I am incredibly grateful for my vacation time this summer. I came back to church feeling rested and renewed, ready for the ministry we do together. I know that many of you have been on vacation or are planning to take some time in the next little while - it is important, even if we love what we do, even if we stay home, to take a break once in a while.
In the Gospel of Mark there is a story about a time when Jesus and the disciples have been busy. When they gather to report back to him "all that they had done and taught," Jesus must be really impressed. He says to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." Mark says that Jesus proposed this vacation because, "many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat." So, they go away in a boat to a place by themselves.
Unfortunately, when they get there it is anything but deserted and Jesus and the disciples are forced into action. Later, when they cross over to the other side of the lake - perhaps in another attempt to get away from the crowds - the people will recognize him, and they will be called into work again, healing the ones brought out to them.
There is something more to this Bible story than just some spoiled vacation time. Jesus seems to be inviting, maybe even commanding us to take time off. This does not seem like a hard commandment to follow!
But for some of us it is. We act as if it is up to us to do good or good won't be done; it's up to us to set the world right or the world is lost. We have forgotten that our God not only created but is still creating. Our God is not dead, not inactive, or ineffective.
The tradition of Sabbath is as old as the Hebrew scriptures. In the creation story from Genesis, everything God created is called "good," the heavens and earth, the daytime and night, the sky and waters and land, the creatures are all good, but the Sabbath alone is called holy.
Some of us remember when Sundays were legally controlled days of rest - no sports, no movies, definitely no shopping - and even the swings in the playground were chained up on Sundays. The Sabbath was a mandated gift, a gift we were commanded to enjoy.
Jesus said, "The Sabbath is made for us, and not for God." He freed us from Sabbath regulations that took all joy from the day. But did he free us from Sabbath or for Sabbath? Did he mean for us to turn Sabbath into just another day? Or did he mean for us to turn all days into Sabbaths?
In this passage from Mark's gospel, Jesus' disciples report to him all the good things they have done and he invites them, permits them, commands them to get away from the press of the crowd and rest.
We like to emphasize the other commands of Jesus: to love the poor, to feed the hungry, to bind up each other's wounds, and to bear one another's burdens. Why not equally stress this command?
Thank God the world is not in our hands; the future is not ours to determine. We can do God's work as it is entrusted to us. We can work and pray and do our best to be both light and salt to the earth. And then we can take Sabbath, resting secure in the faith that the most important work is God's.