Mark 6: 30-46
July 22, 2012
First United Church – Sermon by Rev. Caela Simmons Wood
Here’s something that I’m sure will shock you: I was better at taking care of myself before I had kids.
If you asked me to describe parenthood in one word, that word would be relentless.
Once it starts, you never shut it off. When I’m with my children I am constantly aware of their every need. I can be making dinner, talking on the phone, shooing the dog out of the kitchen, letting my mind wander to the e-mail I need to send after I get off the phone, and still – STILL! – acutely aware that my two year old is opening up a box of crayons in the other room and that the baby will need to be picked up soon because he’s getting bored with his stuffed elephant.
When I’m away from my children it’s a bit of a break, to be sure. But you still can’t “shut it off.” They never leave my mind. When I go to a social event without them it takes me a solid 30 minutes to realize that I can stop straining my ears for the sound of the baby monitor because they’re not with me.
Parenting is relentless. Day after day after day.
In all of the wiping runny noses, preparing meals, changing diapers, kissing boo boos, doing laundry, playing games, planning outings, and buckling the carseat there is a rhythm to parenting which makes it exceedingly difficult to remember yourself. You become so incredibly involved in the lives of these tiny people that you focus all your energies there.
This is why parents who are new at it look a bit like the walking dead, I think. And it’s why parents who have just emptied their nest look slightly elated and lost all at the same time. And for those of you who have walked the road of elder care or who have nursed a partner through a significant illness, I can only imagine it’s very much the same. Your life is consumed with caring for someone else.
When you become entirely consumed with caring for someone else, you start to lose touch with what it means to take care of yourself. Can I get an Amen?
And yet, as we wear these relentless hats of caregiving, we still find brief moments of respite.
At the end of a long day, I crash into bed with my baby and nurse him. He drifts off to sleep and I have absolutely nothing to do but be there with him and rest. For twenty or thirty blissful minutes my role of caregiver allows me to simultaneously care for myself. I allow my mind to wander, to empty. I pray. I rest. I do nothing. It’s a beautiful thing.
“Rest. Come away and rest,” Jesus says to his disciples in today’s passage from Mark. These words beckon to us from the page like a summer rain in a drought-parched land.
Surely nothing is more soothing than the idea of rest. Peace. Restoration.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Ugh. All I do is rest. My days march by, one after the other and they are all the same. How I long for the days when I was busy. When there were people who depended on me. I’ve had all the rest I need right now. What I could use today is a little action. A little distraction. Something new and interesting.”
To you I say, hang with me. Because I believe today’s passage from Mark speaks to those of us who suffer from all kinds of busy-ness and those who would love to have something to fill their days.
Jesus calls out to those of us who are weary from caring for others and themselves.
Jesus speaks to those who aimlessly fill their lives with nonsense because they don’t know how to quiet themselves.
And Jesus speaks to those who long for finding meaning through restorative work – the kind that leaves you feeling replenished, not broken down. The kind that reminds you that who you are and what you do in this world matters.
One of the things I love about the Bible is how it reminds me that people are people are people – no matter the era or location. Mark’s disciples are a favorite of many Christians because they are such a bumbling lot. Constantly messing up. Constantly missing out. Constantly endearing themselves to us because – hey, if they can follow Jesus, surely we can, too, right?
They’re endearing in this passage, too. Just back from their most impressive tour yet, they are tired. They’ve been healing the sick, traveling with nothing on their back, relying on the hospitality of strangers, scared to death about their growing notoriety.
And they return to Jesus like small children clamoring for their parent’s approval at the end of a long day at school – Mark says they gathered around him and told them all they had done and taught.
Was Jesus proud of him? Surely he was. Notice, for example, that this is the only place in Mark where the author of the gospel refers to them as “apostles” – a clear promotion over disciples. Disciples are those who follow Jesus and learn from him. Apostles are those who are sent out to work on behalf of Jesus.
So I’m pretty sure Jesus was proud of them. But does he tell them this when they come running home, bragging about all their accomplishments? No.
What he says is this, “ Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Jesus knows that what theses apostles need, more than having their egos stroked, is rest. They need to go somewhere deserted where they can refuel. The word used here for rest is a passive verb – to be restored – and it’s the same verb used to describe Sabbath rest in other parts of the Bible. This is not just any old break from their duties. It’s a pause that restores. A break that builds them up for the next journey.
Mark continues on – describing the state of these exhausted apostles. “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
One of the commentators I read this week said a better translation would be, “For many were the comers and goers…” because these are nouns in the Greek, not verbs. The comers and goers. Those that can’t stay in one place.
