5th Sunday of Epiphany
‘A Balanced Life’
Friends, what is the main different between a candle and a battery? One is cheap and the other is more expensive? One is ancient and the other is modern? One takes more space than the other?
The main difference, I think, is their longevity. Once a candle is completely burnt, there is nothing that we can do other than replacing it with a new one. But a battery that goes flat, can be recharged if it’s rechargeable. All it takes is for us is to find and allow time for the battery to be recharged.
Friends, had battery been invented in Jesus’ time, he would have used it as a metaphor of his ministry. After all, he was aware of the importance of recharging oneself. (So maybe, next time, we should replace the candle in our church with a battery. What do you reckon?)
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus seemed to live a hectic kind of life. Before he healed Simon’s mother in law, he was on the beach of lake Galilee, inviting fishermen there to follow him. He then went to Capernaum, teaching and casting out demon in a synagogue. In the evening after he healed Simon’s mother in law, a whole city demanded his attention to heal the sick and cast out demons.
And all these happened not long after he publicly declared his ministry! No wonder that Jesus needed that time alone with his God and himself. After spending much of his time and energy helping and healing other people, he took time to be alone. He knew that without his time alone with God and himself, he would never be able to continue.
But his disciples failed to understand his need. When he disappeared, they immediately looked for him. Once they found him, they told him that every one was looking for him. In other words, they were telling him that there were more works to be done.
Does that sound familiar to you? Often, other people who need us are the ones who fail to understand our need to recharge ourselves.
But Jesus refused to be controlled by anyone. His life was directed by the mission that God had sent him to do, not by the desire to be needed or to be popular. “Everyone is looking for you,” said Simon, “Everyone needs you. They want you.” But Jesus didn’t fall into the trap. His mission was not to become like a rock-star with adoring fans everywhere.
Jesus’ job was to restore and empower people, like Simon’s mother in law, who were sick and weak so that they could function normally and serve others again. Yet he realised that to be able to do so, he too needed the kind of empowerment that he gave to others. This empowerment came from God, his Father, who had called him to do his task. That was why he needed to spend time alone with his Father because, without it, he would never be able to continue his mission.
Friends, like Jesus, we are called to support one another and help the people outside of this congregation in times of need. We are called to continue Jesus’ ministry of healing those who are sick and empowering those who are weak. We are called into the ministry of liberating people from all kinds of bondage: spiritual, emotional, social, and physical. Yet, to be able to do so effectively and sustainably, we need to look after our selves first.
Healing and empowerment begin with ourselves. We need to find the time when we can reconnect again with God and with ourselves; and we need to give other people the time as well to reconnect with God and with themselves.
Of Gods and Men is a French speaking movie that is based on the life of the French Trappist monks who lived in Algeria in the 90s. The monks lived and worked peacefully amongst a local Muslim community there. They tended crops, kept bees, and sold honey. They also looked after the people in the community. They treated the sick, held community gatherings, attended services held by the locals, and employed locals as workers.
One of the monks was an old, sick, and asthmatic doctor. But, despite his frailty, he saw countless patients everyday. He also gave gentle advice occasionally, especially to local young people who came to him.
Without a doubt, these monks lived a busy and active life in the community. Their call was to serve the sick and the poor in a land far away from their birthplace in France.
Yet, despite their busy life, several times a day, they put on their white robes and prayed and sang in their little chapel in the monastery. Indeed, they always began their day with prayers and songs and personal studies.
These spiritual disciplines were the foundation of their extensive works in the community. Their life was a balanced life of work and prayer. Later on, these disciplines would become the foundation of their act of self-sacrifice when the radical Islamist terrorists in the area executed them.
Friends, these Trappist monks followed Jesus in his mission to proclaim the good news; the good news that was manifested not only through Jesus’ words, but also through his act of healing and liberating people from demons.
Jesus’ mission was to heal and liberate people from all kinds of bondage. But how could he heal and liberate people if he failed to heal and liberate himself first.
His time alone with God and himself was not a one-off thing. It was mentioned at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to remind us, the readers, that such quiet time was a fundamental part of Jesus’ ministry.
The prophet in Isaiah also knew that the secret to one’s strength was not one’s youthfulness, but one’s willingness to wait for Lord. Those who depended on their youthfulness, said the prophet, would soon become wearied and exhausted. But those who waited on the Lord would soar like an eagle.
We are often captivated only by this image of soaring like an eagle, especially if we are West Coast Eagles’ fans. After all, do we not often sing, in this congregation, these lyrics from the song, The Power of Your Love:
As I wait, I’ll rise up like the eagle.
I’ll soar with you, you’re Spirit leads me on
in the power of your love.
But soaring like an eagle is not the climax of the poem in Isaiah that we read today. The prophet indeed began with the image of mounting up with wings like eagles, but he then moved to the image of running and not be weary, and finished with the image of walking without fainting.
You may hope that the sequence goes the other way around. After all, it would have been more dramatic if he had begun with walking, and then running, and then flying. But, no, the prophet ended with the simple message: those who waited for the Lord would be like those who walked, but never fainted.
His original readers, however, would immediately identify themselves with his words. In those times, walking was the most common and affordable method of getting from A to B. Ordinary people had to walk, thorough the desert, from one town/village to the other, under the heat of the Middle Eastern sun.
But no one could walk across a desert without stopping. If one attempted to do so, one would faint and, if he got no help, he would soon die.
The only way to survive crossing a dessert was to locate the oases along the way and move from one oasis to the other. To survive the journey across the desert one must stop in the oases to refresh themselves.
God was like those oases. Those who waited for the Lord; those who found the times to be nurtured by God, would be like the one who walked across the desert and not fainted.
Friends, ministry is not a sprint; it is a marathon. What matters is not the speed, but the endurance. Ministry is not only about serving others; it is also about nurturing our own spiritual life.
The cross of Christ has vertical and horizontal parts. One without the other is not complete. We are called to take up our cross everyday (Matt. 16:24); it means that we have to take both dimensions of the cross seriously.
So the questions that we need to ask ourselves are these: when is the time when we can recharges ourselves; where is the place where we can be restored to our true selves; who are the people who understand our need and from whom we can find back our strength? Our answers to the questions will define our longevity in ministry.
Friends, no one is stronger than Jesus. If Jesus needed that kind of time and place to restore his energy, how much more we need to find similar time and place to restore our energy.
Today, we are reminded to be more like a rechargeable battery than a candle. We need to find again those times and places and people that can recharge and restore us. A candle that has been burnt out cannot give light to others. Likewise, a battery that has run out cannot provide energy
We are called to heal and empower. But we can only do so when the battery inside us is full with the strength from God alone.
 Roger Ebert’s review on Of Gods and Men on http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/of-gods-and-men-2011 (March 10, 2011)