A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that God does not work alone in this world, and God has never worked alone in this world. Since the beginning, God has always used human beings, very ordinary people, folks like you and me, to accomplish the divine purposes for this world: God’s work of healing and justice, grace and love, mercy and peace. God uses people like you and me and the unique gifts that God has given us to respond to the needs of a hurting world.
Last week, I called loving this world as Christ loves this world a “dance”—a dangerous dance of sacrificial, self-expending service. And I said that God is calling each of us to enter that dance, to get busy selflessly pouring ourselves out into the world
These texts of scripture from Mark 6 have come at just the right time as we are currently encouraging members of our congregation to sign up to serve on a ministry team. And during this next year, I expect us to be very busy disciples being a blessing in our community.
In this morning’s scripture lesson, we notice that Jesus and his disciples have also been very busy.
They had just returned from a mission trip where they were busy using their gifts for ministry. They came back and reported to Jesus “all that they had done and taught.”
And notice how Jesus responds. “Good, don’t stop! Let’s keep going! Let’s keep working!” No, he says: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” In other words: “It’s time to take a vacation.”
Mark says that Jesus commanded this vacation because “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Getting away on a boat, on some cruise to some far-off peaceful place!
But when they get there, it is anything but peaceful, and Jesus and his disciples are forced to spring into action once more to meet the needs of others.
Later, when they cross over to the other side of the lake (perhaps in one more attempt to get away from the crowds), the “people at once recognized him,” so Jesus and his disciples had to go right back to work. Because this is what Jesus’ disciples do. They work, they serve, they love their neighbors by meeting the needs of their neighbors.
Hopefully, as we answer the call of Jesus to do ministry here in our community, to follow the way of Jesus by being a people who are on the move, loving kindness and doing justice while walking humbly, we are going to be a very busy disciples.
But, here in this text, if we are truly going to be the people Jesus is calling us to be, I believe we must hear another call of Jesus. It is the call to relax, slow down, take it easy, take some time off, turn the cell phone off, forget your worries, and go somewhere and get away from it all. It is the call to take a vacation.
Now you are probably thinking: “Finally, something that Jesus commands me to do that I might be actually good at! Jesus says, ‘Relax, take a break, take a vacation.’ Sign me up right now!”
But I’m not so sure this is as easy as it sounds. For it has been my experience that it is the most sincere, dedicated, and earnest disciples who are the worst when it comes to honoring the Sabbath, taking time off to just rest.
But I believe honoring the Sabbath is something that is absolutely essential, not only for our bodies, but for our salvation.
I’m sure that we do not intend to do this, but our disregard of the Sabbath, our busyness and ceaseless activity, might give the impression that we believe that it is up to us to do good, or good will not be done. It is up to us the set the world right, or the world is lost. Behind our busyness may be the blasphemous belief that we are the saviors of the world; we are the solution to what ails the world, because we have all the answers.
The truth is, not taking a Sabbath and trusting that God is God and we are not, can be very dangerous, not only to ourselves, but to the world in which we live.
Thus, I hope that in my recent sermons you did not hear me say that God created the world, but has now left it entirelyup to us!
For our God not only created the world; our God is still creating. Our God not only sent and resurrected Jesus, but our God is still resurrecting, and is still sending God’s self to us through God’s Holy Spirit. Our God is not dead, inactive or ineffective. Contrary to our Deist founding fathers, our God did not create the universe and then go on some cosmic vacation.
And because of that, the good news is that we cango on vacation. Because God is continually acting, we can relish times of inactivity, reflection, and the good grace of doing absolutely nothing.
Now, I am by no means inferring that it is okay to sleep in on Sunday morning and skip church. For I believe here in this place, our Sunday worship can actually be a sacred time of rest.
While we do a lot of activity during this hour, little of it is useful, productive, or essential as the world defines these matters. We call this place a sanctuary. It is a safe-haven from our worries, an escape from the rat-race of life. We are here relaxing, resting, simply enjoying being with one another and with God.
Some, who I see nodding off when the sermon begins every Sunday may even relax here a little too much!
But I believe that’s okay. Because Christians have always believed that these Sunday mornings are a foretaste of eternity when we shall have nothing better to do but to rest from our labors, to relax, and enjoy being in the presence of God, not just one day a week on Sunday, but forever. Our destiny is rest in in the hands of God: Sabbath rest forever.
Sabbath rest is a great tribute to God. For it declares that our ultimate destiny is not in our hands. Our ultimate salvation is not the result of our vigorous, hard work, or even what we think is our good, holy work. The significance of our lives is in what God is doing, never in what we are doing.
Now, I know that this flies in the face of what I often preach; that church is where we come to get encouraged to make a commitment to pick up our crosses to serve God in this world. That’s why the last hymn we sing is called a hymn of commitment or a hymn response. It is a hymn of action. That’s why we end our services with a commissioning, as well as a benediction.
But church should also be a place of rest. We come here to celebrate not only what we have done, but to glorify what God has done in Christ, to rest assured in the grace of Christ.
One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, reminds us that the commandment about the Sabbath is the longest of all the commandments. More is written about the Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other commandment.
And she points out that the Sabbath is the only one of God’s creations called “holy.” Everything else is called “good.” Only the Sabbath is called “holy.” She points out that the sanctification of time preceded the sanctification of persons or the sanctification of places. People were not sanctified until they became the chosen people. Places were not sanctified until the Tabernacle was built. The Sabbath, however, was the first and truest medium of God’s presence and holiness.
This is why after Jesus’ disciples report to him all the good things that they have accomplished as his ministers in the world, Jesus invites them, permits them, commands them, to get away from the press of the crowds to relax, rejuvenate, and be restored.
We stress the other commands of Jesus: Love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, feed the hungry, heal the sick, free the oppressed. Why not equally stress the command to rest?
The good news for us this day is that Jesus commands us to take a vacation! The good news for us is that the good Shepherd wants to lay us down beside some still waters and restore our souls.
Do you know what would be a good idea? While we are encouraging every member to serve on a ministry team, what if we started a Sabbath ministry team that will help us all take a vacation! Seriously, let’s start a ministry team to plan a Caribbean or Alaskan cruise!
We can do God’s work as it is entrusted to us. We can work hard to be salt and light to the world. We can do justice. And then we can take a Sabbath, resting secure that the most important work is God’s work. Thank God that the world is not in our hands. The future is not solely ours to determine.
So, if you have not yet taken a vacation, gone some place to get away from it all, experienced a change in scenery, seen the ocean or climbed a mountain, taken a break from all of your work and worries, I hope that you will do it soon. After all, Jesus permits, invites, and commands us all to rest!