Sermon: “Come Away…and Rest”
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
2 Samuel 7.1-14a; Psalm 89.20-37; Ephesians 2.11-22; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56
Today’s gospel reading begins with story-telling – the apostles have gathered around Jesus and are telling him all they have done and taught. In Mark 6.6-13, we read how Jesus sent them out two-by-two with authority over unclean spirits. They were to travel light carrying only a staff for protection from robbers; they were to take no bread, no bag, no money in their belts. If they were not welcomed, nor listened to, they were to shake the dust off their sandals as a testimony against the people. During their journey, they preached that all should repent, they cast out many demons, and they anointed many who were sick such that they were cured. The journey required that they suffer some hardship and rely upon the generosity of others for their sustenance.
After hearing their stories, Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6.31; NRSV). Mark tells us many were still seeking their assistance such that they didn’t even have a chance to eat! They boarded and set sail for a deserted place. But alas, many who recognized them saw where they were heading and arrived first. As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion upon them. So much for rest!
Sometimes, the only peace one can find is in a boat! Perhaps the apostles enjoyed a bit of quiet time on the water. Last Tuesday, two of my brothers and I boarded their pontoon and visited a deserted place. It was so deserted we only saw one fish! Unlike Jesus and the apostles, we were not pursued. We leisurely snacked on bugles and enjoyed our beverage. As the day waned and our chances diminished, we finally agreed the outing was a shakedown cruise in preparation for the big one ahead. The fisherman’s hope springs eternal!
Joking aside, Jesus cared for the apostles, and he felt compassion for the crowd. As the crowd were like sheep without a shepherd, Jesus began to teach them many things. Our reading stops here and picks back up after omitting the story of Jesus’ miraculously feeding the crowd. As it was growing late and they were in a deserted place some distance from surrounding villages, the disciples urged Jesus to send the people on their way such that they could buy something to eat. Imagine their shock when Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat!” They asked Jesus how they were to buy 200 denari worth of bread. Jesus told them to see how many loaves were available. After checking they reported they had found five loaves and two fish. Remember how Jesus took them, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the crowd to eat. Jesus was not only teaching the crowd – he was also teaching the apostles that God’s kingdom is one of abundance.
If we would hear the voice of God, we need to steal away to a deserted place and rest. In Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s book, Love Is the Way, Curry cites Howard Thurman’s telling “about his grandmother, a former slave.” Curry writes:
She remembered two church services for the slaves every Sunday. The first was organized by the Master. The authorized preacher would lead worship and give sermons that boiled down to instruction on how God would want you to be a better slave. But after the formal service, slaves would “steal away to Jesus,” as part of what the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier called “the invisible institution.” There the slave preacher would preach another sermon, one that always ended with these words: “You are not slaves, you are the children of God” (pp.69-70).
Bishop Curry’s words call to mind the old gospel classic, “Steal Away to Jesus:”
Steal Away. Steal Away. Steal Away. Steal Away to Jesus. Steal Away. Steal Away home. I haven't got long to stay here.
Steal Away. Steal Away. Steal Away. Steal Away to Jesus. Steal Away. (steal home) Steal Away home. I haven't got long to stay here.
My lord, my lord, he calls me. (calls me) He calls me by the thunder. (thunder) The trumpet sounds way down in my sanctified soul. I haven't got long to stay here.
Green trees are bending. (are bending) Sinners stand a-trembling. (a-trembling) The trumpet sounds within my soul. I haven't got long to stay here.
Steal Away. (in the midnight hour) Steal Away. (when you need some power) Steal Away.(when your heart is heavy) Steal Away to Jesus. (steal away to Jesus) Steal Away. (steal away home) Steal Away home. (haven't got long) I haven't got long to stay here.
My Lord, he calls me. (calls me) I can hear him calling me by the lightning. (Lightnin') The trumpet sounds within my soul. I haven't got long to stay here.
Steal away to Jesus. (oh) Steal away. Steal Away Home Steal Away to Jesus. I haven't got long to stay here. I haven't got long to stay here. (hallelujah steal Away) I haven't got long to stay here.
The words “I haven’t got long to stay here” reminded the slaves their oppression was temporary, something fleeting, bad though it was.
Jesus invites us to come apart to rest. We need to steal away to Jesus. In the cool of the morning, I enjoy having coffee on the porch of the rectory. It is a time to steal away to Jesus. It is good to spend a few moments taking in the glories of God’s creation, watching the rabbits at play, hoping for another visit from Merle the Squirrel, listening to the birds, praying for others, and thinking of what the day may bring.
Where do you find your deserted place? Where do you steal away to Jesus? Where do you find rest and peace such that you can hear the voice of God? Many people like to enter an empty church for a quiet time with God. But as our lesson from 2 Samuel informs us, God is not limited to our buildings. Yes, we can meet God there, but we can also meet God in a busy crowd. God meets us wherever and whenever we choose. Deserted places need not always be physical – they can also be mental, states of mind. If we are going to be faithful to the work to which God calls us, we need to come away to a deserted place to rest in God’s presence. Here we can quiet our minds and our hearts and listen to the voice of God. We can find peace. If we are to convey peace to others, we must be at peace with ourselves.
Unfortunately, we tend to rely too much on ourselves, to believe that all we need to do is work a bit harder, to push a bit more. An English proverb says “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” The Living Bible translates Proverbs 16.27 as “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.”
To cite my friend Aristotle, virtue is the mean between two extremes, one a deficiency, the other an excess. If idleness is the deficiency, I submit that busyness is the excess. If idleness is the devil’s workshop, then busyness is the devil’s prison. Busyness can be especially pernicious for we easily justify it as something beneficial we do for others. After, isn’t self-sacrifice good?
If idleness is the deficiency, and busyness the excess, then what is the virtuous mean? Permit me to suggest “faithful attentiveness.” In faithful attentiveness we attend to our God-given relationships and duties. We take note of those who are suffering and work to alleviate their pain. We take note of those who are grieving and walk beside them. We take note of those who are hungry and feed them.
The sabbath, the day of rest, affords a weekly opportunity for such attentiveness. It is a time to pull apart for rest and renewal; a time to worship and thank God for God’s gifts of creation and relationship; a time to attend to relationships. The sabbath is God’s invitation to come apart to a deserted place for rest and reflection. Have I genuinely loved God and my neighbor? Let’s steal away!