Warm-up Question

  • Set up an imaginary scale across the room where you are meeting, ranging from 0 to 10.  Ask people to stand in various places on the imaginary scale based on this series of questions:  1. How tired are you right now, today? (0 = exhausted, need to go back to bed for a whole day;  10 = most energetic ever) 2. How tired are you usually, on average?  (same scale) 3. How confident are you that when you are stressed or exhausted that you will be able to set aside time to get the rest you need?  (0 = can’t count on that at all, it’s out of my control;  10 = I can rest whenever I need to)
  • How important do you think rest is to doing well in school, family, work, other relationships, life in general?
  • Finally, an opinion question:  Of the ten commandments (can anyone name them, by the way?) a number of them are commands that involve ways we contribute to our own communities and the world around us, but only the third commandment (by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran numbering;  it’s number 4 in Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, and other Protestant traditions) commands us to observe a Sabbath rest.  If there doesn’t seem to be enough time in life to honor both aspects of the commandments, should one be sacrificed in favor of the other?  Does God consider one to be more important than the other?

Too Tired to Care?

The January 15, 2015 issue of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services carried an in-depth article on the potentially dangerous effects of fatigue on those who work in emergency services. For decades, the 24-hour work shift (2-3 times a week) has been the norm in the industry of emergency medicine and other emergency response professions such as firefighting, so that it is common for everyone from ER doctors and surgeons to ambulance drivers to pharmacists to work shifts that start at 6am one day and do not end until 6am the next day.

shutterstock_202169833editThis pattern persists largely because it is believed that giving people a full day’s break between the strains of trauma response is better for them, plus it’s also apparently cost-effective.  It’s also simply the way things have been for a while and it would be a lot of work to change them.  However, experts in the field of emergency medical care as well as those who are responsible for oversight and evaluation of the medical providers – insurance and government entities especially – are starting to pay attention to the risks that are present when someone who has had no sleep for nearly a whole day is trying to make complex decisions about things like evaluating patient vital signs or measuring dosages of medicine.

The phenomenon of “burnout,” where people in caregiving professions work so hard and absorb so many emotional demands that they run out of energy and lose their ability to perform effectively, has led to frequent early resignations among emergency care workers.  This has long been recognized and has for many years been attributed to the stress of dealing with injury and death on a regular basis.  But now fresh studies are starting to reveal what must surely be obvious to many people outside the medical profession – that simply being awake for a straight 24 hours with no attention to mental rejuvenation, let alone physical rejuvenation, may be the real culprit in early burnout, not to mention increasing the risk of some very serious errors in emergency treatment.  As a result, emergency care providers are rethinking the risks involved with long shifts of caregiving to the point of exhaustion.

Discussion Questions

  • What are some of the strains on caregivers that might be associated with long shifts or lack of rest in general?
  • How does lack of rest or too much mental/emotional strain affect you personally?  If you are a student, what effect does being tired or overstressed have on the quality of your school work or your relationships?
  • Many people, when they hear for the first time about 24-hour shifts, are shocked and can’t imagine how anyone does this, but others say that you’re just cut out for it or you’re not.  Do you think you could be one of those emergency workers who works on a schedule like that?  Or do you need your sleep on a really regular schedule?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Mark 1:29-39

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

For a long time, commentators on Mark’s gospel have noticed that Jesus’ work in the first half of the gospel is characterized by three major activities that signal the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God:  preaching, teaching, and healing.  In this story we are still in the very first chapter Mark, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, but already we see all three of these activities represented, with Jesus emerging from teaching in the synagogue (vs. 29), healing Simon’s mother-in-law (vs. 31), and moving on to preach in the rest of Galilee (vs. 39).

The fourth activity represented here that is often overlooked as a “kingdom-oriented” activity is that of resting and praying.  It is mentioned specifically again with respect to Jesus and his disciples in chapter 6 and hinted at in many other places all the way through Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane in chapter 14.  In several other places we are told that Jesus was overwhelmed by the size and volume of the crowd that was facing him, sometimes even asking his disciples to plan an escape route (3:9).

