Monday, January 25, 2021

Doing Nothing Gallantly


Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3 / Year B

This morning we hear Jesus speak for the first time in Mark’s gospel.  The text reads, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”  He then invites several fishermen to follow him and “immediately” they drop their nets and follow.

The “immediately” is interesting because up until now we have been waiting for Jesus to say or do anything.  He has been baptized and gone into the wilderness where he is tempted.  After 40 days he returns to Galilee, but does not seem to act.  Mark tells us it is only after John the Baptist is arrested that Jesus launches his ministry.  In short, there has been a lot of waiting.  So much in fact, Jesus is the embodiment of what we read in this morning’s psalm: “For God alone my soul in silence waits.”

Waiting is not something most of us do well.  We sit impatiently in waiting rooms, we wait in line, get put on call waiting (and its evil cousin… being put on hold).  The renown theologian Tom Petty put it best, “The waiting is the hardest part.”  We are so conditioned to doing everything efficiently and fast in order to obtain instant gratification that we have lost sight of a truth Henri Nouwen held: “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”  He observed how counter-cultural this is in a world preoccupied with control.  We want what we want and we want it on our terms and we want it now!  Jesus models something very different for us as he waits until the time is right and the kingdom draws near.

The martyred San Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero offers us this counsel:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete,

which is another way of saying that

the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that should be said.

No prayer fully expressed our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produced effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything,

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,

a step along the way,

an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,

ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

After three years of public ministry, marked with healings and signs, it is sobering to realize when Jesus ascended into heaven his loyal followers numbered around 50 people, which is not a lot to show for all he said and did.  Jesus never built a church or a cathedral.  He never wrote a book, letter, or testament.  Even though he was a carpenter by trade, nothing of the work of his hands endures.  It will be up to others to build on the foundation he lays.  But this we can say about him… he did what he was called to do and he did it very well.  And up until this moment in Mark’s gospel, one of the things Jesus does very well is wait.

Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “Our waiting is not nothing.  It is something -- a very big something -- because people tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for.”  Think about a seed in the ground waiting all winter long for the days to lengthen and the warmth of the sun’s rays to activate its growth.  While it waits it is not doing nothing.  The cool, moist earth is softening its outer shell so that when the time is right a shoot can burst forth from its inner core where life is waiting patiently, faithfully, trustingly to burst forth.

This last week our nation passed the one-year anniversary of the first detected case of the coronavirus within our borders.  So much has changed so quickly in our lives.  We are tired and exhausted and frustrated and disheartened waiting for it to end.  While I am acutely aware of the toll it has amassed, I sense only in part the beneficial ways this time of waiting is changing us and shaping us.  We have found new ways to connect with one another.  We have accepted new individual responsibilities to contribute to the common good of all.  We have rediscovered the ancient monastic practice of daily prayer and the reading of Scripture.  There is no getting back to the way things used to be, there is only going forward as the people we are becoming while we wait.

Maybe a part of what you are learning is you are a worker, not a master builder; a minister, not a messiah.  Maybe you a gaining a clearer understanding of what you are to sow, how you are to tend, and when you are to reap; knowing nothing you do is complete, but it is a step; a foundation in need of further development.  So many of us have had new responsibilities thrust on us, especially parents and teachers.  May you have a sense of what you are to do and the ability to do it well.  And never forget the liberating realization you cannot do everything.  Accepting this truth widens the portal for God’s grace to enter your life, for God’s promise you will never lack for anything you need. 

During this unusual time I have so enjoyed rummaging through the attic which is our Book of Common Prayer and finding things packed away there I never knew before existed.  At the top of my list of joyful discoveries is the prayer for in the Morning on page 461:

This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.

The word ‘gallant’ means stately, courageous, and brave.  The majesty of this prayer is how it connects what we typically think of as an activity with what we think of as being passive - doing nothing… waiting.  This is how Jesus waited until the kingdom was at hand.  It is how we wait now.  Always remember our being gallant while doing nothing is not wasted time.  Things are happening in us and to us and with us to prepare us for what is to come.  Soon our Lord will call us to drop our nets and follow, but for now we wait.