Text of the sermon delivered by the Rev. Katie Hargis on July 19, 2015 (Proper 11B) at St. Cornelius Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The British Bible teacher, William Barclay, commenting on our Gospel lesson from Mark, makes this statement: The rhythm of the Christian life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving people in the market place. I am convinced that the essence of the Christian life is this ebb and flow of moving into the presence of God, from the busy-ness of life, and then returning to involvement with people, enriched by our spiritual renewal. How can we do God’s work without some time to practice the presence of God in our lives? But prayer and devotion that does not lead to practical action for good, is simply self-indulgence.
Although we were distracted last week by that disconcerting reading about the beheading of John the Baptist, Mark is really continuing his story of Jesus’ response to the return of the disciples from their first missionary journey in the countryside of Galilee. They had reported to Jesus what had happened as they traveled around, sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom.
The twelve disciples had had an exhilarating, but exhausting, experience. This was the first time they were on their own without Jesus with them. You will remember that they had preached, they casted out demons, they anointed the sick, and they called people to respond to God by changing their lives.
As Jesus listened to each “team” report, he must have been moved by their tender stories of healing children, inspiring people, and boldly witnessing to Jesus. But the Lord must have seen fatigue in their faces and so, in a gracious moment of concern, 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.
Come away and rest. What beautiful words. An invitation to step out of all of the bustle and activity of life. Rest. A chance to slow down, to change the pace. Come away for a while and rest.
July is vacation time for many people in this country. I always hope that people will take some time off to be with family, to travel, to relax, to spend time re-knitting the torn fabric of their lives. The hope of escape into the mountains or to the beach can sustain a person during those dark days of occupational drudgery.
But despite the blessed potential that a vacation affords, I know that many do not take any time away.
Some argue that it is too difficult to take time off — you have to work twice as hard to get ready to go, and then when you return, you have extra hours of work to catch up. They insist that it is not worth it.
Others are actually afraid to be away, lest the people at the top get the idea that the company can function very well without them. In a time of down-sizing no one wants to be the unessential person.
If people do go away, they generally take work with them through the wonders of portable technology…cell phones, laptops, and all those other forms of instant communication that can allow work to stick with us like gum on our shoe.
I recently learned of a study out of UCLA that analyzed the typical week of thirty-two middle class families in the Los Angeles area. The purpose of the study was to take a detailed snapshot of American family life in the early 21st century. The conclusions of the study are disheartening, reporting in part…
So consumed with working, collecting, amassing, and generally “getting ahead,” the people studied actually spent very little
time together enjoying what they were working for. Something like 50 of the 64 parents in the study never stepped outside their houses in the course of about a week. When they gave tours of their houses they would say — “Here’s the backyard, I don’t have time to go there.” They were working a lot at home. Leisure time was spent in front of the TV or at the computer.
The study would indicate that most people….take no time for rest or renewal!
When Jesus invited his disciples to go away with him to the deserted place, he was not inviting them to drop out. He made no suggestion that their ministry of witness and compassion was over now. No, he was simply inviting them to pause in a proper manner before continuing to bless and to serve. It was an invitation to observe the proper rhythm of the Christian life. And they accepted that invitation. They got into a boat and headed off for the first of all Christian retreats.
But then Mark tells us that a strange thing happened on the way to that deserted place. A large crowd saw where they were going and got there ahead of them. When Jesus and the disciples reached the shore, over five thousand people were waiting for them. Alas, even for Jesus, work stuck like gum on his shoe!
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 Jesus also had compassion for the crowd. We know that Jesus would again and again demonstrate his concern for the people of Israel whom he likened to sheep without a shepherd.
We need to hear 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 cell-phone’s ding away from whoever thinks he or she needs us, and we get addicted to being needed. We must be careful that we do not wake up with an imbalanced life and an arid spiritual existence. We need to honor those sacred words posted on the screen before a movie —Please silence your cell phones!
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. Jesus reminds us that he is not an angry boss, who works us from sunrise to sunset. Today we are told that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who assures us that we shall not want. Jesus is the one who promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Today our Lord calls us to join him in the deserted place, a place where we can be alone — not forever, but for awhile. He calls us to find that deserted place, from time to time, where there is no Wi-fi, email, or voice-mail, a place where briefly there is no Facebook or Twitter. In the Gospel today, Jesus challenges us to recharge our batteries…with Him and no one else.
He calls us to rest for awhile. This rest is not laziness or irresponsibility. This Sabbath rest is not a perpetual state but just for a time away. But we do need to rest or we will be of no use to anyone, especially to God, for if we work like the devil, we will soon be in his employ.
So I urge you to embrace the spiritual practice of rest and renewal for Jesus’ sake. The good news is that we should take a break at times. Rest, relaxation, and vacation are not only God-given gifts. They are God-directed necessities. And, while the rest of the world may think we are a little crazy to stop while they are running…we will be crazy in just the right way. And I am convinced that we will discover that…the peace of God that passes all human understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.