THE ESSENTIAL PLACE
A Pastoral Message based on Mark 1:29-39
Prepared for St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC,
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on July 25, 2021
Living God, thank you for meaningful work in which we can experience joy. And thank you for including us in your work, that which Jesus called ‘the Father’s business:’ caring for the poor, healing the sick, proclaiming good news, forgiving sins, casting out demons, welcoming strangers, doing justice, and walking humbly with you. Guide us to mature in your vision of compassion so our labors are always enjoined with yours. Amen.
Through our first ten years together, as pastor and people, we have become better acquainted. And, one of the things I have learned about you folks is that you are constantly busy.
There’s not one of you sitting around twiddling your thumbs looking for something to do.
You are engaged in the life of the world, the obligations of family life and the needs of others.
You are not merely busy rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic either.
You are working, volunteering, parenting, meeting, attending, grandparenting, serving, leading, coordinating, managing, collaborating, going, picking up, delivering, visiting, caring for, Zooming, participating, preparing, making, baking, communicating, calling, etc., etc., etc. You are busy.
You are involved in God’s mission every day. You are busy on purpose with purpose.
You are both practitioners of and victims of the Protestant Work Ethic. Let me explain.
This phrase, Protestant Work Ethic, was introduced in 1904 by Max Weber, a German historian and political economist, in his book, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. Although the worst aspects of capitalism deserve constant adjustment, none of you would be where you are today without the positive dimensions of capitalism. Even the most stringent critics of capitalism affirm its incentive to work hard, its ability to provide resources more equitably and its capacity to encourage partnerships across differences often contributing to peace-building.
Weber proposed the idea of Protestant Work Ethic as a compliment to the concept espoused by Martin Luther and other Protestants that every Christian is called by God to offer their best work.
Weber suggested that hard work and being busy to improve the world for everyone were viewed as characteristics of Protestant ethics.
This Protestant Work Ethic idea of staying busy has been ingrained in most of you from birth.
You have been taught the rules of self-reliance.
I once heard a parent explain how he taught his teenagers self-reliance. He gave them complete freedom to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. When they created a problem for themselves or others, he said, “Look at it; Figure it out; and Fix it.”
What has been learned, in recent years, is the close link between persons who pursue the foundational ideas of self-reliance and a disjointed prayer life. For most people of faith, prayer seems to be necessary only when they cannot do something for themselves. Most people of faith view a daily practice of prayer to be an unnecessary interruption in their business of busy-ness.
Therefore, I planned this sermon in our summer focused on, ‘ALL TOGETHER THROUGH PRAYER.’ And I chose the scripture passage Nancy read today from the Gospel of Mark.
The writer of The Gospel of Mark presents to us a very busy Jesus.
One biblical scholar refers to The Gospel of Mark as The Protestant Work Ethic Gospel.
Mark doesn’t begin with a lineage of Jesus or offer birth narratives as do Matthew and Luke.
Mark doesn’t give us a theological explanation of God’s Word becoming flesh as does John.
The Gospel of Mark jumps right into Jesus’ ministry.
Mark begins by establishing Jesus’ authority as John the Baptizer pushes Jesus to center stage.
In the first three chapters of Mark, Jesus is introduced, baptized, tempted, assembling the disciples, healing the mother in law of Simon Peter, casting out demons, healing people suffering from many diseases, teaching multitudes, rebuking the scribes, forgiving sins and being misunderstood by his mother and siblings.
If Jesus had kept a daily diary, his record of these days would have filled a scroll.
HOWEVER, AN INSERTION INTO CHAPTER ONE MUST NOT BE OVERLOOKED!
Did you notice what Mark included in verses 35-36 of the first chapter – “In the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
NOW, on one hand, it doesn’t surprise us at all that Jesus got up before dawn to pray.
After all, HE IS JESUS; he’s supposed to do things to set an example for us and inspire us.
But, why did the writer of Mark include this detail in this very busy passage about very busy days in a very busy Gospel?
Why does Mark tell about Jesus going away from the busy-ness to be with The Living God?
Possibly, the writer of Mark’s Gospel was telling the early Church an important truth.
Maybe he was giving them a foundational fact about their own story as they tried to meet needs in a world where needs never cease to appear.
FOR THE CHURCH, MEETING NEEDS IS LIKE DRIVING THROUGH THE LOW COUNTRY DURING LOVEBUG MATING WEEK.
Therefore, it is conceivable that the writer of Mark was telling them a message we should also hear.
Perhaps he wanted all who would read these words to know the Source of Jesus’ spiritual power.
It is important to understand that Jesus could never do what Jesus did on human strength alone – you cannot do so either.
