“Running, Praying, Being: Christ-Centered Joy in times of Dis-ease”
Text: Mark 1: 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ, who went out to a secluded place to pray. Amen.
Isaiah’s description of fainting and exhausted youths during the time of the Exile describes the totalizing extent of our weary condition today. We are in a collective exile from the tissues and the sinews of our social life and have grown weary of its effects. Ed Prideaux of the BBC, made a this poignant observation concerning the nature of this massive fatigue. We are experiencing Mass trauma and this experience covers the entire extent of our life together like God stretching the sky heavens over creation below.
We are facing a dis-eased gap between what we have known life to be and a collective ability to cope with uncertainty; our personal meaning-making ability has been unable to grasp the totality of this time. Many grieve and yet can not mourn fully, with rites and healing embraces. Medical professionals made difficult decisions on who to save and how to save and are burdened by the weight of their responsibility. Our Children and youths have failed classes or been unable to learn, wondering and waiting. Intergenerational racial trauma comes alive throughout this time of discontent, burdened by a spirit of exhaustion. Yet there is this hope shining ever so brighter by the minute. We hope for the vaccine distribution and the renewal this gift could bring to the worn out sinews of our social life. And so we wait, and watch for God to come, for God to bring and nourish this hope of ours made manifest by a Lord who knows our weariness.
For Isaiah’s audience, to wait for this Lord who knows our weariness to act became unbearable to them; to those captive in the Babylonian exile. And we hear their complaint: “My way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is ignored by God.” They are exasperated with waiting and feel ignored by the maker of the heavens and the earth. They perhaps wondered: when will we experience the fullness of our social life, in familiar places with familiar faces? Or When will we embrace and experience the familiar sinews of life together, moved by the personal rhythms of daily life and love? This complaint is basically expressing: Enough is enough with this disengaged time. Now we need for hope to be realized, and not delayed.
This sense of exasperation coupled with the sheer exhaustion of all captives, even the youths, needed a compassionate touch from the God who knows personal dimensions of the human heart. “Have you not known? Have you not heard that the one who made the boundaries of the earth comes to renew your bounded life?” The everlasting God of Israel pours out strength to the weary, to the exhausted ones so that they may run, and walk and dance and soar upon the sings of eagles. To all of us experiencing this weariness, this mass trauma, God comes to us to pour our a soul-stirring, empowering, uplifting strength so that we may run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Remember our loss and be renewed, mourn and not all into despair, soaring into the very presence of God’s love in the midst of tribulation.
This past week, I saw and felt within my heart this soul-stirring strength of God to renew my weary soul as I listened to a conversation by Black Lutheran Theologians about Joy. During Black History Month, these theologians like Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold and Dr. Nicole Anderson-Cobb, are to come together to contemplate the resiliency of Black Joy in the face of historic and collective trauma. Dr. Shaunna Payne Gold and Dr. Nicole Anderson-Cobb made these observations about this strength from God: “Joy shines brightest in the face of adversity. Joy means brightness, a brightness that animates one’s whole being. Joy is an activity that causes one to leap and dance and sing in the darkest night.” This strength from God that Isaiah exclaims that the weary shall receive and be lifted as if on eagle’s wings to run and not be weary, walk and not faith, renews our hearts and moves us to action; to contemplate our pain, remember our loss, to sing and dance (maybe make a Tic-Tok video or two), and to laugh, deep laughs of joy. This strength for us is available for us now, and perhaps many of you have done the same in anticipation for the full measure of our joy. Now we run and not be weary, dance and make fools of ourselves, fools for joy, for life and God.
So when we hear that Jesus decides to go to a secluded place to pray after his exorcisms and healings, we see a weary Jesus who also needs to be renewed with this type of joy. Consider yourself in the place of Christ when after hearing God say that you are God’s beloved child, are driven out to dance with the devil for 40 days. Then after your cousin gets arrested, you start a new ministry venture with your friends, preaching, casting out demons, healing illnesses. So Jesus goes out into a deserted place to be centered on God; to discern God through this renewed strength. Jesus allowed himself to simply be with God and experience the joy of knowing that the maker of heaven and earth delights in him. The creator of the heavens and the earth knows his weariness and strengthens him with the spirit of joy and renewal; a renewal for mission. So we too now through faith in this Christ are basking in the renewing presence of God; a presence that gladdens the heart and moves one to soul-stirring action.
In Akwaeke Emezis’ novel, Pet, the depiction of Redemption, a young black teen who loves to fight because he loves to enjoy being himself describes this type of renewal for us at the time of mass exhaustion and collective yearning. Redemption says this line that describes our bodily joy: “How fast is your alive? How smooth is your alive? How hard, how resilient? We’re alive because we can be hurt; we’re alive because we can heal. I think its beautiful. It’s why I fight.” When we experience the renewing joy, this strength that we need for our time, we abide in a fuller expression of ourselves as beloved; as endowed with gifts of service for neighbor, beauty for the hungry soul, joy in weary times. We are enlivened in the power of the Spirit for service to our neighbor; safely and in full awareness of this trauma underneath the surface. It seems almost insignificant when we consider the type of service we need when it comes to attending to relationships at this time; calling up the lonely and listening, cracking jokes and sharing empanadas before worship, finding opportunities outside to contemplate God in nature, walking alongside weary students and hearing their dreams. Even now as we await our turn for the vaccine, God through faith pours out this enlivening resiliency of joy so that we can say, We’re alive because we can heal. That’s why I fight for a better tomorrow. That’s why I laugh and smile. That’s why I listen and speak tenderly to the misinformed. In this exilic time, our collective trauma may at times try to overwhelm our life together, but we have the joy that renews, that gladdens, that lets us be. they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Amen.