9th Sunday after Pentecost
- Pentecost 8.21 “Come Away With Me” Mark 6:30-44
The really difficult thing about Xnity, in my experience, is that there’s nothing to do. Doubtless, you will quote to me this proverb: “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and afterwards to rest.” Ah; yes. That is a lovely saying. I certainly try to live by it, especially when household chores rear their ugly heads, or when moving vans that need loading appear on a Friday morning at the apartment next to the church, as the vicar, sadly departed, could attest. If he were here. Which he’s not. 🙁 He understands, though. He knows Friday morning is sermon writing time 🙂
Hey, it’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s just that the Scriptures often won’t let me. Acts 6:2: “The 12 summoned the full number of disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God to serve tables, load dishwashers, moving vans, etc..” OK: the “loading dishwashers, moving vans, etc.’s only in the NIV; but the first part is, seriously, straight-up literal from the Greek! And the 2nd part’s a solid life application by the NIV, blind squirrel finding nut, kinda deal. A lovely verse. After the one about Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23ff), this one sounded to the 19 year old me like a personal, divine call into the holy ministry…
But while it is indeed a beautiful thing to do nothing and afterwards to rest, the proverb never says it is an easy thing to do! Like Pascal said: “There’s nothing more difficult for a man than to sit quietly in a room.” And yet, it is this difficult (but beautiful!) thing that Christ our Lord is calling all of us to, particularly in this Gospel before us today as I will demonstrate in the next 8 or so minutes to quell the skepticism that I can feel rising in the room—oh ye of little faith!
The apostles were sent out at the beginning of this chapter 6 in Mark. And just 18 verses later, they’re back! After hearing all they’d done and taught (Matthew and Luke tell us they were especially jazzed about the casting out demons deal) Jesus says to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” There it is! “How beautiful it is to do nothing and afterwards to rest”! Because the apostles didn’t really do anything. They just spoke the word Jesus gave them, the Story they loved to tell, of Jesus and his love. Like they say, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. The 12—after meeting Jesus—certainly never did (see Acts 6:2!).
Anyway, we see in our Gospel that doing nothing and resting afterwards is, actually, a very difficult thing to do. They never quite manage it, the apostles (12 or 70, or all the numberless rest of us who followed them, following Jesus). Because Jesus always draws a crowd; and the disciples were so swamped by ministry requests they didn’t even have time to eat. For a job where you work only 1 day a week, it is surprisingly… taxing.
Even when they slip off by boat to the desolate place to rest (under the Sheltering Sky?) the place John tells us in chapter 11 of his Gospel Jesus often used to repair to, the desert beyond the Jordan where John was always baptizing—even there, people’d seen them leaving, guessed where they were going, and ran on foot and got there ahead of them. No rest for the wicked! And the apostles, despite their lofty calling, are no less sinful and wicked than the rest of us.
In fact, when they go ashore, there is a huge crowd waiting for Jesus. And he has compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So Jesus began to teach them many things and they get lost in the Word—the Goodness, Truth, and Beauty of IT. So much so, that it gets late and they don’t even realize they are hungry.
And the disciples (not able to rest themselves!) came to Jesus and said: “This is a desolate place, and the hour is late. Send them away into the surrounding villages, countryside, to buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus, with a wry grin (surely!) goes, “You give them something to eat.” They are flummoxed! “Shall we go and buy 20,000 dollars worth of bread? It’s a big crowd!”
Jesus is chill. “How many loaves do you have?” John tells us they have none, but they commandeer five loaves and two fish from a little kid. (!) “Uh, five loaves and er, two fish.” Jesus commands them all to sit down in groups on the green grass—by hundreds and fifties. They did not all eat together; and Jesus didn’t eat with any of them, and the apostles are busy serving, you will note well.
After taking the five loaves and two fish, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses them, and gives them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied—over five thousand people with the miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fish. Oh, and twelve baskets full of the broken pieces and fish were leftover. But no one noticed the miracle.
(I guess the one exception to the serving tables thing from Acts 6:2 is if it’s the Lord’s Table you’re waiting on. Which is why, when outsiders ask what I do, I’ll sometimes say: “I’m a waiter.” Eagerly waiting for Jesus 🙂
You’ve heard me go on about the missions thing before. It seems to me that ever since the 19th century, most of Western Christendom has wrecked the Church by turning it from a Sinners Anonymous group where broken people simply receive from Christ’s hand the bread of heaven that heals and makes whole (as beggars after all!) into a work camp where it’s all proselytizing by hooks and crooks, cajoling and brow beating people to join the institution and then work their fannies off trying to get more people in, like a pyramid scheme. It’s exhausting—for everybody!
But there is nothing like this in the Scriptures. There, Jesus tells a better Story!
Christ’s message to a sinful world is not: “Come to me, all you who are strong and ready to work, because I’ve got a really big job I need your help with.” No. It’s: “Come to me, all you who are weary, heavy-laden, and I will give you rest!” There’s nothing to do. While Martha was slaving away in the kitchen one evening, trying to impress Jesus, trying to justify her place in his Kingdom, Mary does nothing but sit at his feet and soak up the Son.
See? The do-nothing Gospel is the hardest part of the Xn Thing! Even though it is the only Real, True, Good, and Beautiful Word, the world is ever twisting, distorting, falsifying IT, and turning the message of rest into a command to work your tail off for Jesus, and by your labors (maybe!) to win a prize in a distant heaven that never arrives…
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we’re weary, worn-out, harassed, helpless, ready to just give up—then, really only then—we’re ready to “come away with Jesus.” We’re in the place where he can teach us many things.
There’s a lovely paradox in all this: when we quit trying, when we do nothing (and afterwards, rest!), more, not less happens! The True, the Beautiful, and the Good are not awards for a lifetime of achievement—just gifts of grace for do-nothing-slacker-hobos enchanted by Christ’s Story.
Can you hear it? “Come away with me… and rest.” Jesus is calling from the distant shore. In the ark of the church, born on baptismal waters, the Bread of Heaven bestows Peace, surpassing all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.