Take a Deep Breath of God
What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
What is the moment in your life when everything you ever wanted came together with every ability you have and it just clicked?
For some people it might be the moment of giving birth, or the moment of making or accepting a marriage proposal.
Others might remember an ostensibly smaller moment that ended up having great impact, like helping a stranger who became a best friend, or making an apology and saving a relationship.
In the strange mix of hectic confusion and dull monotony that swirls through our days, we live for those moments when we accidentally step into the center of God’s will.
Today’s gospel holds just such an important moment for the disciples.
Jesus is still very new to them and they’re not sure if they’re witnessing a talented charlatan or a prophet sent from God.
They left their jobs and their homes under the strange power of his invitation, and they have witnessed a demon being driven out of a man in the synagogue.
In what will possibly be their last chance to turn back, they return to Simon Peter’s house because his wife’s mother is ill.
No doubt some of their family members are hoping they will see reason and go back to their fishing boats.
No doubt some of the disciples themselves are thinking, well, this was an interesting week, but it’s time to go back to reality.
And yet, deep within them, a small voice wants this Jesus to be real and true and worth leaving everything behind to follow.
And so when they learn that Simon’s mother-in-law has a bad fever, they put the situation before Jesus to see what he will do.
This is a pivotal moment for Jesus as well.
He managed to convince the fishermen to follow him.
He drove out a demon in the face of the urgency of a tormented man’s suffering and the heady excitement of a crowd.
But this situation is different.
He has time to think about it.
He has time to consider that he is about to break the Sabbath for the second time in one day.
Will he be able to help this sick old woman?
Or is this the moment when the humanity in Jesus wonders if tomorrow morning he will be heading back to Nazareth, facing the mockery of his neighbors when he has to return to looking for work as a carpenter?
Imagine the heavy weight of expectations soaking the air of that small upstairs room, the old lady breathing weakly on the bed as Jesus takes her hand, wrinkled with age and hot with fever.
The disciples hold their breath as they strain every nerve to see if anything will happen, suddenly desperately wanting Jesus to succeed.
And Jesus reaches deep inside himself for healing.
Suddenly years seem to wash away from the old woman’s face. She takes a deep cleansing breath and sits up.
She takes a look at the circle of awestruck men and the kind looking stranger sitting at her bedside, and makes a very sensible decision. “Let’s get some dinner on the table.”
Imagine the burst of relieved laughter that swept across the room.
Jesus, Andrew, James, John and Peter must have looked at each other and seen the same thought written in each other’s eyes: Wow. This is real.
I imagine the disciples could hardly sit still at the table from excitement.
Immediately they go out after supper and bring in all the sick and injured in the town to be healed by Jesus.
And he heals every one of them.
In the mass of healing people that is rapidly becoming a rowdy party, nobody notices that with each person rising up to walk, Jesus is becoming paler and paler.
In the wee hours of the morning the last child is restored to health and Jesus slips out the back door unnoticed by the celebrating townspeople and disciples.
As he trudges up a hill in the cool morning air, I imagine he is feeling drained of mind, body and spirit.
For the first time, he knows what it is like to empty himself utterly for the love of his people.
What transpired between Jesus and the Father on that hillside is private between them, and we will not intrude on Jesus’ sacred time of peace with the Father even in our imaginations.
What we will do is think about how we can come to the same place that he does. How can we empty ourselves so completely that healing and blessing flow out of us by the Holy Spirit?
What it took for Jesus was courage and faith.
He had to decide to take the risk at the beginning of his newborn ministry.
He had to deliberately step out on the limb and run the chance of failure, disappointment and embarrassment.
That took courage.
And he had to believe that God had called him to heal, and that he could do it.
That took faith.
It takes a strong spirit of love to empty oneself for the sake of another.
I’m not very good at it.
There is always an excuse I can make for myself not to go the extra mile and do the right thing.
I’m too tired, or that person doesn’t deserve it, or I already did something nice today, or I don’t feel good, or I don’t have time—the list goes on and on.
I am very lucky that God has placed me in the middle of a group of people from whom I can learn, who empty themselves for others every day. I’ve seen it.
I know someone at this church who gets here early every Sunday to turn on the lights and the heat and start the coffee, because he’s answering the call to love.
I know people at this church who carefully prepare the altar and wash the vessels and linens every week, because they’re answering the call to love.
I know someone at this church who works in the heat and cold on the gardens and grounds, because she’s answering the call to love.
I know someone at this church who spends uncounted hours working on our finances, because she’s answering the call to love.
I know people at this church who serve the poor in countless ministries across this county, because they’re answering the call to love.
I know people at this church who come to Vestry every month and pray and labor over the future of our church community, because they’re answering the call to love.
I know people at this church who adopt bills or serve at the clinic every week, because they’re answering the call to love.
I know people at this church whose physical frailty keeps them from being in worship on Sunday but whose spirits shine bright as the sun.
I know people at this church who raise their grandkids because their adult children can’t, who stick by their family members decimated by mental illness, who drive others to worship and church activities, all because they’re answering the call to love.
These ministers God has gifted us with are powerful examples to us of what it means to empty ourselves for the sake of the kingdom.
There is no problem in the world that can stand against this combined power of courage and faith.
I feel like I’m standing out on a limb even saying that, because I know that situations in our lives don’t always have happy endings.
I’m not saying that if you’re only brave enough and you only believe enough you can cure your spouse of cancer or save your child from addiction.
What I’m saying is that emptying yourself of everything—emptying yourself of fear, of hatred, of jealousy, of self-consciousness—emptying yourself for the sake of love will bring healing.
That healing may take different forms and may not be easy to recognize in the moment, but it will happen because our God is faithful.
Our God wants us to call upon the Holy Spirit for healing of ourselves, our loved ones, and our broken world. Praying for love to channel through us and wash over everyone in our paths—that is dwelling in the center of God’s will.
And when every now and then we are privileged to witness a moment of healing in someone’s life, every halting, laboring step we took to get there will be worth it.
Every time we fought to push away our selfish impulses and every time we humbled ourselves to admit we couldn’t make it without God will be worth it, when the person we were brave enough to love starts giving the grace on to others, who will give it to others, who will give it to others.
Then, for a moment, before it is time to go build the kingdom in the other towns of Galilee or Indiana, we will walk up the quiet hill with Jesus in the early morning to stand in sweet communion with God.
That is the purpose of our worship this morning.
All week you have fought for courage and faith, prayed for healing and blessing on the ones you love and the ones you don’t love.
Leave the crowded rooms of your busy mind for a moment.
Walk away into the morning air with Jesus.
And take a deep, deep breath of God.
We only have a few moments before we are called back into action.
Let us make them count.
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