Read Mark 6:30-34;53-56
One of the coolest things about scripture is that there is so much contained in just a few words. It is why I consider scripture to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and a living text. Because beneath these words is a whole spiritual world for us to uncover and to allow to work upon our hearts so that we come to know the rhythm of God’s grace in our lives. Mark is one of the books in the bible where it is pretty easy to see this. Every word, every phrase, every image in Mark opens us up more and more to the God of this universe. A big, expansive, radically inclusive God of love and grace.
The Gospel reading for today from Mark’s Gospel is a short passage which could almost be seen as a set of transitional verses, or what some call throwaway verses, used to move the narrative along from one story to the next. And yet, if you dig just a little bit deeper you can find so much is there for us and how we follow in the way of Jesus.
Our text for this morning begins with the disciples returning to Jesus after they’ve been empowered and sent out by him to do the work of ministry. You might remember two weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus sending the disciples out two by two to preach, to teach, to heal and to guide people to see the kingdom of God which is at hand. Today’s reading picks up where we left off two weeks ago. The disciples come back to Jesus explaining and relaying all that they experienced.
They’ve been out there doing all of this work and now they want to tell Jesus all about it. They want to check in and report back all the things that they have seen, witnessed, all the challenges they faced and all the moments of connection and grace they can celebrate.
Jesus responds to them by saying, “Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while.” Because, as the text says, the disciples were coming and going and they had no leisure time even to eat.
See the disciples are jazzed about this life, this life following in the way of humble sacrificial love. They are on fire. They are just throwing themselves into it head first. Maybe you’ve had a time in your life where you felt this way? You know where you are just loving what you are doing, helping someone, serving the community, making a difference in this world, giving of yourself to ease the burden of someone’s else’s life and you feel this burst of energy and joy that you think is going to last forever.
One of the places I experienced this the most was when I used to lead short term mission trips for high school aged students. I’d lead 15-20 high schoolers all across the country to repair or rebuild homes destroyed by natural disasters or home in disrepair due to the lack of financial resources. We went all over the country, from Appalachia to New Orleans to the Native American reservations of southern Oregon. It was such an awesome and enriching experience.
Let me tell you one of the things I saw happen each and every trip over the years. We’d get to a worksite and assess the work we would be doing. We’d gather as a team and talk through the day’s work and then we’d be off. The youth would be filled with this life-energy that comes only from giving yourself in loving service for another person in this world.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit they’d work and work and work and work. It was our job, as the adults, to make sure they were taking enough breaks, stopping for water and lunch. That energy would carry them through the first day. That energy and life-giving love would carry them through the second day too. But then Wednesday would come and it would hit the youth like a ton of bricks. They’d be dragging, really, really dragging. They’d also be really, really cranky. So Wednesday would always be a lighter day of work. We’d focus on connecting with each other, connecting with our homeowner. We’d learn to slow down and to listen for the rhythm of God’s spirit at work in the world. And sure enough, we’d always emerge on Thursday refreshed, renewed and re-energized.
There are a lot of parallels between what the disciples are up to and what I witnessed in youth ministry. The disciples come to Jesus filled with stories and encounters they are longing to share. I imagine they are just rambling them off one after another after another, a million miles a minute because they are so psyched.
They are moving so fast and doing so much that they are even forgetting to eat. Can you imagine that they weren’t even making time to eat? Now me, I’ve never had that problem before, I always, always make time to eat. But I’ve witnessed it before in others, get so caught up in what they are doing that they forget to eat, or they feel like they just can’t take the time to eat.
What does Jesus say in response to this? He doesn’t slap the disciples on the back and say, “keep it up guys, this level of productivity is amazing, let’s keep going and going and going.” He doesn’t celebrate this kind non-stop work ethic we sometimes idolize in our modern American culture. No, Jesus cares for the disciples and their well-being. He loves them and knows them better even than they know themselves and he invites them to rest for a bit. To slow it down for a bit. To listen for a bit. To pray for a bit.
