Pentecost – Proper 11
Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Every year our family takes a vacation to Colorado to temporarily escape the summer heat and humidity of Houston. We always drive, and we do the drive in two days, using the city of Amarillo as a halfway point where we spend the night. One year on the trip when our family was in Amarillo staying at the hotel, I was rolling one of those luggage carts to our room that had all our bags and the kids blankets and stuffed animals, to an elevator. As I was pushing the cart into the elevator, an older woman walked by, looked at the stuff on the cart, and said, “look at you – travelling with kids! I remember those days.” As she walked off, she stopped and turned around looking back at me and said, “Remember – when kids are with you, it’s called a trip, not a vacation!”
I think many parents here would probably agree with her words! A long time ago I read a beautiful statement about travelling, and I have found it to be very true. The words are simply this: “travelling allows you to remember who you want to be.” Those words become more true for me every day. Vacations afford all of us the time to think, reflect, and ponder things that our more busy schedules prevent us from doing at home. Not only that, vacations give us a sense of perspective on our lives that most of us, ok – me – are unable to maintain at home. That’s one of the reasons why vacations are essential. Whether we our vacation is a trip somewhere or a “staycation” here in Houston, time off, time away, is necessary for all of us.Which is why I am going on a six month vacation starting tomorrow. I’m just kidding. It’s really nine months.
The closest word in the Bible to “vacation” is Sabbath. In the Bible, Sabbath is a time of rest. So important was Sabbath, that it was included as one of the Ten Commandments – to keep the Sabbath day holy. The importance that scripture gives to the idea of time off, of rest, of Sabbath, is tremendous. And yet in scripture there is also irony and contradiction. This upholding of the idea of Sabbath rest, as conveyed in the Ten Commandments, seemed to apply to everyone, except Jesus.
If you read through the Gospels, it will quickly become obvious to you that Jesus never really got a day off. I have yet to read anything in the Gospels along the lines of “Yea, after healing several thousand near Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples ubered to Sidon where they embarked on a cruise to Nassau that Matthew found on Travelocity.” No, it seems Jesus rarely, if ever, got a break.
We hear today an account of Jesus, who had just sent away his disciples two by two to go throughout the land to heal, feed, and care for the people they encountered. The disciples did that, and when they returned to Jesus, they were tired. They are worn out, they need a break – a Sabbath. And Jesus tells them to do just that – saying “go put your feet up, relax, sip a cold refreshing beverage by the Sea of Galilee.” That’s a loose translation of the Greek – what he says more clearly is “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” So the disciples get in the boat, excited about having some down time, but they’ve got a problem.
They are celebrities now. People know who they are, and they say “Look! There are those guys who fed and healed all those people – let’s see if they can feed and take care of us!” So no one seems to get a break. Jesus is there and he watches all this happening, the people crowding around the disciples, a literal body slam of human need, and the Bible says Jesus had compassion on them – but the Bible is unclear whether Jesus’ compassion is directed toward the needy crowds or toward his tired and worn out disciples.
I don’t think it is difficult for us to find some common ground with these worn out and fatigued disciples who apparently get very little, if any, down time. Many of us are tired. Some of us cannot afford to stop working for a day just to take a day of rest. Some of us are workaholics, working way longer than we need or should. And that is a form of idolatry, by the way. The reality is for most of us, there is no real break, there is no real lull. Even if we can afford a vacation, it’s just blip on our calendar – but is the best we can do.
There is too much work to be done, too many mouths to feed, too many sick to heal. There is no clear sense as a global community amidst our financial insecurity, environmental, political, and social concerns that and real break, vacation, or Sabbath is near. Or is there?
Jesus never promised time away or a vacation to any of us. But what Jesus does promise is far more real and far more significant. In another Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Come to me all you that are weary and I will offer you rest.” Not a break, not a vacation, but true rest – a place to bring our tired and weary selves and rest.
How do we do that? We pray. We create a space in our lives for God. See, God does not come into the world unreceived or uninvited. God is gentle and will not come into your world unless you actually want God to, unless you prepare a place for God. Whatever prayer is, it is true rest for weary souls.
I promise you that if for the next week, everyday you pray, not for yourself, not for what you want or what you need, but if you create space in your heart to pray for ten people – it can be anybody – your parents, your friends, your spouse, the president – it doesn’t matter. If you pray for ten people every day, I promise that you will feel that sense of true rest, which only God provides. Not a break, not a vacation, but true abiding rest. That’s the paradox of prayer: when we pray for others, our hearts are calmed, our spirits rest in peace. AMEN.