Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert 19 July 2015
Would you rather have dessert or be deserted? Funny thing about those words. Add one little “s” and it changes completely. We crave desserts. Umm, good! Ice cream, cake, pie, chocolate, candy…. But to desert someone has nothing to do with dessert. It is not to put pie in their face, or serve up the chocolate ice cream. It is to abandon them, wrongly. But Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place.” Jesus knew that he and his disciples needed some time away, some rest. Why do many of us avoid going with Jesus to that deserted place, away from the busy-ness and demands of life? Even when we are not terribly busy, sometimes we are slow to stop our routines long enough to pay close attention to the word of God speaking to us in the quiet.
Electric lighting in various forms was invented in the late 1800’s, and by the 1900’s lightbulbs in homes changed the length of our days. Add to that the television in the 1950’s, and the internet in 2000, followed by the smart phones of our day, and we are now in a brave new world of busy-ness. Isn’t it wonderful that you can check messages – voice message, text messages, and email – even while waiting in the doctor’s office. Yes! Isn’t it great that when you go on vacation everyone can still reach you, no matter where you go? Well… no! It is harder and harder to find a deserted place.
Hear the story of Jesus’ call to a deserted place, away from all the demands of other people’s needs.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (NRSV)
“Come away with me to a quiet place, apart from the world with its frantic pace, to pray, reflect, and seek God’s grace. Come away with me. Come away.
Come away with me to a quiet place, to God’s loving arms waiting to embrace all those who come in hope of grace. Come away with me. Come away.”
My first cousin, the only one we invited to the wedding because Catherine did not know the others and it was her wedding, told me during the reception not to be surprised if I was still tired a month or two after the wedding was over. I understand why she said that, but I thought to myself in the middle of it, this just feels like Christmas Eve or Easter morning as pastor of a church. It’s a very sacred event with lots of people in attendance. It takes a lot of energy to pull it off, but that aspect of the wedding busy-ness felt natural and familiar. What was hard for me was negotiating all the expenses and arrangements related to accommodations and catering in the Inn.
Nevertheless, it was great to have three quiet days between the Montreat Worship & Music Conference and the wedding activities. Just like I love having quiet Sunday nights and Mondays. Most of you know that I name that time as Sabbath. Sabbath is stopping time. It is going to the deserted place, even with a few close family members or friends, where one gets replenished for the vocation, the calling, whatever that calling is.
Carving out Sabbath time is crucial. In the creation story, even God rested on the seventh day. In the ministry of Jesus, time away for prayer and renewal provides perspective and power for feeding five thousand, and for continuing to teach and heal all who are clinging to his every word, as well as his robe.
I remember as a mom of young children that demanding feeling of children, pulling on your sleeve, calling your name over and over, expressing their needs in whiny voices.
It took enormous self-control not to explode sometimes when their needs exceeded my ability to give. What did I need? Sabbath time? Oh, but how do you get Sabbath time when you are actively parenting? Care.com? Friends, family, and fellow parents? Putting the children to bed early is a good way. Our children had naptime, mandatory quiet on their beds until 5 years old, not because they needed extra sleep every day, but Richard and I needed them to be in a deserted place – away from us!
As I have watched Kim Adams our intern this summer, I have noticed that she has some similar traits to her colleagues here at Peace. She does not want to stop until the job is done. She is not counting hours; she is measuring whether a task is done and whether people are cared for appropriately. The challenge for her and for all of us, paid staff and devoted volunteers, is to fulfill our calling by learning to when to stop. We must all develop healthy rhythms in life of giving AND receiving, of doing AND just being, of talking AND listening, of leading AND following, of actively serving and passively withdrawing, even when it’s not all done.
Darn, it’s hard! I came back from the wedding with a little respiratory virus, the one that gave Richard laryngitis at the wedding. But I REALLY wanted to go visit all the people who had surgery while I was away. I really wanted to catch up on everything that needed to be done, but I had to pace myself. Sound familiar?
Those who are driven – who never stop to gas up, who never notice the flowers along the road, who never take a stretch break to get perspective, will often find they have taken a wrong turn or fallen asleep at the wheel of life. Those who do not stop, cannot remember that God is ultimately in charge of holding this world together. When we keep working as if it ALL depends on us, then we begin to think, “It all depends on US!” But no, God invites us to rest. Jesus commands us to go away to a deserted place.
Important things happen in deserted places. The Hebrew people learned to trust God, to obey God’s commands, and to wait for the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. Their identity as a people rescued from oppression, lifted from despair was shaped by those forty years in the desert. Right after his baptism, Jesus was driven by the Spirit (yes, forcibly sent by the Spirit) into the desert, the wilderness.
For forty days and nights he struggled with temptation to take the easy way, but he endured and was empowered to begin a miraculous ministry of teaching and healing, carrying himself and all of humanity with him all the way to death and life again.
In the early church, there were people who came to be known as the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) whose sayings are recorded: One of them said, “The one who knows how to practice patience will always pray with joy.” (Abba Evagrius) There is also the story of the monastery where whenever a brother would commit a sin, all the brothers would go and confess it to the abbot, as if each had done it himself. So the abbot gave lesser consequences as he came to know this, because he did not want the innocent to suffer. And he made no effort to discover the real culprit. That depth of communal understanding is what drives our prayers of confession weekly. That depth could also change our life in families, communities, and nations. Instead of pointing a finger at one sinner, one shooter (in Charleston or in Chattanooga) and trying to analyze every time there’s a tragedy, what was wrong with that one person, we might look at all of us and how our attitudes and actions contribute either to healing or to division. All of us need to go to the desert to face our own inner demons and to find God’s grace. When we see God’s graceful love, then we cannot point fingers at anyone.
Don’t fight the desert. Stop what you are doing and go there. Go there alone or go there with a friend or family member. Rest, pray, meditate, walk in a garden, observe the sunset, the stars, the moon, the flowers, the beautiful people, the beautiful words of scripture, wonderful words and music of life. Entrust yourself to God’s care, remember that one day you will cease all your striving, when the Dear Lord, Creator, Good and Kind reclothes you in your rightful mind. A mind that seeks and breathes pure peace, a mind that dwells in the silence of eternity.
Traveling to the desert in the Spirit of Christ is our best dessert. Truly, if we practice the presence of God, it will be the sweetest indulgence we will ever know. As Julian of Norwich, one who lived in the isolation of her cell in the 14th century as an anchoress of the church, said “Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.” This is why we go to deserted places – to see, to contemplate, to delight in God, who is our love and our life.