Sermon – The Time is Right

Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

Farmville Presbyterian Church

February 4, 2024

– How Jesus used timing against our waiting


Yesterday I was able to swing by my oldest daughter’s home.  I was dropping off some things before our move and helping them to take a load to the dump.  Hannah is 25 years old this April, if I am still allowed to confess her age publicly.  I think ladies are more open and honest with age than they might have historically been.  It is funny when you’ve seen someone grow up like that over the years.  Sometimes it seems like yesterday when she was a little person first learning how to do this and that.  Because she was our first child, it was most anxious for us as we watched and waited for her to successfully develop in all the important ways.

Whether it was one of your own children or a family member or friend’s child, I hope you have some sense of this feeling that I have to believe is pervasive for younger families – that excitement over what is to come.  That baby enters the world completely helpless.  Animal babies all emerge in the world with a quick learning curve and manage to begin moving around or doing other things on their own pretty quickly.  Not human babies who are helpless day after day, weeks, even months.  As I watched my Hannah just sit there, delightful yes, but still pretty helpless, I could not wait for her to be able to do the next thing: rolling, sitting, crawling, eating, talking, standing, walking, and the list goes on with the years of life.  I did not even realize that I did this – this anxious anticipation, willing her to age before my eyes.  Then, before I knew it, she was six years old.  My second daughter two years younger was probably not as severe in my obsession with developmental parenthood, but by the time my third daughter came, I had wised up a great deal and told her she could stay little forever.  And that time was much more enjoyable because I welcomed her timing as it happened.  This is key.  I gave up my attempts to control her timing and it was all the better.

Timing is something particularly huge in Mark’s Gospel.  His favorite narrative transition word is “immediately.” You see that beginning sentences all over the place in the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel.  That is either poor writing style or he is trying to convey something of the feeling of life around Jesus, that he was always being rushed.  We also have timing issues in first century Jewish life.  The big one is the Sabbath or the day of rest.  This is even one of the Ten Commandments.  For Jews, that is Saturday, and Jesus had a tendency to do things that qualified as work on those Sabbath Saturdays such as heal the man with the unclean spirit which we saw last week.  It is still on presumedly the same Sabbath when Jesus and a few disciples go to Simon’s house where his sick mother-in-law is laid out with a fever.  Behind doors, no one fusses about Jesus doing work on the Sabbath and he heals her.  Oddly to me, she goes from being completely wiped out with illness to having to wait on them.  She must have gotten her strength with her health.  I’m sure she was grateful, though, and wanted to do something.  Back then, fevers were often seen as a sign of God’s displeasure or punishment.  They did not understand medicine or health, but when Jesus healed her, that says in the story that Jesus is very like God.  At sundown, the Sabbath would have been over, and that’s when the crowds came to have Jesus heal them, too.  That’s what we would expect.

I love the other piece of important timing here, too.  Jesus slipped off to have alone time in prayer.  Mark wants us to know about this specifically, and in his gospel, Jesus takes private prayer seriously.  No one knows where Jesus went, and they begin to panic.  The word for where Jesus is in hiding is the same as for the desert where he was tempted, but there is no real desert around Capernaum, so this is a very remote location.  Jesus’ disciples do not understand his need to be alone in prayer.  They are just excited to hit the road with this amazing attraction.  They want fame and celebrity and to be counted as important because they are with the amazing Jesus.  They just won the lottery and have gone from being poor, dumb nobodies to being called as disciples of the most amazing person they will ever meet.  This Jesus guy does things that only God could do.  They cannot wait to get going around the countryside.  It is going to be huge.

Jesus himself is on a whole different level, though.  There is no rush.  The demands of the people can wait.  I have never looked at this passage this way, but there is clearly a difference in timing and expectation.  Like the wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that there is a difference between his timing and the people’s timing.  The disciples are chomping at the bit, and he wants a few more minutes of private prayer.  He is fine waiting a little.

Don’t you love waiting, too?  Of course, not.  Waiting is one of the most odious things that we are called to do in life.  No one wants to wait, even when we recognize that there is good to come out of it.  Even if the Bible tells us it is good to wait, that we will be renewed like the eagles (which is one of the most amazing images in the entire Bible) if we are willing to wait with purpose for the Lord.  If I ever write a book, it will most likely be on this very topic: how intentional waiting is a spiritual discipline and a blessing.  On the one hand, we know this, but it is not something anyone wants to sign up to do without help.  And it is not just Isaiah 40.  All through the Bible, we are instructed to wait for God.

Now, I’d like to tell you why that’s important.  If our timing is not God’s timing and our rush is not God’s rush, then that changes how we look at the world.  There are bigger factors at work than our feeble attempts to control our destiny.  We put lots of time and efforts into trying to make this or that happen.  Sometimes it is on the geopolitical scale as Putin’s war with Ukraine.  That was a very measured engagement.  China is another nation that puts a great deal of thought into timing and trying to get its desired results.  They are much better at seeing the long game and waiting.  But there are also things much bigger than our decisions that are directing things and changing our timing.  Climate change is one of these factors.  Also, it is impossible to predict the future.  What we might hope and expect is not what we might see happen.  God works in God’s time.  And often, what we try to control just reminds us how little control we have.

When Hannah was growing up as that little person, I would have been greatly vexed if she had just decided she did not want to progress any further.  What if she refused to feed herself or to learn how to crawl?  I have heard of babies who develop differently and figure out unusual ways of getting around.  It is almost a silly example, but I would have been upset if her development did not work in my expectations.  It was already hard enough that I had to wait.  I also wanted her to do what I expected.

Something truly helpful happens when we let go of that drive, that clock, those expectations.  One of the best things that can happen is that it gives us a different sense of hope.  We can look back at the history of our church and read of times when we had hundreds and hundreds of members and the place was packed.  We had a need for every room, and things were much busier.  It is easy to turn around and feel sad or despondent that the good ol’ days are gone.  But we are not living by our own clock.  Our appreciation of history and future have to be shaped by our faith in the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  God’s timing is not our timing.  Our best days, whatever they may look like, may still be ahead.  I find this fascinating and encouraging.  Our life here is about potential and possibility.

That is also where Jesus ended up with the disciples.  There is a meeting of our timing and God’s.  The disciples had gone all over searching for Jesus.  If Jesus really was as isolated as Mark suggests, it would have taken a while to find him, but Jesus responded to the need that was there.  That is always what Jesus does.  He always responds.  He agreed to go out among the people to all the towns around the Sea of Galilee and to share God’s love with the people.  That is what he came to do, but he also never lost touch with his need for divine timing.  He would still take time away.  He would still do things when he felt they needed to be done – like waiting after Lazarus died before going to the family.

Our time, our life is in God’s hands and in God’s heart.  We might really want something to happen for us or for the church or for the community or even for our nation, and God knows our feelings.  The question is whether we trust God’s feelings.  The same God who looks after us and provides what we need to be a loving people is giving us a future together.  This is a time of hope.  This is a time of possibility.  This is the right time to follow our Lord in the life that we are given.  To God be the glory.  Amen.