A homily for the people of Hope International Mission in Atlanta, GA.
The text is Mark 6:30-34,53-56
This evening we read a bit from the end of the sixth chapter of Mark. Before the portion we read, the chapter started with Jesus sending the disciples out two by two to preach and heal. The text skips over telling us of the actual preaching and healing, but we hear that they were doing good deeds and healing and preaching through how greatly word of Jesus spread, even getting the attention of King Herod.
The disciples were busy doing the work of the church, spreading the gospel, and healing the people. They were pretty successful at it and when we join the disciples this morning, they have returned to Jesus wanting to tell him all that they have done.
But there were too many people around, rushing and running around. So many people that they cannot even take the time to get a little bit to eat. Jesus feels for them and suggests that they should “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." They take his suggestion and head off in a boat to a deserted place to be alone and rest.
In the Greek text of Mark, the word that we read as “deserted place” is ἔρημον. ἔρημον is often interpreted as “wilderness.” In fact, it is the same word that is used to describe where Jesus goes right after his baptism. It is the place Jesus goes to listen for the Holy Spirit, to pray, and to be alone with himself and to prepare for his ministry.
In our text today, the wilderness is the place where the disciples may have some rest from the work of the ministry. The wilderness is the place where they may be fed, to get the strength to carry on the ministry. The wilderness is the place where they can go to think about the work they have been doing already and to prepare for the work they have yet to do.
In the midst of the disciples’ busy-ness, Jesus saw that they needed to go to the wilderness, as he had done. They needed to take the time to allow the work of ministry to settle and to prepare for what lay ahead. They needed a moment to eat and keep their bodies strong and the hearts engaged.
When I started seminary, I was also working as a software engineer. I was a pretty good one, and worked a lot of hours. I worked on lots of interesting products, which kept me interested and busy as well.
And I was really involved in my church. I was on several committees. I chaired one of them. I led the youth group. I taught Sunday school. And more.
And I had friends I wanted to see and hobbies to pursue.
Trying to juggle school, work, church, friends, and life kept me very busy.
I felt like I was busy doing the work of the Church, and busy preparing for a life of leading the Church.
But I learned quickly that I had too much going on. I was in seminary and in church A LOT and yet it was hard to feel God. I needed to make room to hear God and to feel God acting in my life and to make room for life itself.
I’m sure that many of you know how that feels.
Working hard to build the church.
Working hard to support your family.
Working hard to meet the needs of your community.
This is all good. There are many needs in the community. There are many needs in your family. There are many needs in the Church.
And these will never go away.
In our Gospel reading today, the people heard about where the disciples were going and ran ahead of them on land and got there first. And Jesus had compassion on them and began to teach them.
What is not said is what happened to the disciples.
I think that the disciples probably continued on to the wilderness place, at least for a little while. I think that Jesus said “Okay folks, I’ve got this. Y’all go on and rest a while.”
Because the work of the Church is never ending. And fortunately for each of us, the Living Body of Christ is larger than anyone of us. The Living Body of Christ is larger than any one congregation. The Living Body of Christ is larger than we can possibly imagine.
And the Living Body of Christ has got this.
When we go off alone and rest for a while, we make room in our lives for the Holy Spirit to stir in us.
When we go off alone and rest for a while, we make room for Jesus Christ, who dwells in us always, to speak to us.
When we go off alone and rest for a while, we make room for God to sit beside us and let us feel God’s presence.
When we go off alone and rest for a while, we are doing the work of the Church.
When we go off alone and rest for a while, we come back energized by the Holy Spirit and prepared to engage in the other work of the church. We are renewed in our hearts and have the strength to go out proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus in word and deed, ministering to the sick, feeding the hungry, and gathering community.
As we leave this evening and go about our week, may we all make room in our lives for going into the wilderness and allowing God to speak to us and renew us for the work that lies ahead. May we have the strength to allow the other members of the Living Body of Christ to say “Okay, we’ve got this, y’all rest a while” so that we may also say to them “Okay, we’ve got this, y’all rest a while.”
Amen and Amen