Thoughts from vacation.
Me and my buddy Kathleen on the Beltline in Atlanta last week.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Since you came to church, I’ll assume you’re okay with Bible-ing with me a little harder than usual for a second.
Before the Gospel lesson: If you were to have to preach about this, what would you preach about?
“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.”
Sometimes, we preachers find that our first instinct in reading a story or other text sets us on the road to the best sermon we could preach on it. It happens more the more you try preaching, but I think that most of us learn to question our first reactions.
There are times, you see, when our modern American reading of the Bible can obscure the words themselves, even when those words contain pure Gospel. Case in point: I missed this on the first three readings:
“Come away… and rest awhile.” (v. 31)
You know, the only thing Jesus actually told anyone to do in the whole thing.
If I have a glow about me today, it’s because I’ve just returned from vacation.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at taking “real” vacations. I often use my days off to go help out friends or family, and I’m incredibly thankful that my job is one that’s flexible so that I can do those things. On my usual days off here in South Hadley, I usually can’t find cause to stop moving. I plug my ears with podcasts and do housework or mow the lawn or go running. One of my favorite feelings is the internal hum of productivity. That’s why it takes a lot for me to tell you that this sermon is shorter than usual because I was quite serious about it this time.
Of course, constant productivity is not sustainable, because no human is infinite. It also doesn’t really help those around us. I often say that the true measure of leadership is how well your role gets performed when you’re not there.
(This is only one reason why I will never be elected President.
This is also why I believe the presidency itself is broken — because no matter how we feel about any of the flawed people who’ve ever filled the role, none of them has ever been infinite.)
Ancient and modern wisdom agree on a few things, and one of them is the need for rest. Our own stream of faith traditions calls it Sabbath, or something similar.
Modern wisdom calls it something like self-care.
Of course, we’re all capable of only varying amounts and degrees of rest.
Kids and aging parents and other family or work responsibilities can whittle away at our time to rest. No matter how brief, however, rest is still a human need; it’s one that helps us be more whole, more human. So if you have no other time to rest other than while you’re here, take a moment to breathe with me.
Come away and rest awhile.
One of my favorite things about getting rest, no matter how short or long, is that you have time to actually think: to think about what you’re grateful for, about what you value, and other existential questions. Or, if you’re me, you spend a little of that time thinking about modern pop theology.
Most of you know by now that I’ve had a sort of meandering faith journey. I was raised Southern Baptist, then I became a Methodist, then I finally found my place among the Lutherans. And while there are many reasons that the ELCA is home, you taught me one key thing should’ve been obvious, but when I heard Lutherans really make a thing of it, it changed everything: that there’s only one Savior and I’m not him. That the Gospel is a story about God; we’re just lucky enough to get to be part of it.
In other words, what should be obvious, but isn’t: we are not Jesus Christ.
Tendency to make ourselves into Jesus, exhibit A: the Gospel today.
I don’t know what you thought about when you first heard it, but I read that Jesus suggests resting, and then the crowds crash in, and rest is put aside.
Message we get: in times like this, with people in need, we don’t have time to rest.
The world is crazy and chaotic and people are hurting. There are always more crowds. Maybe, we think, resting is irresponsible.
This is when I feel like the Holy Spirit pats me on the head with, “Oh honey. (It’s God’s very favorite thing to call me.) You’re not Jesus.”
Whenever we read a story, we identify with characters in the story. Today, we may say we are the disciples in this story, trying our best to follow Jesus. Jesus commands us to rest when we must and to try hard when we can. We get to be part of God’s work.
Or we may say today that we feel more like the crowds in this story, pressing in with our aching souls and aching bellies. For us, Jesus comes into our midst to heal us and feed us. The feeding of the 5,000 is in the verses we skipped out of the middle of this passage, you know.
Either way, we are not Jesus.
A wise Lutheran pastor I know, when speaking of overwork, said, “Honey, you don’t have to run yourself dead for Jesus. He already died for you.”
We are not Jesus. Thank God.
This gives you permission to listen to the one commandment Jesus gave in this whole story: “Come away and rest awhile.” You do not have to heal the world, but you get to be part of its healing. And that healing includes your own soul as well as your neighbor’s, and it doesn’t quite work to be part of healing your neighbor’s soul while paying no attention to your own.
So come away and rest awhile. Lean into the prayers and the singing and the bread and the wine and the grace and the people here who love you, whether you’re brand new, come occasionally, or show up all the time.Whether you feel yourself part of the crowds or one of the disciples, none of us is Jesus. Jesus is here for us.
We are saved by grace alone. There is nothing to earn here. You are loved just because you breathe.
Come away and rest awhile.
It’s my job here to preach the Gospel, and that seems like Good News to me. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go over here, so we can sing and pray and eat and rest awhile. Amen.