Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Text of my sermon for Sunday, July 19th at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, McKinney TX
David and I just got back from a vacation. We spent a glorious week in the Santa Barbara, California area, where the high temperatures made it into the 70s….most days! We rented a quaint little apartment on the top floor of a home with majestic views of the Pacific Ocean from most of the windows and cool breezes with no need for air conditioning. We took naps, we walked on the beach, we went to bed early, and took a sunset sail from the harbor. We had the chance to visit an early Spanish mission, we attended a local church for a Sunday service and shopped the bounty of the farmer’s market. Mostly things we seem to only find the time to do when we are on vacation.
I have found that staying somewhere like this, as opposed to a typical hotel, you sometimes find gems that the owner has used to add personality or decoration to their place. This apartment had a few of these, including one quirky little framed picture on a table in the bedroom that had this saying:
“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards.”
I looked at this little framed picture all week long. I felt like it was placed there just for me to see. You see…I’ve spent the last 25 years in hyperspeed mode as a wife and mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend and school principal…not always in the appropriate role order, either. I have raced from home to work to home to parenting responsibilities, then on to errands and appointments. Back home again for more work and household chores. On the lucky days and weekends, I had time to see friends, talk with family and check my never-emptying email inbox. Every spare second of time was spent planning and organizing for the next day…..and week……and month of more of the same. Sound familiar to anyone?
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark starts off with the apostles gathered around Jesus, sharing their stories. I picture this like a circle around the table, not unlike today’s board or team meetings, with each disciple taking turns sharing the successes and challenges, the victories and mockeries; all the while Jesus is listening intently and nodding his head in understanding and empathy. I love the next verse when Jesus said to them,
“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
What an incredible gift he gives the apostles with that invitation…or almost a direct request…..to stop all their work and just take it easy. The Gospel reading goes on to paint a picture of how difficult getting away was proving to be for them, with crowds surrounding them at every turn, just wanting to be near this Jesus who could and did heal and make whole so many people who just had to touch the “fringe of his cloak.” One of the stories of Jesus feeding the five thousand that is told in the Bible is not included in today’s lectionary, but is found right in the middle of the story. But even without that chaotic and miraculous event, you get the picture that stepping away was not an easy feat, and that is without the social media presence or 24 hour cable news cycle and 1000+ TV channels to broadcast and share their whereabouts. We don’t know for sure if they were able to rest at all, but the story goes on to tell of the healing and teaching that the people received at the hands of Jesus none the less.
When a new mom comes home from the hospital, she does so with a ton of “parting gifts” – usually provided by some genius marketing people who are ready to welcome the new parents right into this huge marketplace. There is usually some sample baby formula, wipes and diapers (all the really expensive kind) and tons of coupons for those and other baby essentials. The one item that I distinctly remember bringing home from the hospital with me was a big plastic cup with a straw and lid (those are a dime a dozen now, but almost 20 years ago that was kinda unique!). It had the name of the hospital on the side, along with some cute Beatrix Potter illustrations from the Tale of Peter Rabbit. It also had a phrase on the side that we always laughed about and read out loud in a snarky voice… “Mom – don’t forget to take care of yourself!” it said, and I drank water from that cup like it was my job!
So why did we make fun of that saying??? In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, it seems unnatural and almost counter-intuitive to stop and get off the treadmill of activity and schedules to rest. Maybe it’s because I have just spent a week doing just that. Maybe this subject hits close to home as I transition from “Important Working Person” to Seminary Student next month. But when I think about God’s call in our lives, I generally don’t consider the resting part much at all.
God calls each of us to go out and do Kingdom work; to be the hands and feet to show Christ in the world. To live and serve him, loving and taking care of each other, following his commandments, feeding the hungry, helping the poor forgiving each other and asking forgiveness from God for our own actions, and serving him in all the ways that each of us is called by God.
Jesus and his disciples gathered around to share their very busy Kingdom work at the start of Mark’s Gospel reading today. Although I firmly believe that Jesus knows the stories of our lives without a required “sit-down meeting,’ this simple act of reflection and accountability precedes the invitation to rest. Our time we set aside for prayer can include this too – this period of thinking back and naming the work that we have done to serve the Lord and thinking about how to do it better tomorrow or to name the plans we have for apostolic action today. Sadly, it may be a short exercise most days, but an important part of our relationship with God. Making that reflection period a regular part of our Christian life can only work to keep us focused on our part of the bargain. Jesus gives us all this grace and mercy for free, asking literally NOTHING of us in exchange for these gifts. It seems to me the very least we can offer to is to be intentional about taking baby steps or even leaps and bounds toward being the Christ like community that we claim to be right here on Sunday mornings.
