Holy Rest

2 Samuel 7:1-14a | Psalm 89:20-37 | Ephesians 2:11-22 | Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Last week, I spoke about The Way of Love practices that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry shared at General Convention. Christians use these practices to live a Jesus-centered life, and I realized as I reflected upon them, most of them are already built into my life, as I hope they are in yours. It’s up to us to determine how well we tend to the practices and how deliberate we are about keeping God first in our priorities. As one of the preachers said at convention, we know what we need to do to be closer to Jesus, to be healthy and whole . . . we just so often don’t do it.

The disciples gathered around Jesus, however, are excited to tell him all that they’ve done because they’re living into the holy Way of Jesus. Just a bit earlier in the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two to exorcise demons, to anoint and heal the sick in mind, body, and spirit. They worked hard in the name of Jesus, and while they’re probably not perfect, they are excited for the work they’ve done well. Now as they gather with their beloved teacher and Lord, Jesus tells them it’s time to rest.

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” Jesus says (Mk 6:31).

So, with the invitation to rest coming directly from Jesus, I expect the disciples to cross the sea or the bay and set up camp, sharing stories from their work and settling into a peaceful and quiet rest for the night.

But is that what happens? Of course not. The good news of the work that the disciples and Jesus have been doing has already spread. People have noticed; they’ve been paying attention. Everyone now, it would seem, has heard about Jesus and the disciples, and apparently everyone needs something made right or whole again. The multitudes not only follow Jesus and the disciples, but they arrive in advance, too. They’re waiting for them before they get to the previously-deserted place, anticipating watching someone be healed if not being healed themselves.

Even though he’s already declared that it’s time for the disciples to rest, Jesus doesn’t send the crowd away. Jesus knows the multitudes wait for him, and when he sees them, he has “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). Then, Jesus teaches them, this crowd of seekers.

I have sympathy for the weary disciples because I know the looks on my children’s faces when we are somewhere and someone stops me to talk or I have another event to attend before we can go home. They reach a point when they just cannot go any further, and their patience is all used up. In the part of the gospel we don’t read this week, the disciples actually decide at one point that it’s time for the crowd to leave so the disciples can eat and rest. I imagine it’s probably Peter because he has a way of saying or doing what we’re likely to do ourselves, for better or for worse. We get more of this next week–what Jesus does in the meantime among the crowd–but this week, our emphasis is on Jesus having compassion for the crowds. We read that he not only teaches the crowd on this side who need a shepherd to lead them, but he also returns to the marketplace on the other side to continue to heal those who even touch the hem of his garment.

Does this mean that when it’s time to rest, if we truly want to be like Jesus, we have to keep going and run ourselves into the ground?

Absolutely not. Not at all.

Jesus has told the disciples it’s time to rest. Jesus didn’t say he was quitting any time soon.

Even after a long day . . . after many days of healing, Jesus continues to show compassion on those who need him. The people were like shepherd without a sheep, like children without a mother, like plants without water. The crowds needed Jesus more than they knew. However earnest the disciples were, they were tired, and like us, they probably thought they should help. But for all of us, we have to rest. For all of us, we follow the rhythm of nature, resting at night, and maybe even becoming dormant for a while, while the greater energy of God breathes through all of Creation.

There’s no way the disciples themselves could have taught and healed the crowds on their own, and truthfully, Jesus only sent them out to do the work they were able to do. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves or think too highly of ourselves and think we know what God needs us to do. David’s desire to build a temple for God in our reading from Second Samuel illustrates that point. David, however joyful and grateful he was for God, thought he knew what needed to be done for God. Even Nathan the prophet thought it sounded like a good idea . . . until Nathan listened to the Word of God and received wisdom to the contrary. It wasn’t God’s will that David would build the temple but that it would be his son. We show our faithfulness in many ways, and humility is one of them. Stepping out of the spotlight is often a good idea, as we know that the glory of all our successes and accomplishments are hopefully to the glory of God.

So it is when we rest and step back and let God do God’s work as God wills it, not necessarily how we expect it to be or even how we want it to be.

As we participate in the Baptized for Life program, we begin with a survey that asks each of us where we are in relation to our spiritual life: how spiritually mature we feel, how well we think All Saints’/Todos los Santos meets our needs, how encouraged we are to live as faithful Christians, as disciples. I’m sure if I asked each of you what you envision for the future of All Saints’/Todos los Santos, there would be recurring themes and similarities, but ultimately you would have a particular vision of what worship looked like or sounded like, what programs we offered, and what our church building might be like.

