Sermon of 22 July 2018, preached at First Christian Church of Hampton, Virginia. I was out on the 15th, due to the flu – so no sermon that Sunday! Blessed to have a wonderful, caring congregation who are graced with incredible talent . So, that rather medically enforced break upon me was certainly in mind as I set about writing this sermon!
GOSPEL OF MARK 6:30-34, 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version)
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.
It had been busy times while amid full-time seminary studies, serving three small congregations, working as a painter 30 hours a week on average, and then Julie and I weekend managing a Ronald McDonald House for families, many of whose children had cancer.
We both needed a break.
That meant leaving town, as we headed to the North Carolina mountains, to see Julie’s folks, maybe get some fishing in, sleep, and just recharge. We did that every few months while I was in seminary.
Driving at night, I-40 snaked its way through the narrow valley paralleling the Pigeon River. While not a moonless night, the valley was so narrow, with just enough room for the river and the interstate and no more, the light of the Moon did not reach the interstate.
It was such darkness that the lights of my Volkswagon pickup were quickly swallowed up.
Then, just as we crossed a bridge, I thought I saw a man. His white t-shirt caught by our headlights, in those couple seconds it appeared it was bloodstained. I asked Julie if she had seen him.
We pulled over.
He ran up, talking about an accident on the road beneath the bridge we had crossed. He could not get his friend out.
Following him into the night, Julie got on the CB and called for help, her request relayed to the state police. I would later learn a few truckers had pulled off and kept an eye on her, while one scrambled down the embankment to find me and the man who had hailed us.
Maybe 40 minutes into the search, the trucker and I found the vehicle way down an embankment. A tree held the upside down car in place, maybe 20 feet from the river’s edge. The driver had ejected from the car as it flipped over, and he was pinned under it against the rocky embankment, but alive and talking, as we began pulling out the granite rocks around him.
Our quest for a break from a hectic schedule and demands, interrupted, but really, could one choose otherwise than to act?
WHY I BRING THIS UP
It is this very intersection in our lives, where we find ourselves initiated into a scene echoing the words of Mark, where “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” It is here where Jesus speaks of boundaries, of the need for time and place apart, of partaking of the sabbath, and yet…
We fight it.
And circumstances intrude, don’t they?
From an early age, it is self-evident that this is part of our humanity. One only has to watch how a toddler will fight to stay awake, so as to not miss anything.
We chuckle at it, especially if the child isn’t ours!
We might as we chuckle at ourselves in self-confession.
We do not readily embrace rest. We have oh so many reasons, all of which are meaningful. I know this, because some of you – in addition to my wife! — have kindly reminded me and have rightly held me accountable to rest.
And so it is that Mark brings into clear focus the disciples and Jesus who are weary, worn-out, tired. Jesus invites them to rest, an important, biblical invitation to God’s people. Alas, there is a sting of truth in the comment by one pastor recently, who writes “we make busyness a badge of honor,” with the implication that we are, in his words, “worthwhile because (we’re) busy.” Our worth, however, isn’t from the hours we work or volunteer or the lack of rest taken. Our worth is the givenness of God, for that is His grace.
Now we do sort of fence ourselves in to do something about that need for rest, well, at least for an hour on Sunday morning.
We used to take the whole day.
In listening to each team’s report, Jesus must have been moved by their stories of healing children, inspiring people, and boldly witnessing, but he couldn’t miss the fatigue in their faces.
The disciples certainly earned a break.
Returning from their “sending out,” the word used to describe them, “apostles”, meaning “the ones sent out”, this is the first time they are given this title. They have been so busy, that the text describes them as having “no leisure even to eat”. If it were today, their cars would have been littered with coffee cups from 7-11 and fast food trash from various drive-thrus.
So, Jesus said to them: Come away for a while and -rest. I know a place close by ~ just across the lake ~ a deserted place, literally a bit of wilderness.
Jesus calls them to rest from their weariness. While not uttering the word “sabbath,” it is that spirit which permeates the words of Jesus as he says “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” He wasn’t inviting them to drop out. He made no suggestion that their ministry of witness and compassion was complete.
He simply invited them to the life pause which is the sabbath, an invitation to observe the proper rhythm of the Christian life, one that they accepted – as they got into a boat and headed off.
Unfortunately for the disciples, rest got deferred.
The crowds anticipated where they were headed. Perhaps we can imagine how the disciples might have felt when they saw that crowd waiting for them on the other side of the lake.
But the focus shifts. I find it fascinating that the crowds always recognized Jesus, as Mark really gives no physical description. Rather, Jesus is recognized for his very presence. Seeing the crowd that found them, Jesus also had compassion, demonstrating again his concern for the people of Israel whom he likened to sheep without a shepherd. His compassion, however, isn’t pity.
It is humanity connecting to humanity.
The word used in the text literally translated is that Jesus could feel the people’s need in his very bowels, where in that age the Roman-Greco world thought emotions resided.
It’s the kind of compassion that suffers alongside another, and so the tired and worn down Jesus chooses to suffer alongside those also tired and worn down by oppression, sin and illness. He sacrifices his own need for rest, for the sake of others finding rest. As another has observed, “The passage forces us to simultaneously believe in a God who calls us to rest, yet willingly gives up his own rest for others.”
I think that may be where we go off the proverbial rails. We forget our Lord’s words about the importance of Sabbath, the literal breaking in upon the craziness of life. We need to rest, Jesus tells us today.
Our world is a hectic place.
With all the miracles of modern technology we are only a cellphone away from whoever thinks he or she needs us. We get addicted to being needed, which risks an imbalanced life and arid spiritual existence.
But, says Jesus, “Come away.”
The beauty of the commandment about the Sabbath is that it calls us to move away from all that normally fills our lives.
And just maybe, in that sacred space and time, with some time to practice the presence of God in our lives, we can better assess how we can effectively do God’s work.
I think this was what the British Bible teacher, William Barclay was getting at in his ageless commentary on this passage from Mark, writing: “The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving people in the market place.” [William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 157]
The essence of the Christian life exists in this ebb and flow.
Of moving into the presence of God from the busyness of life.
Of returning to involvement with people having been enriched by our spiritual renewal.
Of remembering the Old Testament teaching of Sabbath, which insists we are made for more than work, but in our humanity – we require relaxation, retreat, and refueling, not merely for the work before us, but for we ourselves who seek to be God’s faithful disciples.
I would ask you all, this week ahead, amidst all you do for others, to commit to MAKING time to rest and renew. Our work will wait – because it is of God.
©2018 by Vinson W. Miller, Hampton VA.