Monday, February 8, 2021

Year B 5th Sunday after Epiphany 2021 Playing Catch

 Year B 5th Sunday after Epiphany, 7 February 2021

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Playing Catch”

Collect: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 1:29-39

After Jesus and his disciples 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 sundown, 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.

There is going to be a lot of people more focused on football today than any of the sermons preached, at least in the this country. Can Tom Brady do it? Or rather, can Tom Brady do it again? His record is beyond compare. An odd combination to be that good and that despised all in one. But I digress.

Gearing up, there will be a lot of kids and parents tossing around a pigskin before the abundance of snacks roll out. It is a fun, national diversion, number Fifty-five. All this fun has a price, though. Gambling goes up. Spousal abuse goes up. Calling in to work sick goes up. That is the price we pay for the fun. But I digress again.

Growing up, playing catch with my dad was a favorite way to spend the time. Now we were more apt to throw a baseball than a football, but play catch we did. And we would just be together, tossing the ball back and forth, back and forth. I can smell the grass, feel the leather of the glove and the ball. Smile remembering my dad.

Playing catch was a joy. Later in life I played first base, and all those times playing catch paid off. I never knew where the ball was going to come in from when someone wildly threw it to get the runner out. I was training myself, when a ball is thrown, my job was to catch it.

That was one of the big things I had to later unlearn in life. Saying no is a spiritual discipline. Let me put it to you bluntly: 

Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it.

In today’s Gospel reading, I see such an important action by Jesus that so many of us miss in the reading. We read of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law getting healed, and then the whole town streaming to be cured of their infirmities, and Jesus sneaking out early to get his devotional time in before the day. But people will not let up. It says:

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 

His disciples were HUNTING for him. Do not let that slip by. Beyond looking, searching, or seeking, they were determined and intentional to bag Jesus and get him back to where they wanted him. They had their minds set, and wanted Jesus to be about their agenda of getting Capernaum healed! But Jesus says this:

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.”

Did he do what they wanted him to do? NO! He knew how easy it would be to get sidetracked and bogged down staying in Capernaum. He did not come to establish his Kingdom in that region of Galilee, his sights were set higher. He came to set the Kingdom of God that continues to this day. And to do that, he had to say NO to this. I remind you of today’s premise:

Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it.

Jesus did not play catch. We do not have to either.

I remember when this analogy first came to me. I had a church member upset. I have made a promise that someone else could do a task. The 1st member was perfectly capable of doing it, and I acknowledged that. But I said also that I had to keep my word. The 1st member got upset. And I said, “You can get as upset as you want, and you can toss all kinds of balls at me, but I will not catch them, and I will just let them go by. This is not about you. It is about my keeping my word. I am not giving this any more energy.” 

Now to their credit, they heard this. Pondered it for a bit, and even said they were sorry that they just had not seen it that way. It made sense after I explained it.

Sometimes NOT playing catch draws us even closer than getting pulled in and catching all those balls being thrown at us. Spiritual maturity dictates that we stay on the task at hand. Spiritual maturity requires discernment on our part. Spiritual maturity necessitates our saying NO even to some very fine things that might distract us and pull us off our intended course.

Saying NO is a big part of growing up. There are many things we say no to as we mature. And saying NO, is why God gave us so many “Thou Shalt Nots.” When we are first starting out we say NO out of fear. I don’t play with snakes because I might get bit. I do not play with fire because I might get burnt. I do not play ball with you, because you do not play in a game I want to be involved with.

But as we mature, saying NO to things, even relatively good things, is so that we can EMBRACE the YES. I say no to playing catch with this person over here, so I can play catch with God. 

I say no to my Snooze Button, so I can say YES to my devotional time with God.

I say no to a temptation, so I can say YES to a discipline.

I say no to people pulling at me asking for more, so that I can refill my cup. That is what Jesus did. He snuck off alone in the morning to pray. And his disciples hunted him down. When they threw him the ball of people needing him, he said NO so he could say YES to the thousands more who needed to hear from him, to be healed by him.

Know who you choose to play ball with. That YES, or that NO, will determine so much in how we shape our days. Father Richard Rohr puts it like this: “Make room for the new by letting go of that which is tired and empty.” We can only play catch one ball at a time.

Tonight, as you see some amazing football, think on that. What are you receiving, and from whom? Is this game worth your while. If the game is no good, it could be the best commercial you have ever seen, but who is pitching to you? And what is the cost? They paid millions for your eyeballs for those thirty seconds. Can you be bought for so little?

I say it again because I know I need to hear it daily.

Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock