Pastor Barbara Thrall
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, greetings. We were last together in the middle of June, and now here it is, a little over a month later. I have to say it’s good to be retired again, and it’s also really good to be back with you today. Truth be told, I’ve missed you and I hope you have been well. I’m hearing that you are doing fine, and that things are progressing toward your time of welcoming Pastor Martha and Tricia in less than a month. The world is more or less getting back to normal, so this is an exciting time for all of us.
We heard it in the lesson from St. Mark’s gospel this morning. It must have been in the summer. Jesus telling the disciples that it was time to take a break, to step back and step out and rest. Consider what they had been doing. If we take the 6th chapter of Mark’s gospel alone, check out this itinerary:
Jesus arrives in his own country.
On the Sabbath he teaches in the synagogue and the men there are both astonished and offended. Jesus can’t help but note their unbelief.
He goes about the surrounding villages, teaching, then calling the 12 together he sends them out two by two. They preach, cast out demons, anoint the sick with oil and heal them.
Meanwhile, King Herod hears about this curious activity and we have the interlude about Herod’s rash promise, Salome’s deviousness and the murder of John the Baptist.
Back to Jesus and the disciples. They return from their tour through the villages and tell Jesus everything they have done. It is then that he suggests that they all get away somewhere for a short vacation.
They left the area in a boat to go to a lonely place, but the crowds caught up with them, so Jesus taught the people. It got late, and the disciples wanted to send the crowds away but Jesus thought it would be a good idea to feed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish they had at hand.
Now it was getting really late, so Jesus instructed the disciples to get into the boat again and go to Bethsaida, while he went up on a nearby mountain to pray.
He saw that his followers were struggling in the boat and came to them, walking on the water, and when he commanded it, the sea calmed down.
They came to shore at Gennesaret where people ran to see him, and they brought their sick and he healed them.
That is ONE chapter. So talk about exhausting. No wonder Jesus and the disciples needed a rest.
They needed a break because Jesus and the disciples were following an agenda, one outlined for them by God and it was pretty rigorous. I think Jesus may have been concerned he was becoming a dispenser of goodies, and he wanted time with the disciples to rest, regroup and in the words of our GPS systems, recalculate.
For us, things may be a bit more proscribed but I think we have a lot of agendas placed upon us, both from the outside and from our own sense of responsibility and obligation. Whether we are still working, or retired, at school, at home or on vacation, so often we have a program we’re trying to follow, and there is stuff we want to get done, stuff we need to get done. When summer comes, we make our way outside and become involved in all that the warm weather affords, in the yard and the garden, with sports and outdoor activities, vacations, taking care of the pool, even entertaining and traveling a bit. Yet even in the summer, maybe more so in the summer, we need to take time to really step back, rest, recreate, and recharge the batteries. It turns out we are not the first ones to need that.
Jesus observed the crowds in his day, rushing everywhere, so incredibly busy and often so needy, and he said that they were like sheep without a shepherd. I think we know what he means, people (maybe ourselves?) running in all directions, distracted, unfocused, trying sometimes to find a way but unable to discern the path. So many things seem both important and urgent, But the thing is, though we sometimes behave as though we are sheep without a shepherd, we have a shepherd.
Way back in the Old Testament Jeremiah pointed this out. When we are really lost, when we have been driven to the four corners of the compass, God will gather the remnant and will bring us back together and we will be fruitful and multiply. There is one coming who will care for us, who will guide and direct us, and also challenge us to follow in his ways. The one Jeremiah envisioned is Jesus.
And then, In the time of Christ, St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, talking about that Shepherd in so many words. There have been and always will be things that divide us, ways in which we differ and are far apart, both sides convinced we are right. Paul urges us to look to Jesus, who came to reconcile us to the Father so that those who are far off and those who are near will have the Peace of God preached to them. Jesus’ goal is for us to thrive and not be worn down by life and all its tribulations and concerns, as legitimate as they often are. Jesus came to draw us closer to the Father, and to one another, not to drive us crazy with work and worry. He came to help us remember whose we are.
The great Christian writer, CS Lewis, wrote this in his book, Mere Christianity, “The real problem of the Christian life comes when people do not really look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals, and the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day long. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings and coming in out of the wind.”
Coming in out of the wind, to hear the still, small voice of God over (or is it under?) the noise and commotion. To hear the voice of the Shepherd, Jesus, who calls us to listen to him, our center in the midst of all that propels us here and there. He calls on us to be with him, to be like him, to be for him. He calls on us to take this summer time, all kinds of time, to discern his presence and to seek after him and find him. Using the time, making the opportunity, sitting still, in the silence, wherever we are. Then, we may be able to hear God saying to us, “You are mine. I know your name and I love you. I will never let you go. Remember, my disciples and I spent a lot of time at the beach. Now, pour a glass of lemonade and take a break.” Amen.