Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Did you hear it? Sound familiar? 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 awhile.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat–Mark 6:30-31

Not a lot has changed in a couple thousand years, has it? There is still more work to be done than there are hours in a day, and burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress-related health issues are prominent among those who work in “helping” professions and vocations.

This week’s gospel lesson provides a strong wake-up call to all who lead and serve the Lord (in and out of the Chruch): if you want to be an effective disciple and leader, then you must be a good steward of yourself first. 

  • Think of the familiar instructions that flight attendants review before take-off. If that oxygen mask drops down, you had better put it on your own face in order to be prepared to help others. 

If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we possibly take care of God’s people? And if you think this issue is solely directed at vocational church workers, think again. All who serve in ministry programs, Christian education, or on councils, or committees need to be aware of good personal stewardship. Those of us who lead must also model effective stewardship of the self for others.

In our Gospel lesson for this week Jesus and his apostles try to take a break away from all the crowds. As soon as they cross the lake though, there are more people awaiting them. The people have gone from suspicion and despise of Jesus and his followers to great excitement and interest. I can only imagine what Jesus and his apostles are feeling. They have been swarmed with no breaks. I would guess that maybe they are feeling tired, overwhelmed, and ready for some much-needed time away with one another to process, rest, and prepare for what lies ahead. There is no such opportunity though. The news has spread like wildfire that this Jesus has a power and a message that is surpassing all expectations that have been set before him.  

As we reach verse 34, it shows that even though Jesus and his apostles are searching for a place away, Jesus moves forward with compassion as he sees the great crowds return to them. He continues from this place performing healings as they flock towards him with all their sick. 

This story of Jesus moving forward in compassion, even in the moments in which he and his companions seek rest reminds me of a good friend of mine who once said that sure, she had problems, but surely God had bigger priorities than simply her small crisis in which she felt completely overwhelmed and swamped. There were people in the world dying, starving, and facing oppression every day. Surely God could not have the time or space for her amid all of that!  It pained me to hear this. My friend was going through difficult things, things that faith and community could surely help to empower, uplift, and support her through. Yet, she simply did not believe it was troublesome or large enough to warrant any of those things. 

As folks who are deeply concerned with the world’s largest needs and places of brokenness and injustice sometimes, we forget that God is so much bigger and so much more all encompassing than we could ever imagine. Yes, breaking the cycles of poverty, racism, ageism, sexism, and so many more things are imperative to live into being the Kingdom of God here and now. That does not mean though, that God does not step out of the boat and care for our every ills during those systemic battles as well. God cares deeply when we lose loved ones, face intimidating circumstances, face illness, encounter difficult decisions, or any other everyday obstacle. God shows up for all of it. 

Another important piece to mention while reading this Scripture is that WE are not God or Jesus. Whether you are a lay leaders, clergy, rostered ministers, church employee, or disciple in a secular setting…NONE of us are called (or sometimes prodded) to deny our need for sabbath or rest through this text. We are not called to be sacrificial lambs, but instead to point always TO the sacrificial lamb who heals us and makes us new each and every day. 

Even though the average work week for American workers technically has fallen over the years, such statistics can be misleading. In fact, a study released back in 2001 by the United Nations International Labor Organization found that Americans work longer hours than any other workers in the industrialized world. Americans also tend to take less paid vacation than their counterparts around the globe–two weeks rather than the four to six weeks European workers get.

Granted, a lot has changed since the days when many in the labor force punched a clock and worked regular, dependable hours. The economy, globalization, technology, and a more flexible and permeable work culture have shifted the way work is viewed but has also contributed to heightened stress and longer hours. Many workers simply must put in extra time (sometimes unpaid) just to keep their jobs.

This reality means both vocational church workers and people in the pews are feeling the stress of more work hours, multiple priorities, and less emphasis on Sabbath and self-care. It isn’t likely that this environment is likely to change any time soon, so we need to take a cue from Jesus’ example of leadership and model good self care for those we serve/lead/care for, something clergy are famous for doing a poor job of overall being a good example.

If we are to model compassion and show mercy as disciples of Christ, our spiritual, emotional, and physical batteries need regular recharging. Otherwise, our joy and delight in service risks becoming mere duty, and sharing the gospel an obligation rather than a passion and lifestyle. Remember that stewardship is about all of life, not just the balance of one’s bank account. 

