Sunday’s sermon: Isle Royale National Park – Isolation

  • A few weeks ago, I was down in Storm Lake, Iowa for Synod School.
    • Explain Synod School
      • 550 people this year from 27 states + Puerto Rico
      • 71 classes – everything from the spirituality of St. Ignatius to class on human trafficking to Latin dance
    • Been attending SS nearly every year since my boys were 1yo
      • Taught at least one class almost every year
    • This year: taught a class AND was on the SS planning committee
      • New element introduced by the committee this year: SS app (hosted by Whova) → basic event-specific social media platform
        • Share pics
        • Save your schedule
        • Send messages
        • Discussion threads → And from one of the discussion threads this year came another new element that the committee decided to introduce. – thread about surviving such a people-heavy as an introvert
          • Idea = “Introvert Recharge Tables” in the cafeteria → a place for people to have a little bit of isolated space even in the midst of a hoard of people → And as an introvert myself, I totally understood the need for something like this. I mean, remember, the word “introvert” doesn’t mean antisocial or painfully shy or any of the other negative connotations its carried over the years. Being introverted just means that you get your energy from time by yourself as opposed to extroverts who get their energy from being around other people. It’s about how your recharge your batteries … hence the tables.
    • And as I was thinking about our passage this week and our theme of isolation through the lens of the beauty and remoteness of Isle Royale National Park, that’s what I was thinking about – how we recharge our batteries, how we renew our minds and our spirits, and also how we find God and see God in the world around us.
  • So let’s begin this morning by exploring that beauty and remoteness of Isle Royale National Park.
    • Some basic facts
      • Established in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
      • 850 sq. mi. of wilderness surrounded by the frigid waters of Lake Superior → 99% of that land is federally designated wilderness[1]
      • One of 5 nationally designated areas on Lake Superior (though the only actual national park)[2]
        • Isle Royale (MI)
        • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (WI)
        • Grand Portage National Monument (MN)
        • Keweenaw National Historical Park (MI)
        • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI)
      • As remote as it gets: accessible only by boat or sea plane
        • Mainland headquarters = Houghton, MI
        • 2 small towns on the island itself
          • Rock Harbor (northeast end of the island)
          • Windigo (southwest end of the island)
        • 165 miles of hiking trails + 36 campsites
    • Read passage from America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks by Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer, p. 138
  • “Isolation, despite some benefits, has its limitations.” That feels like it could be the tagline for our Scripture reading this morning.
    • Today’s story = probably one of (if not the most) relatable stories we have of Jesus … at least, for me (the introvert)!
      • Comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Mk’s gospel → only events before today’s story in Mk = Jesus exorcising a demon, Jesus calling the disciples, Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, and John’s announcement that the Messiah is coming
      • In today’s passage, Jesus and the disciples are still in the city of Capernaum (location: northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, modern day: northern Israel)
    • Text tells us Jesus, John, and James have just left the synagogue → headed to the home of Simon (aka – Peter) and Andrew → when they get there, they learn Simon’s mother-in-law is ill → Jesus goes in and heals her
    • And undoubtedly, word got out because the next part of the text that we read talks about others coming to Jesus for healing – healing from illnesses and healing from demon. In fact, that way Mark writes it, those who come seeking come almost immediately. – text: That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed.[3]
      • Part of that = the way Mark writes → Remember, Mark’s was the first gospel written – probably sometime between 66-74 C.E. And during that time, one of the main beliefs of the Christian church was the Jesus was coming back and coming back soon – like, within their lifetimes soon. So there was an immediacy to everything they did because they were trying to share the gospel with as many people as possible before Jesus returned. That sense of immediacy is a prominent theme throughout Mark’s gospel, a theme definitely evident in our passage this morning.
    • So after the healing coming the really relatable part. Are you ready for it? – text: Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!” He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.”[4] → Jesus just needs to get away for a moment. More than a moment, really. Jesus is taking the time he needs for himself – for his mind, for his body, for his spirit. He’s taking the time he needs to reconnect himself and rededicate himself to God in the way that works best for him. Y’all … Jesus was an introvert! Okay … maybe that last statement is more of an assumption than something that can be supported with scholarly-type research. But we’re definitely seeing here, not only in the words and teaching of Christ, but in the bodily machinations and human rhythms of Christ’s very being that isolation is sometimes not just a necessary thing but a holy thing.
