"Rest a while"-Sermon for Proper 11, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
So, I literally leave this afternoon on vacation. My family and I will be away for two Sundays. So, perhaps this gospel reading was meant by God for me to preach on today. For Jesus says to his friends who have been traveling tirelessly all across Galilee, teaching, healing the sick, caring for the hearts of all…of the so many folk…who have come to them in need…Jesus says to these friends and followers and co-laborers, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And, I don’t think Jesus literally meant let’s go to a dessert…but a place deserted from the cares and occupations that are ever present in our broken world…that both he and his disciples might find rest, refreshment, rejuvenation and restoration for their souls.
Now, I don’t want to compare my work load to Jesus and his disciple’s…really I don’t. But, perhaps some rest and recreation are in order for the Brandon’s. And, I am quite certain the same is true for all or most of us who make up this family of faith. For I know how hard all of you work. I see it expressed in the generosity of time and talent you extend to St. Julian’s, our family of faith. I have said it many times before and believe it to be entirely true…the people of St. Julian’s are, indeed, a capable, gifted and industrious lot. I am constantly amazed at what we are able to accomplish, with God’s help, together. Truly this little church…though not necessarily that little by Episcopal standards…punches above its weight. And, well beyond all you give to St. Julian’s, I am often in awe of the creativity and accomplishments I hear from your professional lives…what you accomplish in school, or at work, in the larger community, and in the home. Thus, I mean it with sincerity when I say, I hope that each one of you, if not already this summer, are able to schedule some R&R yourselves…whether you stay-cate or vacate…whether you take time off in the summer or prefer to take time off when the weather is cooler and the places you like to visit are less jam packed with tourists…whether you like to just take a few days at a time or need to block off significant time to really disconnect and rejuvenate.
The great Maya Angelou writes, “Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” And this is just what Jesus and his friends discover in today’s gospel lesson…which is that need is everywhere…and that it is almost inescapable. Mark writes, “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” And, similarly, I know the demands on our own lives…work, school, family, volunteer commitments…including those at church…are always present and the needs are real and the good things we do and produce are valuable and require…even demand…our attention…and it can all feel unceasing.
Further, what Maya Angelou calls the cares…that is those people and responsibilities that have been entrusted into our care and are deserving of our care…will not necessarily, of their own accord, withdraw from us. Thus, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, from time to time, we have to intentionally withdraw from them. And so, I say to you…at some point…please go away to a deserted place and rest a while. And, you will almost never hear me or any priest say that to you. So, I will add…please, also, once rested and restored, come on back! We need you…your very best selves…all of your giftedness and wisdom. The sum total truly is greater than all of its parts. Thus, we need all of us…empowered, included, full of life and vitality…serving in our ministries...filling our church on Sundays…welcoming guests and visitors…giving generously from the God-given resources that fill and bless our lives…if we are to become the beloved community that God has call us together to be…a community whose purpose is to make God in Christ’s salvation known and experienced in the lives of all those entrusted into our care…all those who need us. And when we speak of salvation…we are speaking of our present, not just future, experience…salvation is knowing in our lives, right now, God’s healing, wholeness, belonging, peace, meaning and purposefulness…salvation is not something that we wait for…and those we are called to love and serve all around us need to know that salvation, that shalom, right now.
Thus, the very reason I say go away and rest is because the work we do matters. It makes a difference often in ways that are not even perceptible in the present. People depend on the very best version of ourselves, and I don’t think we are the very best version of ourselves when we feel all used up, worn out, and desperately tired. Nature tell us this…for a field must lie fallow to remain productive. Social scientist and therapists tell us this. Wayne Mueller, a Spiritual Director and author who was known and respected by both Mr. Rogers and Henri Nouwen, two heroes of mine, writes, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath - our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” Admittedly, that’s a bit dark, but worth, at least, considering. And, most of all, God tells us this…even commands us to intentionally create rest in our lives. As you well know, one of the 10 Commandments, reads, “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.” And, further on in the Book of Exodus, it reads, “For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the son of your maidservant may be refreshed, as well as the foreign resident.” In other words, everyone and every living thing must rest and deserves it. In fact, in my opinion, everything else we do…all the good and Godly and productive things we do…entirely depend on it.
