On Filling Our Center
January 24, 2021
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.
How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood;they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.Selah
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.Selah
Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all according to their work.
Mark 1: 14-20
Now after John was arrested, 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.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Today’s sermon is titled On Filling the Center. From wherever you are, if you can, look out the window. Do you see any indication at all that we are travelling through space at 1100 miles per hour and spinning as we go? One would think the trees would not be able to grow straight and that we would not even be able to even imagine, let alone attain, a state of stability. The tea in my teacup looks rather calm considering it, too, is spinning through space at an unfathomable speed.
We have all lived long enough to have learned that there is much more going on than meets the eye. For example, the hot tea in my cup, sitting there looking so tranquil, is composed of molecules that are moving faster than anything in this room right now simply because of the tremendous heat energy that cup of tea is holding. Think of the burning fire of my propane stove that burned so hot to heat up the cold well water and bring it to a rolling boil. All the energy from that burning fire was transferred into the water and air and now that fire sits, transformed, in my teacup. There is so much more going on than meets the eye.
The same holds true in our story today from the book of John. We have heard it over and over again, how Jesus calls the fishermen to come and follow him and they drop their nets and go. They leave their father in the boat with the hired hands and they walk away down the shores of Galilee. But there is so much more going on in this story than what meets the eye.
For one, Jesus has just returned from 40 days alone in the wilderness, wrestling with his doubts and fears. I imagine he is a sight to behold, uncombed and probably underfed and yet totally, completely focused and convincing enough to make men drop their nets and follow him into the most frightening of all places, the unknown. We are not wired to take such risks unplanned, uncalculated, and unreasonable, especially in such a time of unrest.
John the Baptist has been arrested. We learn that in the first sentence of our reading today and it is so plainly stated that it is easy to miss. John has been arrested; John, the one who drew the multitudes “from all over Judea” with his scathing admonitions to change their ways. John, who baptised with water and promised that one who was even greater than he was coming, one who would baptise not with water but with the Holy Spirit. John was arrested and taken to the Roman prison. Everyone would have known about this. Don’t you think those fishermen would have been a little hesitant to drop everything and follow Jesus, given the recent fate of John, given the recent arrest of the one who, just a few weeks earlier, baptised Jesus?
There is much more going on here than meets the eye. There is an unnamed and invisible force at work in this story. It is the same unnamed and invisible force that is ever-present and all around us and yet we are ill-equipped to sense it because we are so distracted by how things appear to be. We rationalize our way through our lives, calculating our decisions, measuring the merit of others, weighing our options, passing judgment and making determinations about every person in (and every aspect of) our lives. It is exhausting.
There is another way, Friends. I can not say it is easy because I myself am struggling to do it but it is, in my experience, a worthy struggle and one I find challenging to explain. When I woke up this morning, I spent some time lying there praying for an image that would illustrate the phenomenon I hope to explain. I saw, from a bird’s eye view, the swirling form of a storm moving across the surface of our planet. It was perfectly spiraled, beautiful, and intimidating. The tightly coiled center forms what looks like a tunnel, an empty space at the very center and from that point of emptiness the arms of storm clouds unwind and sweep across the expanses of the planet.
I think I am like that storm. I think you are like that swirling storm. We move through our lives and we have a great effect that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrible but always our effect is somewhere on that spectrum. Like the storm, we have a center. Like the storm, the winds on the outer margins of our lives determine the environment in the center. Does this ring true to you? Aren’t we all affected by the external realities of our lives? Any and every strain in relationships, any and every source of unrest in our culture… if we are open and aware we feel these things acutely; they threaten to break our hearts and blow us away.
There is a stabilizing force. It is the same unnamed and invisible force that loosened the grip that James and John had on their nets. It is the same unnamed and invisible force that turned their minds and hearts and made it possible to walk away from everything familiar and follow Jesus down that shore. It is the same unnamed and invisible force that carried the disciples and their families through tremendous upheaval, through overwhelming fear for their lives, through crippling uncertainty about the future. Friends, it is the same unnamed and invisible force that turned our mind and hearts away from all the other distractions in our lives to read/listen to these words right now. So you can not say this force is not at work in your life. It is!
I say this force is unnamed and invisible. In my belief system I call this force God and Love and Goodness but those are all inadequate words for the one thing that can make all the difference in our lives. This unnamed and invisible force, if consciously and continually placed at the center of our existence, can stabilize us in every upset.
The psalmist writes about consciously and continually placing God at the center of existence as a stabilizing force. Here are the words from her song, Psalm 62, we heard this morning:
“For God alone my soul waits in silence…God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken… On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge.”
That is not all. The psalmist advises us about just how to fill the center of our lives with all the goodness of God. First on the list is Silence. This is not silence that just happens, this is silence that we create for ourselves, and emptying like the center of the storm that can then be filled. The psalmist speaks of trust. That, too, is something that requires our effort, learning to trust in the goodness even when the outer circumstances seem dire. We have had occasions in the past few weeks to practice that, living through a failed coup attempt and an inauguration under the tightness security imaginable.
The psalmist continues with the following reminder to not take outer appearances too seriously. “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” The psalmist concludes, “That power belongs to God… God repays to all according to their work.”
In closing, I lift up this work, this work of filling our center with the presence of that unnamed and invisible force we can only call God and Love and Goodness. I believe it was this force that was irresistible to those early disciples, filling them and inspiring them to leave all they know and follow Jesus, filling the center of their lives with the Divine. We are offered the same, but this work is ongoing; it is work that requires continuous and conscious effort. There will be times that we will forget and we will get blown about and perhaps even broken. But we have our Teacher, and we have one another, to remind us that our center can be rediscovered; our center can be refilled. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Dearest Beloved, our minds and our hearts are so full this morning. I pray for our nation, for all those who are ill and for all those who are grieving. I pray blessings on President Biden and Vice-President Harris. May they be guided in service to address the many needs and to heal the disparities in America. Remind us, dear God, that Your presence is alive within us, preceding before us, inspiring us in the moment, and supporting us when we falter. When we find ourselves uncentered, I pray that we will be guided back, that we will mindfully refill ourselves, sustained in all the days of our lives and even beyond death. We ask your blessings on those who are without, those who are in pain, and those who are frightened. May we be receptive to Your Holy Spirit working through us to nurture them, and nurture ourselves, in ways unexpected and profound. This I pray in the name of Jesus, who taught his disciples to pray by saying…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Ephesians 3:
“I bend my knees to the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that… you may be strengthened through his Spirit…that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God. Amen.”