Boundaries

Fourth in a “Life’s Problems” series
Delivered August 1, 2004 by Rev. Laura Crihfield.

Sermon Text:
Mark 1:29-39

I invite you to open your Bibles or to pay attention to the screen up here to Mark, Chapter 1 – the second book in the New Testament. We will be reading, beginning at verse 29 and continuing on to verse 39 of Mark, Chapter 1.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

It’s 4:30 and you are exhausted after a full day of meetings at work. Thankfully, you have gotten through enough of the pile on your desk that you can think about wrapping up and heading home for a nice, relaxing evening. And then it dawns on you, relaxing is anything but what your evening will be. Since you have a meeting at church at 7:00, it’s already 4:30 and your daughter’s first soccer game of the season is at 5:30, and somewhere in there you are hoping to fit in dinner.

It’s Saturday morning and the phone rings, it’s Bob asking you to serve on the new team that he is forming. Immediately you are torn, wondering if you should have even answered the phone. This new team is really important, really important, and you know that, but you are already serving on two other teams. Do you have the time to put into this? Would this be the best use of your gifts? You are hesitant to say yes, but is it okay to say no? After all this is a great opportunity to serve. Having said yes to serving on the PTA at your son’s school, you head off to the monthly meeting. It’s Thursday night and you have already been out two other nights this week. You find yourself feeling resentful about having to go. You wish you would have just said no just this one time. Would that have been okay?

Boundaries. What’s appropriate and what’s not? What’s selfish and what’s Godly? When is it okay to say no to things that are asked of us? When do we need to say yes to things that are asked of us? These are questions that people face everyday. These are questions that each of us face as we live our lives. Boundaries, as you know, I am not saying anything that is revolutionary, has been a buzzword in pop culture for the past couple of decades. And it is a word that elicits all sorts of reactions, and I won’t ask for yours right now because we don’t know quite where that will take us. Some of those reactions are positive and some of those reactions are negative. For some, the idea of boundaries is just what I said a minute ago. Pop culture, a fad concept that has gotten way too much press and they are not really interested that much. For others it is a welcomed concept, a very welcome concept as it allows for some sanity in the midst of life’s busyness and in the midst of life’s craziness. For others still, and I think especially this fall, many Christians fall into this category, it’s not something that they give much credence to believing that quite the opposite of setting boundaries and limits in our lives, kind of hemming ourselves in, God has called us to go the extra mile, to love with an extra measure of grace, to give to others even when it somehow intrudes on our lives, we are called to be the face of Jesus.

How does that fit in with boundaries you might ask? Whatever our perspective, there is no denying the fact that it is a subject that is talked about far more than it was two or three generations ago and it has gotten to be quite a complex subject, which is interesting to me since according to Webster the definition of boundary is really simple. You know how normally you look things up in the dictionary and there is two or three or four different definitions under each word, go look up boundary when you get home and you will find that in Webster’s there is only definition, one line and this is it. A boundary is something that indicates a limit or extent. That’s it. Something that indicates a limit or extent. Now, that sounds pretty clear doesn’t it? Pretty clear. The limits are set, and we stay within those. But is it clear? Especially for us as Christians as we try to balance our desire to serve with other statements that we hear in our culture all the time. If you are going to have a healthy, emotional life, you need to set healthy boundaries. If you want to have successful relationships, you need to set healthy boundaries at the beginning. If you want to be happy in life, you need to be clear with your boundaries with others about what you will and you won’t do. Are those phrases that are some variation on that that we hear kind of here and there throughout our culture? I hear them. Now, I don’t want to sound like I am opposed to the idea of boundaries, I’m not. As a matter of fact, I was the one who came up with this topic for today when we were thinking as a staff through what to talk about. I am not opposed to boundaries. I believe that it is important to have healthy boundaries in our lives. Very important.

