Come Away To A Deserted Place

A sermon from Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 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. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 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… When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 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.

Woman reaching into mailbox for mail --- Image by © Tetra Images/Corbis

Woman reaching into mailbox for mail — Image by © Tetra Images/Corbis

Pent8 / John Stiles / First Lutheran Church / 7-19-15

Children’s Time: What makes you happy? I have a ‘happy box’ that I put things in – like birthday cards, and pictures kids have drawn for me – and little notes of encouragement (it works for email, too!). So, what’s in your happy box? Are there sad things in that box? A lot of sad things happened this week, with the big storm knocking down trees all over town.  When we are sad, Jesus wants us to rest – to come away in prayer and be reminded of what makes us happy.

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say, ‘Come!’ Amen.

“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves, and rest awhile.”

Rest is the order of the day in our gospel lesson from Mark 6. And yet, given the week we’ve had – since the storm blew through – most people haven’t had time to hardly think – let alone a moment’s rest. In fact, many are simply exhausted! It seems everyone knows someone who got hit harder than they did. Even our Habitat for Humanity project has suffered for lack of help – mainly due the need for a massive cleanup effort. So, how are you hearing Jesus’ words this morning? “Come away to a deserted place…” Are you grateful that Jesus offers a moments peace? Or does ‘rest’ simply become yet another thing on your ‘to do’ list?

As I mentioned earlier, there are many joys in my ‘happy box’ for which I’m grateful to be a part of each day, thanks to you! All of you make it possible for me to be a minister in this place – to work with a staff and council leaders who are so dedicated to God’s Work, through Our Hands – to be an ambassador to this community of faith – it is an honor and a privilege to be in ministry at this church! But I must admit, sometimes I find a ‘sad box’ there in my heart. It’s full of all the hurts – and illnesses – and sadness of the people I encounter every day. You see, ministry is always at the doorstep – there will always be more to do than we can accomplish on any given day. The disciples knew this, as we read in v. 31: “Many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat!” Have you ever been so busy that you’ve had to eat lunch on the run – or at your office desk, in order to meet a deadline?

How many of you, at the end of the day, have more things on your “TO DO” list than when you started? There will always be more things TO DO – more ministry to be a part of than we can ever accomplish! That’s why it’s important to remember the One at the center of it all. Jesus holds it all together …so we don’t have to! With all the ministry going on in our gospel lesson (healings, teaching, helping) notice who’s in charge: Jesus. The disciples are exhausted, and when they get across the lake, the whole village has gone there ahead of them to meet them on the shore. Who takes control? Jesus. He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

This week, the Brainerd Lakes Area has been digging out from the storm that brought hurricane force winds to our neighborhood. And yes, sadly, there have been people trying to take advantage of other’s losses by charging inflated fees for tree removal. Our first lesson had a stern warning for those who take advantage of others: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord…you have not attended to them, so I will attend to you!” (Jeremiah 23:1f)

But the reality of life is that tragedy happens. We won’t always have the words to say when a natural disaster hits – or when unspeakable violence occurs on a regular basis. Just this week, yet another shooting rocked the town of Chattanooga, TN. Five servicemen were killed by a man at the Navy Operational Support Center. So, yes, there will always be people in need of healing and of hearing the good news! I’m reminded of what Fred Rogers once said (You remember Mr. Rogers?):

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So, we look for the helpers – and we keep the people of Chattanooga in our prayers, along with Brainerd, Charleston, Baltimore, and all the other concerns in our hearts. But never forget that it’s Jesus who is the focal point that makes this ministry possible. It’s not “my ministry” or “our ministry” it’s Jesus’ ministry.

I still remember the bedtime prayer of Pope John Paul II, who reportedly once said his prayers at the end of the day: “This is your church, Lord, not mine. I am tired. Good night.”

Isn’t that good news? That we can rest at the end of each day from our labors – confident that God neither slumbers nor sleeps. …and just in case you were wondering whether Jesus was truly human (as well as fully divine)… read the verse that got left out of this story (there’s the whole feeding of the 5000… but look particularly at v.46) where Jesus goes up by himself to the mountain to pray… then ask yourself, if the son of God needs some down time to pray now and then, who am I to think I don’t?

Because of Christ, we can go out into the world and work those miracles – the sick will be healed, the hungry will be fed, the grieving will be comforted, and yes the toppled trees and broken homes will be cleared and mended – not because of how special we are, but because we look for the helpers – we look for Christ in the center of all we are and do in the world!

Our Hymn of the Day, which we’ll sing just moment, reminds us that we have an eternal home in Christ: “O God, our help in ages past / our hope for years to come / our shelter from the stormy blast / and our eternal home.”

I want to close with a story that reminds us to look for the helpers. It’s “The Hermit’s Gift” by M. Scott Peck:

There once was an old monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Centuries earlier, it had been a thriving place where many dedicated monks lived and worked and had great influence on the realm. But now only five monks lived there, and they were all over seventy years old. It was clearly a dying order.

A few miles from the monastery lived an old hermit who many thought was a prophet. One day as the monks agonized over the impending demise of their order, they decided to visit the hermit to see if he might have some advice. Perhaps he would be able to see the future and show them what they could do to save the monastery.

The hermit welcomed the five monks to his hut, but when they explained the purpose of their visit, he could only commiserate with them. “Yes, I understand how it is,” said the hermit. “The spirit has gone out of the people. Hardly anyone cares much for the old things anymore.” “Is there anything you can tell us that would help us save the monastery?” “No, I’m sorry,” said the hermit. “I don’t know how your monastery can be saved. The only thing that I can tell you is that one of you is an Apostle of God.”

The monks were both disappointed and confused by the hermit’s statement. They returned to the monastery, wondering what the hermit could have meant by saying, “One of you is an apostle of God.” For months after their visit, they pondered the significance of his words. “One of us is an apostle of God.” “Did he actually mean one of us monks here at the monastery? Impossible. We are all too old – too insignificant. On the other hand, what if it’s true? And if it is true, then which one of us is it? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Thomas is a holy man – a man of wisdom and light. He couldn’t have meant Brother Elrod. Elrod gets crotchety at times and is difficult to reason with. On the other hand, he is almost always right. Surely he could not have meant Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, so shy. Still, he is always there when you need him, so loyal and trustworthy. Of course the hermit didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet, suppose he did? Suppose I am an apostle of God? And on and on it went… As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one of them might actually be an apostle of God.

Now, because the monastery was situated in a beautiful forest, many people came there to picnic on its tiny lawn and to walk on its paths, and even now and then to go into the tiny chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks. It seemed to radiate out of them, permeating the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, people began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, and to pray. They brought their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

As more and more visitors came, some of the younger men started to talk with the old monks. One asked if he could join them. Then another… and another… and within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order, all thanks to the hermit’s gift.

Dear friends in Christ, may we be people who can look for the helpers in each other – to treat one another with renewed respect – as apostles of God – that we, too, might be a thriving community where people can truly find rest for their souls. Let us pray: O Jesus, we hear your call to “Come away and rest.” And yet, we are pulled in many directions, with no time even to eat! Be the center of our life, that we may be your helpers, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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