The story goes that it is time for a couple to retire for the night. You might think they walk right up the stairs and lay down. But no. Going to bed means:
– Making lunches for the next day;
– rinsed bowls in the sink;
– took meat out of the freezer for supper;
– checked the cereal box levels;
– filled the sugar container;
– set up the coffee pot for brewing the next morning;
– put some wet clothes into the dryer;
– picked up the newspapers on the floor and the game pieces left on the table – not stepping on Legos;
– wrote a quick reminder for the grocery store of pears, milk, and bread;
– put some water into the dog’s dish;
– made sure the doors were locked;
– checked on children;
– brushed teeth,
– And then went to bed.
This season of Lent, I have invited you to take on the practice of pausing. You and I need space and time to pause to be. Pausing to hear where it is that God is calling you to action. God consistently, throughout the scriptures, has called people to action. God has always equipped people for the tasks and so often to prepare for those tasks, we begin by pausing, as counterintuitive as that seems.
This year, we have been reading in the book of Mark. Mark, who prefers giving us an account of Jesus’ work in immediate and no-nonsense form – immediately, we often hear it captured. We have paired it with our scripture for the year: “be doers of the word and not hearers, only”. So, today we find Mark and the disciples in conversation with the religious professionals of the day, in conversation and discussion of fasting and wineskins.
Now, fasting gets a bad rap. Whenever we think about fasting, we necessarily think about what we can not have. We think about the food we are not having. We think about the drink we are not having. We think about the activity we are not engaging in. Fasting with intent is a means to shift our focus. In other words: Do not, do this activity, so you can focus on that activity. Do not eat for 24 hours, so you can focus on those who are hungry, by praying and working for their needs. Fasting necessarily focuses on an absence.
As Jesus is traveling with the disciples, the question comes. Why is it, that the disciples are not praying and fasting even now? When Jesus is present with the disciples, there is no need to fast. Jesus who heals all; Jesus who cares for all; Jesus who restores all. When Jesus is present with the disciples in the flesh, there is no absence. When Jesus comes fully in Kingdom, there will be no absence. Fasting is only for a time, and certainly not while Jesus was present.
The words from Psalmist call us to know God and be with God. To be in God’s presence. Once you have found someone that you just want to be close with you because of who they are and no other reason, you understand, what is means to be in someone’s presence. Psalm 103 gives us that kind of a glimpse. God who forgives us and heals us. God who is merciful and just. God who is slow to anger and full of love. God who does not give us what we deserve.
Just being in the presence of God makes us better. Just to be in the presence of God who is full of love rubs off on us. We may be more likely to think about how we treat the in-laws who make us want to pull our hair out. When we pause to be, we notice how Jesus was never talking about wineskin, even when he was talking about pouring wine into wineskins. Even when he was teaching the disciples and those who gathered, Jesus was teaching to the people who were gathered there and us today who hear now.
This is what we call the observer effect. In science, the term observer effect means that the act of observing will influence the phenomenon being observed. For example, for us to “see” an electron, a photon must first interact with it, and this interaction will change the path of that electron. We change when we know someone is watching us. We absorb what others have brought into the world. This has both positive and negative possibilities.(1)
When we pause we seek rest in God’s presence, we seek wholeness. We seek that is God’s presence, we are not the ones calling the shots or making the decisions. We share the load and offer ourselves to God. We are necessarily changed by our observer status being in the presence of God. Frederick Buechner, the great Presbyterian theologian and pastor wrote: “Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved.” (2) We are being called to be in the presence of God for our own care.
One of the profound ways we are in the presence of God for rest and wholeness is communion. Our Communion liturgy today was written by a colleague of mine for this previous Advent season. She wrote them in response to the abundance of words that often fill our ears. While it varies just how many words fill our particular ears, the average person speaks 17,000 words a day. And hears at least as many, if not more. (3) My colleague, The Reverend Candy LaBar, lead pastor of the Faith UMC in Stroudsburg, was motivated to design a spare Great Thanksgiving giving room for the movement of the Spirit above all things and pauses to be in God’s presence. With approximately as many words as a tweet, the silence and pause make space.
I knew when I heard about it. It would a match for our Lenten series on pausing in God’s presence. I pray that as we celebrate communion, you will pause reflectively in the spaces.
I pray today and in this Lenten season, you may continue to find practices and spaces that find moments and times to pause in God’s presence. We know that even in just being in the presence of God changes us. God necessarily changes us for the good. God’s presence makes us more like God – more gracious, more forgiving, more compassionate, more tender, and more holistically full of love. May you know more of God this Lenten journey.
This is the Gospel, the good news, of our Lord, Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(2) Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, (New York: Harper Collins, 1966), p. 99
New Testament Lesson: Psalm 103:1-8
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 2:18-22
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, March 4 ~ Saturday, March 10
Sunday: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. “Psalm 103: 1 Take time to be in the presence of God to bless God’s name.
Monday: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” Psalm 103: 2-3. Where are you in the presence of God and experiencing God’s benefits, forgiveness, and healing? Where are you not? God is still present.
Tuesday: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Psalm 103: 8. Where do you need to experience God’s abundant love?
Wednesday: “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’” Mark 2: 18. Even disciples compared and contrasted. We have always been a people who have wanted to know why. Where is it that you lifting others up in relating those around you?
Thursday: “Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” Mark 2: 19. Jesus explains that not all practices will meaningful and important in all times of life. Consider what is no longer helpful practice in this stage of your life.
Friday: “‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” Mark 2: 21. May the God of old and the new allow you to see God in the midst of the old and new today.
Saturday: “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’” Mark 2: 22 Prayerfully consider where God is calling you to new ways in your life.