“Endurance for the Journey”
February 4, 2024
Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
5th Sunday after Epiphany
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
I’d like to start my message today by playing you a video I filmed on my last day in Iona. Some of you know that I filmed little videos Monday- Friday on the full days I was in Iona and I shared them with you all in our church Family Facebook Group (in fact, they’re still there if you missed them). We were leaving the island on Saturday and I hadn’t planned to film anymore, but as I took one last walk around the island I was struck by a reflection and felt like I needed to say it out loud.
What did my pilgrimage teach me? That all of life is a journey, each of us individually, and also all of us together as a community trying to follow Jesus.
I was really struck by the way Christianity as a whole, represented in this particular community on Iona, has been through so much change: inspiring phases like when Christianity existed outside of the empire and it was just a practice of faith without the corruption of power. But then within a couple hundred years, that beautiful community was raided by Vikings. When it was rebuilt, there were again threads of Jesus’ vision of a beloved community. Female and male monastics living side by side, working together for good. But then it wasn’t long before the institutionalization and power of Christianity came back in with practices like indulgences (asking pilgrims to pay great sums to make a place more beautiful and in exchange the church promises your afterlife will be better). After the Protestant Reformation when most of the threads of Celtic Christianity were stamped out, again out of the ruins a new community rekindling the eternal light of Jesus was born with George MacLeod. And if it seems like a whirlwind, it’s because it is! The journey of being a Christian over these last 2000 years has been complicated and there have been a lot of times of not getting it right. Times of pain. Also, times of clarity.
And in many ways, all of us right here, right now, are in the midst of a journey coming from somewhere, going toward something else. Maybe we dream of how the church can still do better. How Jesus calls us to more radical and self-less love. Maybe we think about our own lives and how we’re traveling a path that takes a bend around a corner we cannot see. How we’re being called into something unknown or uncertain.
Today we’re wrapping up this series on Seeking—a series about journeys and self-discovery. It included Wise Men finding a better way home, the waters of baptism waking us up to the moment right in front of us, the summons of Jesus to use our full-selves in service of a better world, and the whole-ness Jesus longs to offer us in body, mind and spirit. As we wrap up this series, I have one last question:
If life is a journey with lots of twists and turns. Where do we find the resilience to keep going when the going gets tough? How do we get and stay reenergized for what comes next, especially when we can’t see exactly what’s next.
When I look around at where we stand right now we are pilgrims, each us on our own journey and united together in this space where our journeys overlap. I think about how far we as a church have come. How much love and acceptance we’ve tried to spread. How we are changing the narrative away from judgement and shame and rekindling the justice and love of Jesus’ original teachings.
We’ve come a long way. And yet how far we have still to go. How many people still do not trust that God is love? How much violence still happens because of religion? Even within the year we will see political battles play out that use God as a means to justify horrible, unloving positions. How do we find endurance to keep going?
The Gospel of Mark tells us this series of encounters Jesus has. This is still all on the same day as the story from last week with the healing in the synagogue. And at first pass the scripture can feel kind of like rapid fire events. But if we stop to break it down, like I did with the children, we see that within Jesus’ work of healing there are sources of well-timed nourishment that give him endurance for each difficult stage that comes next.
Worship in the synagogue helped fill him up with God’s love. Then he was able to give it out again to a woman who was hurting. Eating a meal with his friends filled him up with God’s love. Then he was able to give it out again to another man who was hurting. Spending time by himself praying helped fill him up with God’s love. Then he was able to give it out again as he moved on to new towns full of more hurting people. This is not the story of a savior who was non-stop. This is a story of a savior who cultivated resilience for his journey, for his work, by refilling his soul every time it felt empty.
To keep a fire burning brightly takes care and attention. To sustain our journeys we need to pay attention to refueling our spiritual lives.
This past week was a holiday most widely celebrated among Celtic Christians known as Imbolc, the feast day of St. Brigid, an important figure in the development of early Christianity across places like Iona, Scotland and Ireland. The holiday is celebrated on February 1, in part, because this is the mid-way point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It’s a holiday celebrated for saying “keep going, you can do it!” This is really how St. Brigid is remembered. A cheerleader for going forward. She’s well known in Scotland and Ireland for the tradition of keeping a fire burning as a sign of hope that God is with us. In Kildare, Ireland one single fire was kept burning for thousands of years in this tradition. Tending the fire so that even in the darkest hours there would be embers ready to ignite. Even though Protestant Reformers put the Kildare fire out, faithful followers of the tradition then kept fires going in their home hearths. So powerful was this idea that we need hope and encouragement from the light of Christ to keep going day and night, that the tradition made its way into houses of worship. Here’s a picture of the chapel of St. Oran on Iona, a building even older than the Abbey from the 1100s. And here’s a picture of the inside where a fixture hangs over the altar. In the days when monastics worshiped here, this fixture is where a fire would have been stoked around the clock. A small reminder to not give up hope. Now, let me ask, does this fixture look familiar?
We have a small piece of St. Brigid’s tradition above us right now. We’ve moved on from fires to electricity, but the intent is the same. It’s meant to never go out. I’ve never even seen a switch for this light. It’s always on, even in the darkest part of the middle of the night. A small reminder that even when we’re facing hard things, there is a fire that’s been kept burning for millennia that reminds us we are not on this journey alone.
When we sit here in this space, and think about how we are part of a long tradition like this, I don’t know about you, but it nourishes me. Coming into this space each week fills my soul again. Especially after a long week when it seems like the bad news outweighs the good. Here is a light that has been burning for millennia to say God has still not left.
Each of us need to find practices that sustain our endurance for the hard journeys to come.
Maybe it’s a practice of spending time each day alone. Maybe it’s about finding a way to pray that nourishes you, whether it’s meditation, song, art or silence.
Maybe you need to be with other people. Connecting intentionally over a meal. Hearing their laughter, sharing your own. Holding a cup of something hot and sitting across from someone and sharing your ups and downs.
Maybe it's a pilgrimage to a place like Iona that’s calling your name.
The most important thing to understand today is that it’s okay to need space to recharge. We’ve been through a lot. There’s still more to come. Endurance for the journey doesn’t just magically appear. We have to create spaces for God’s healing love to find us so we have enough to give others. In community. In solitude. On pilgrimage. In sanctuary. By the light.
Let us pray.