  • If you are the picture of perfect health, congratulations and great job! Make sure to encourage others to follow your lead in a realistic and healthy way. 
  • If you fall far short of the wellness mark, consider what you might need to do to make changes and how you could invite others into the conversation and process. 
  • As we share our struggles with self-care and how we try to do better, we give others permission to admit their struggles, hurts, and pain. 

Together, as the Body of Christ, we have the opportunity to encourage one another and hold each other accountable for wellness, wholeness, and stewardship of all of God’s good gifts.

As you know from reading the rest this week’s passage from Mark’s gospel, the disciples never got that much needed respite that Jesus encouraged them to take–at least not on this particular occasion. There was work to be done, and people to help. Sometimes even our best laid plans for rest, exercise, or relaxation get derailed. Don’t give up. Keep trying to feed yourself even as you feed others. Don’t let your emotional, physical, or spiritual well run dry. The entire Body will suffer.

Jesus is attentive to the practices of his disciples and is aware of the pulling and pushing we all go through daily. We can easily fall into the cosmetic treatment of the spirit with spiritual lotions, smoky prayers and healing baths while announcing that this kind of caring for oneself is necessary. 

But we can also fall into the trap of working hard for the cause of justice without attending to our souls and our spiritual and emotional needs. I think this latter group is the one Jesus is concerned with and talking to here—those who do not stop to think, to meditate, to ponder, to wonder, to pay attention, to pray. 

To those, Jesus says: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

  • In the desert, we can have a sense of ourselves again. No noise besides our noise and the wind, no presence besides our presence, no company besides the plants and animals.
  • In the desert, there is no peace if our heart has no peace. There is only fear in the desert if our hearts live in fear.
  • In the desert, we must control our minds not for the sake of controlling it but rather, to be able to free ourselves from the grips of anxiety, fear, and endless movement.
  • In the desert, we hear the words we speak, we hear the silence we produce, we attend to the movements of our body.
  • In the desert, we recover our hearts back again from our cellphones, our rushed lives. 

The desert is not a thing in itself but a corridor that functions as a way in and out of our constant work for justice. To know ourselves (the desert) is to know what we do better (the world). Thus, to know the work we do is to know ourselves.

The world is in such a precarious situation that we need this constant movement in and out of the desert that solid spiritual practices provide. These practices become important because our presence and work as Christians in the world are fundamental to the lives of those who are the least of these. We walk around and see those who are sick, beggars, homeless, the poor. We attend to their needs, we welcome them home, we talk at church about how to offer shelter, how to be present, how to undo policies of hatred and debunk feelings of xenophobia, fear, and anger.

Along with the poor, the earth is also on a path of brutal destruction. We are eliminating the basic structures of the earth because of our desires, greed, and entitlement. 

Companies are taking over water to make bottled water, sodas, and all kinds of drinks. Agribusinesses have taken the land and destroyed it to raise cattle and plant corn and soy, all to meet our ever-growing appetites.

The sea is loaded with plastic and garbage that result from our consumerism, and overfishing depletes seas and lakes. Forests are turned into deserts, not proper for habitation much less for spiritual development. The earth, like the poor, is rushing toward us, asking to be healed. Every tree is asking us for support, every lake is crying while being poisoned by excrements from industries, every fish is begging to survive, every bird is singing to remind us of our place in creation.

We have so much to do, as Jesus says. At times, even Jesus couldn’t stop. His heart was driven by deeper compassion. But—and this is important—Jesus knew he needed to stop. Nobody can run too much and do things without stopping or getting sick.

Our task is both to be attentive to all that is crying for our attention and demanding our care. Stricken, poor human beings from all places. The earth everywhere. As people of God, we are called to discern the spirit of our times and see where the Spirit of God lives and what the Spirit is asking us to do—the work of God.

In the same way, Jesus is telling us that we have to pause and pay attention to our hearts, to our movements and to how we are living our lives. Without a strong spiritual life, oriented by daily spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, of pause and loneliness, we cannot do all the work we need to do and we cannot be all that we are called to be. A heart without action is ineffective, and an action without a heart is empty. Jesus is calling us to have a compassionate heart and to do strong actions of justice. Both things! Together!