a Homily for Proper 11B
Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
[Sunday I preached without a script. This is an approximation of what I preached.]
Coming back from vacation, it is appropriate to get this gospel pericope about rest. Or lack there of it.
It was just two weeks ago when we covered the story of Jesus sending the disciples out with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They came home to find Jesus. They wanted to tell him all about it. No doubt they were exhausted and ready to fall down and get some rest. Jesus reassures them, saying “Let’s all go to some deserted place. We’ll rest. Get something to eat.”
But they don’t. Because they get into that boat and the crowd sees it, and beats them to the other side. I’ve got to say that by this time, if I were the disciples, I’d be saying
“Enough with the boat! Remember the last time you promised us rest, the crowd swamped us. The last time we crossed the water, the storms raged. No! No more boats!”
Remember how they returned to Jesus’s home only to get mobbed? They were hungry then and couldn’t eat. They couldn’t relax and rest. No rest for the weary.
This gets to what we know about Sabbath. That in the 7-Day Creation story, we get the world created in 6 days and on the seventh, GOD rests. This idea of Sabbath as rest from work was canonized by the Ten Commandments. But these disciples never seem to get any rest. There is always more to do.
No Rest For the Weary
On the way home from up north, Rose looked at me and said
“I’m not sure I should say this…”
which perked up my ears. Which also means now she had no choice but to say it.
“I love the time we had, but I didn’t get a vacation.”
Her work didn’t stop. She had extra arms to hold the kids and extra minds to distract them. But they were still around. She was never off duty for more than a few hours at a time. Mom was always on.
This is a lot like the way we see our work as Christians. No matter how much we want to take a Sunday off or punch the time card, hide in a closet, and complain about the SoB that is screwing everything up, we can’t. As followers of Christ, we are always following. No vacations. No rest. Always on. This isn’t some full-time job where we can go home at the end of the day and put our feet up. It is an always job. On 24 hours, 7 days. Always.
And lets be honest with each other. It is tiring. Being good all the time. Loving the unlovables. It wears us out.
That Desert Place
There is something in the way Jesus brings these disciples along. His use of these words deserted and rest. When he gets to the shore and sees these people, he sees them as sheep without a shepherd and so he teaches them. He is worn out and looking for respite, but he teaches some more. He is always teaching. And it makes me think we have got this idea all wrong. That this going to the deserted place isn’t a trip into solitude so that they all might relax and put their feet up, but to head off into the metaphorical desert.
Remember, right after his baptism, Jesus went into the desert. This was a traditional practice in the time that would do two important things for you. First it would cleanse you. Both physically and spiritually. Something about the heat, the perspiration and the drinking of water that pulls the stuff out of your system. Something about the sand as an exfoliating agent. Something about the solitude. Going into the desert cleans you up, just as it makes your feet all dirty.
The second important thing is that it is time away from the world, but it isn’t time away from work—GOD’s work. It is about ridding oneself of the cultural noise so that one might hear and experience GOD. This also happens to be the purpose of Sabbath.
So Jesus, taking the disciples away to a “deserted place” to “rest” isn’t about vacation or putting feet up and thinking about nothing. It was a trip into the desert to hear and experience GOD. So what happens when they get there? Jesus teaches.
We also get a big doughnut hole in our reading as the teaching goes on for hours and then moves right into the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which we cover next week in John’s telling. So the teaching and the feeding are Sabbath to the disciples.
In Eucharistic Prayer C on page 372 in the Book of Common Prayer, we have this wonderful part that covers this very idea. It is speaking specifically about the table and Holy Communion, but hear these same ideas:
Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and nor for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
I particularly love that line that says
“Deliver us from the presumption
of coming [here]…
for pardon only, and not for renewal.”
We don’t come together to recharge our batteries. It is something more. We often think of life as a NASCAR or Indy race. We race around the track so fast, trying so hard to win; to beat everybody else. But the race is long and eventually we will run out of fuel or our tires will go bald. So we stop in the pit and the crew rushes out to fill up the tank or change the tires. And as they finish, our foot is on the gas again and we tear out of the pit so that we can drive really fast again.
Then we realize we need to strategize, so we refuel and change tires at the same time. It doesn’t matter if the tires are bald or if we still have half of a tank of gas. We do it at the same time to maximize our time out racing.
This is how we treat our lives and our faith. But it is nothing like what Jesus is talking about. There’s no race. No winning. No pits or pit crews. We aren’t refilling the fuel tank.
He sends us out with everything we need.
And when we come back, we do so, not when we’re empty, but when we need to be filled with what we can’t get anywhere else. We aren’t recharged, we are made better. Better parents, friends, lovers, children, leaders, followers.
Because here is where we learn to love. Always learning anew how and why to love.