"Come Away With Me"

Rev. Sarah Buteux
July 14, 2013
Mark 6:30-56

Did Jesus lead a balanced life? Have you ever wondered about that? I know it is something we all struggle to do, and I’m not sure if I can point to anyone I know who truly manages to pull it off, but did you ever wonder if Jesus, seeing as he was God incarnate and all, was able to do it… able to find that elusive balance between work and play, family and friends, his mission to care for others and his need to care for himself…that elusive balance for which we all long?

Well, when I looked over the scripture for today I thought, at least at first, that the answer was going to be “yes.” Yes, Jesus led a balanced life.  He worked hard, but he also understood the importance of down time and when he needed it, he took a break. 

You see, when I gave our gospel reading for this morning my first cursory glance, my eye was immediately drawn to Jesus’ opening words: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” I saw that one line and I thought to myself, Bingo! There’s your sermon right there.

“Come away, to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” I have to admit I like that idea.  Oh, who am I kidding, I love that idea. The truth is, my bags are packed, we filled the van with gas last night, and I’m leaving for as deserted a place as I know of – a little town called Wayne somewhere in the middle of Maine – leaving for Wayne as soon as we’re done here today. I am so ready for God to bless the hearing, the understanding, and the living of these particular holy words in my life right now, you have no idea.

Jesus may sound more like a Calgon bubble bath voice over in this one line than the savior of the world, but I don’t care. I love the idea of Jesus telling us all to pack it in, get out of dodge, and go relax somewhere else.  I love the idea of Jesus giving us permission to rest. And so I was all set to meditate on that one line with you today. Quite excited in fact at the prospect of preaching an entire sermon about the importance of doing… nothing, until that is, I went ahead and read the rest of the story.

Which is too bad really, because our reading for today starts off so very well. In the sixth chapter of Mark Jesus is welcoming his disciples back from their first ever pan-Galilean healing and casting out of demons tour, and he can see right away that his people are exhausted. The work before them is incredible, they have accomplished miraculous things, they’ve done an amazing job, but at this point in their ministry the disciples are running on fumes. In fact, Mark tells us that there were so many people coming to see them that they didn’t even have time to eat. 

So Jesus, being the good leader that he is, packs them all into a boat and takes them to the far side of the sea.  He pulls them away from their work - as important as it is - so they can be alone, catch up with each other, and have a good meal together.

Unfortunately for them however, while our heroes are sailing across the sea of Galilee to their deserted place, the crowds are hoofing it round the lake as fast as they can and picking up even more people as they go. By the time Jesus and his disciples arrive, there is an even larger crowd waiting to greet them with even more questions and certainly with more pressing needs.

Now if Jesus had taken this opportunity to step off the boat, thank every one for coming and then told them that he and his disciples would be with then as soon as they had taken a much needed respite themselves, we’d have all the makings here for a straightforward sermon on the importance of pacing yourself.

 

Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus does. Jesus does not turn his back on the masses. Instead, Jesus looked out at all the people who had come so far and run so hard, and he had compassion on them, (darn it). Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd and his heart ached for them. He told the disciples to stay in the boat, but he went on. Jesus postponed his own need for down time, walked out amongst all that hurt and pain and need, and picked up right where he’d left off - healing the sick and preaching to the multitude.  He may have been tired, but that didn’t stop Jesus from doing what needed to be done.

In fact this passage, which begins with Jesus seeking a little down time, ends up detailing one of his most productive spurts of activity ever. Notice that in the space of no more than 26 verses - instead of enjoying a little R&R himself - our messiah organizes a retreat for his staff, heals a multitude, preaches for the better part of the day, feeds over five thousand people, walks on water, and still manages to arrive at his next venue in Gennesaret on time and ready for action. 

