Rev. Danielle K Bartz February 4, 2024
Mark 1:29-39 “Saying No to Say Yes”
Sometime in the last year or so I was listening to an interview on NPR. It was with a woman who, as a way to pull herself out of a slump, decided to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything she was asked for a year. She said yes to every invitation, every request for help, every idea, everything. She found herself doing things that she had never excepted to do, meeting with people she would have otherwise never gotten to know, and viewing the world in a new way.
I was fascinated by the interview – it was one of those ‘driveway’ moments. You know when you start to listen to something in the car and then continue to listen even after you get home, sitting in your driveway? As I first listened, I began to wonder to myself if I needed to make a similar commitment. Maybe, I thought, a whole new world would be opened for me if I started to say ‘yes’ to everything that was asked of me. Who would I meet, I wondered? What would I experience? Perhaps, I thought, a world of possibilities could be opened to me.
But, thank goodness I didn’t stop listening to the interview until it as over. Because, the woman speaking was, in fact, not advocating for people to follow in her footsteps. In fact, she said, it was one of the most limited years of her life. She was so busy saying ‘yes’ to things that she never had time to reflect, rest, or even do other things that she wanted. Her whole world became about other people’s expectations of her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if more than once people took advantage, knowing that she would not say no. She experienced new and wonderful things, but she also lost track of herself, her goals and her dreams. The interview ended with a reminder from her that if all we ever do is say ‘yes’ to others, we end up saying ‘no’ to ourselves.
I found myself marveling at her wisdom. While these weren’t the words she used, I heard in her a reminder about the importance of staying true not only to ourselves, but to the vocation, the calls, we have in our lives. At times we have to say ‘no’ to others in order to say ‘yes’ to ourselves and to God’s call on our lives. Even if that leads to other people’s disappointments.
I have been thinking a lot about following a life of vocation and the inevitable moments of disappointment it creates this week after someone in my Tuesday morning clergy group said this, “why don’t we [clergy] ever point out the trail of disappointment Jesus left in his wake?” It’s a good and fair question. I don’t think I have ever pointed out all of the people Jesus disappointed in the scriptures when I have preached, and I can’t remember a sermon I have listened to that has either. Which is odd, because in fact, the Gospel stories of Jesus’ ministry is filled with people who are disappointed by him. Today’s scripture is a prime example. Jesus, who had been teaching in the synagogue and healed a man who confronted him there, went to the home of Simon and Andrew, and while there healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus was creating quite a stir, people were amazed and verse 28 says his fame was spreading throughout the region. And that fame became apparent when that evening the entire city gathered outside of the house, and the people brought to Jesus all of their loved ones who were sick. Jesus, the scriptures say, cured many of them that night.
Try for a moment to picture the scene – the entire city is gathered around what can reasonably be assumed to be a fairly humble home. The word had spread about Jesus – and all of those who were desperate for healing, either for themselves or for someone they loved, seized the opportunity. You can imagine the jostling for position near Jesus. People pushing others aside, refusing to wait their turn. Jesus and his disciples trying to make sense of the need around them, and doing everything they could to meet the need. This evening was likely chaotic and overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact that scripture continues by saying that very early the next morning Jesus went out to a deserted place to pray. He was not given much peace though, because as the scriptures says, and pay attention to the word that is used here, “Simon and his companions hunted for him.” They told Jesus that everyone was searching for him. And how does Jesus respond? He tells his companions that they are leaving, that he needs to proclaim his message of the Good News everywhere. Jesus is hunted down because there are still people who want something from him, there are still people who need healing – but Jesus does not return to them, instead he leaves. He moves on to spread the Gospel, and the people, I am sure, where disappointed. Perhaps even angry.
This happens over and over again in the Gospels – once you start looking for these moments you realize they are everywhere. Jesus creates a stir, an excitement, people experience healing that can feel like magic, they want more of it – and then Jesus moves on. Never does it say that Jesus stuck around until everyone in the area was healed, there were always people who wanted that healing but did not receive it. There was always a trail of disappointment behind him.
Clergy don’t like to point this out, I think, because it makes everyone uncomfortable. But, it is the truth, and an important one to remember. Jesus’ vocation, Jesus’ mission was to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God. To point to God, to point to justice, and peace, and love. To say to the marginalized that they are beloved in God’s eyes. To say to the oppressed that they are the reflections of God. To share with the world that in the Kingdom of God the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus’ vocation was to turn the world upside down, and by so doing focus the people’s attention on and devotion to God – not power and hierarchy.
But what the people were more intrigued by was healing, the miracles, the moments that felt like magic. They wanted more of that, not more of the lessons that challenged everything they understood about the world and their relationships with one another and with God. But Jesus refused to give into that desire from the people, and instead remained committed to his vocation and calling from God, and the people were disappointed, some were angry, and I think it is fair to say that it eventually led to his trial and crucifixion.
To know what our vocation is, to understand how we are meant to serve, is truly a gift. Some figure it out at a young age, and for some it takes most of their life. But, when we do figure it out, it is a true and wonderful gift. And when we choose to remain committed to that vocation, whether that means saying yes to something or saying no to something, the people around us often feel disappointed. And sometimes that is how we know we have re-committed ourselves, when we say yes or no, and know that it is right for our us and our vocation, but upsets those around us.
I am conscience of the fact that this doesn’t feel very hopeful, leaving you with the thought that to truly follow our vocations, whatever form they take for each of us, means disappointing people, sometimes profoundly. It might not feel very hopeful, but the hope is we all make those choices – that we continue to serve God and one another in our most true and authentic ways, no matter what. Because that is what our world needs right now. Our world needs people committed to their callings, committed to their authentic self. The world does not need more people who bend to the will of the masses, who want nothing more than a few moments of magic. So, if you are faced with that decision, and if it helps, remember the example of Jesus, and know that you don’t walk that difficult path alone. Saying ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to God’s movement in your life is an act of devotion, of praise, and of hope. And, I believe, it is what leads the way to joy. Because joy is what we feel when a vocation is being followed and valued. Amen.
O Holy One, you have set each of us on a path that leads to wholeness and fulfillment with you. This path, each as unique as we all are, is one in which we find ourselves walking alongside you. For this path, and your company on it, we give you great thanks. And it is in that spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
You know, God, how easy it is for us to get caught up in the expectations of others. Our desire to not let anyone down can be powerful. But, at times, that can allow us to loose sight of you. Help us, God, to find a balance that keeps our lives pointed towards you. Help us to have the courage to say yes or no when we need to. And remind us of your grace when we stumble and need to be righted again.
One of the ways God that we listen for your wisdom guiding us is through moments of quiet prayer. In this moments of silence, we open our hearts and spirits to you, listening for your still-speaking voice…
Loving God, you sent us an example of what it means to follow a vocation with such purity of purpose, Jesus Christ. So we pray all of this in his name and now we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…