Sermon July 19, 2015
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
I returned from vacation on Wednesday and immediately hit the ground running. I finished the mid-week message, the bulletin, and responded to a few of the emails that came in before going to dinner with John Dorhauer and area clergy and then the gathering at church that evening. On Thursday, I went to the hospital to pray with someone going into surgery, met with the Stewardship committee, sorted through some of the paper on my desk, had lunch with a colleague, and went home to write a sermon. My phone rang several times with questions about Vassar property, renting the church for an event, leading a retreat, planning a wedding, and a few other scheduling questions. The irony of this is that the scripture is Jesus telling the disciples to “come away and rest awhile. I know that what I just described is your life too. I’m not the only one who lives like this. It just seems that there are always more things to do than we can possibly do and trying to keep track of everything proves to be a big challenge for many of us.
You may remember that a few weeks ago, Jesus sent the disciples out to preach and heal and show God’s love to the people they met. In the lesson today, the disciples are returning. They are weary from their journey. Jesus listens to what they have done and realizes that they aren’t even finding time to eat because there are so many demands on their time. He calls them to come away and retreat with him – to rest and renew because he knows the journey ahead will be filled with more people seeking healing.
And that is what happens. People see them retreating so they run ahead to meet Jesus and wait for him to care for them. Rather than tell those who are desperate to go away, Jesus feels compassion and stops to tend to them. How many times are we hoping for renewal only to be interrupted by the needs of another? It is one of the difficult human realities that we are often faced with a choice between what we want and what others need. In that moment, Jesus puts the needs of the crowd first.
We could spend a lot of time dissecting how to prioritize our needs and the needs of others. Perhaps that is a helpful conversation. But I think we need both. We need to make our own needs a priority. Do you know what restores you? Do you know what you need to be a healthy balanced person? One sign of our weariness is that we can’t even name what we need. Often we choose activities that are mind numbing (watching tv and surfing the internet) rather than activities that genuinely restore us. We tend to race from one thing to the next and it is rare for families to sit down and eat dinner together. Maya once asked me why I eat breakfast standing up in the kitchen. I hadn’t even noticed it, but I was so focused on getting everyone out the door in the morning that I didn’t even sit down to eat.
Our culture treats busy-ness as a virtue and often the question “How are you?” is met with the reply, “I’m so busy!” In China the polite answer to the question of "How are you?" is to say, "I am very busy, thank you." Let’s be clear that the gospel never says busy is virtuous. In fact, the Chinese pictograph for busy means “heart killing”. What if we turn this around and ask what is heart growing instead?
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Minister who reflected on the difficulty of disengaging. She says, “Pastors are notorious for overworking, and the church colludes with its clergy in this particular sin. When people say, "Pastor Bob is a total workaholic," we all know that this is secretly seen as a pastoral virtue. To work 60+ hours a week is to show commitment and passion.”
Nadia goes on to say, “And there's so much work to do, isn't there? How is the church supposed to function without us? Well-meaning friends smile and say that we must take a sabbath and rest. But as a friend of mine once observed, rest is only part of the reason for taking a sabbath. If the sabbath were only for rest, we might be tempted to think it serves only to fuel us back up so we can do more work. After all, our work is very important. The world needs us.”
"You have to take sabbath," her friend told her, "if only to realize that God's redeeming work in the world actually goes on just fine without you." Ouch. (from http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2009-07/or-without-us)
As I sat down to write my sermon, I remembered a book that I have wanted to read called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by Chris Smith and John Pattison. This book was written to counter what the authors call the “McDonalization” of the Church. The book is about slowing down and is parallel to the slow food movement in our world. The focus is building real community and not just racing from one project to the next. The authors say that, “Slow church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us, and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods.”
It sounds like it could have been written for this scripture. It has to do with taking care about what we do and how we do it. It calls us to pay attention to the world around us and to what God is doing in our midst. The authors of Slow Church are calling us to sit down with each other and really talk with each other. That implies that we will listen and show compassion. It seems like an important book for us to read as we reflect on how to be the church.
Those times after worship where we sit and talk with each other matter. Our monthly potlucks matter. The dinner we had one evening in April mattered. The conversations that happen around tables in text study, book groups, classes, and Progressive Christianity matter. In each case, we stop and notice the people at our table. The early church ate together and the community grew like wildfire. People were hungry to eat together and really share their lives. In a time where much of what we do is connect through technology, we share that same hunger whether we know it or not. I remember reading the book Megatrends in college in the 1980’s. In it, John Naisbitt looked at some trends and the implications of those trends. The one that has stuck with me for thirty years was the phrase “high tech; high touch”. Naisbitt saw our increasing reliance on technology and realized that we would need to be more intentional about connecting with other human beings. He was right. It is too easy to get lost in the world of technology and not really relate to the people right in front of us or make the time for people that we love.
I believe that if we are more intentional about connecting with one another, we are more open to the needs of the world around us. The word compassion means to “suffer with” and we feel compassion when we allow ourselves to feel the suffering and needs of the world around us. God shows compassion to us and calls us to be compassionate people in the world. We are all in this together and we have so much to offer if we will take the time to really be the church. We are called to pay attention to each other and we are called to attend to our spirits. Doing so will give meaning and purpose to our lives.
There is a clear call in this passage to rest. We must attend to ourselves and our needs. There is also a clear call to respond to the needs of others. It is not an either/or. Where is our growing edge? May we grow as a slow church that takes the time to connect with one another. May we honor the need for rest. May we respond to the needs of the world. Together these enable us to be the body of Christ.