Admittedly, he does duck out at some point for a little solitary prayer and reflection, but it’s almost as if Jesus can’t stop.  The man is on fire. Like some benevolent Terminator, or the Energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going. Like the first century equivalent of James Taylor, if you want him, he’ll come running. If you need him, he’ll be there. He’s amazing, this Jesus. 

Which is great and all for Jesus, but where does that leave us? What’s the message in all this for you and for me?  Is the take away here that rest is important unless something more important comes up?[1]  Is it that you do need to take care of yourself, unless someone else needs you to care for them even more?

If it is, that’s certainly nothing new and it hardly seems like good news to me. In fact, I think that is how many of us live our lives already. We give and give and give, work and work and work, and yet even then, when we’re ready to fall down exhausted - if our children wake in the night with a fever, the boss asks us to work late, the PTO rep calls to see if we wouldn’t mind bringing 2 dozen more brownies for tomorrow’s bake sale, or a good friend calls with a quiver in her voice and asks, “Is this a good time?” we say okay, yeah, sure.

Like Jesus, even when we’re tired we still do our best.  We dig down deep and find some little spark we’ve managed to keep in reserve somewhere and we get the job done. Like a farmer eating seed corn or an athlete burning muscle, we do what we need to do when we need to do it, even though we know deep down that eventually something’s gotta give. But what else can we do?

I mean sure we’d love to find time in the day to stop and pray, but most of us can’t even find the time to exercise. Sure we’d love to take a full day off once a week and observe the Sabbath, but then who’s going to weed the garden or see that the hedges get trimmed?  Lessons aren’t going to plan themselves. No one’s going to knock on our door with a week’s worth of groceries and a pre-planned menu that is both low carb and heart healthy. Somebody’s gotta go to work to pay the mortgage. Someone’s gotta remember to make sure the oil gets changed. It’s illegal for the kids to drive themselves to soccer practice (which is probably still a good thing).

But still, this kind of life that so many of us are leading, this overscheduled, over committed existence -is this really the life God wants for us? Is this what it all comes down to? The knowledge that rest is good, divinely ordained even, and we should do it, we really should…when and if we can find the time, when and if there is nothing more important to do, when and if we can get around to it?

Is that the real message at the heart of today’s story; the truth God has placed here for us to find this morning? 

Gosh, I hope not.

***

You know, a few years ago, someone somewhere, had a little epiphany.  They asked themselves the question, “What would Jesus do?” and their life was forever changed. Apparently, they came to realize that the question could actually function as a life shaping principle, a mantra of sorts and they began to share this idea with others. When in doubt, just ask your self what Jesus would do in this situation and then you will know just what you need to do.

 

Of course then someone realized that the phrase could be reduced to a catchy acronym, “WWJD?”.  While even more people came to see that a small fortune could be made selling bracelets and bumper stickers bearing nothing more than those 4 letters and a cheeky little question mark.

Well, I don’t know about you, but somewhere along the line I realized that asking myself what Jesus would do was not really all that helpful because at the end of the day, try as I might, I’m not Jesus. I think the question we really ought to ask ourselves – and I didn’t come up with this one either -is: “What would Jesus have us do?”[2]

Now, WWJHUD? doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, so you might as well drop the idea for new and improved bumper stickers right now.  That ship has sailed. But it’s certainly a much better question to ask ourselves, especially when it comes to the issue of how to find a balance between our need to care for others and our need to care for ourselves, our need to be productive and our need to rest. And I think it’s exactly the right question to bring back to the text we have before us this morning.

Because you see Jesus may have been able to keep up the work indefinitely, but we’re not Jesus.  At least I’m not. Jesus may have been able to put off his need for rest till it was convenient, but if Mark is to be believed, he made sure that his disciples didn’t. When they reached the other side of the sea, Jesus hopped out on to the shore and got back to work, but notice that he left the others in the boat. He recognized that his disciples were only human, and trust me when I say that he knows, even now, that you and I are only human too. 

