Monday, July 20, 2009

"Away by themselves to a solitary place"

Our lectionary editors found themselves in a bit of a quandry with chapter 6. So, they chopped it up into several different readings and, for those of us that read the Bible, mixed up the order of events. It is an understandable effort. A lot of events and teachings occur in chapter 6 of Mark. The Twelve are sent out, John the Baptist is killed, the Twelve return to report to Jesus all their successes, Jesus and His disciples go away for a quiet moment, Jesus feeds the 5000 men plus the women and children, Jesus walks on water, and a multitude of people are healed just in 56 verses! Talk about a busy chapter.

But our section this week pulled out one important teaching that I think we as the church and we as His disciples are notoriously bad at following. "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." How often do we take a rest and just bask in the presence of our Lord? How often? Once, twice, maybe three times a year? It is an understandable failure on our part. We are busy beyond belief. Kids have school and sports and parties, parents have jobs and clubs and kids to shuttle, workers have jobs (and let's face it, nobody feels comfortable telling the boss "no" in this economic situation. And we all need to work our exercise in there somehow. Who has time to rest? Who has time to bask in God's presence?

Yet that rest, that basking, that prayerful solitude is of such importance that Jesus often sends His disciples away in private. Why? Part of the reason, I think, is so that His disciples can recover from the physical and mental demands of ministry in His name. The world has such need. And His faithful disciples must see no end to their work, no end until His coming again, that is. That weariness, of course, can cause us to forget ourselves. When we are drained physically and menatlly, we forget who we are. And we are called always to remember that we are His brothers and His sisters. We are called to remember that He is our Father in heaven! And so the rest period, the prayer and the worship, allows us to remember who we are.

But a second reason I think that we are commanded to rest is to remind us of whom we serve. The need in the world is so great, and we are so insignificant. Those of you who volunteer at the church office sometimes know better than most just how much need there is. Were we not rested, were we not spending time in prayer in worship, it would be far too easy for us to forget whom we serve and send people away empty-handed. Sabbath time may allow us the opportunity to remember who we are, but it should also remind us of who He is! Our Father in heaven is the Creator of heaven and earth. Nothing can thwart His will. And so, bathed in the knowledge that we are His and that He can accomplish all things, we can be sent out to face a needy world.

Part of the reason I think that chapter 6 of Mark has so much happening and in such a seemingly jumbled order is that it reflects the life of a disciple of Jesus. When we begin to see with His eyes, to hear with His voice, to have a circumsized heart like our Master's, we begin to see just how large the task really is. Worse, we begin to see just how pathetic we are to meet the need. People are always hungry, but who has the time to cook that many meals? Women and children are always being abused, but who has the time or money to find and to provide safe housing? Utilities are always being shut off, insurance is always being cancelled, cars are always being repossessed, but who has the resources to provide all those things. And what about the needs that are not as physical? People need guidance and counselling. Some want to hear the Gospel. Many just need to hear that God loves even them! The list goes on and on and on. The temptation for us is to send the needy away empty, lacking whatever need they have. Like the Twelve with the feeding of the 5000, we might very well see no way to ever meet all the need. We might be sorely tempted to shrug our shoulders and say to Him, "Lord, I/we do not have enough to meet the need that you have caused us to see."

But you and I are called to do more than lament the world's condition. You and I are called to meet material needs where He gives us ability and to minister to all the spiritual needs at the base of so many social ills. You and I are called to live with a faith that believes He can accomplish all things, no matter the odds. You and I are called to live with a faith which believes that lives can be transformed, that the world can be transformed. And so, Jesus commands us to seek Him in solitude, to seek Him in prayer, to praise Him in worship that we might be restored and better equipped for the ministries He has given us. Yes, the need is great. But God is sufficient to meet every single need we encounter. You and I sometimes need that time of solitude with Him to be reminded of that simple, but important fact.


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