      • Let’s explore this idea a little more by digging deeper into the Greek.
        • Before we even dig into that big that we read, let’s look at what it says before Jesus heads out in search of his own sacred isolation – text: The whole town gathered near the door.[5] → The whole town, all. The. Whole. Town. Gathered outside Jesus’ door. (Yup … the introvert inside me is doing some hardcore cringing and cowering right now!) Here, the Greek is clear. WHOLE. CITY. All the inhabitants. On the doorstep of Simon and Andrew’s house. Looking for Jesus.
          • Interesting to note: We can sort of assume that they’re looking for something from Jesus here, too. I mean, he’s been healing and casting out demons. And in this beginning phase of his ministry, that’s really all he’s done. Mark hasn’t told us about any profound or prolific teachings that Jesus has uttered yet, so all that this crowd knows about Jesus is that he can do something for them. So they’re coming to get something from They’re not coming to listen to him or learn from him – to sit like Mary will at his feet and just bask in his words. They’re coming because this Jesus guy can do something for them. I feel like there’s a transactional element to this story – maybe even a depleting element, like they’re coming to take something from Jesus. And Jesus obliges – text: He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons.[6] … Just something to think about.
        • Okay … back to the Greek:[7]
          • Gr. “deserted” (describing the place that Jesus sought in the still dawn hours that morning) = place not settled or farmed, not populated → This is an untouched place. Untouched by people. Untouched by progress. Untouched by the bustle and demands of the whole town that Jesus had dealt with just the night before. Sounds a little like Isle Royale, doesn’t it?
          • Gr. involved in the phrasing that describes Simon and his companions looking for Jesus (text: Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, …) = all words that make it clear that Simon and his companions had been searching for Jesus for a while, that they’d been actively and eagerly seeking him
            • Interesting: When Simon says to Jesus, “Everyone’s looking for you!” – Gr. “looking” = word that carries connotation of desire → same word used in the phrase “to seek God’s face” which is used to worship → So just as Simon and the other disciples and the rest of the city were seeking Jesus … Jesus was seeking God.
          • Jesus’ response = interesting: “Let’s head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too.” → Gr. “head” = simply “go” → But it’s also a word that plays a part in the word “synagogue,” so Jesus is suggesting to the disciples that they go to the other town, not to escape the crowds of this one, but to gather with others … to share his healing and his message, to share God’s love and God’s grace with more people.
          • Another interesting little bit that pops up in the Gr. and makes me wonder: word that Mark uses to describe the city of Capernaum (“the whole town gathered near the door”) = word that implies a city with a wall BUT the word that Jesus uses when speaking to Simon and his companions (“Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages”) = word for villages without walls → So essentially, Jesus is taking the disciples and the healing, hope-filled, love-embodying message of God outside the isolation of the walls into the unbounded world. … Again, just something to think about.
  • “Isolation, despite some benefits, has its limitations.” Yes, friends. In isolation, like Jesus, we can take the time to stop. To pause. To breathe. To find ourselves again. To find God again. To re-center. To re-dedicate ourselves to God. I want you to notice that our gospel reading this morning didn’t say anything about how Jesus spent his time praying.
    • Purpose of our prayer journey together this fall → finding those best practices for our own prayer lives
      • Practical side: the ways that work in our lives (because the truth of life is that we are very good at letting the busyness of life get in the way of prayer)
      • Spiritual side: different people connect to God in different ways → God created each and every one of us differently – special and unique and treasured in our own particular ways – so of course we all connection to God differently!
    • But also like Jesus, after our time of isolation and reconnection, we are called out into the world to share God’s love again and again and again. To share God’s love outside the walls – these four walls here, but more importantly, outside the walls erected by ourselves, by our culture, and by our shared history that separate us from all God’s other treasured, unique, beloved children.
      • End with the questions from Lyons and Barkhauer’s reflection: “How do you find balance between isolation and engagement? How are some people isolated by factors other than their own choices? How does cultural isolation diminish us as a community?” (p. 138) Thank be to God. Amen.

[1] https://www.nationalparks.org/explore/parks/isle-royale-national-park.

[2] https://www.nplsf.org/national-parks-of-lake-superior.

[3] Mk 1:32.

[4] Mk 1:35-38.

[5] Mk 1:33 (emphasis added).

[6] Mk 1:34.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/mark-129-39/.

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