A popular book from a Christian perspective on this topic and many of you may have read is John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s book titled simply “Boundaries” and I agree with most of what they say in that book. It’s a very popular book and when they assert this, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy balanced lifestyle. They are right. Boundaries are essential to a healthy lifestyle. In fact, my life I know is most in check when I am really clear about kind of where my boundaries are for myself and with others. I know that for a fact and when I forget what those are; my life can kind of gets a little bit out of whack at times. But I am concerned; really concerned that modern cultures definitions and ideas about boundaries are too inwardly focused. And I find myself wrestling with questions about a healthy perspective for us as believers. How do we balance that call to serve with the need for self-preservation and limits? It’s tough to know, but ultimately I think that we miss something really important as followers of Jesus if we talk about boundaries only in terms of how it affects us, only in terms of our relationships and our lives. I think we get into some trouble there. I believe that the purpose of boundaries from a Christian perspective is not simply knowing our limits and saying yes or no to things that might or might not be healthy for us, but also and perhaps more importantly being able to say yes to those things in our lives that God is inviting us to be a part of. It’s about recognizing our spiritual gifts and allowing them to influence our decisions about how we spend our time and our energy. It’s about saying no to some things that may be good in order to make room in our lives to say yes to what is best. Ultimately, I think its about realizing that healthy boundaries in our lives as Christians are really not about us; rather they are about Jesus and his call on our lives.

Now all that said you may be thinking sure that may be true, but life is busy and there are so many demands on my time and energy, how can I even begin to think about this. And furthermore, how can I say no to something really good when somebody who I know knows that I would fit in fairly well and called and asked me to do it? How do I say no? Will they understand? Will God understand? Important questions, which I believe our text, speaks very directly to. I think it also gives us a great deal of insight into how Jesus handled the pressures of a busy life and how we can model our lives around his example. Knowing how to set boundaries that allow us to stay focused on God’s will, rather than on our will and the will of those around us. Sometimes those all three mesh. More often than not, they might not. So how do we stay focused on God’s will in the midst of a pull from our will and the will of those around us? Let’s take a closer look at the passage.

It begins of Mark telling us of point early in Jesus’ ministry when he was faced with many demands. Many, many demands on his time and his energy. Numerous expectations about what he should and shouldn’t do and many people who misunderstood him, especially early on in his ministry. If we look at Verse 29 it says that as soon as they left the synagogue they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her and took her hand and helped her up and the fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. To say that Jesus was busy is an understatement, isn’t it? Jesus right at the end of Sabbath or during the Sabbath, healed Simon’s mother-in-law and just after sunset, remember Sabbath ends at sunset for the Jewish tradition, when the Sabbath was over people started to come to Jesus in droves. Eugene Peterson in his translation of the New Testament called “The Message” puts it this way. He says the whole city lined up a Jesus’ door. The whole city. Not just a few people. Can you imagine the scene? I think I might have been tempted to sneak out the back door, but not Jesus. He responded. He responded and he opened the door, he heard their requests and scripture tells us that he healed many, many people. It doesn’t tell us that he healed all of the people. That was for the next day, right?

One commentator suggests that this had to be an absolutely exhausting experience for Jesus. He points out that the scripture doesn’t say this, he is just hypothesizing about this. But what we know from scripture is that on some occasions at least, miracles were accompanied by a direct flow of energy from Jesus or whoever was doing the healing directly to the person being healed. Exhausting, right? Remember that Jesus was human, while being fully God, he was fully human and he had those moments when he needed to pull away, break away from the crowds and rest to rekindle his energy for the next day. Which lead us to the next verses where he does just that. Verse 35. It says very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed. Some suggest that this is actually we say very early in the morning, literally very early in the morning like the middle of the night. The end of a busy day before the start of another busy day, Jesus withdraws to a quiet place and in that quiet place he prays. Mark doesn’t tell us what he prayed about. It’s not really crucial. But the fact that he tells us about Jesus praying is crucial because of what it teaches us about how we approach life’s demands and how we set up appropriate boundaries. Even Jesus who was God, in human flesh took the time to remove himself from those around him and pray.

We see this many, many places throughout the gospels. He knew how important it was to center himself on what his father wanted for him and he knew that the only way to do that was to spend time with the Father. And so he prayed. What a great model for our own lives at a time when Jesus was likely feeling a bit overwhelmed by the tasks before him and the people making demands on his time, he withdraws to seek God’s will, to maintain such a close relationship, to stay so connected that he would have no doubt about what it was he was called to do. And it was that time in prayer, this is really kind of the crux of the whole sermon, it was that time in prayer when he pulled away, that led him to respond the way he did when Simon and the others come looking for him to tell him probably what he already knew. I love the disciples for that because they come thinking they are bring this revolutionary revelation kind of news. Everybody is looking for you. Really? Can you imagine, I mean Jesus wouldn’t have that response. That would be my response because Jesus clearly knew that everybody was looking for him. I mean he had pulled away from these crowds who had been lining up at the door the night before.

