Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 22, 2012

2012.07.22 “Need to Get Away” – Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56

Central United Methodist Church

Need to Get Away

Pastor David L. Haley

Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56

July 22, 2012

 

    “The apostles rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going.  They didn’t even have time to eat.

        So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves.  Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke — like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.

        They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing.  As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat — that’s all. And whoever touched him became well.” – Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson.

 

          A few days ago, when I opened the web browser on my computer, a large ad took over most of the screen. The image was the back of a woman in a bikini, sitting on a beach, overlooking the ocean. The caption read: “Need to get away?”

I don’t know if my computer was reading my mind, or tracking my interests, as computers increasingly do, or whether it was completely circumstantial, though probably not.

“Need to get away” in the declarative and not the interrogative case – might also be a suitable caption for today’s Gospel.

In the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples had just returned, weary, from a successful mission of preaching and healing, to find themselves surrounded by such a sea of human need that they had no time to eat. Recognizing their need, Jesus said to them, “Come away with me; let’s take a break and get a little rest.”

Who of us would not have jumped at such an invitation? There expectations were likely the same as ours at the prospect of REST: to go where there are no crowds, maybe no phones, certainly no schedules. To sleep late and eat when and as much as you want. To lay in the sun, to walk along the beach, to watch the sunset. To sleep a full night’s sleep and wake up refreshed.  Point the way, Jesus, we’re ready; let me grab my toothbrush!

Because the truth is, in every one of our jobs and lives, and especially in those that are people oriented (and who’s isn’t?), the time comes, when – to renew our energy, to restore our spirits, and to prevent compassion fatigue – we need to get away. To be faithful over the long term, we must attend to the rhythm of labor and leisure, of public ministry balanced with private retreat. So the question before each of us today is, “How are we doing?” Are we taking care of ourselves for the long haul, in order that we might be – and continue to be – faithful, compassionate disciples of Jesus?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only emphasizes the importance of retreat for himself and all his disciples; he demonstrates the compassion that is possible when one consistently attends to this.

Throughout the Gospels, and especially in today’s passage, it is clear Jesus had a charisma that made people want to be where he was. But it is equally clear that he knew that, in order to maintain this, he knew when to get away from people. Time and again, he slips away, not only from the crowds, but even from his own disciples, into solitude for prayer and renewal.

It’s also clear that he does this, not only for his sake, but for the sake of those to whom he ministers.  As a pastor once said, “the people I am called to serve will not ask me to take a vacation, but I must take a vacation in order that I will be better able to serve the people I am called to serve.”

Most of us know, and do not have to be told how important this is.  If we are honest, we can read the signs in our own life when a vacation is needed, even overdue. It becomes harder and harder to keep up the routine, harder to focus, harder to keep from being irritated by small, trivial things. Push it too far and there is always a price to pay.

I’ve always agreed with church consultant Roy Oswald that there is no poorer advertisement for the Christian faith to see any of us who call ourselves Christians – but especially those of us who are pastors – dragging ourselves to church for yet another meeting, shoulders drooped, head bent, looking like the saddest guy in the world.  It’s like the old joke about the guy who sat down by a pastor on an airplane and said, “You don’t look so good; are you sick?”  “No,” said the pastor, “I’m just a Methodist pastor.” I have sworn to myself never to let myself become that way; I apologize if I sometimes do.

And conversely, can’t we say from experience what an amazing and restorative effect a good vacation has upon us? Even though I always find it hard to extricate myself and get away, when I do, I am amazed at how much better my focus, my energy, and my attitude when I return. I have even heard from reliable sources, that if you stay away long enough you might even look forward to returning!  Surely that tells us something.

Evidently this is not just a problem we clergy have, but one shared by many of us.  For some reason, we Americans do not do vacation – or even relaxation – very well. Go to most countries of the world, such as France in August, and you will find most of the country on vacation. In fact, most of the people of the world are better about this than us Americans, very intentional about family time, afternoon siestas, time off, and vacation.

I think of my visit to Spain a few years ago.  Every afternoon, everyone disappeared for a couple of hours to go home and have an extended lunch (siesta) with their family. Business and work picked up again late afternoon, and then, after 8 at night, the restaurants were packed with people having a great time, not just around food, but in each other’s company.  Every time we go to Europe, we are the last ones into most restaurants and the first ones out, no matter hard how we try. Maybe it could be summarize it this way: We Americans live to work; in most countries of the world, people work to live. We could learn something from them.

Illustrative of this, this past week there was a study out of UCLA, reported in the Boston Globe and other places, which observed a typical week of thirty-two middle class families in the Los Angeles area. The idea was to take a detailed snapshot of American family life in the early 21st century. The results, according to one researcher, were “disheartening.” Most of the families were so consumed with working, collecting, amassing, and “getting ahead,” that they actually spent very little time enjoying what they were working for. Jeanne E. Arnold, lead author and a professor of anthropology at UCLA, shared her particular dismay at how little time family members spent outside: “Something like 50 of the 64 parents in our study never stepped outside in the course of a week,” she said. “When they gave us tours of their house they’d say, ‘Here’s the backyard, I don’t have time to go there.’  They were working a lot at home. Leisure time was spent in front of the TV or at the computer.”  (“Boxed In, Wanting Out,” Beth Teitell, the Boston Globe, July 10, 2012. See also, “Stuff Makes Us Sad, Especially in America,” Cory Doctorow, at the website Boing Boing, July 13, 2012 http://boingboing.net/2012/07/13/stuff-makes-us-sad-especially.html)

A recent issue of the New Yorker (July 23, 2012) captured this in an image on the front cover: a family is on a beach, on vacation. Every member of the family is on a mobile device. (Does this remind you of a family you know?) Art too closely imitates life. What’s the matter with us?

In the Gospel, for Jesus’ disciples, rest was also not to be found, although for different reasons. When they got to where they were going, described as a “deserted place,” it turned out not to be deserted long. They were spotted by the local paparazzi and soon people from the villages came running, bringing the sick and the lame and the needy, on stretchers and in cars and buses and trains and helicopters. (OK, I exaggerate.) It was chaos; there would be no rest for the weary, due to the sea of human need.

I can imagine what Jesus disciples had to say, can’t you?  “Hey, what are all you people doing here? Get outta here; this is our place! Can’t a fellow get any rest around here?” They were suffering compassion fatigue, and it was showing.

Anybody who has ever shown compassion to anybody, in any form, knows what I’m talking about. You help somebody out with a few bucks, the next thing you know there’s a line at the door.  You make a contribution to a cause, and the next thing you know your mailbox and your email box are flooded with requests.  You lend a sympathetic ear, and the next thing you know the calls come night-and-day. Before you know it, compassion fatigue sets in, and we become cynical, undermining compassion.

This is all the more reason to appreciate what happened when Jesus saw the crowds, which shows why he was divine and we are not. When he saw the crowds, unlike his disciples, he had this reaction:

“At the sight of them, his heart broke – like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them …

And in the next and central part of the passage, which we do not read today because we dwell on it for the next five weeks – the feeding of the 5,000 – Jesus feeds their hungry bodies as well as their hungry spirits.

Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite passages. Because what it tells us is this: our real ministry begins when and where our hearts are broken. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion upon them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Our real ministry begins when and where our hearts are broken.  We could talk, about Mother Teresa caring for the poor of Calcutta.  But, closer to home, I could also tell you about my friend, ordinary guy, Brian Hendricks out in West Chicago, who for over 25 years now has led my former congregation in a ministry to the homeless. All of us know people like Brian, we can name them: people whose hearts were broken by human need, and now it is their greatest ministry.

What is it that breaks your heart? The homeless? Victims of gun violence. Veterans? The disabled? Immigrants? Because it just may be there that your greatest ministry lies, undiscovered, untapped, waiting to be fulfilled.

In today’s Gospel, it is clear: Jesus not only emphasizes the importance of retreat for himself and all his disciples; he demonstrates the degree of compassion possible when we attend to this.

Whatever Jesus did in his solitude, it was so powerful that wherever he was, that’s where people wanted to be. Whatever he did in his absence, it made his presence so powerful, that in it, the sick were made whole. Whatever he thought about in his silence, it made his words so powerful when he spoke that crowds came to hear him. Isn’t that the kind of person we would like to be, and remain, throughout our lives?

If so, then we must attend to the rhythms of leisure and labor, of public ministry and private retreat. “Come away with me,” says Jesus, and we know we must.

When and where and how will you be getting away? This week, what one thing will you not do, and what one new thing will you do, in order to get away and get some rest?

 

 

 

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