Scripture - Mark 6:30-34; 53-56
Mark 6:30-34; 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version)
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He 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. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As 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.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And 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’s a bit ironic to be preaching a sermon on rest and renewal during Chebeague’s busiest season...or maybe not since a fair number of us are starting to feel that slide into losing all semblance of control you might have had over your summer plans...or perhaps I’m only speaking for myself here. In any case, where I want to begin this morning is with something I came across this past week -- it wasn’t the first time I had seen it. I first saw it several months ago. It’s a new fitness craze that was developed last year - a gym workout especially designed for the stressed out, over-worked, and sleep deprived. It’s not some new form of yoga or meditative kick-boxing….it’s called napercise. Napercise was developed by David Lloyd Clubs over in the United Kingdom and it’s a 15 minute stretch and workout session followed by a 45 minute nap. They provide the sleep masks, mood music, and the cots, covers, and pillows. The instructors even drop the temperature in the room to induce extra calorie-burning while participants are asleep. Reactions to this class - which you pay for - were initially positive. Among the target demographics were “exhausted parents” who may find it difficult or challenging to fully relax at home. (I wonder why). I was unable to find out if Napercise, which came out in May of 2017, was successful or not or still a thing over a year later; I suspect it didn’t take because napping is something that you can do for free. In any case, the mere fact that someone had the idea to capitalize on naps in this way points to a deep need and truth in our culture - we are over-worked and in need of rest.
The problem, perhaps, goes even deeper than this. Our society is addicted to busyness - our worth tied to what we do and what we produce. We are enslaved to our to-do lists. The world runs at a 24/7 pace and we always feel the need for more time - to fit this event into our schedules or spend more time with our families or reprioritize x over y to make everything balance out as if our days are a cosmic account ledger that we somehow need to reconcile at the end of the week only to discover that we’ve already borrowed next week’s energy to pay for what we did yesterday. We know that this isn’t right...that we’re tired and overworked and stressed as a culture...and we know all the right things to do and the cliches - that we need to “stop and smell the roses” or “you can’t take care of anyone if you can’t take care of yourself first”...that “we’re human beings instead of human doings” or any number of sayings that are true but we can’t seem to put into practice. There just doesn’t seem to be any time to stop...to rest...and to be filled….
Jesus and his disciples face the problem of busyness in our text for this morning. The disciples were coming back from being sent off two by two - gathering around Jesus and filling him in on all their adventures - the healings, the teachings, the exorcisms - and in all that commotion - perhaps in their excitement, perhaps because there was just so many people wanting more from them -- they didn’t even have time to eat. Has that ever happened to you - you were so engrossed in a project or a deadline that you look up and realize that lunchtime was three hours ago? Or in your haste to get everything done, you eat as you’re checking things off your to-do list...for the disciples, eating wasn’t even on the agenda.
So Jesus, in his wisdom, says stop. Come away. By yourselves. Let’s go where no one will follow - a deserted place - and rest. Just stop and rest.
They all pile into the boat and sail across the sea and some of the crowds were able to figure out where Jesus and the disciples were going. Word spread, and people hurried there on foot from all the times and got there before they did. Jesus sees the crowds and instead of dismissing them, instead of ordering them to leave, instead of grumbling about this interruption in what is supposed to be a restful retreat for his disciples, Jesus is moved with compassion and begins to teach them.
No matter where Jesus and his disciples go, the people recognize them, and line up for healing. There’s an urgency and fire around what Jesus and his disciples are about, a passionate excitement for the work of building the kingdom, of being a part of something big and important. But even in the magnitude of the work, in the midst of the miracles and divine teachings - we see a very human Jesus. A Jesus who needs rest - who desires to retreat for solitude and prayer, who gets hungry and thirsty and tired. We constantly see passages in Mark where he mentions Jesus withdrawing by himself to pray, hiding himself away from the crowds, sleeping in the boat or needing to eat. Jesus needing rest reminds me of the creation story, when even God rested from the work of building the universe. And there is this thread throughout all of scripture on the importance of sabbath rest - drawing away from the world to engage with matters of the spirit and to rest...not just so that you can go out and reengage feeling refreshed and renewed and ready for whatever’s next….but to restore your very soul.
