Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Most Stressful Jobs

Isaiah 40: 21–31; Mark 1: 29–39

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Feb. 05, 2012

O God, our strength, lift us up on wings as a mother eagle supports her young. When we are weary, restore us to your purpose and fill us with your hope. Amen.

Last week, there was a video clip from CNN about the most stressful jobs.  According to research, enlisted soldiers, firefighters, airline pilots and police officers are among the top ten high anxiety-inducing jobs.  They were evaluated by many factors such as deadlines, working in the public eye, physical demands and risk to one’s life.  So, the outcomes were not surprising. 

Stressful jobs?  Most of us here will agree that ministry is one of them, the ministry of working with many clients at the Food Bank downstairs every week.  We have all experienced stress in our working lives.  How can we deal with it?  Some experts say that meditation is essential to alleviate all sorts of stress.  Well, we believers may have the edge over others when we deal with stress.  What is that edge?  Today’s readings from both Isaiah and Mark offer us an answer.

Combined with last week’s story of the man with an unclean spirit in Capernaum, today’s passage from the gospel of Mark gives us a glimpse of what a day was like for Jesus. The story we read last week tells how, on the Sab­bath, he entered the synagogue, taught with authority, and healed a man with an unclean spirit. Today’s passage continues with a story from the same day.

Mark fills the first chapter of his Gospel with a report of a frenzy of activity. He records Jesus’ baptism, the calling of the disciples, teaching in the synagogue and casting out unclean spirits. Even when seeking rest at the home of Simon and Andrew, Jesus is called upon to heal Simon’s mother-in-law. Immediately crowds begin to press in around the house, demanding more words and deeds of power from Jesus: “And the whole city is gathered around the door (v.33).”

After all of this demanding work until late at night, Jesus barely finds time for rest in the early hours of the next morning.  He goes out to a deserted place to pray in the midst of his hectic days of work.  Finally, he is left alone, but, alas, not for long. His disciples “hunt for him (v. 36).” Then they grab him and say, “Everyone is searching for you (v.37).”  Right away they get Jesus back on the road to preach and cast out demons throughout Galilee.

Somehow, in that brief time for prayer in the early morning, Jesus finds renewed strength and energy to continue the journey of love and service. I wonder how he managed to renew his strength by prayer alone in such a brief period of time.  We do not know what he prays to God about.  We do not know what words he used.  There is no direct quotation of his prayer in today’s story.  Let me try to guess what his prayer might have been like.

The story continues.  The townspeople crowd the door of the house with all those who are ill or demon-possessed.  Jesus cures many who are ill and casts out many demons (vv. 32-34).  But the concluding words of this story catch my attention: “He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him (v. 34).”  Here, Mark reminds us of the healing of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue, the story we read last week.  Coming out of him, the demon cried out, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”  The demon knew who Jesus was and what he was going to do (v. 24).

Why would Jesus object to such testimony? Some interpreters have suggested that the answer lies in the link between the interpretation of the term “Son of God” and the term for exorcist or miracle worker. Although, according to the gospel message written with the hindsight of two generations of story-telling, Jesus has come to destroy Satan’s power, he has not come to do so by exercising miraculous powers. Jesus must suffer and die; his enemies will ridicule him with the fact that he is unable to save himself from crucifixion (15:31-32). According to this interpretation, Jesus, the Son of Man, as he calls himself, comes to suffer and die, not to win the flattery of the crowds through working miracles. I am encouraged by this interpretation.

Leaving Peter’s house in the darkness well before dawn, Jesus goes to a deserted place to pray (v. 35). What does he pray to God about?  My guess goes like this: it is through his prayer that he makes sure of the purpose of his ministry; he comes to do God’s will, not to seek his own advantage or popularity through miraculous works; “not mine, but thy will be done.” (Matt 26:42)  Through his prayer, he finds renewed strength and energy from God to get back to work.  

When I visited her last week, Dora sat in her wheel chair in the door of her room.  I was glad she was able to recognize me immediately, exclaiming, “O, you are my minister!”  I said, “Yes, I am, Dora.  It’s been a while.  How are you doing?”  Her response surprised me: “I am useless, sitting here everyday doing nothing.  I really miss the church.  I wish I could go back to work at church.  It is terrible not doing anything here.”  Then, the tears rolled down her cheeks.  I did not know what to say so I just held her hands and sat beside her for a time.  Given her age – ninety eight this year – and physical condition, I was utterly amazed by her never-ending passion for her ministry.  Where did she get such enduring strength and energy?  I wonder if it wasn’t that she had found it in serving others and God downstairs for so many years.

As many of us know, Dora was one of those who started the Food Bank and Drop-in programmes downstairs almost three decades ago; she dedicated herself to those programmes until she was no longer physically able. She committed herself, not to her own fame or popularity, but to God’s mission in our midst.  She became exhausted physically, but not spiritually. She still wishes to serve God. 

The bad news though is that the demands of our programmes have never stopped increasing while our resources have been shrinking.  According to Donna, Chair of the Mission and Outreach Committee, last year we served over 3,000 breakfasts at our Drop-In, 1,300 Community dinners and distributed over 7,000 hampers to our Food Bank clients.  She told me that she had to look after five Community Dinners by herself last year and foresees she may have to do the same this year because there are not as many volunteers or coordinators as there used to be.  Donna is working full time.  It is worrying to think what would happen if Donna is no longer available.   

Nonetheless, the last Community Dinner went exceptionally well.  Coordinated by Ellie a couple of weeks ago, the baked ham dinner was well prepared and served.  The kitchen was packed with staff from outside our church and later joined by the Boy Scouts, led as usual by Warner.  Guided by Ellie, a group of young volunteers from Kimbourne Park United gathered to clean the tables.  It has been a while since we have seen such support and cooperation at the Dinner.  I think that experience gives us an example of how to do it in the future.  I mean we need more support from outside, especially from neighbouring congregations and faith communities.  Among the eleven East End United Church congregations, we are the only one which has run a Food Bank programme.  Let us remember that this is God’s mission.  We should not be shy to go out to our friends and invite them to join us in this hands-on mission of God.

In today’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet calls us to remember our source of strength, -- the one God who has created the universe and rules everything within it. 

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31, NRSV) 

Through our prayer, may we be assured of the purpose of our ministry and “mount up with wings like eagles” to continue our journey of love and service in our community and beyond.  Amen.

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