You must also tend to your relationship with God or you will burn out in serving the needs of the world. You must turn away from your busy-ness to draw strength from The Living God so you can be involved in The Father’s business.
Like every other relationship in your life, you must nurture this relationship.
Please allow me a personal moment: Some of you know Paula and I recently took a driving trip of more than 3,000 miles through twelve northeastern states. We did several things on our trip. We visited places and people and saw all kinds of beauty and wonder. But the purpose of the trip was to just be together. On July 4th, we celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Yes, we were married on the bi-centennial when we were children. We’ve grown up together. We have learned that life gets very busy for us as we make ourselves available to the needs of others. We do not begrudge doing so. We committed ourselves to lives of God’s service before we met. Yet, Paula and I have nurtured our relationship in many ways. Even during those thirty years of parenting three children from the birth of the oldest child in 1980 through the university graduation of the youngest child in 2010, we took time to nurture our relationship. Life gets busy. For me, the biggest blessing of those two weeks happened last Monday morning as I was leaving the house to come into the office. Paula said, “We have been together almost every minute of every day for the past two weeks. I’m going to miss you today.” And all God’s people said, “Awwwww.” 😊 Yes, that was a sweet thing for her to say. But, what Paula was communicating was that our relationship is valued as a vital aspect of our lives.
Beloved, if we do not tend our relationships, they become peripheral rather than vital.
This is also true in our life with God.
Prayer was a daily practice in Jesus’ life because he had to nurture that vitalizing relationship.
Prayer is like filling your car with gas or plugging into an electric vehicle charging station.
Prayer is like plugging in your digital phone so it can be ready when needed.
Prayer is like putting more wood on the fire to keep the flame burning.
Prayer is like eating a well-balanced diet and exercising to care for your health.
Prayer is like drinking water to avoid spiritual dehydration.
Have I stressed this enough? Ok; good. I will just emphasize it one more time.
You MUST nurture your spirituality by having time alone with God in prayer.
You ARE NOT COMPLETELY SELF-RELIANT!
So, how do you regularly turn your face toward The Living God to tend this core relationship?
It can be difficult. One practice I embrace most days is that I do not look at my cell phone for messages or emails or check last night’s scores or turn on the morning news or music until I have a few minutes focused on God’s presence in my life through prayer.
Before I begin meeting the needs of the day, I must tend to my need for time alone with God. There will be plenty of opportunities to learn about needs throughout the day.
Our prayer lives can easily get interrupted. Notice that Jesus’ prayer life was interrupted.
Simon Peter and others were searching for Jesus – most likely after dawn and breakfast.
Notice what Simon said to Jesus: “Everyone is searching for you.”
This past week, I needed to speak with Kevin about a few subjects including worship details.
His keys were dangling from his office door, so I assumed he was in his office. I knocked. He opened the door of a darkened room with these words, “I’m sorry, I was praying. I have to pray.” I apologized and encouraged him to return to his devotional time. We could talk later.
Beloved, we are part of the people of God in today’s world.
Needs are everywhere. Your lives are busy. As a person in a relationship with God, you must take time to value and tend your relationship with God as vital or it will become peripheral.
How do you do this? The most basic way to nurture your relationship with The Living God is to do what Jesus did. Wherever Jesus was, he found a solitary place, a deserted place, a quiet place and he was present to God’s presence. This was his ESSENTIAL PLACE.
Jesus’ source of spiritual energy was located in his time alone with God. It renewed him to be about The Father’s Business.
Here are some practical thoughts:
- Read a book on prayer every year. Parker Palmer’s book, The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring, offers practical guidance to balance action and contemplation.
- In today’s Worship Folder, I have included a few reminders about your prayer life. For most of you, these points are familiar; but, for a few of you, this may be new information:
Pray regularly – Jesus said, “When you pray,” not, “If you pray.”
Pray sincerely – God wants to hear your deepest needs and desires.
Pray privately – Your private prayer life is revealed in your public prayers.
Pray for God to shape your character, perspective, will and spirit.
Pray for God to work in your family, friends and circle of influence.
Pray for God to work through St. John’s and our ministries.
Pray for God to reveal new visions to us, as part of the people of God.
- You also find in your Worship Folder a few questions to consider about your prayer life. Ask:
Does this prayer reflect the spirit and character of Jesus?
Does this prayer express God’s vision for the world?
Does this prayer focus on helping other people?
Does this prayer encourage me to grow spiritually?
I conclude today’s message with two notes of encouragement:
- Everyone is searching for you, so you might as well pray and be better ready to meet their needs.
- Everyone is searching for you, so pray; that way, when they find you, they’ll know where you’ve been.
Amen and AMEN.
May it be so within us, so it can be so among us and become so through us in the life