Dr. Stanley D. Smith
February 8, 2015
Text: Mark 1:29-39

I read again this story that has been going around for a while.  It was in a Washington DC metro station on a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on.

4 minutes later the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the case and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes, a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: a 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.

45 minutes: the musician played. Only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

45 Minutes: he finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.     (eSermons Resources, Brett Blair and Staff, ChristianGlobe Network, 2003)

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments… how many other things are we missing?

Think about it…

We live in a hi-tech, fast pace, workaholic world where no one rests. We are constantly on the road, running errands, going places. We stuff ourselves with “fast food,” overbook our lives with a myriad of things to do, and at the end of the day we are totally exhausted. We live (and die) by the clock. We are controlled by the need to produce. Time is money, time is how we keep in control of our lives. We resist quiet time by keeping the radios, televisions and computers on. The very thought of being alone, praying, scares us to death. We want professionals to do that for us. We haven’t learned that relaxation and mediation breaks will empower us to do even greater things. Thus, we continue to be busy. That of course leads down a path to self-destruction, unable to help others, let alone help ourselves.

Here in the Gospel we have Mark’s assertion that Jesus’ fame spread everywhere (v.28), and the quiet, domestic scene at Simon’s house is soon transformed by a throng of people seeking Jesus’ healing touch.

Jesus performs both healings and exorcisms on Simon’s doorstep having already demonstrated with the possessed man in Capernaum and with Simon’s mother-in-law that both these signs are a part of his ministry.

But the success of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms in that pleasant home environment is short-lived. Things are just too good for Jesus to stay in the shalom zone of Simon’s home any longer.

So Jesus heads out early in the morning for some time alone…

Simon and his three companions haven’t simply come out to join Jesus in contemplative prayer, they have been beating the bushes for him ever since they wakened to the sight of his empty bed. Simon scolds that “everyone” wants Jesus back in town, at his house, combining the pleasant experiences of eating and talking together with Jesus’ healing ministry of power and forgiveness.

But Jesus will have none of it… insisting that it is time to move on. His focus is on his ministry, and it is a proclamation ministry more than a healing ministry.

Yesterday I attended the ordination of my friend Nora Jacob. Kraig Beardemphl was her CPE supervisor at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The person who spoke at that service titled the message “Slow is the New Fast” I like that! There is even a Slow Church Movement. And a book titled The Slow Church. You can look it up!
Certainly we need to slow down. And think of how much we have let the culture of “fast” everything seep into our faith life.

Maybe it’s a question of focus. But “focus” is a tricky word!

Years ago there was an Eastern Flight 401 bound for Miami from New York City with a load of holiday passengers. As the huge aircraft, a Lockheed TriStar, approached the Miami Airport for its landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on. The plane flew in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades while the cockpit crew checked out the light failure. Their question was this, had the landing gear actually not deployed or was it just the light bulb that was defective?

To begin with, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn’t budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out…and then another. By and by, if you can believe it, all eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to be dislodged from its socket. No one noticed that the plane was losing altitude. Finally, it dropped right into a swamp. Many were killed in that plane crash. While an experienced crew of high-priced and seasoned pilots messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost. The crew momentarily forgot the most basic of all rules of the air — “Don’t forget to fly the airplane!”                                            (eSermons Resources, Brett Blair and Staff, ChristianGlobe Network, 2003)

The same thing can happen to the local church. The church can have so many activities, programs, projects, committee meetings, banquets, and community involvements — so many wheels spinning without really accomplishing anything of eternal significance — that the congregation forgets its primary objective.

Ron Pollard is a friend of mine. He helps with my home computer. One day he was sharing with me about one of his early jobs. He programed computers. You know, all those little I’s and 0’s. He would spend 10 hours looking at a computer screen, forget to eat, forget to go home, forget that there were others around. He had to get out of that job to save himself.

Focus doesn’t have to be narrow and confining. It can be open and creative. We can be observant. Listening, paying attention.

So what is Jesus’ goal? Jesus says it is to preach. Tell the stories, share what you believe. This story in Mark reminds us to make time for ourselves a high priority. The story tells us that Jesus took time away to pray and be refreshed. That’s explicit. Keep focused… but not so focused that you loose sight of what is important. That means being free from all other distractions so that God can empower us and refresh us. Then and only then can we help others.
Keith Wagner, Help Me, I’m Falling!

My favorite architect is Frank Lloyd Wright. (did you know that his son invented Lincoln Logs…?) The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright was fond of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was 9, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow’s flight, and then young Frank’s tracks meandering all over the field. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.”

Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how the experience had contributed to his philosophy in life. “I determined right then,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye, “not to miss the things in life that my uncle had missed.”

There! Be willing to wander off the path. Pay attention to the little things. Slow down