath…these are interesting details from the story that we’re given—details that are often overlooked for the more immediately compelling exorcism that Jesus performs “with authority,” the text tells us. To be sure, this text is a clear example of Jesus’ authority, but it’s also so much more. This is a text about resting, about slowing down, about being. On this Sabbath day, a day of rest, in the midst of God’s people, in the midst of the congregation, surrounded by the preaching of God’s Word, a man shows up who’s possessed with an unclean spirit, a demon who’s overtaken his whole being, causing him to thrash and flail about uncontrollably, all the while shouting and shrieking. We in our 21st-century world with our 21st-century sensibilities may want to discount this story as somehow the quaint superstition of people from the first century. Unclean spirits and demons are the delusional hooey of people with less scientific awareness than us today. We don’t believe in such poppycock as demons!
And yet—the demon of busyness runs rampant in our world. Busyness torments us. Busyness throws us into a rat race that we have to do, do, do. We work. We have activities. We have clubs. That organization. Meetings to attend. Planes to catch. Bills to pay. Do. Do. Do. Go. Go. Go. Busy.
Busyness veils itself as something good—the opposite of sloth. And to be sure—keeping engaged is good. After all, idle hands are the devil’s playground. But busyness creeps into our lives and lulls us with the false promise that if we just try harder, we’ll prove our worth. Folks—if idle hands are the devil’s playground, then too busy lives are his sweatshop. “What do we get from all the toil and strain with which we toil under the sun,” Scripture asks us. “For all our days are full of pain, and our busyness is a vexation; even at night our, busy minds do not rest. This is vanity…For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” a time for work, and a time for leisure.
*On the coast of Western Europe, a shoddily dressed man is dozing in his fishing boat. A smartly dressed tourist is just putting new color film in his camera to take a picture of the idyllic scene: blue sky, green sea with peaceful, snow-white crests, black boat, red fisherman’s cap. Click. Again: click, and since all good things come in three, a third time: click. The brittle, almost hostile noise wakes the dozing fisherman, who sits up sleepily and fishes for his pack of cigarettes. But before find them, the zealous tourist has already held a box in front of his nose, not putting the cigarette in his mouth, but putting it in his hand.
“You’re going to make a good catch today.” Fisherman nods. “I’ve been told that the weather is good.” The fisherman nods. “So, you won’t go out?” The fisherman shakes his head, the tourist grows nervous. Certainly, the welfare of shoddily dressed people is close to his heart, and concern over the missed opportunity gnaws at him.
“Oh? You are not feeling well?”
Finally the fisherman has to move on from nonverbal to verbal communication. “I feel great,” he says. “I’ve never felt better.” He stands up and stretches as if to demonstrate how athletic he is. “I feel fantastic.”
The tourist’s facial expression becomes more and more unhappy. He can no longer suppress the question that threatens to burst his heart: “But why don’t you go out then?”
The answer is prompt and concise. “Because I left this morning.”
“Was the catch good?”
“It was so good that I don’t have to go out again. I’ve caught four lobsters in my traps and caught almost two dozen mackerel.” The fisherman, now fully awake, pats tourist on the shoulder. The worried expression on his face appears to him to be an expression of inappropriate but touching concern. “I even caught enough for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow!” he said to soothe the stranger’s soul.
“I don’t want to interfere in your personal affairs,” he says, “but imagine that you do a second, a third, maybe even a fourth trip today and you would catch three, four, five, maybe even ten dozen mackerel. Just imagine!” The fisherman nods. “If you did that not just today,” continues the tourist, “but tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, yes, on every favorable day—do you know what would happen?” The fisherman nods. “In a year at the latest you would be able to buy a second boat, in three or four years you could maybe have a whole fleet!” His enthusiasm trails off. After a few moments silence, he shakes his head, saddened, and he looks at the peacefully rolling tide in which the untrapped fish jump happily. The fisherman pats him on the back like a child.
“What then?” he asks softly.
“Then,” says the stranger with subdued excitement, “then you could sit calmly here in the harbor, doze off in the sun—and look out over the wonderful sea.”
“But I’m already doing that now,” says the fisherman. “I’m sitting calmly here in the harbor and dozing, only your clicking bothered me.”
What are we missing because we’re so very busy? Are missing our grandkids learning to walk? Are we missing playing with them? Are we missing dinner with a friend? Are we missing healthy meals? Are we missing sleep? Because we have a lot on our plate? Because we have so much going on? Are we aware how the demon of busyness creeps into our lives and robs us of the life that God promises us? “Come to me,” Jesus says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Slow down. Calm Down. Sit down. Listen. God is speaking. And when God speaks, we are refreshed. Our spirits are renewed, and we can live how God calls us to live.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out. Slow down. Calm Down. Sit down. Listen. Listen to Jesus. And you’ll recover your life. Jesus shows us how to take a real rest, to become possessed by unforced rhythms of grace instead of the chaotic rat race of busyness.
Make time for your friends. Sit in the silence—intentionally. Consider the mountains, a sunrise or sunset. Enjoy time with the kids. Have dinner with a friend. Drink that wine or that scotch. Live life to the fullest, engaged in the present, not incessantly, insatiably, and intoxicatingly busy, trying to fill it with meaning and value, fixated on tomorrow.
We have nothing to prove. Appreciate now. Appreciate who you are, and whose you are. God claims us as his own children in the waters of baptism, and the Holy Spirit overflows our hearts, cleaning us through and through. We have infinitely infinite value—no matter what lies to the contrary busyness might tell us. God has spoken. Our lives are free for the living—living to the fullest in in sync to the rhythms of grace, just as God intends.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Adapted from Heinrich Böll’s Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral.