The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s117g06 Lockleys Sunday 5 5/2/2006
"he .. went .. to a deserted place, and .. prayed" Mark 1.35
A long time ago I recall being told by a US Air Force Chaplain visiting Australia, that in "boot camp" everyone goes to chapel -- it is the one place on the whole base where the drill sergeant could not get them! Over the last few years I have been flying and I am interested to observe how anxious everyone is to disembark the plane. I suppose we rationalize it by saying that we've got to get to the interconnecting flight or locating the relatives who will be anxiously waiting for us. But I suspect that it is actually our desire to escape the enforced confinement with others crowding all around us for such a long period of time. Hospitalisation too is generally unwelcome. Being at the mercy of others, however we may rationalize that they are well intentioned and kindly disposed towards us -- given our own way -- we would prefer to be in our own homes.
I find it fascinating that these words come for me to preach on, so soon after my decision to leave parish ministry and take up a hospital chaplaincy position. I began this sermon on the 16th of January -- the day after I made the announcement of my impending move.
We all need our sacred space, space to ourselves -- space to recharge our inner strength. For some it might be pottering in the garden, for another it will be trekking in the bush, another sailing, another fly fishing, another the Yoga studio, another a Church, another playing "Freecell". You might be surprised at this last, and I'm a Macintosh person, so while I do not play "Freecell" I do enjoy my occasional "Minesweeper" game. It does provide "time out" -- and I suspect that teenagers in particular need this sort of activity for their own mental health. And for me it makes me wonder about the therapeutic benefits of "pokies" -- though of course, as with any therapy, the possibility of dependence and addiction is always a live possibility.
And I was reflecting that the doctors and staff of a hospital might, with considerable justification, consider the hospital "theirs" -- but each and every one of these has somewhere else, some sacred space, to which they can retreat at the end of the shift. It is the patients who generally can't leave and who haven't got somewhere, away from others, where they can recharge their inner strength.
This recharging is more than worthwhile; it is essential. Michael Wilson a doctor as well as a priest wrote a thesis on the role of the hospital chaplain, and one of his comments is that patients often regress when they come into hospital. They simply accept all the medicine, treatments and care. They see the task of the hospital is to cure them. But this regression actually doesn't help people in the long run. Each and every patient has to return to real life without these supports in such a concentrated and focussed form -- or else they are wheeled out horizontally in a box. Part of our healing is to become adult, choosing healthy lifestyles and putting into practice the learnings a hospital has given us.
Of course it is as easy to use religion to regress into childhood and dependence -- as it is to use a hospital stay. Old time religion thrived on keeping parishioners dependent and submissive. Actually not much different than the pokies when you come to think about it.
Healing comes as we are part of a community that nurtures and supports us, as well as in the quiet times when we retreat into our sacred space, giving our souls "time out". Recreation is true to its name -- it is re-creation.
So part of our healing and wholeness stems directly from our "time out" as we subconsciously digest our altered circumstances, come to accept them and find within ourselves the wherewithal to make the appropriate changes.
We are told this morning that Jesus deliberately sought out this solitude. While we are told that he prayed, we are not told the content of his prayer. It is as likely that his prayer was wordless. The rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" portrayed the pressures on Jesus particularly vividly and resulted in Mary Magdalene's lovely refrain "Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to, problems that upset you, don't you know, everything's all right .." Even as I type these words I find the music coming into my head.
After his prayer, and the disciples had found him, Jesus moved on to a different place. I recall Canon John Stewart saying that there were still more sick people in the first place where he was. The people who had missed out on healing would have been mightily perturbed (or some other expression might be here substituted :-) that Jesus had up and left them. Canon Stewart made the point that healing people was not Jesus' primary task.
Spurred on by this thought, I conclude that Jesus could leave the first town, because he left enough people behind who had "got the message" and could be a blessing to others. Knowing healing in their own lives they could bring healing to others. Had he stayed he would have obviated any need for this to take place, and everyone would have been content to remain in their dependence.
Prayer often bids us leave the place where we are at and go elsewhere. I wonder if most of our prayers are actually to get God to do something so that we do not have to move ..
I am interested in the final words of the gospel as well: "he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons." It seems that demons were most likely to be found in synagogues and by extension in churches. I commented last week that Mark records that the first person Jesus met with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue. In August 2004 psychologist Dorothy Rowe visited South Australia and spoke about mental illness. I am sorry that this is a long time ago, and so I may be doing her words an injustice. She had a real aversion to religion that so often puts people down. I find, as I surfed the Internet, that the Saga Magazine named her as one of the Six Wisest People in the UK. I am sure that her perception testifies that sick people are found in churches still, and often in positions of presumed "authority" -- putting down others.
We have begun reading Mark's gospel, this year B, and one of the characteristics of Mark's gospel is that Jesus is portrayed as a peripatetic miracle worker. No sooner has Jesus performed a miracle in one place than he is off somewhere else -- the word "immediately" is repeated again and again throughout the gospel.
Jesus was never static, he was always on the move. He was free. I actually think that part of his wholeness is intimately linked to this freedom to move -- and our wholeness too.
A while back someone in the congregation gave me the best compliment ever. She said that I have changed since coming to Lockleys. I thought how much better this is than having never changed. Is there nothing that has happened in the last four years that might have caused you to alter your perceptions, to love a little more, to be yourself with a little less guilt? It certainly has for me! Have your prayers only cemented you more firmly into this same place or have they caused you to move on -- not physically necessarily -- but are you not somewhat more spiritually free? And if you are more spiritually free -- then you will allow others to be spiritually free as well -- and I can move on unconcerned.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"