God knows that we need to rest.  God knows that we can’t go on indefinitely. That is part of the reason why, rather than invite us to keep the Sabbath, God went right ahead and made it a commandment. It’s not one we follow particularly well, but it’s right up there in the top 10. God commands us to stop. God commands us to be still. God commands us to rest in God’s presence once every seven days and let God run things for a change because God knows we can’t just keep going and going and going.

But God also knows something else about us.  I think another reason God asks us to be still on a regular basis and know that God alone is God, is because God knows how quickly we forget. So many of us are so quick to justify our tendency to overwork because we are convinced that it all depends upon us. But when you lay down your work, even for a relatively short period of time - say sundown to sundown - it doesn’t take long to realize that the only one we are all really dependent upon is the one who made us.

I think that Jesus left the disciples in the boat not just because they needed to take a break, Jesus left them in the boat because they needed to see that even if they took time off from their incredibly important and powerful work, that it would all still go on without them. People would still get healed.  Demons would still be defeated. The gospel would still be preached and lives would still be changed. The world would keep moving forward even if they weren’t, because the in-breaking of God’s kingdom is bigger than any one of us. “God's redeeming work in the world,” in the words of Nadia Bolz- Weber, “might involve us but it doesn't depend on us.” [3]

And read in this light you can see how the rest of the story reinforces this basic truth. When the disciples finally do emerge from the boat, rested but hungry, they want to take Jesus away and find dinner. Instead, Jesus invites them to stay and help him feed the people.  After some serious hunting and gathering, the disciples return to Jesus with nothing more than five measly loaves and two small fishes - hardly enough to feed themselves let alone a multitude.  And yet with nothing more than that limited offering, Jesus manages to feed them all and still have some left over.

I think the message is clear.  Our resources may be finite, but God’s resources are infinite.  Jesus could have kept going indefinitely, just as he could have kept that bread and that fish flowing forever, but we can’t.  Jesus doesn’t want or need us to play God.  Rather, what Jesus has been inviting us to do all along is to stop long enough to recognize that there is only one God, and it’s not us. The secret to being able to come away with Jesus, the secret to being able to accept that beautiful invitation to “come away and rest awhile,” lies in finding enough trust in your heart to let go and let God be God.

Dear Ones, on the cusp of my vacation, trust me when I say that I am preaching this as much for me as I am for you: God’s work most certainly involves us, because God wants to involve us, but it does not depend on us. Jesus knew, perhaps better than anyone, that the need was never ending.  He knew the work would never be done, but he also knew that if his disciples were in any way going to keep up with the demands of the people, then every now and again they were going to need to resist those demands for a time, set the work aside, take some time for themselves, and give the whole thing back over to God.

So what would Jesus have us do? I think he’d ask us to remember that there are times when we need to give it our all and there are times when we need to come away and rest in God’s presence. Times when we ought to be active and times when we need to be still, offer what little we have, and trust that God will provide the rest. We can’t always be there 100% of the time for others, but God can, God is, and God will be. So let us stop, every seven days or so, long enough to rest and give the work back over to the only one who has the power to see us through. Sometimes it really is better for everyone if we just stay in the boat. 

Let us pray:  O God you invite us to come away with you and rest.  Help us not to resist such a lovely invitation, but to trust you enough to be still in your presence, to let go of those things we hold to so tightly throughout the week, and find room in our hearts to embrace you and you alone. 


[1] This question inspired by Karen Marie Yust in this week’s reflection from “Feasting on The Word” p 263.

[2] Like I said, I’m 99% sure I’m not the first person to rephrase this. In fact, I think it may have been Donna Schaper who made this point in a post for theolog, but I really can’t remember and an extensive google search failed to jog my memory.

[3] July 13, 2009 Blogging toward Sunday: “With or Without Us” Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11)  This was a great post that inspired the latter half of this sermon. As did “Watching from the Boat” Living by the Word – Column Christian CenturyJune 29, 1994  by Martin B. Copenhaver