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.
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Sheep may not be the best candidates for the “Most Independent Thinker” award, but they know how to keep safe. Although we don’t come in contact with too many shepherds and their flock in today’s world, we know a few things about the relationship between the caretaker and the sheep. Like many animals, they grow accustomed to distinguishing human voice – they can recognize the nuance between their shepherd and the voice of a stranger. They stick together for the most part and will follow their shepherd where ever he or she may lead them. They don’t tend to rely on instincts outside of those that reflect the “herd” mentality – stay close to your leader and keep your friends and family close as well. Maybe they are pretty smart after all, since they tend not to wander off on their own to rely on their own survival instincts.
The Bible is full of sheep and shepherd stories and Jesus uses this role of leading people who follow him to teach throughout his many lessons. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really like the fact that I have free will to do with as I please. In fact, I am quite adept at doing exactly what I please, when I want to do it and how I want to do it! Luckily for me (and through an abundance of grace and mercy), things have worked out nicely for me most of the time. But when they don’t work out well, and I find myself away from the flock and feeling alone and lost, you can be sure that the reasons I find myself there can be traced directly back to my own wanderings. No one led me there and my reliance on my Lord is often nowhere to be found.
So how do we balance our God given ability to make our decisions with our need as Christians to follow our shepherd Jesus Christ? I think I would be the richest woman in the world if I discovered the formula for this that was 100% foolproof. Instead, we all have our good days and bad days (or good years and bad decades) of the results of this imbalance of power. It’s not like we don’t want to follow God’s will for us; not too many believers in Christ wake up and make the decision to deliberately ignore anything God might be saying to us! Instead, we have to make the time to follow Christ AND to use our free will in combination with one another. You’ve heard that story/joke about the man trapped on the roof of his flooded home and he passes on several opportunities to be rescued with a heartfelt, “No thanks, God will save me,” only to drown and hear God’s response to his question about why he wasn’t saved with: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and several other opportunities and you passed up on them all!” God puts opportunities in our path and may even send us a slight (or strong even) nudge and it’s our job to follow the path.
The gift of everlasting life seems like an enormously generous offering in light of our smallish effort of just “following” him. Trusting in God and his will for us takes courage and guts, because many of the paths in front of us seem much easier than the surrender of following God. He promises us that the enemy will not snatch us from him when we put ourselves in his care. He has told us this again and again, yet we do not believe, just as the Jews in this story who want Jesus to tell them plainly that he is the Messiah (as if all the teaching and miracles have just not been enough yet). But our job is simple: Love God with all our heart, love the people of the world and follow his path to do his work on the earth. Simple, but not easy when we want to be our own shepherds.
Dear Lord, the great shepherd of your people, help us to trust in you with all our heart, all our mind and all our soul. We ask you to lead us in your ways and show us mercy when we stray from the flock. We want to follow you, love you and serve you. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.