Routines (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany)

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Doggies love routines.  And Blake is very good at reminding me when we’re not following the routine!  Without knowing how to read the clock, Blake makes it clear that it’s time for supper.  Or it’s time for a walk.  Or it’s time for a snack (actually, Blake always thinks it’s time for a snack!)

And over the past several months, Blake has been enjoying the fact that his routines are even more set than they used to be.  For example, since I don’t need to be in the office at any particular time of the morning, our morning walks can all be the “long walks” that we usually only took a couple days a week.  And since my evening meetings are all on Zoom, we don’t have to have supper at an earlier time so I can get to the meetings.

Doggies love routines.  And honestly, I’ve been enjoying the routines that Blake and I have.  Especially in times when the world seems turned upside down, routines can provide stability and structure and even comfort.  And it’s actually been nice to have a few routines like that which I can settle into these days.

And yet, I know that whatever routines I’m in right now are bound to change soon. In fact, one of the lessons of living through Covid is never to get too comfortable with a routine, because the routine will change.  Some of those changes we’re all looking forward to – like the changes in routine that will allow us to get back together in person without fear of passing on a virus.  Some of those changes we may not be looking forward to – especially if those changes involve the permanent loss of things we used to do.  And some of those changes are frankly scary – because it’s not at all clear exactly how our routines will be different a year from now.

And so it can be easy to want to settle in, at least for now, with a comfortable routine.  I feel that all the time.  I suspect many of you do, too.  And I even get the sense that Jesus’ first disciples were feeling that way in today’s Gospel reading.

Mark’s Gospel rolls kind of quickly, but already a routine was developing in Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus went to the synagogue and taught.  He healed a man possessed by demons and his fame spread throughout Galilee.  Then, he went for dinner at Simon’s house where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever.  Later, more people showed up and he healed them.  Then, his fame spread some more.

So early the next morning, the disciples could already see a routine was developing.  And it was a pretty good routine!  They were at home surrounded by family and friends where they had good support.  Jesus was doing great things for others and his fame was spreading.  So why not set up shop here, and do this for a while?  This was a good routine.

It seems like that’s the thought when Simon finds Jesus and says, “hey!  Everybody’s looking for you.  We’ve got a good routine going.  Let’s get back to it.”

But Jesus disrupts the routine – “Let us go on to the neighboring towns”, he says. And just like that, the comfortable routine is upended.  Jesus won’t be constrained by the routine, and he intends to bring his disciples along for the ride.

And like the first disciples, sometimes we need Jesus to drag us out of our comfortable routines.  But right now, I don’t feel like I need Jesus’ help to be dragged out of my routines.  Life and the world around me is doing just a fine job of that.  And you’re probably in the same situation.

But there’s something deeper going on here than just Jesus not settling into a routine.  And while the disciples may not have appreciated being dragged along to new places and out of their own comfortable routines, inherent in Jesus’ call is the promise that:

  • Jesus will be leading them into new and different routines, even if those routines aren’t clear right now … (he’s not asking them to go where he won’t go…)
  • There is hope and promise beyond the comfortable routines of right now – Jesus calls the disciples out of the routine because there’s a bigger future ahead: “this is what I came out to do”… (this is not change for it’s own sake…)
  • Jesus will always be with the disciples, guiding and empowering them as they learn to live in new ways, and live into constantly changing routines – in fact, there’s always a new routine, but the disciples never have to go it alone, even after Jesus’ Resurrection … (this is not, “good luck, I know you can handle it by yourselves!”)

Those were always the promises Jesus made – and made good on – whenever he called his first disciples to follow and change their routines. And those are the same promises Jesus makes to us as well.

As we live into these next weeks and months, our routines will surely have to change.  Sometimes, those changes in routine will be forced upon us by the way life is in the world around us.  Sometimes, those changes in routine will happen because of changes in our personal lives.  And sometimes, we may feel God’s call to change, even when we don’t want to.

But however our routines must or ought to change, Jesus’ promise to us is the same.  No matter how the routine changes, Jesus promises to:

  • Lead us in new ways of living, even when the new routines aren’t clear, and sometimes even if we resist the change … (while Blake loves routines, since we’ve been taking longer walks, he’s often become bored with the same walk; and he’s dragged me into all kinds of new places on our walks that we never used to go.  They’ve provided new sights for me and new smells for him.  But often, I had to be coaxed along.  And I often feel that’s how Jesus is working in my life, too….!)
  • Bring hope and promise in the midst of changes in routine – to us, as we learn new ways of living (as we’ll do at work, at school and at church) …; and through us, as we become vehicles of God’s hope and promise in the lives of others (how many more people will we reach and touch because of “hybrid” ministry?) …
  • Be with us to help us manage the new routines – Jesus never told his disciples to simply “suck it up and deal with it.”  He always promised that he was with them to help them and strengthen them.  He taught them through their successes and their failures.  And he promised them that God’s work would be done through them, even when they messed up the routine…

Sometimes, I love my routines.  Sometimes, I look forward to new routines.  And sometimes, I get dragged out of my routines before I’m ready.  But whether the routines are good or bad, and whether they last or not, Jesus’ promises to us are the same.

Jesus promises always to lead us forward, even when the new routine isn’t clear yet.  Jesus promises to show us hope and promise even when we’ve been comfortable in the old routines.  And most importantly, Jesus promises always to walk with us, in whatever routine we find ourselves in, to give us strength, courage and stamina to keep moving forward in the life to which God calls us.