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Balancing Act

Mark 1:29-39 (CEB)

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.

That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”

He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

February 3-4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39
Isaiah 40:21-31
“Balancing Act”

We continue in the Gospel of Mark this week and stay in the first chapter. Jesus truly is on the move in this opening chapter. Yet, when we look at all this moving around, we realize that every decision and each move Jesus makes is purposeful and part of a larger pattern.

Last week, we heard how Jesus spoke to and cast out an unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue at Capernaum. His fame began to spread and in our continued Gospel story we will hear how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, who was sick in bed with a fever. Then, the whole city began bringing people to Jesus for healing.

Jesus’ life became a balancing act of being in relationship with people and being in relationship with God. And that is a balancing act we are all called to live. The balance for Jesus came through prayer.

We pick up the Scripture where we left off last week in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

(Read Mark 1:29-39)

United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has written a devotional book called “The Balancing Act.”
In one devotional he writes about balancing life. He says, “We all wish we could live a totally balanced life—the perfect mix of family, personal, work, play, spiritual sustenance, reading, productivity, and health”
Then he says, “But rather than having a totally balanced life, the best we can do is commit ourselves to the hard work of balancing, of constantly noticing and adjusting to keep from leaning too far one way or the other and falling into disaster.”

We have probably all seen pictures of the amazing balance of a tightrope walker on a wire stretched high above the ground between two tall posts or buildings while carrying a long pole to help in the balancing.
The tightrope walker’s balancing pole is typically 39 feet long and weighs 31 pounds with most of the weight placed on the ends of the pole so that the pole droops and lowers the center of gravity of the walker in order to maintain stability.
The interesting thing about the tightrope walker, Bishop Schnase says is that there is always a constant motion of teetering slightly one way or the other based on the pull of gravity. The tightrope walker is always having to make tiny corrections and adjustments.

The point is that the tightrope walker is never completely balanced; he or she is always balancing.
Life is really about “balancing,” not always being balanced…that is a subtle difference but it is a significant difference…balancing vs. being balanced.
Balancing all the challenges and demands of our lives includes constant adjustments this way or that, and is hard work, but it can also be spiritual work.

We can get a sense from our Gospel story today that Jesus’ life required constant balancing. Ever since Jesus called the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue, the people would not leave him alone. News about him spread quickly throughout Galilee and the people began bringing him all those who needed healing.
We are not told in our text how long the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons went on for Jesus at the doorstep of this home. But with the whole city gathered around the door, certainly Jesus’ ministry with people must have taken some time and he was probably exhausted and in need of rest.
Where would Jesus find the strength to keep going and balancing all the needs and demands placed on him from day to day? Sound familiar? If Jesus’ life required constant balancing, what makes us think we are any different?
If Jesus needed help, what about you and me? Every day the pace of our daily lives and the demands and decision-making that comes at us from all angles requires that we renew our strength.
Jesus discovered the practicality and the balancing power of prayer…”Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer,” the Scripture says.
When Jesus was able to quiet himself in prayer, he knew what to do next…he knew what the next best decision was; and in this case the next thing was to go on to the neighboring towns to proclaim God’s message.

A conversation between a pastor and a parishioner ended in this way…the pastor took out a pad of paper and wrote: “Pray Psalm 16 three times a day for 10 days. If symptoms persist, pray again.”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? I’ll let you read Psalm 16 and know that there are many studies in the fields of medicine and psychology that reflect a trend toward positive results when prayer is involved.
Sometimes these positive results are experienced by persons who have no idea that others are praying for them. At the same time, we can probably all name someone for whom we have prayed seemingly without ceasing who has not known the positive results for which we were praying.
We have probably all wondered about God’s responsiveness to our prayers when the outcomes do not match our requests or our satisfaction. Has God let our prayers go unanswered?

Most of us long to have some glimpse or evidence that God hears our prayers. Even a clear ‘no’ would be better than feeling like God is non-responsive.
Or is it that God’s answer to prayer is in the eyes of the beholder. What sounds like an answer to one person sounds like silence to another. There is a lot of mystery surrounding prayer.

Yet, when we can do the balancing between life and prayer, we will find that even though we are teetering, we are balancing. We will find that life and prayer means coming to God, seeking God, opening ourselves to God for renewed strength, until we can mount up with wings like eagles.

If we visualize the tightrope walker with the balancing pole again; imagine placing your worries and burdens and sorrows as the weight at the ends of the pole. It’s not that all those things instantly go away as we pray, but instead of being right on top of us, we’ve put them out to the ends of the pole, like they are in the balancing arms of God. Then our center of gravity is lowered and we can continue balancing.

The Apostle Paul talks about praying “without ceasing.” It is not as hard as it sounds, really…It’s about balancing. The trick is to learn to become aware of God’s presence with you all the time in whatever you are doing.
It might be that driving to work can be your time to be in an attitude of prayer (with you eyes open, of course!).
Or you can get creative by offering prayers every time you open the refrigerator or brush or floss your teeth; or when you’re making your bed, or picking up the mail, or walking to school, or walking in your neighborhood, or watching the daily news, or blowing out a candle and imaging your prayers being lifted to God in the shimmering smoke.
Find some daily practice that can be a “trigger” for you to pray…a ‘trigger’ to turn your thoughts toward God.

The point to remember is that prayer can take many forms and we can be in prayer in many ways. It might be active or reflective; spoken or silent. It might be at a set time and place; with others or alone; or it might be as life happens moment by moment.

In our Gospel story, Jesus shows us and his anxious disciples, the importance of prayerful solitude to equip them before they embark on the ministry ahead.
Throughout the Gospels, we see evidence of Jesus going off alone to pray. But we also see Jesus throughout the Gospels demonstrating that life can be lived as prayer…as conversation and relationship with God.

A while back I was listening to a re-broadcast of the program “Speaking of Faith” on National Public Radio. The guest was a writer named Michael Dennis Brown and his topic was called “Patterns of Prayer.”
Near the close of the program he said, “For me, prayer is not so much talking as it is listening. It’s being in God’s presence.”
Then he spoke about how on a daily basis we come into God’s presence, not in some high and pure spiritual state, but out of the messiness of our lives; out of our nagging doubts, our chronic lack of courage, and our failures.
He told about how after his beloved sister had died, he would feel waves of sadness overwhelming him from out of nowhere. He said, “Dark clouds of grief can move in on even the sunniest of days.”
“In these times,” he said, “It has been my prayer life that has saved me and kept me sane…praying has kept me close to my sister so that I’ve never felt that I have lost her completely.”

So, how are you doing with your balancing act?
While there is so much in life that seems uncertain, so much that we question, and so much that challenges us or drains us to our very core, one thing is clear…Life is really about balancing, and we cannot attain balance on our own. Jesus demonstrates that living in God’s presence and living a life of prayer is vital to our balancing.

Prayer renews our strength; prayer transforms us; prayer changes us; prayer keeps us balancing on the tightrope of life.

As we pray, so shall we live.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.