Charles Darwin once wrote, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” And, I agree…totally. But, here is what I think we need to understand about rest…about the intentional choice and intentional planning required to step away from our current cares and occupations…and that is…that rest is not waste. I think this is what Maya Angelou is suggesting when she mentions the ego in her reflection on rest. For we too often feel like if we step away from things, even for just a little time, they will somehow simply collapse. And, as Angelou suggests, this is almost never true. And, though often driven by the ego…I believe that feeling, even if misguided, mostly comes from a good place…a strong work ethic and a desire to fulfill our responsibilities and to not let down those depending on us. Nonetheless, the truth is an unrested mind, body and heart have diminished faculties...our creativity wains…we offer ourselves begrudgingly…and our heart just isn’t into it…whatever it is. And, this has real costs. Costs for us, as we lose the ability to find joy in good, productive work…knowing that we don’t have the energy to give our very best efforts…creative solutions, if they come at all, require tremendous strain...and sometimes we even get sick. And, there are costs for those institutions and individuals served by our good work, and I believe they deserve and need all of us…just like we need all of you here at St. Julian’s…not some shadow of our former selves.
Thus, rest is not waste. A mind not all tied up in what was not completed yesterday and must be done tomorrow, that is a mind not mired in the past or future, is a mind open to the creative inspiration that flows from the very Spirit of God…our first and forever muse. A body that is exercised and fit and relaxed and rested is a healthy body that is ready to take on all of life’s challenges. And, a heart that has found peace in silence, or contemplating nature, or making art, or a good conversation is a heart that will bring a quiet confidence into a home or a classroom or a ministry or an office. Rest is not waste. So, I will twist Darwin’s words and say a person who dares to spend one hour in rest or recreation in any given day or any given week is a person who takes seriously living a value-oriented life. When I am at work, I tend to do. When I am at rest, I tend to be. And, when I am being rather than doing, I am much more likely to reflect upon and affirm the God-given values that are the foundation of my life. And, a life that flows from values deeply held and often considered is a life that produces abundance…a productive life…a life deeply attuned to the rhythms of God…the way of love…a life lived more and more like the life Jesus lived.
Thus, I think it is worthy, even Godly, to consider what constitutes rest, or to use the biblical term, Sabbath keeping. And, I think it is, indeed, an important question…and a vacation is just one expression of rest…for rest once a year is in my mind entirely inadequate. So, please take vacation…extended time away from the cares and occupations that make up and take up so much of our energy is good for the soul…but perhaps the greater challenge is to find rest as God describes it and requires it…in each week, maybe each day, of the year. For some exercise is rest…for another exercise sounds like the opposite of rest. For some our Pilgrimage is rest…but I assure you we work very hard in Navajoland and sleep can be hard to come by in shared dormitories where snoring from multiple directions can ensue. For some getting lost in a hobby is rest…for others its cooking…for others an interesting book…for others an art gallery…for others sitting under a tree…for others a long walk…for others a party with friends…for others silent contemplation…for others a long bath at the end of the day…for others uninterrupted time with family or children…for others a short break from family or children…for others travel…for others…well perhaps you get my point, which is simply that it looks different for each of us. Thus, what I am inviting you to do is simply ask the question…maybe let it roll around in your head or journal about it…or, for those like me who process out loud, have a conversation with a friend or loved one about what a life that includes a regular rhythm of rest might look like for you. And, I suppose I would feel remiss as your pastor if I didn’t add to the list for consideration how a simple spiritual practice can be interwoven into a regular pattern of rest…like just beginning or ending the day with a simple prayer…for I believe, as St. Augustine first said, it is only in the heart of God that our own restless hearts find peace at the last.
A good priest friend once said that the work of discipleship is all consuming…we are never too old to do it and never too young to start…and guess what…we’re not done till we’re dead. And there is no one I could feel more blessed or excited to work with…to be God’s own heart and hands out in the world alongside than each of you. God needs us for the very life of the world…and we are gifted, hardworking folk who have demonstrated the ability to make a tremendous difference in the lives of those who need us most. And, because I believe this with my whole heart, I say to you, again, go away to a deserted place and rest…and then…please, please come back! We have so much good and Godly work to do…together. Amen.