Fifth Sunday after THE EPIPHANY

Epiphany 5B—February 8, 2015

Homily preached by The Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

This was really a week. It was not the week I expected but it was a week that was full of learning for me and full of the Holy Spirit. It began with clergy conference. Bishop Mary gathered us together, and we were down at San Juan Bautista, and I was wondering what it was going to be like. For our last clergy conference, last spring, we had Cynthia Bourgeault, who is an Episcopal priest who teaches about being present to the Spirit through centering prayer, through community work and through living the Benedictine life. She brought us in to a quiet place—a centered place—and we time throughout the two days we were with her for reflection, prayer, and for a lot of fellowship. It was a really special time, and I knew that this year was going to be different. So, I was wondering what it was going to be like.

This year we had another Episcopal priest who came to be with us. His name is Bill Miller. You can see his blog at FatherBill.net. He’s different. He was born in Texas, which is a start. He’s about yea tall, and he’s got kind of frosted hair, and it’s kind of blondish on top and darker underneath—you know, he looks like he had a two-color process—you know, dark underneath. He served about ten years in Austin, then he went to Kauai, where he’s served for the last nine years. He’s written two books: The Gospel according to Sam. Sam’s his dog. Sam has since gone to his reward. The other book is A Beer Drinker’s Guide to God. He owns a bar—he co-owns a bar and music venue in Marfa, Texas. You go to nowhere and turn left, and that’s where Marfa is. Now he’s going to go to a little town—Covington—in Louisiana, about 40 miles north of New Orleans and four miles away from the Abida brewery. Abida is the beer in New Orleans, and he just wanted us to know where he’s going to be.

So, he told us stories. He’s a great story-teller, and he told us stories about the events in his life—about startling things and waiting time and more startling things. And interspersed with all this story-telling, he read from his book, and he read from three other peoples’ books. He told us about three books. One of them, the first was Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. The lesson there is that sometimes when we’re listening to everybody around us, it’s hard for us to know what we’re supposed to be doing. The second book he talked about was The Age of Speed, which is on the bestseller list right now. The third one is Essentialism. Try saying that three times fast. Essentialism. How we get down to the basics of what we’re supposed to be doing. How we declutter our lives and our souls. And that’s kind of what happened for those two days. We had time for prayer—together and individually. We had time for reflection. We had a lot of time for fellowship, and, I’ve got to tell you, it was so joyful. There were so many of us there—more than we have ever had—and that’s a sign of the health of this diocese. When you enjoy being with your colleagues, that means that good work is happening, and we had a great time together. We really did.

The final event was our Eucharist. Bishop Mary described it as a pop-up Eucharist. She said, “I’ve given it a lot of thought, but we’re just going to kind of do it.” And she assigned someone to think about how we might sing during communion and someone else to think about something else, and she said she was going to read something instead of doing a sermon. So, at the time for the sermon—we’re noticing that there are these balls in front of the altar. All different colors—about seven of them—different sizes: this big to this big—and they’re those soft balls, and they’re not heavy, and they don’t hurt when they hit you, which is a good thing, because she said, “OK, I’m going to be reading this story to you, and y’all do something with these. She threw all these balls out to us, and so we just kept them in the air—most of the time they were in the air. There was twice when they hit the chandelier, but there was so much joy in the room. It was just overflowing. And when it was time to stop, she said, “Just because we’re doing something important doesn’t mean we can’t be joyful.” We ate lunch together, and we all went home.

I immediately got busy, because I’d been away for two days, and I had a lot of stuff to do. So, I went home and did stuff, and I thought about the time we’d had together, and I did some more stuff. Thursday morning I had an appointment to get my oil changed and the tires rotated, and I thought OK, I’ll get this done, and I was working on my meditation for the Lenten booklet, and Gene the mechanic came out and sat down. That is never a good sign. Never. When the mechanic sits down, it’s not good. And I said, “What is it?” And he said, “Let me show you your tires.” I said, “No. I don’t want to see it.” So he told me how bad they were worn and said he didn’t want me to leave there without new tires, and I said I didn’t have time for that. He said, ”OK, we’ll put the new tires on and you come back within in 2000 miles and we’ll do the alignment and the balancing and all that,” and I said okay because I had places to go and people to see. So, I’m driving this car that feels like it’s on rocks, and the wind is beginning to blow, and I thought maybe I ought to just settle down. So I came to work for a while, then I stayed at home.

And on Friday, I came here, and things kept happening, but I kept thinking about what had happened during our clergy conference, and it kept pulling me back to that question: What do I need to be doing right now? What do I need to be doing right now? And so the appointments got kind of messy, but it all came together, and I felt like I was being where I needed to be, no matter what was happening.

