Rest. Relaxation. Renewal. Restoration. These are enticing words. I often associate them with summer. During the summer season I tend to believe there really is more time and a slower pace to life. And every summer at about this time I realize that it is simply not true. The world does not slow down or stop just because the temperature rises and daylight lasts longer. This summer it even feels like just the opposite has happened. I can blame some of it on being in a new city and having a new job, but it’s more than that. It’s my heightened awareness of systemic racism, the need for immigration reform, the plight of homeless veterans, and several other social issues. There are always people and tasks that need attention. Real rest, true Sabbath, is hard to come by.
I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt that way in this week’s gospel reading. Leading up to this passage Jesus had sent them out to teach and to heal as he had taught them. When they gathered together again to share what they had done, they also learned of John the Baptist’s death. Jesus recognized their tiredness and their need for renewal. So he invited them to a “deserted place.” I can only imagine how much that quiet rest appealed to that travel-worn group.
Unfortunately for the disciples, they didn’t get any rest. People recognized them out on the boats and ran ahead to where they were going. So instead of stepping off into some Sabbath time, they were greeted by a desperate, needy crowd. The lectionary skips over the teaching and feeding of the 5000 (in which Jesus put the responsibility for providing food on the disciples) and Jesus walking on water. These things, no doubt, added to the level of exhaustion and lack of understanding that the disciples had to have been feeling. After the people eat, Jesus sends the disciples back to the boats, disperses the crowds, and goes up a mountain to pray.
That’s good for Jesus. But what about the disciples? They didn’t get a break. They had barely begun to share what they had done while they were apart from each other. Instead of quiet, restful time alone, they witnessed the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. They had to have been exhausted and overwhelmed and there was no end in sight. Crowds gathered wherever they went. Did they ever get their quiet rest?
It’s about this time every summer when I realize that I need to make the time to rest and be renewed. It isn’t going to happen on its own. Those slower, quieter days of summer are a myth. Unless I am paying attention, I can work too much. There is always something or someone who needs my time or attention. But if I let myself get exhausted and overwhelmed, what good am I? I will be like the disciples, unable to recognize God’s presence right in front of me.
My mind spins with the events of church folks, the community, the nation, and the world. I am always trying to figure out how I can do more to make a difference. I feel some sympathy for those disciples in that the crowds keep coming. What should I and can I do in response to systemic racism? transphobia? sexism? global warming? economic injustice? immigration rights? How do I do these things and meet the needs of my congregation? my family? my self?
The answer is simple and may even seem a bit trite. I need to accept Jesus invitation to come away to a deserted place and rest. That might mean turning off the cell phone and computer. It might mean sitting by the river and watching the current flow. It might mean taking a breath and opening a book that will transport me to another world. What it is or the shape it takes matters less than the taking of it. Will you also accept Jesus’ invitation and go away to a deserted place and come back rested and renewed to continue the work of caring for the crowds?
RCL – Year B – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a with Psalm 89:20-37 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 23
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56