Help: I Can’t Help Myself

by | Oct 23, 2022

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Jarrett McLaughlin
Help: I Can’t Help Myself
October 23, 2022
Mark 1:32-39

Pre-Scripture

Today is Children’s Sabbath. We have our 4th and 5th grade students leading in worship, while children of other ages are helping in other ways. It is a joy to have these young people in the Church, Amen? You can say it – “Amen.”

There’s a saying that if you preach well to one person, you’ll preach well to the rest of the people. If I may, I’d like to practice that today and aim my sermon squarely at the children and young people of our church.

I’m so grateful that I get to know you while you’re young, but I feel like it’s only fair to introduce you to me around the same age. On the last page of your bulletin you can find a picture of me and my friend Josh at nine years of age. Now, I’m not exactly eager to claim being either of these people – but I would just like to make it clear that I am NOT the guy wearing the mid-riff shirt. Which, unfortunately, leaves me being the guy with the incredibly short shorts.

This picture was taken the summer before I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina. I had just finished 3rd grade, and where I grew up, 3rd grade actually marked the end of your time in one Elementary school before going to another school for 4th-6th grade. To cap off our time at Burnt Hill Road Elementary, Coach Johnson organized THE 3RD GRADE OLYMPICS! This was serious stuff. We competed in all the events – High Jump, Long Jump, Cross Country race, 50 yard dash.

If I was going to do decently in any event it was going to be the High Jump.

That was the first event. It was a rainy day, so we took that event indoors. Gymnasium was full of parents, they had the really thick mat laid out and the bar set at a very doable height. I plant my feet for a good running start. I turn to jump over the bar but all I hear is the CLANG as the bar hits the ground. First round elimination. I was so ashamed. It took everything within me not to burst into tears.

My friend Josh actually won the High Jump competition…yes, the guy with the mid-riff T-shirt.

At this point, I resigned myself to athletic mediocrity. But then it came time for the 50 Yard Dash! This is to determine the fastest kid in the 3rd Grade. This is huge!

We had been practicing all these events in gym class, and I remember Coach saying that I sure would run a lot faster if I didn’t wear Jamz that were too big for me (If you don’t know what Jamz are, I encourage you to google them as soon as you can but they were delightfully ugly shorts that were really big and baggy.
Luckily, I left the Jamz at home, because I ran in the first race and advanced. Then I ran in another and another and another.

I was a bit confused when my classmates gathered around and started giving me a pep talk for the next race. Somehow I missed it, but I was about to run against Danny in the final race to determine the fastest kid in the 3rd grade.

They push me forward; I put my toe to the line; I hear the whistle blow; I run as fast as I can.
I even resist the temptation to look where Danny is. I cross the finish line. Next thing I know, some of my friends are attempting – emphasis on attempting – to pick me up and parade me around the field….that lasted about 5 steps before they dropped me. But those 5 steps were Awesome! It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being famous.

Y’all, it’s never a good thing when your athletic career peaks at 3rd grade but that is precisely what happened to me. We moved to Raleigh and I started 4th grade. Back then they had this Presidential Fitness test. It’s like if you couldn’t do a pull-up they were going to tell President Reagan on you. Well, one of the events was the 50 yard dash.

Fresh off my stint as “The Fastest Kid in the 3rd Grade,” I was feeling pretty good about this one. I put my toe to the line; I hear the whistle blow; I run as fast as I can. But this time, even if I was tempted to look back over my shoulder, it would have done me no good, because Antwan was SO FAR AHEAD of me…it wasn’t even close. Then came the voice in my head saying: “You are NOT the fastest kid in the 4th grade.”

Now, as an adult, does it make me feel better that Antwan played on not one but two Super Bowl winning New England Patriot teams….maybe a little bit. But in the moment, I was crushed.

Who am I if I’m not fast?
What good am I if I don’t win?
I knew that I would spend the rest of that year chasing Antwan, but never be able to keep up.

Have you ever asked yourself that question: “Who am I?” or “What good am I if I’m not the best at (fill in the blank)?”

There’s a story about Jesus that I believe speaks to that feeling.
It comes from the Gospel of Mark.
The story of Jesus is told four different times in the Bible. Matthew – Mark – Luke and John. Four different authors with four different versions of the story.
Mark probably gives us the most human version of Jesus.
In Mark, Jesus seems to struggle with the same things that we do.

Mark begins his story with Jesus getting baptized. When Jesus comes up out of the water he sees a dove coming down from heaven and he hears the voice of God say “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thing to hear from God?
“You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

If you ask me, the way Mark tells the story, I think Jesus spends the rest of the Gospel asking, “what does it mean for me to be the son of God?”
In other words, Jesus is constantly asking himself “Who am I? What am I good for?”