And then I went through the driving rain with my pity face on out to Menlo Park—to Vallombrosa—to be with the Vestry of St. Thomas during their retreat. Their interim rector, Rob Keim, had invited me to come do the Mutual Ministry Review portion of their retreat. That’s a looking back at the last year. It’s not a performance appraisal—it’s holding up the last year and looking at it carefully and appreciatively. So Rob had done some excellent planning to make space to get the work done and to give all of us time to be together, to have prayer—we never had long chunks of prayer, except for our opening evening prayer. After that it was little pieces of prayer, and sometimes we would do a devotion. We had one prayer that we followed through the day and a half we were there. We had walking prayer, when we went outside, and there was a sense of being held and settling down, deeper and deeper into the space and into community with one another. And yesterday afternoon we did the MMR—the mutual ministry review—and I asked them some questions. The first was: What have you accomplished this year? And they wrote five chart pad sheets of the things they had accomplished during this transitional year. Rob has been with them seventeen months now. And they’re just about in the same place in the process of called their rector as we are. They’re just now accepting applications, and so are we.

I asked them then what they had learned as they had made these accomplishments and as they—maybe—didn’t meet some of the goals they might have set for themselves. And there were three pages of that and a lot of discussion about how they had learned, and I asked them what were the most joyous moments of the year, and that was two pages of things that just touched my heart. While all of this is going on—while all of this discussion is going on—Rob was so attentive to all us—really sensitive to what we needed—making sure that everybody was able to participate fully and to make sure that there was quiet so that we would have time to sink into what we were doing. To go deeper and be less distracted than we can be when we’re thinking about all the things that need to be done and all the things that we should be doing: home, work, all of those things, in addition to the church work we were about. After we finished the MMR portion, we had thirty minutes of reflection, and Rob sent us out with another walking prayer, and we came back, and it was time to determine what the focus was going to be for the next year. Rob asked me to summarize at the end, so I was taking notes. We used mutual invitation—where one person speaks then invites another person to speak, and it goes around the room so that everyone has space, nobody has to ask to speak, everybody is included. We went around the room and got through with that part, and I said, “Can I say something?’ and Rob said, “Sure!” I popped open my handy-dandy iPhone and read today’s gospel, because there’s something that happens in today’s gospel that I thought happened yesterday afternoon.

In todays’ gospel, we are on the same day as last Sunday’s gospel. Last Sunday, Jesus heals a man with a spirit in the synagogue. He went home from the synagogue—we hear today—and he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. And then the sun goes down and people are able to travel, and swarms of people show up—seeking healing—and Jesus heals them. He drives out the demons, he heals them in body, mind and spirit, and the evening comes to an end. The next morning—early, early, early—he gets up and goes out to pray. Now, we all know how good it feels to make a difference in someone’s life. We all know what that’s like. I can’t imagine that Jesus was anything other than deep-down happy to be with those people he was healing—that it didn’t move him to see people leaving in health—but he went to pray. He went down into his relationship with the Holy, and he came out ready to go out on the road. And the disciples were saying: No, No! This is good stuff—this is really good stuff! You need to stay here—we will just keep on bringing people the people in—you’ll heal them—it will be so good! And he said, “That’s not what I’m here for.” He had reconnected with his focus. It wasn’t about doing all the good things that he could possibly do. It was about doing the things he was sent to be doing—which is to spread the good news about God’s love. And that’s what he did.

And that’s what I told the people at St. Thomas—that maybe it’s time in this transitional year—as they look toward a new rector coming by the end of the summer—maybe it’s time to dig deeper into those things they are already doing so well—those things that are giving them joy—to become even more grounded in those things and not go adding to it just because they can. And that’s what they decided to do ultimately. They decided to hunker down—to continue to do the things they’re doing really well—and to do them even better if they can—but not to diffuse their energy and their spirit—and to leave space for the Spirit to move them as they build this new community that’s birthing—right now!

So, you know what I’m going to say to you. We are doing so many things—so many really good things. Our community organizing process is growing. It’s becoming part of us—part of the DNA here. The caring that happens in this community for each is becoming even stronger. The caring for the people in the community is becoming even stronger, and there are a lot of things that we could go out and do, but those three things are the basis for this community, and we need to tend to that. We need to focus on this transitional time and being ready for the person God is bringing to be with you and ready to see what’s going to grow when that happens. As we do all that, we can know—we can know that Christ is with us, walking this particular journey, that the Holy Spirit is moving among us, and that the grace of God’s love will continue to pour down on us just like this glorious rain. And we know all of that, so we can say:

Thanks be to God.