Our individual particularities add spice to our congregation and community, and I believe they also give opportunity for the Holy Spirit to show up in creativity and imagination. We need this kind of energy and possibility. But it is in the collective similarities that strengthen the bond of what holds us together. At the heart of our recurring themes for our experiences of All Saints’/Todos los Santos, I hope it is the love of God that energizes us. I hope that it is the desire for a life restored in Jesus Christ that motivates us to live The Way of Love, knowing that exactly how we do that individually is going to vary greatly. I hope it is a deep trust and faith in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that truly unites us as the Body of Christ and keeps shaping and forming us as we grow into the children of God we are meant to be. These currents flow through us and through our congregation at all times. The presence of God is ever-present, and when we add our own spice to events–to feast days and celebrations and special occasions–God’s presence is all the more glorified.

In April, when it was Earth Day, my son and I went out to the land to get some of the plants there to plant by the office door at First Christian Church. We planted some twenty plants in the area where the mulch is outside our office, and within just a few days, the leaves withered and died, leaving nothing but the mulch behind. This can happen when we transplant plants; they don’t always make it. Since then, I bought a couple of lilac twigs to see if they’ll grow (one seems to be surviving), and geraniums from the Pentecost service are now in pots by the door, giving some welcome greenery.

On this past Thursday morning, as I approached the office, I noticed strange shoots coming up out of the mulch. Surely they’re not mushrooms, I thought, as they’re too tall. As I got closer, I was certain they’re some sort of plant, growing from where my son and I had put bulbs into the ground, the greenery having long since passed. I moved one of the containers because there were shoots trying to grow underneath it. I have no idea what the plant or flower is. (Maybe by Sunday they’ll open so I can tell!) But what I can tell is that while what I could see had died and fallen away, there was still something at work beneath the soil. To me, this is very much the workof the Creator. Even in seasons of dormancy, something is at work. Even when we think our church isn’t growing, something is stirring in our midst, preparing us for what is to come in our journey. Even when we think that our taking a vacation is wasting precious time when we could be working or doing something, we are given time to sit back and rest and witness what Christ might be teaching those around us. When we rest, we are given the opportunity to be restored in our energy, our enthusiasm, and our dedication to do God’s will and to let God’s will be done.

 

In the Gospel according to Matthew, we hear the familiar refrain: “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It doesn’t say that God will rest, just that we are given rest. This rest is a gift. This rest is a necessity. This rest is part of our Way of Love, and this rest also makes way for a whole, restored life in Christ.

Parishioners tell me they’re called “surpise lilies.” What a lovely surprise, indeed.

 

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Room for Improvement

A Sermon preached by Sara Milford at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on July 22nd, 2012.

The Scripture Texts for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, Year B are:

2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


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.


There’s a blog my husband saw a few years ago, which has since gained in popularity, thanks in large part to wonderful little lists, guides, how-to’s, and incredible dedication on the part of the author.  A former journalist and a father of six, Leo Babatua writes about simplifying life and living well.  Striving to live fully into his blog’s name, Zen Habits, he chronicles his journey into right living through the creation of healthy habits.

One of his posts, right between “The Best Procrastination Tip Ever” and “Toss Productivity Out,” is “Improve Every Moment.”  The problem statement, essentially, is what if you can’t slow down?  What if you can’t escape the busy-ness of your life?

His tiny guide:

  • Be more present, so life doesn’t rush past you without you noticing.
  • Enjoy every activity you do more, so life is better all the time.
  • Feel more relaxed, so every day is as good as a vacation.
  • Be ready to handle anything that comes your way.

He elaborates a bit more, saying basically that, like children, we need to live more in relaxed mode.  In relaxed mode, we sense and feel more and get out of our thinking heads to remind our brain what it’s like to feel.  Maybe one by one we can release those muscles that are so used to being constricted.  Soften the jaw.  Roll back and drop the shoulders.  Breathe to our bellies.  Smile.

For practice Leo suggests being aware of our physical body, the present environment, at any given moment and doing so as often as we can.  Most of us are blessed, after all, with five senses.  We can feel the temperature of the air and feel the support of the pew; smell the old wood of this place; hear the creak of the floor or the breath on the exhale.  Hopefully, we see the light showing through the beautiful stained glass.  Perhaps you can taste your morning coffee on your tongue.

But how easily we get distracted from life as it is and get caught up in that whirlwind of busy-ness.  We find a groove and stick with it, maybe a comfortable routine, something that doesn’t rock the boat too much but fills every moment of our days and nights.  We will work ourselves to the bone.  It may even be with good, worthwhile work, or work that we have to do, but we forget our whole person.  Eventually, no matter what we’re doing (or not doing), we find that our system isn’t sustainable.  What seemed to work isn’t working any longer.  Something’s wrong.  Something needs to change.

Jesus knew all this.  I don’t recall anyone ever telling Jesus how to improve every moment, that he needed to be present, enjoy the moment, relax, and be prepared to handle anything that crossed his path.  No one had to tell Jesus to embody mindfulness and compassion — that’s just who he was, who he is.

