“Come Away and Rest Awhile”
Proper 11, Year B
July 22, 2018
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Due to technical difficulties, no audio or video is available of the sermon at this time. My apologies!
A little over 10 years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks in Israel. The first week was spent around the Sea of Galilee, exploring the small towns and villages Jesus spent much of his life ministering in. The second half of the trip was spent in and around Jerusalem. The night before we were to board our tour bus to make the trek southward, our guide, an incredibly experienced and knowledgeable woman named Gila, called us together for a short meeting. She briefed us on safety and security while in Jerusalem. She spoke about protecting our valuables and money from pick pockets in the vastly crowded streets of the city, what to do if we became separated from the group in the throngs of people we would soon encounter, and the need to always travel in groups of two or more, ensuring our safety in the packed streets of the Old City in particular.
From Gila’s safety warnings, I quickly developed a picture of Jerusalem that was something akin to Christmas shopping season in New York—packed to bursting with people to such a degree you could barely take a step forward. As I went to bed that night, I took a deep breath, attempting to prepare myself for the chaos awaited us. And chaos it was!
We had arrived in Jerusalem during the festival of Purim and the already crowded streets were filled with children in costume and their parents (a story for another time!). Jerusalem was part holy city, thronged with pilgrims of the three major monotheistic faiths, and part modern metropolis, busy with women and men going about their daily lives, weaving their way through the slow moving and often befuddled pilgrims in their path. I marveled at Gila’s skills as a guide as she expertly navigated us through the crowded streets and alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem over the next few days.
Then came Friday. Gila had spoken to us about the approaching Sabbath, in particular to be aware of which elevator we boarded in the hotel as one would be designated the “Sabbath lift.” It would be programmed to stop on every other floor without the guests aboard it pressing any buttons. For those of us staying on the upper floors of our high-rise hotel, this could turn a less than a minute ride to the ground floor into an epic fifteen-minute or more journey!
As we boarded the bus late in the day on Friday to return to our hotel after a day exploring the Old City I was greeted by a wholly unfamiliar site. It was close to sunset and the streets, which up till how had been packed with cars and people were strangely quiet. I saw the odd person or two quickly crossing the street as the sun dipped low in the sky, a few cars hastily passing us as we made our way through the streets, but the maddening crowds of the last few days were nowhere to be seen. Sabbath had arrived.
As I sat in my hotel room that night, looking out the window over the ancient city, a sense of deep peace and quiet fell over me. The city had gone still; almost as though exhaling a slow, long, deep breath. The work of the week was over; it was time to rest.
And it is rest that Jesus invites the disciples to experience at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading.
The disciples have gathered after having been sent out by Jesus two by two to minister to the people in the towns and villages around the Sea of Galilee. They have returned, full of stories of the ways in which God is moving among the people—stories of lessons taught and healings experienced. They have worked hard to share the love of God with those around them, and the joy in their eyes as they tell Jesus all they have done is clear, but it is accompanied by a deep weariness in their voices. They are enlivened…and they are tired.
Jesus sees their weariness and responds. “Come away,” he says, “and rest a while.”
While Jesus’ drawing the disciples away to rest is not specifically a “Sabbath story,” the heart of the Sabbath lies within Jesus’ words.
The experience of Sabbath is far more than simply taking a day off from paid work. I love the way MaryAnn McKibben Dana explains Sabbath in her book, Sabbath in the Suburbs. She writes,
“A day each week without work … a day to unplug, unwind, laugh, play, and love…On one day, we would not multitask. We would not map out the optimal way to get our errands done with cranky kids in tow. We would not shop. We would not plan. We would stop, which is the literal meaning of Sabbath— “Shabbat” in Hebrew. We would rest, and we would not expend energy except to do the things that we enjoy. The world would go on without us. We would be dispensable. We would let God’s grace seep into us in a way that it can’t when our lives are crammed full of activity. For one day a week, we would let the laundry sit in the basket, let the leaves languish on the lawn, let the bills sit unpaid on the desk. For one day a week, we would take a day of rest that, we hoped, would help put the remainder of the week in better perspective.”
It sounds incredible doesn’t it…and feels unachievable.
Just as Jesus and the disciples find a secluded spot to rest and replenish, we hear the echoing noise of the fast-approaching crowd. So much for Sabbath rest, right? Back to work for everyone. Or is it?
As they arrive at the shore, the narrative suddenly shifts from being about “them” to just “him.” Jesus exits the boat and begins to minister to the crowds, leaving his Sabbath-hungry disciples to take their rest.
In this moment Jesus drives home an essential truth to the disciples, and to us—we are dispensable. While our role in God’s work of redemption and reconciliation in the world is important, and while we most certainly have “work to do,” we are not indispensable to what God is up to. We are created to rest as much as we are to work. Jesus releases the disciples from their labors to find their rest while he continues on in his mission of love, mercy, and justice; knowing once they have taken their rest, they will return empowered and emboldened to continue the work of love.
That is the essence of Sabbath, by taking our rest, we are reminded God’s mission is bigger than any one of us. By taking our rest, we discover again how precious we are to God, not for what we do but simply for who we are.
I knew when I began this sermon I couldn’t pack it all in to one week. There’s simply too much to say. So today is the first of a three-part series on Sabbath. Come back next week as we dive deeper into the holy practice of Sabbath and explore together what it means to invite Sabbath into our lives. Until then, remember each of us is beckoned to “come away and rest awhile.”