Sermon ArchivesSunday's Sermon
9th Sunday after Pentecost ___Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 __ July 22, 2018
I am often intrigued by the timing of our lectionary readings.
I say this because last Sunday afternoon Julia and I packed up our little camper and made the trek down to Southwestern MN to the Whitewater State Park for a couple nights of camping.
In a part of the state that is covered by abundant corn and soybean fields and beautiful farms there is the Whitewater River Valley that is also abundant, lush and wild.
During our time away we did some biking and hiking and exploring.
In the evenings we sat by the campfire and reflected upon the day.
It was glorious and I am always tempted to say it was too short, but truth be told, I have found that after a few days away I start to get antsy, thinking about the things that need to get done back here along with a nagging bit of guilt.
I am not proud of this behavior, but it is what it is.
So, on Thursday morning I sat down to read today’s gospel and I encounter this reading that strikes me as very timely because it presents us with a picture of Jesus we might not always consider, a resting Jesus.
I say this because when I read Mark’s gospel I tend to get the impression that Jesus is the poster-child of efficiency and single-mindedness.
He appears to truly be on a mission, moving from village to village, synagogue to synagogue, from the hilltops to the seaside performing a whirlwind of miracles, and teaching with his parables and leaving a path of changed lives.
In a way, Jesus in Mark’s gospel is the archetypical Type A workaholic bound and determined to save the world before time runs out.
Today’s reading is different, to the extent that he is able, Jesus tries to slow down.
In this regard, Jesus recognizes, honors, and tends to his own tiredness as well as that of his disciples.
And I believe this is a good lesson for all of us because I believe we could all benefit from Sabbath rest.
Our reading begins with the disciples returning from their first ministry tour, their inauguration into apostleship.
They are both exhilarated and exhausted, they have stories to tell, thrilling stories of healings, exorcisms, and effective evangelistic efforts.
But Jesus senses that there are darker stories in the mix as well—stories of failure and rejection, perhaps stories of doubt, hard stories they need to process privately with their Teacher.
Whatever the case, Jesus recognizes that the disciples need a break.
They’re tired, overstimulated, underfed, and in significant need of solitude.
Jesus, meanwhile, dare I say it, is not in top form himself.
He just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin and prophet, the one who baptized him and spent a lifetime in the wilderness preparing his way.
Worse, Jesus lost him to murder, a terrifying reminder that God’s beloved are not immune to violent, senseless deaths.
Maybe Jesus ‘own end feels closer, and his own vocation seems more ominous.
In other words, he has many reasons to feel heartbroken.
In verse 31 Jesus says: “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile,” as the crowds cluster around them at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
“Come away with me,” is how another translation puts it, and I hear both tenderness and longing in those words.
Jesus wants to provide a time of rest and recuperation for his friends.
But he’s weary, himself; the hunger he articulates is his own.
One of the lessons I have learned over the years from studying scripture is to never ignore what might be considered a “throwaway” passage.
In other words, pay attention to the seemingly insignificant stuff, because it rarely is insignificant.
For example, in Luke 5:16 we read, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Or, Mark 11:12: “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.”
Or, Matthew 8:24: “Jesus was sleeping.”
Or, Mark 7:24: “He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in.”
The point being, in these “minor” verse, we gain an essential glimpse into Jesus human life.
His need to withdraw, his desire for solitary prayer, his physical hunger, his sleepiness, his inclination to hide.
These glimpses take nothing away from Jesus’ divinity; they enhance it, making it richer and all the more mysterious.
As I read these lines they remind me that the doctrine of the Incarnation is truly Christianity’s best gift to the world.
God—the God of the whole universe—hungers, sleeps, eats, rests, withdraws, and grieves.
In all of these mundane but crucial ways, our God is like us.
Our God rests.
Hopefully this does not come as a surprise.
Hopefully it is seen as a recurring theme, beginning in Genesis when we are told that God rested on the seventh day and called the Sabbath holy.
But let’s be honest—this seems to have little effect on our 21st century lives.
We struggle to honor this gift, we are consumed with the notion that every hour of every day is measured in profits gained and advantages lost.
As I alluded to earlier, rest never comes naturally.
Even when I attempt to rest, initially I am still active
It’s not that I don’t like resting, once I get around to it, I thoroughly enjoy it, but remembering and honoring that invitation and gift to rest can be a challenge.
And some days I even foolishly resist it.
To remember that God rested, that Jesus rested, is to be both startled and humbled.
How dare I claim not to need a break when Christ himself took one?
The Sabbath is the only thing in the creation story that God called holy.
We would all do well to pay attention.
Returning to the Gospel, Jesus is also like us in that sometimes, his best-laid plans to find rest go awry.
According to Mark, Jesus’ retreat by the boat idea fails.
The crowds anticipated his plan, and follow on foot.
By the time he and his disciples reach their longed for destination, the crowds are waiting, and the quiet sanctuary Jesus seeks is nowhere to be found.
So what does Jesus do.
Does he run?
Does he turn the boat around and head off back to the other side? NO.
As Mark puts it, “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things.”
If you noticed, today’s reading began on verse 30 and we read until verse 34 and then we jumped over the feeding of the 5,000 and then we pick up at verse 53 and for the remaining verses we get something of a repeat of the first half where Jesus once again encounters the crowds.
As soon as the boat lands, the crowds go wild, pushing and jostling to get close to Jesus.
They carry their sick to him on mats.
In every village and city Jesus approaches, swarms of people needing healing line the marketplaces.
They press against him.
They beg to touch the fringe of his robe and receive healing.
Once again, his response is compassion.
“All who touched him were healed.”
As I ponder this week’s Gospel reading I am struck by the the ongoing and necessary tension between compassion and self-protection we each face in our day to day lives.
And the great lesson for us is that Jesus lived with this tension, too.
On the one hand, he was unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude.
He saw no shame in retreating when he and his disciples needed a break.
On the other hand, he never allowed his weariness to blunt his compassion.
Unlike me, he realized that he was the last stop for those aching, desperate crowds — those sheep without a shepherd.
Unlike me, he practiced a kind of balance that allowed his love for others, his own inner hungers, and the urgency of the world’s needs to exist in productive tension.
Is there a lesson here? I'm not sure.
Strive for balance?
Recognize weariness when you feel it?
Don't apologize for being human?
Yes. All of those essential things.
But maybe also — and most importantly — this:
We live in a world of dire and constant need.
Sheep die without their shepherds.
There are stakes, and sometimes, what God demands of our hearts is costly.
While balance remains the ideal, it won't always be available in the short-term.
Sometimes, we will have to "err."
We'll have to bend out of balance.
If that happens, what should we do?
In what direction should we bend?
If this week's Gospel story is our example, then the answer is clear.
Seek rest, of course.
But err on the side of compassion. Jesus did.