Our world is filled with comers and goers. Just like Jesus’s world, I suppose.
I read an opinion column in the New York Times a few weeks ago called “The Busy Trap” by Tim Krieder. He laments the culture of busy-ness that we seem to worship in our culture. I laughed aloud at this story he shared,
“I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.”
I laughed because I have been on the receiving end of such an interchange with many friends. And I cringed because I have been the annoying, noncommittal friend, too.
Krider talks about how we all love to be busy. You know the conversation, “Hey, how are you?” “Busy, man. Crazy busy!” because that’s a good thing to be in our culture.
But Krider also talks about another kind of busy-ness:
“Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet.”
This is the kind of busy-ness the apostles were experiencing. This was not some kind of frantic, need-to-fill-the-emptiness busy that has surely afflicted people in every age and place. This was another kind of busy-ness. The busy-ness that belongs to those who give care.
The busy-ness of a parent caring for a child, a child caring for a aging parent, a nurse emptying the bedpan one more time, a scientist closing down her lab at midnight yet again because she knows that her work matters, a social worker closing his door and weeping for the brokenness of a system that makes him feel like he is always, always banging his fists against locked doors.
Tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet.
That’s what they were. And Jesus told them to rest. Come away and rest.
And if the Bible weren’t so darn complicated, what I would love to do is stand here and tell you the same. Come away and rest, friends…all you who are weary and heavy-laden and Jesus will give you rest.
But the problem with that lovely image is this: the disciples don’t actually get much rest in this passage. They quickly get on the boat and start hauling their tired selves away from the crowds. But the crowds – those pesky crowds! – follow them. They arrive at the other side of the shore before the disciples can get there. And Jesus – the same guy who just told the disciples to take a break – had compassion on the crowds and began to teach them many things.
Well, it stated to get late and the disciples started to get annoyed. They said, “Um, excuse me, Jesus? Yeah, so we’re trying to rest here – you know, like you told us to do? And it’s late. And these people are loud. Can you get them out of here? Send them away to the next town so they can go eat some dinner.”
And Jesus responds, “You feed them.”
Wait. Say what? We’re trying to rest here, Jesus. You sent us here to take a break, remember?
The social worker lifts his head off his desk and blots his eyes with a tissue as his phone rings for the 18th time that afternoon.
The scientist drags her weary body to the lab at 6am, cup of coffee in hand. She knows she won’t see the sky again until it’s dark that evening.
The nurse checks her watch. Her shift ended 5 minutes ago, but there’s one more patient she needs to see before she goes home.
The grown child calls her husband to say she’ll be home in the morning, “Mom needs me to stay with her tonight.”
The father wakes in the night with a start. The baby is crying. He groans and pulls himself from his warm bed to change yet another diaper.
You see – Jesus understood.
Jesus understood this constant struggle between busy-ness and rest. Between caring for the other and caring for ourselves. Did he know that you’re supposed to put the air mask on yourself before you help the person next to you? Yes, he did. Did he always do that? No, he did not.
As much as I want to say you’re always supposed to rest and take care of yourself, it’s just more complicated than that. There are occasions that simply require us to go past our breaking point to the place where we are lifted up by a force we cannot understand. There are places and times where we will push ourselves to care for others when we thought we had nothing left to give. And in those places and times there will be something of Christ in each of us.
I’m not talking about busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness, friends. There is no true joy or meaning to be found there.
And I’m not encouraging you to be a martyr or to continually deplete yourselves for the sake of the other. God created you to enjoy life and God needs you to find a way to care for yourself.
There is a give and take. After Jesus told them to rest, he told them to feed the 5,000, and after they had done that he made them get back into the boat to seek more rest. And then he went onto the mountain himself to pray and find his own restoration. It comes and goes in waves, you see.
And so to all of you my challenge and deepest hopes for you are these:
I pray that you will find restoration when you need it. I hope that you will hear Jesus’s voice coming to you in the midst of your care saying, “Come and rest.”
I pray that you will find the strength to go on caring when you thought you had nothing left to give. And, when you do, I hope your realize it is the energy of our Holy Friend holding you aloft.
I pray that you will find meaningful and restorative work in the days ahead. I hope that you will end each day knowing you did your best to heed Christ’s call to “give them something to eat.”
I pray that you will notice the waves of busy-ness and restoration that pass over each of us as our days flow by. It is my sincere hope that mindfulness will help steady your boat in the rough seas of life.
For all of you comers and goers – may you be open to both the challenge and comfort of Christ in the days ahead.