The word “APOSTLE” is a Greek word with it’s root word meaning to send out. To help us with today’s understanding of this word APOSTLE, it is similar to the word ADVOCATE; to be the voice. These apostles were chosen to go out and teach people about Jesus. I can only imagine the challenges they faced. The radical love and forgiveness they were introducing in the name and person of Jesus were so completely foreign to those who heard and heard about him. Here were these simple folks who walked on foot or rode on glamorous donkeys, traveling around the countryside depending on the generosity and kindness of others, all the while sharing the mostly shocking Good News that we still are learning about and benefiting from some 2000+ years later. There was nothing easy about this daily life. They sat down with Jesus that day, to share their successes and challenges with him, seeking affirmation and counsel from him on the status of their work. I’m sure there were some successful moments to talk about, as well as the more likely roadblocks and frustrations they must have been experiencing.
God doesn’t call us to the Christian way of living in an attempt to make our daily lives easier. Doing his work in a world of heavy competition (keeping up with the neighbors, having the smartest kid in the school, or the best athlete, the most material stuff/possessions or just plain winning the competition by being the busiest of all the people we know) – these all make loving others, forgiving each other and sharing the good news ourselves all the more challenging. In a world where there are sides to every argument and a need to make ourselves seem right which means others must be wrong when they disagree, deeply loving each other seems somewhat out of place.
But that is exactly what we are called to be and do. We can’t just claim Jesus here on Sundays in church , and then be okay with doing anything less than loving our neighbors – even when they are different than us in their politics, religion or lifestyle. And we have do that by bumping up against the status quo and societal onslaught that is so very contrary to God’s love. Tough work when you really stop and think about it. But with our shepherd Jesus, we can and must remain faithful to our very own apostolic action; our call to ministry, whatever that may be for each and every one of us.
And rest…we must also rest. We have to carve out the time it takes to get back to our center. We have to renew our minds, our bodies and our faith so that when our rest is done, we pick right back up where we left off, being the hands and feet of God in his Kingdom. But before we rest, we must do some heavy lifting as Christians, and follow the direction Deacon Betty will be giving us soon as we leave the church service today to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” When we, ourselves, give our responses saying, “Thanks be to God,” may we take that to heart and seek out opportunities to be intentional with how we are spending our time in work and at rest. The Kingdom of God is counting on each and every one of us.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old. Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family. She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day! She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude. At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!
But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers. 10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been! Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition. We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry. But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).
But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus? I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend. It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks. It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.
I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away. For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them. I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted. Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either. But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us. Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well. Doing things for others is what we are called to do. Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development. And that holds true for our relationship as followers. The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.
I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing. The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing. They may have thanked God for that gift as well. But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway. His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God. Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior. It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.
Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior. Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts. We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
In today’s world, we use the word “crazy” to describe lots of things that fall outside the ordinary expections: crazy weather, crazy ending to a ballgame, crazy drivers on the highway, etc. But the man in this story more likely meets the legal definition of “crazy.” I think we all know folks who are mentally ill to the point of debilitating them in their life activities, so to make light of the pain that someone has who has no control over their behaviors or to their family and friends would be unwise and we may want to rethink the way we throw that word “crazy” around. Just my two cents…
But aren’t we all “possessed” by something? Are you focused on your money, your stuff, your weight, your clothes, your toys, gossip? Each of these things are just that…THINGS. These things drive the way we spend our time, talent and treasure for whatever simple reason. Either they bring us pleasure to have them or we think that we will have all we need once we get them. But they are never enough…we keep collecting the stuff or ideas and use them to fill our holes in ourselves. The man that Jesus heals in this story is certainly suffering from mental illness/demon possession or whatever. Jesus is able to remove the problem and the man is left at peace and healed from suffering with the words and touch from Jesus. He is a powerful witness to the healing of Jesus and I’m sure was a very effective evangelist in his day!
We all have our demons that get in the way of our true and deep relationship with God. What I love about the healed man in this story is that he stepped forward to Jesus. This was a man who lived his life away from society and in restraints because of his demons and he took the very brave step to walk up to Jesus and believe. We don’t live our lives physically restrained necessarily, but our own sins and distractors from our relationship with Jesus stand in our way of the greatest relationship opportunity of all. We just need to trust that Jesus can lead us closer to him with just a request from us.
What Jesus said after the demons were cast out of the man when he begged to go with Jesus is the advice we should all be following if we truly claim our gift of grace – go out and tell everyone what God has done for us. Why should we keep his love for us a secret? And dare I say that you and I may have more credibility in our communities than someone previously living in a cemetery who was the town outcast?
So make a decision to put aside the things standing in our way of our true relationship with God. Ask for help from the Father when you need it and tell the world the Good News. It’s the least we can do.
Forgiving and healing Lord, we intentionally accept your invitation to follow You and tell the world about your grace and mercy. Help us to put aside those things which stand in our way and to walk with You every day in every way. In Christ Jesus we pray. AMEN.