Our reading today gives us a glimpse of how Jesus remembers who he is.
Listen to what the Spirit speaks to us.

Scripture

That evening, at sunset, 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.

Sermon

Have you ever played a game of Hide and Seek and found the perfect hiding place…the place where nobody will ever find you? Maybe you squeezed yourself into a toy chest that should be way too small for you. Or maybe you found a way to slip underneath the shelves in a linen closet, so that when people open the door, all they see is a wall of sheets and towels. Then the work becomes controlling your laughter when the seekers pass right by.

Jesus needed a good hiding place, but this time it was more than just a game.

I want you to pretend with me that the first town Jesus comes to is a swimming pool. The town was called Capernaum – but let’s pretend Capernaum is a swimming pool.

Jesus has just done a cannonball right into the middle of Capernaum.
He shows up with the power to heal people and cast out demons and do all kinds of spectacular things.
He made a BIG splash.
And when you make a big splash – what do people start expecting from you?
That you make an even bigger splash.
Did you catch what the story said – “they brought ALL who were sick to him…and the WHOLE CITY was gathered around the door.” They all want to see what he’ll do next.
Jesus is Successful! Jesus is Winning! Jesus is famous!

It would be easy for Jesus to keep doing what he was doing – keep succeeding – keep winning – keep increasing his fame.
But he doesn’t do that.
Instead, he hides…the next morning he goes out to find a really good hiding place, far away from all those crowds, and he prays.

We don’t know what he was praying about. Sometimes the Bible doesn’t fill in all the details…it leaves you wondering. That’s what makes the Bible fun – you get to wonder about the rest of the story that isn’t told.

I wonder if Jesus was hiding and praying because he wasn’t sure who he was and he wasn’t sure what mattered most.

“Who am I, God?” he might have asked. “What does it mean to be your son?”
“Am I supposed to be the local healer hero here in Capernaum?
Is that what I’m supposed to do?”

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus hid himself away so that he could pray and think about those kinds of questions.

Clearly, Jesus needed some help finding a better hiding spot, because it didn’t take long for the disciples to find him. Listen to what they say to Jesus: “Everyone is looking for you.”

That’s what they say. “Everyone is looking for you.” But what that really means is “Get back into town and keep doing what you did yesterday. Keep succeeding, Jesus! Keep winning, Jesus!”

But Jesus doesn’t do that either. “Let us go the neighboring towns,” he says instead. “Let us go to the neighboring town so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.”

Do you hear that? “That is what I came to do.”
Jesus knows who he is.
Jesus knows what matters most.
Jesus knows what he is supposed to do.
But before he could figure it out, Jesus had to stop what he was doing. He took a break. He hid himself away from all the people that wanted something from him. He rested and he prayed.

The Church has a fancy word for that kind of rest.
We call it Sabbath.
Sabbath is a day of rest and worship and prayer.
Truthfully, the adults around you – me included – we are not always the best at modeling Sabbath rest.

Has anybody ever had a hamster before?
If you leave a hamster on its running wheel, it will just keep running and running and running until somebody takes it off the wheel. We can be like that sometimes. Left to our own devices we will keep on running.

We need each other to help us get off the hamster wheel – to stop racing this way and that – and to rest.
That’s one reason among many that you’ll all be invited to bring a pledge forward: to help sustain a community that believes in something bigger than the rat race; a community that holds the line for Sabbath rest.
“Why do we need the Church to rest?” you might ask. “What makes Sabbath rest different from any other kind of rest?” It’s a good question.

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day we set apart from the other six days of the week.
Six days a week we’re going to work hard and study hard and play hard…we’re going to compete and achieve and sometimes…sometimes we might even win. But we’re also going to fall and fail – a lot. That’s life and there’s no getting around it. Nobody can be the best all the time.

The Sabbath is a day set apart to remember that all that stuff that happens on the other six days – all the racing and chasing, the winning and losing – none of that stuff tells you who you are. Whether you win a lot or find yourself falling short – it’s God who tells you what you’re worth.

And I have this idea that if we truly keep the Sabbath – if we stop what we are doing; if we take a break; if we hide ourselves away from all the people who want something from us; and if we rested and prayed, I wonder if we might not hear God whisper the words we each so desperately need to hear: “You are my child, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. Win, lose, fail or succeed – I am pleased with you just the way you are.”

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing to hear from God?
Wouldn’t that be a beautiful message for this Church to embody?
Wouldn’t it?