Look at Jesus’ response this time. Remember yesterday he responded by healing many ,many people. Verse 38, Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else– to the nearby villages– so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. It’s kind of surprising isn’t it? To think that Jesus would respond that way. Imagine the disciple’s reactions. They must have been puzzled by his direction or his call to move on when they didn’t think the business at hand was done. But Jesus had spent that time in prayer and he knew what his Father’s will was and he knew what was best, not just what was good at that moment. So he moved on and he continued doing what he had been doing and that’s the other intriguing part about this. He just moved on to do it in a different place. Saying no to what’s good, making room for what’s best.

Are we so connected to the will of the Father that we know when to respond and when to move on? Are we so in touch with God’s will and our gifts that we are willing to do as Jesus did and follow God’s leading towards what best even if we are misunderstood? Are we so connected to the Father?

Our son Josh is going to be two on Thursday and two-year-olds, he is already well into the two’s as far as his behavior. He’s a wonderful little boy, but he’s at that point that now that he is mobile, because he didn’t walk until he was 19-months old, so now that he is mobile he does a lot of this. (gesture or expression?) If I am standing over here, I say. “Well Josh, can you come over here please?” And he is standing about here, he does this. (gesture or expression?) And then he runs and he comes back and then goes a little further, but he is always checking back in with me to see really where that edge is, where he really can’t go any further. And he’s a great kid so he normally, after I say it several more times, he comes back. I do sometimes have to go get him. But he is doing that little like I am just testing and I am going to come back and I am going to test and I am going to make sure that you are still there, because I am going to test, but I really want you to set the boundary. Isn’t that what kids really want? They might not act like they do, but they want to know that there is a boundary line. They want to know that there is a limit to where they can and can’t go. They want to know that I am there or that there parents are there to say, yeah that’s okay or no that’s not okay. They may not act like they do, but that’s what they do.

Now, I know that at same point that Joshua is not going to do the coming back. I know that. He is going to continue to grow up and he’s going to get to a point where he doesn’t need to do that nearly as much. I hope we don’t get to that point with God. I hope we don’t get to that point where we run and we just keep going. I hope we are so connected to our Maker that we can’t help but always turn around and check to make sure he is there; to make sure that he sets a limit for us; to make sure that we are within the bounds of that limit. We need guidance and we need direction. The apostle Paul understood the need for this kind of guidance and clarity and in his letters to the Phillipians right after affirming their commitment to the work of Jesus, he says this, familiar words I think for many of us, he says, And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Why? To the glory and praise of God. What a prayer for his friends. To be able to discern what is best in God’s eyes, not just what is good and thus to be filled with the fruit of righteousness, the fruit that Alice read about out of the Psalms this morning, that comes only through Christ Jesus. I want that for my life and I trust and I hope that you want that for your lives.

Craig Barnes who used to the be pastor at National Capitol Presbyterian Church and is now the pastor at Shadyside preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago that Alice actually turned me on to. It was a sermon called the “The Holy No” and he’s now up in Pittsburgh and in that sermon he says this.

“We should say “No” to anything that pulls us away from the grace of life in Christ.”

Anything that pulls us away from the grace of life in Jesus Christ. That’s a great little phrase and it’s a huge challenge. One that will radically change our perspective if we allow it to. One that will lead us to refocus our intention on God’s will rather than our will, knowing that God’s will always leads us to the grace that we find in Jesus Christ. The very grace that we find at this table, the very grace that is offered to us by one who understood God’s will, who understood what his direction was to be, who understood that that was going to lead him to death who was horribly misunderstood by people who thought they knew what was good for him. But he knew what was best and he stayed the course and he’s calling us to stay the course in our lives as we seek God’s will as well. May we be people who are so set on living in that grace, that as we seek God’s will we too are filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Why? Say it with me if you know it. To the glory and praise of God.

Let’s pray. Holy and loving God we do desire that you receive the glory, that you receive all of the honor, that you receive all of the praise. God we ask that you will help us to understand what you are calling us to, each one of us individually. That you would help us to know the boundaries that you set in our lives, that you would help us to have the courage to do what you call, even when we are misunderstood by others. Help us Lord to seek what is best in your eyes, to take the time to pull away from the crowds and pray, so that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are doing exactly what you want for our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ and all of God’s people together said, Amen.