Come away to a deserted place...all by yourselves...and rest awhile.
Rest is just the tip of the iceberg here in this passage, though the need to stop and take a break is a real one. In the Christian tradition, there is a deep spiritual element to rest and to withdrawing to that deserted place that merits paying attention to. It’s not just taking that much needed vacation or putting your feet up on the couch and binging Netflix at the end of a busy day -- coming away with Jesus to rest is a spiritual practice.
With all the demands on our lives, we Christians face the temptation to derive spiritual benefits from the things we are already doing - walking through nature, cooking a nourishing meal, reading or talking with a friend - or perhaps, if you are more justice-oriented, the advocacy work from last weekend’s protest or calling your representatives and senators as an act of kingdom-building or feeding the hungry and clothing the naked - and I’m not here to negate the value of those activities and the way they can feed our spirits or change the world or even change ourselves. It is important work. But this “spiritual life on the fly” isn’t going to sustain us for the work God has for us to do. As Claudio Carvalhaes, professor at Union Theological Seminary puts it, “Very few understand that spiritual disciplines actually entail painful processes of learning to listen and to deal with our desires and our death drive.”
Jesus knows the struggles we face in our daily lives - the pushes and pulls and demands on our time...especially when the work is important. Yet still he calls, Come away to a deserted place and rest.
It is only in those deserted places where we can truly regain our sense of self - who we are not in relationship to our families or friends or our job or our community - but simply ourselves and who God created us to be.
In those deserted places, the state of our hearts becomes known - we only bring ourselves...we refamiliarize ourselves with those places of peace and hope....and we discover the places of anxiety or fear within us...and in doing so, invite God to reshape that landscape to free us from enslavement to our broken places.
In those deserted places, we cut ourselves off from the demands of the urgent - the cell phone notifications, the constant news cycle, our hurried lives -- and open ourselves up to the wellspring of true life - God’s love and grace - that makes us whole and that enables us to be a sign of God’s love and action in the world.
When it comes to our work as a church - and as people who follow Jesus - there is always more to do - because our presence and work in the world as Christians are vital to those who are the least of these in our world. There is no escaping those who are sick or homeless, poor or stigmatized, hurting, addicted, or lonely...and we need to attend to their needs, to welcome them into our homes and into our lives, to work to undo policies rooted in hatred or fear, to be present with those in their suffering. The work is never ending. Jesus, himself, couldn’t stop at times - so driven was he by compassion for those who needed God’s love and care.
Yet even Jesus knew he needed to stop. To return to the source. To go to the deserted place to rest. No one can run forever on fumes. The risk is burnout.
The rhythm, then, is to be both attentive to the things that are crying out for our attention -- to discern where God is at work and what the Spirit might be asking for us to do -- but also to be attentive to our hearts...to our spirits...to be sustained by a strong spiritual life, with daily spiritual practices of prayer and solitude and silence, of being in that deserted place - to allow God to penetrate to the heart of who we are, take root ever more firmly, and grow so that we may better live in the way Jesus invites us to live. We aren’t trying to balance our spiritual life with the rest of what we have to do as if it were one more item on the to-do list - instead, we are called into a rhythm of abiding with Christ and fruitfulness in the world for the sake of God’s greater kingdom work...and for the sake of our spirits.
As followers of Jesus, we are invited both to go out into the world...but also to come away with him...to that deserted place...to rest and be still and know that God is present with us...sustaining us...restoring us. To be reminded of who we are as beings infinitely loved by God...to remember that personal love God has for each and every one of us. And to let that love seep into our hearts and spirits and become the wellspring of compassion out of which our whole lives flow. I pray this week that you might make the time to come away with Jesus - that your times of daily prayer and solitude might fill your spirits - that you might take steps to let your days grow out of this grounding in the source of our being so that you may be made new - for the work of God ahead of us. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.