2 Samuel 7:1-14a – David wants to build God’s house, but instead God will establish David’s house, his offspring.
Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! The days are coming when I will raise up from David a righteous branch.
Ephesians 2:11-22 – You uncircumcised were once strangers to the covenant, without hope, without God. You who were far off have been brought near. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances that he might create one humanity out of two. No longer strangers.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – Jesus to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.”
Hymns: No Longer Strangers (David Haas, from Gather), It is Well With My Soul
Long ago when I was learning to type, I used to delight in typing letters to my friends without pressing the space bar. Now when you don’t press the space bar you’ve got a real mess and there is much decoding to be done. It is the spaces in between that enable us to understand the message.
Life is very much the same. It is the spaces in between that help us understand life. But some of us keep forgetting to press the space bar. And why do we forget? Well, many of us have the disease that some doctors are calling hurry sickness.
– Macrina Wiederkehr
Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up with you.
– Doug Kling
A great book to read about the importance of taking time for rest, Sabbath, is The Power of Pause, by Terry Hershey. It might be a good book to read to prime your thinking for preaching on the gospel text this week.
Jesus has a rough go of it in Mark 6. Jesus preaches in his own hometown on the Sabbath. He is not received well. “Is this not the carpenter?” They ask if this isn’t the son of Mary (Mark never mentions Joseph, Mary’s husband, in his gospel), the guy with four brothers and some sisters. (It’s a stretch to hear these brothers and sisters, so we ought to read it as Mark writes it – these are his actual siblings). Jesus is astonished at their unbelief of these people in his hometown.
Following this, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach repentance (like John), to anoint and heal the sick and to cast out demons.
Then Jesus’ forerunner, the prophet John, is beheaded. In Mark’s gospel, the earliest of the four gospels, no familial connection is mentioned between Jesus and John. John is simply a prophet who is baptizing with water and announcing that another, greater prophet will be coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized by John, implying that perhaps Jesus might have, at first, been one of John’s disciples. It is important to note that Jesus does not begin his ministry in Galilee until after John is arrested (Mark 1:9), causing some to conjecture that Jesus’ ministry is, in part, sparked by John’s death. What if Jesus began with the intention of carrying on John’s ministry during his imprisonment? However, differences emerge in their ministries right away. For instance, John’s disciples fast, while Jesus’ disciples do not fast. In any case, the prophet who baptized Jesus is now dead. This must weigh heavily on Jesus and his disciples.
His poor reception in his hometown, the sending of the disciples, and the death of John the Baptist all likely took it out of Jesus. He needed time away, and perhaps the disciples did too, after teaching and healing in the villages of Galilee. We read, therefore, in this Sunday’s gospel:
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.
When was the last time you went away to a deserted place by yourself to rest for a while? Whether you call this a retreat, a vacation, or continuing education, Jesus invites you to take time away from the rigors of your life and ministry, “and rest a while.” This is an excellent text for this time of year, when kids are out of school and people are taking vacations.
A recent article in Fortune Magazine said most workers in the U.S. don’t take all their vacation time. The U.S. Travel Association found that U.S. workers generally leave five vacation days on the table. A Huffington Post article reported that 42% of U.S. workers took ZERO vacation time in 2014. Is it any wonder stress is the number one killer in the U.S?
Consider this, if we are going to be about the risky business of preaching a prophetic word, it might not always be received with joy. If we are going to be carrying out a healing ministry in the community, where will we go to fill up when our tanks are empty? I am not just talking about pastors. I am talking about the risky ministry of all the baptized. In my book Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy Through an Ancient Practice, I make the case for daily prayer, weekly Sabbath, and annual vacation. We need rest if we are going to do our very best work.
Jesus understood this. The text says that they were coming and going so much they barely had time to even eat. Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with being devoted to what you do. There’s nothing wrong with loving it. It becomes wrong when it starts eating away at you or your relationships. Jesus knew his ministry and that of his disciples would deteriorate if they didn’t find time for renewal. If Jesus needed time away to recharge, isn’t it likely that we too need that?
Does your congregation do an annual spiritual retreat? If so, this might be a great time to promote that event and encourage people to make it a priority. Invite people to think through their year. When are they going to take time for prayer and reflection, fun and play? When are you? Plan it out now. Put it in your calendar. If you don’t, the pressures of daily life and work will come crashing in, crowding out time for respite. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
The crowd sees them leave in the boat and follows them around the lake on foot. When Jesus and his disciples reach the shore, the crowd is are already there. You may feel this happen as well, as people follow you into your vacation, these days perhaps electronically. It would be easy to feel irritation, but Jesus felt compassion for them, sheep without a shepherd.
Our text skips over the feeding of the multitude. We will pick up that story next week, although from John’s gospel (also chapter 6). We pick up the story with another boat landing, and Jesus being mobbed by those in need of healing.
I’ll speculate a bit about two things. First, in a society without hospitals as we know them, itinerant healers were abundant. The line between medicine and religion was blurred. Praying, touching, anointing, bathing, and healing were all tied up together. What makes Jesus stand out is the fact that he is not charging for his services. This is not mentioned in Mark’s gospel, but Matthew makes it clear in his version of the sending (10:8), “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus is giving away freely that for which the Temple authorities require a sacrifice, and the itinerant folks require drachmas. In other words, free healthcare is the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry. We get here a clear picture of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not some hippie living off the land. He is very, very busy. He is mobbed wherever he goes. People are lining up. They’re even climbing the roof, digging holes, and letting down the sick on stretchers. They’re desperate. Jesus and his disciples are working hard.
Second, we must see these events as conditions that lead to the miraculous feeding of the multitude. All of these events create the conditions for the miracle: the rejection in Nazareth, the planning, training, and sending of the disciples, the death of his baptizer, being mobbed by those in need, being exhausted, and needing rest. Perhaps the most amazing things God will do in our lives and ministry will be after the difficult, painful, seemingly impossible things.
So when the storms of life assail us, when the difficult things seem unbearable, when you are at the end of your rope and desperate beyond words, it may be at that very moment that the most powerful stuff will happen. To quote from 2 Corinthians, where we spent much of June…
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
– 2 Corinthians 4:7
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Mother Teresa says, “God cannot fill what is full.” And so we empty ourselves, sometimes by our own choice, other times, not, praying that God will fill us.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…
– Philippians 2:5-7a
Come away to a deserted place…
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
– Isaiah 40:29-31
Be still and know that I am God.
– Psalm 46