We should not fail to notice that even Jesus rested and took time for private prayer and communion with God.  Particularly in Mark, where so much happens so fast and the word “immediately” appears more than 40 times, it is refreshing to see Jesus take time out to care for his human capacity for fatigue.  We should also note that this attentiveness to resting when tired or overburdened was connected not only to his physical or emotional needs, but just as much to the life of the spirit.

Another dimension of life in the Kingdom of God is illustrated by the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law.  As with so many characters in Mark’s gospel, she receives Jesus’ miraculous grace and then at once starts engaging in the very activities to which Jesus’ followers are called as they take their places as ministers of God’s kingdom.  In this case, she begins serving them.  On one level, it could just mean that she brings them snacks, but the deeper meaning is that she now becomes a servant to others, which is what we are all called to do, just as the man delivered of a demon in chapter 5 will immediately become a witness and Bartimaeus in chapter 9 will immediately become a disciple after being healed of blindness.

The command to the demons that they should be silent may come as a puzzling feature in this passage.  One of the interesting literary tricks in Mark is that the very ones who are religious insiders (including the disciples!) tend not to recognize who Jesus is, or at least they can’t seem to figure him out; only those who are on the fringe or outsiders (the physically injured, unclean spirits, the Roman centurion) know him for who he is – the Son of God.  As we read along, it’s as if Mark wants the disciples and other onlookers to recognize Jesus’ divine identity because of what’s happening and not because they heard someone (even a demonic spirit) say so.

We’re supposed to get frustrated with those who should be catching on to this immediately and then should be actively, excitedly proclaiming this truth.  But then, Mark perhaps wants us to wonder, why do we ourselves not do that?  So the frustration we might experience because of the characters in the gospel can be turned back on ourselves and transformed into inspiration for us to notice when Jesus is present in our own lives but we do not recognize him because we aren’t paying attention or we’re looking for something different.

Discussion Questions

  • Dealing with people in Mark’s gospel seems to wear Jesus out.  This may be one of the most honest and authentic aspects of Jesus’ human nature.  Even the disciples exasperate him on occasion (8:21;  8:23; 9:19; 14:37).
  • In response, Jesus devotes himself to prayer and, when necessary, solitude.  How do we take care of our whole selves, not just the body and the mind, but also the spirit?
  • Many people find that a routine of prayer, possibly including simple quiet meditation, is an essential piece of self-care that not only allows them to be good stewards of their own lives, but also connects rest with growth in discerning God’s presence and purposes.  What are the faith practices represented in our own group that combine rest and self-care with nurturing faith?
  • Other people find that separating the work of restful prayer from the rest of life is an artificial division that does not leave them refreshed, so they practice what is sometimes called “noisy contemplation,” or prayer in the midst of activity.  We might imagine
    Simon’s mother-in-law, surely filled with heart-felt thanks for being healed (and maybe still even recovering from sickness?), nevertheless moving forward immediately into acts of service and finding her energy for loving and communing with God there.  What are some good examples of quick on-the-run prayers or opportunities for prayer that we can practice?

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a covenant as a group to keep a Sabbath day.  Identify a day –  either Saturday or Sunday may be a good choice – where you set aside as many of the things you do just by habit as possible and rest.  You might even try it for just a six-hour stretch.  (It might also be a good activity for a retreat or lock-in).  Start by turning off your cell phone and computer and staying away from radio and television.  As a group, come up with a set of prayers that you can say on each hour while you’re letting your mind settle down.  Then keep a brief journal of how you feel – physically, spiritually, mentally – as the time passes.  When you next re-gather as a group, share your experiences and journal notes.
  • Identify medical care givers or emergency responders in your congregation and either invite them to talk with you about how they care for themselves or what their prayer and worship lives are like, given that they often spend time with many people who are victims of injury or tragedy.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, we give you thanks for providing us with times for renewal, even as you also give us work to carry out in your kingdom.  We pray that you would reveal your Son Jesus to us in all that we do, whether we are alone or with others, whether we are overwhelmed or at rest.  And in all things, we pray that you would make us good witnesses to the healing grace that you have given to us and to the world in which we live. In Jesus’ name we pray.