From today’s Gospel, I imagine the disciples, like young children after being rounded up, greedy for attention and approval from the teacher they most adore, recounting to Jesus all the good work they’ve been doing.  Imagine the thrill of their work, the endorphins that were coursing through their bodies as it is with any of us who are in the zone, doing what we love.  They have been fueled by their passion, living into the miracles brought about by their faith.  They’re on a roll and ready for more.  I imagine Jesus smiling knowingly, patiently (for wouldn’t he already know all they’ve done?), admiring his chosen.  They have done good work.  But they have more to learn.

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Following their great teacher, they go along to this deserted place that may likely have been a vacant place between two settlements, someplace not terribly accessible, particularly by foot, so they go by boat.  But there were many who saw them and recognized them and rushed to get to where they were going first – by land, on foot.  The crowd is willing to risk the journey to get even a glimpse of this teacher, to get a chance to be taught.  I wonder if the disciples saw the crowd, too.  I wonder if the disciples tried to persuade Jesus to change destinations, saying something more along the lines of, “Jesus, they know who we are.  They know You.  We’re not going to get any rest.  Let’s go somewhere else.”  The excited children from before now realize their lack of sleep and their hunger.  Settling into their bodies, pulling the focus inward, they now have their sight set on rest, food, and time alone, with Jesus, of course.

When they get to shore, Jesus has compassion on the people, these lost sheep.  Without missing a beat, he teaches them, taking them into his fold.  They were hungry for the nourishment He provided.  Now, I don’t know about the disciples, but I do know how my children behave when they are tired, when they’re hungry and just done.  If I say we’re going somewhere to do something, that had better be what we do.  If I stop to visit with someone, there is no end of exasperated sighs and eye-rolling.  You’d think I was torturing them intentionally.

But that’s not it.  As a mother, I want to set an example for my children to stop and to pause when needed.  Every moment we have a choice to make, I’m always telling them. We can indeed improve every moment.  More often than we realize, we’re given a choice to make a difference in someone’s lives, including our own.

I figure Jesus exemplifies love in action.  He sees a crowd in need, sheep in need of a shepherd.  Jesus’ innate goodness may make it seem like he had no other choice than to teach to those willing to hear, but Jesus was man.  Jesus chose to speak to those with open ears and open hearts.  They listened.  They were fed.  All were fully present.

Except maybe the disciples, who were there, likely sighing deeply with their growling stomachs, muttering to one another.  I picture the teens rolling their eyes and groaning under obviously dire circumstances, thinking of themselves, spiraling into diverse tangents that took them out of the moment, away from the full-bodied mystery before them.  Not in the present.  Not enjoying the moment.  Not relaxed, and definitely not prepared for what’s to come.  (But that story’s saved for later.)

We get in today’s reading the bookends of the miracle of a great feeding.  We hear that after Jesus teaches a crowd, they cross over to meet yet another crowd.  The crowds kept coming.  Wherever Jesus went, they followed, hoping that they might, like the hemorrhaging woman, “touch even the fringe of his cloak.”  It says that “all who touched it were healed.”  We remember that Jesus felt the power drain from him when the one woman touched his garment.  But this multitude of people keep coming and coming, and Jesus keeps healing.

Where does Jesus rest?

It strikes me that this story isn’t about Jesus resting.  We don’t get the bit today about Jesus going to the mountain to pray.  He told the disciples to come away and rest awhile; he didn’t say he would.  Maybe the disciples had it in their head that if they were going to rest, surely Jesus would be taking time off, too, but when does the Son of God clock in and clock out?  He was just telling the disciples to rest.  Maybe it would have prevented their grumblings if he had more explicitly said, “Y’all just sit back and let me do the work now,” like any mother who’s ready to take over in the kitchen from the inefficient children trying to help.

We just don’t have the stamina to do all the work alone.  Even the disciples in God’s presence, though they were empowered to perform miracles, could not use compassion alone as fuel.  They were probably a little too much of this world, a little too much tied down in their own minds.

What if,  instead of being so preoccupied in our busy lives and daily struggles, we were aware enough not only to feel the physical environment but also sense and perceive the needs around us?  Feeling this, relaxed, we could have awareness and presence.  We may very well find joy and great energy in such moments, maybe even a bit of fun.  If we are living into the Good News of Christ, we know the right thing to do in the moment because we love one another — above all else.

When we can’t escape the busy-ness, we are shown that we can have mindfulness and compassion.  And when we can’t do that — because we will fail — we are to know that God can.   Jesus didn’t try to escape the crowds that sought him out.  For the disciples, and for us, Jesus is showing the way.  When it’s time to work, we will work – and hopefully with awareness.  When it’s time to rest, there will be rest.  When there are those who are in need, they will be cared for.  All this through the Love of God.

Amen.    

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