2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Ordinary 16B; Proper 11
God is on the move.
Jesus is traveling by sea and land. The Holy Spirit blows where it wills. Once you were aliens and strangers, now you are incorporated into the covenant community. The divine doesn’t hunker down and doesn’t allow us to remain sedentary, either. Like those timers that buzz on your Fitbit or iPhone or computer (you know, the ones that remind you to get up and move), God seems to prod us, refusing to let us get too comfortable where we are.
The king may be settled, but God tells Nathan, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt.” It is almost like God gets the word to King David: “Do you really think I have time to settle down and relax?! Have you looked around lately? There is work to be done! Furthermore, do you remember where you came from and where I’ve been with you? Why would you think I’d want to retire to temple when I relish the freedom of a tent?” David may be granted rest, but God keeps moving — at least for now.
Jesus doesn’t build a cedar house, either. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head. The apostles return and tell all they’ve done and taught and Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus recognizes their need for rest and time apart. The needs are so great that stopping to eat isn’t an option. Clearly, an unsustainable reality, so Jesus says, hop in the boat and get away from it all. But the crowds don’t get the memo. They go so fast on foot that they beat the apostles in the boat to the other side. They cross over into Gennesaret and a whole host of need meets them there, so many that the sick are brought out into the streets. Just reading about all this need makes me anxious.
God may not need a house, but I don’t want to live my whole life in a tent. Jesus may be able to have compassion on those who won’t allow him time to eat, but I am weary of endless demands, ubiquitous suffering and no moratorium on pain, poverty and injustice. What is the message for me, for us, for David, the disciples and the church in these texts? Just keep moving no matter what? Compassion fatigue is for spiritual wimps? Only the faithless need rest? I sure hope that’s not the case because if it is, I am doomed.
I have a family member who recently fell and broke her pelvis. She said in a message that she wished she could be more stoic and not scream when she moved her leg. I replied that screaming is sometimes a very appropriate response. I wanted to add, but didn’t, “I scream every time I listen to the news and that feels like an appropriate response.” But, really, it does. I don’t think I have so much compassion fatigue as suffering overload. I care to the point I want to curl up in the corner and weep. Children separated from families. Refugees denied lifesaving medical care because the border has been shut. Minors charged as adults and held in maximum-security prison for life. Radio shows about the complicated drug cocktail used in executions. Planning for how to handle the potential return of the white supremacists to my town. A friend in the midst of chemo. Puerto Rico still dark after Hurricane Marie. No justice for the people of Flint. Another mass shooting. Yemen, South Sudan, Syria.
I am not sure in this tsunami of need if I am a disciple or a member of the crowd stalking them. All I know is that I am not Jesus and I am feeling overwhelmed. Can’t we just stay in the boat for a while? Hang in a nice cedar house? Go to a deserted place? Well, yes. We can. Jesus says to the apostles who have taught and healed, traveled and shaken the dust off their feet: “Come and rest awhile. Eat. Sleep. Pray. Play. Listen to the seagulls. Rock on the waves.” Jesus gives us that word, too. Go to a deserted place by yourselves.
As we rest God still works. Even on the Sabbath the divine order holds, the Spirit breaths, Jesus Christ prays for us and the Triune God reigns over all the creation. Remember that truth when you want to build God a house or keep running the world’s problems around your head or you fret that sky is falling and Jesus is asleep and doesn’t notice or care. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. The crowds are still running before and after us. The suffering has not ceased and yet, God has not, will not abandon them or us.
Now, get up and get moving again because compassion won’t let you wall yourself away or burn out, either. You who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ, so how can you, we, not go out and bring others close, too?
The temptation (or at least my temptation) is to go off to a deserted place and stay there, wringing my hands, yes — but offering to help others with them, not so much. The verses in Mark today bracket the feeding of the 5,000. The lectionary denies us that story this week, but we know it is there. We don’t get Jesus walking on water this week, either. But we know it is there. We know both that we are called to give the people something to eat and to marvel at the power of our Lord who controls even the seas and sky. That’s where we rest: between human need and the promises and power of the most-high God. That’s why we are able to rest. We have a purpose, a call, a role, but we are decidedly not Jesus. We not only can rest, we are commanded by our God: You must rest.
Rest. Breath. Pray. Play. Look up and see the stars. Look out and see the waves. Feel the warmth of the sun. Smell the salt. Notice the beauty of the earth so that you recognize the loveliness in the faces of the needy, sometimes angry, never satisfied crowd and in yourself. Go to a deserted place. Sit down and eat so that you can get up and get moving again and feed others. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it — the ones on the mats in the marketplace, the ones running alongside the shore, the ones grabbing the hem of Jesus’ garment and you, too. Rest. Rest in the promise of the covenant, rely on the strength of the community, remember that Christ is our peace and we are one body, never left solely to our own devices. We no longer have to go it alone or keep going every moment of every day. Today’s worries are enough for today, so get some rest, and then get up tomorrow and know that God is already there, Jesus won’t abandon you and the Holy Spirit surrounds you. I don’t know about you, but that gives me hope and keeps me from screaming. At least sometimes.
- What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world?
- How do you find rest? What prevents you from truly resting?
- How do we want to contain God when God says, “I don’t want to stay put”?
- Have you ever been in the midst of a crowd so large you couldn’t move? What was that like? How do we both escape the crowd and have compassion on them?
- Where is a deserted place where you can go? Are you tempted to stay there?
- Where are other places in the Gospels where Jesus is moved with pity or compassion? What moves you with compassion?
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