St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for July 22, 2018

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
July 22, 2018
Proper 11 B
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves."
     Previously, Jesus had sent the apostles out, two by two, to spread the gospel and to heal people. We don't know how long they were gone. We don't know how far they traveled. But here they are, back together with Jesus, eager to share their stories of the people they met, and the lives that were changed by the gospel and by their healings.
     We can imagine that Jesus and the disciples are tired. They have been traveling on foot, preaching, healing, staying in people's homes, with little time to themselves. Think for a moment how tired we are when we return from a conference or an out of town trip, and we have the modern conveniences of air travel and comfortable hotels.
     So Jesus suggests that they get away to a quiet place, to retreat, to rest and pray and recharge their batteries, to have some down time with one another and enjoy each other's company. After their preaching mission, they all needed rest.
     Rest, Relaxation. Refreshment. We all need it, sometimes more than others. Sometimes we need just to sleep. Other times we need solitude, to be alone for a while to think and to pray; to be still in the presence of God. Being constantly on the go, having people always around us, needing something from us, constant activity can wear us out. So we need to get away, even for a short time, to be still and quiet and reflective.
     God knew that we would need rest and solitude from the frenetic activity of our everyday lives. In the creation story, God worked for six days and on the seventh, God rested. If God needed to rest, why do we think we can keep going and going and going without a break, without rest? Jesus, too, needed time alone to pray. We cannot work seven days a week and keep our lives in balance with God. From time to time, we need to get away - a vacation, a retreat, a break from all the activity - to stop the hurried pace we live at, to slow down and enjoy the wonders of God's world. For some, it's going to the mountains, for some it's going to the beach, for some it's going on a retreat.
     Our spiritual lives need more than just vacation time. Often times we crowd so much into our vacations that we rush from one activity to another and return home more tired than we left. Our spiritual lives, our relationship with God, need Sabbath time. Bishop Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles, said, "Sabbath time is being, rather than doing. It's letting go, rather than taking on; it's receptive, appreciative, and allowing. Sabbath time is the time when we realize and live our total dependence on God, our Creator, as distinct from behaving as if we really didn't need God at all. And one of the big problems in today's world is that we take our leisure, our Sabbath time, and turn it into productive, work time. It's not just doing obvious work on one's day off. It's contaminating the leisure into productivity. We can't just ride a bike for the fun of it; we have to be in a race. We can't just sit on the porch and read a good book. We have to go shopping, clean the house or mow the lawn."
     Glasspool continues, "And the deadly thing that happens when we turn our leisure time, our Sabbath time, into work, is that the more natural God-given balance and flow of life between action and reflection, between work and leisure, between ministry and Sabbath gets skewed into a fearsome oscillation between driven achievement and some form of mind-numbing escape: sleep, alcohol, drugs, computers and television."
     We have to step away from our constant activity to recharge ourselves, to get into a closer relationship with God, to deepen that relationship. And the best way to do that is to spend time with God without constant interruptions - time in prayer, in reading the Bible. Coming to church every Sunday is a way to do that - to spend time in worship and prayer with your parish family, to sing the age-old hymns that have sustained countless generations in the past, to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist that strengthens us and changes us in ways we may not be able to perceive.
     But spending one hour a week with God is not enough. We need to recognize God's presence with us each and every moment of our lives and acknowledge our dependence on God alone. That is how we build our relationship with God, which is supported by Christian Formation, bible study, and outreach.
     God calls us to regularly step away from the secular world and all its activities and frenetic pace and to focus on our relationship with God, our eternal life with God.....not eternal as way out there when we die, but the eternal that lives within us now, leading us, supporting us, guiding us, loving us. The eternal helps us understand who we are as children of God, what God given gifts and abilities we have been given and how we are to share those with others. We don't have time for that kind of deep reflection when we are running from work to soccer practice to meetings to family events and collapsing at the end of the day, exhausted and spent.
     Sabbath time. Time specifically set aside to recognize the presence of God, to be still and receptive to the voice of God. You may have a favorite place to do this - a retreat center, like Shrine Mont or Roslyn, sitting on the beach, or in the quiet sanctuary of a church - wherever you feel the presence of God.
     The times that we connect with God in the free or anxious moments during the day are as important as starting and ending each day with prayer. But we also need that extended quiet time away from the rush of life to sit in God's presence and feel God's peace.
     The 23rd psalm that we read earlier invites us to lie down in green pastures and sit beside still waters which revives our souls. In the 11th chapter of Matthew, Jesus invites us to come to him with all our heavy burdens and he will give us rest for our souls. For his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Countless other bible verses call us to find our rest in God.
     Jesus and his apostles did not get the rest they so desperately needed as they were followed by the crowds who were hungry, hungry for God's word and hungry to eat. And because of the compassion of Jesus, he could not turn them away. So their rest would have to wait.
     May we take the time we need to stop our busy activity and have Sabbath time alone with God, to be refreshed and renewed and reconnected with our loving God.
     Let us pray: O God, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength; By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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