A Sermon Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 22 July, 2012
Readings for the Eighth Sunday of Pentecost, Lectionary Year B: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Jesus said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." (Mark 6:31)
For a preacher just coming back from a week of vacation, this verse from Mark’s gospel, near the top of our reading for today, rings true with me. A week in Canada’s beautiful mountain parks, hiking and canoeing with my son, was a welcome break for me. But Jesus, I think, is saying something more profound that simply “take a break”. The rest he is speaking about is spiritual and theological, and needs to be understand in terms of our deepest relationships to him and to God his father.
We first need to understand that Jesus is offering rest to people who sorely need it. Today's gospel passage follows Jesus sending out the twelve disciples in Mk 6b-13 (that and today’s reading are separated by the account of Herod’s killing of John the Baptizer). So the disciples have had a hard tasking, doing the work that Jesus has called them to … preaching and healing. Now they have come back, and Jesus is reminding them that they need to recharge in his presence. I say his presence because he doesn’t say “go to a deserted place”, he says “come” and that come implies “come with me”.
I think that there are several places where we can see ourselves reflected in today's gospel reading, and one of them is as the disciples called to rest with Jesus. For us his followers, we need to be reminded that the work that Jesus has called us to, the work begun in our baptism and summed up in our baptismal covenant, is hard work. It’s not easy being true to Jesus in a world that is so busy, so consumed with the needs of self – acquisition, promotion, advantage. The only way we can find the energy to do this work is to rest with Jesus, to be in his company, to shelter with him and be recharged by him. That rest is pointed to in Psalm 23 that we read today.
This spiritual dimension of rest, of true rest, is quite different from the superficial rest we often settle for. This week past, while on holiday, I saw a lot of busy people trying to rest. Getting on the road, hauling a big RV, making timetables, setting up camp, trying to keep the kids occupied, choosing from a huge variety of leisure choices (horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, helicopter tours, ziplines, hikes, etc), and basically moving the suburban existence to a campground, well, I don’t think it was real rest. At least, not for me. There were only a few moments on my week when I really felt I was resting, and several of those were quiet times of prayer and reflection. The reality is that even when we try to rest, we are fearfully busy and preoccupied, and that’s when we need Jesus the most.
The second place we see ourselves in this gospel reading, I suggest, is in the crowds who “hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of [Jesus] (Mk 6:34). These are the people who know that only Jesus can give them rest from their diseases and cares. On one hand, I feel pity for Jesus, that even in his attempt to rest, he is swamped with human need. On the other hand, I feel gratitude that Jesus doesn’t react with irritation, or with compassion fatigue,in those moments when we turn to Jesus for relief.
Rest in this context is the knowledge thatGod is present with us in the form of his Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that God has compassion for us. Rest is relief from our self-doubting, from our guilt and from our self-accusation, and from our fear that the world is empty, indifferent, or even hostile to us. When in our second lesson from Ephesians, Paul speaks about God has ended the "hostility" that is between us and God, he is speaking about this rest. Rest is forgivness rather than condemnation. Paul goes on to say that God through Christ has made us "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God" (Eph 2:19), he is talking about the rest of the soul. Isn't home and family, at their best, the place where we can find rest and refuge at the end of a long, hard day? Rest is knowing that we have a home in the family of God, of which our worship in the chapel is a foretaste. We may be relative strangers to one another here, but this hour of rest and friendship is an aspect of the rest that Christ offers us.
Being a Christian in the world is difficult work. It is costly to love, hard to forgive, tiring to try and discern God's will and direction, difficult to not give in and go with the flow of our society, which places self and choice before all else. It's all a tough slog, which is why Christ's offer to "come ... and rest for a while" is made to each of us. We need to take advantage of those moments, to rest for a moment from our vocation as disciples and as Christians, but also to seek the rest from our burdens, cares and griefs that is Christ's promise to each of us who would be his followers. So my prayer for all of us this summer is look for places of rest, whether in the canoe, the hammock, or the forest trail, but also to look for that deep and spiritual rest that we only find with Christ our Lord and shepherd. Amen.. Amen.