If you read the gospels you will see that Jesus too lives this rhythm of life for himself. Jesus’ rhythm of life is one that intentionally includes prayer and solitude, it intentionally includes fellowship and community building, it intentionally includes seeking justice and working to bring about the kingdom of God here and now, and it intentionally includes feeding the hungry and healing the sick and comforting those who were mourning. He did all of these things in a cyclical pattern, always coming back to a time of prayer, solitude, rest and renewal.
Now if we are to follow Jesus I think it means that we need to do two things: we need to strive to do all that Jesus says to us and also strive to DO all that he does. It means that we need to follow his teachings and live by his commandments always but it also means we really need to pattern our life in such a way that our life reflects Jesus’.
Are we intentionally carving out spaces for ourselves to be in prayer? Are we finding quite time for contemplation and holy listening? Are we intentionally opening ourselves to respond to God’s call to be in loving service to those who are in need? Are we caring for ourselves in the midst of it all? Are we making sure that we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew. Are we in need of some rest, some sleep, maybe a break from the day to day of our relationships which might be taking all we’ve got to give.
See the disciples are running a million miles a minute but Jesus knows that this pace is not sustainable. He knows that eventually something is going to give, he knows that at some point they will run out of gas and become completely burnt out. They might even get so burnt out by all of this work that they don’t just quit and leave it all behind, but they might go a step further and start to resent the call in the first place. Jesus knows that this can happen to us, all of us, if we don’t guard our hearts, if we don’t take care of ourselves; if we don’t tend to our relationship with God, the deep well spring of new life.
So he stops them in their tracks and calls them to rest and find rest with him and in him.
It’s hard for a lot of people I’ve known over the years in the church to apply this teaching to their own life. A lot of us grew up with this understanding or idea that being a Christian meant that we needed to give of ourselves all the time no matter what. It meant that we needed to love God with our entire heart, body, mind soul, and strength and to love our neighbor with the same gusto. This interpretation of the great commandment is filled with good intentions to lead us as Christians into the lives of utmost loving service. But we can’t live in the way of Jesus while neglecting the last part of this the Greatest Commandment, Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus commands us to love others, to love your neighbor, to love those who are dearest to you and the person you kind of can’t, the person who is like human sand paper to you, to love them all as you love yourself.
See we’ve got cultivate some of that love for ourselves while at the same time we grow in our love for God and others. Because without that we just ain’t got nothing to share. Someone once said to me, Robert you can only share the gift of love if you own it in your own heart first.
I know this sounds easy and maybe you’ve got this down in your life for sure. Which is awesome. Keep doing it! Keep growing in love for God, neighbor and self! But I’ve been doing ministry long enough to know that this is something some people really struggle with in their spiritual lives. This is something that we feel guilty about, something we feel ashamed about, something we just don’t talk about.
In my life I’ve come to learn that a lot of folks I know are way more willing to be compassionate to another person about something they did wrong than they would be toward themselves. Sometimes we punish ourselves with our own negative internal monologue about how we just aren’t doing enough, or we just don’t make enough, or we aren’t there enough….enough, enough, enough.
Our gospel today reminds us that Jesus is very clear on this for us, he says you are enough for me, and I am more than enough for you.
See as the text goes on it says that Jesus looked at the people, not just the disciples but all the people, and he was filled with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. See we need Jesus in our life. We need a savior in our life. We need a shepherd, the good shepherd, the one who knows us and calls us by name, the one who leads us and guides us down the paths of righteousness for his names sake, and even when the darkest dark or night falls upon us we need a good shepherd who will never abandon us but will always comfort us with his staff and love us back to life.
We need the compassion of Jesus when our compassion has grown too small or depleted, when we’re running on fumes and we’ve got nothing left to give. We need to come to Jesus, to find rest, renewal and new hope for our souls, for our relationships and for our world.
And this to me is at the heart of our spiritual freedom in Christ. That it’s not up to us alone. We don’t have the weight of the whole thing, all of the cares and concerns of our hearts, the our friends and family, this community and the entire world on our shoulders alone. Jesus calls us to give it to him, our good shepherd, to share it with him so that we may know his peace and his love which makes us whole and sets us free to live boldly, to love fully and to walk humbly with God all the days of our lives.