Trinity 7 2021: Work, rest and pray
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When and where to get your rest.
When small children are around it can prove almost impossible to get an uninterrupted conversation between adults. I have insisted that our grandchildren always say “excuse me grandma” with the promise that they will be heard. It’s so much nicer than SHUSH don’t interrupt. Interruptions, however, are an ever-present part of life and they seem to pop up just when you have made a cup of tea, want to read the paper, or you just want to sit, rest and catch your breath in our busy lives.
It seemed an exceptionally long time from May to April, what could I write for the ASK email, let alone the sermon? Would I expose my lack of knowledge, would I look a fraud? Just like everyone who did what was necessary I would have to ASK for help and guidance, and I got it in bucket loads. There would not be any midweek services, check, more time to study. A list of phone numbers, parishioners to call. Check, time to think of others and to focus on prayer. No childcare duties, check, God really does work in mysterious ways. I have never had so much time to rest.
The Gospel reading this morning begins with an account of the disciples’ return after they had been previously sent out by Jesus and follows the horror of John’s beheading. In a Gospel where so many things happen “immediately,” it is a striking change of pace when Jesus tells the disciples to get away by themselves to rest, something clergy often find difficult even now.
It is a pity though; such messages often sound more like good advice than the Good News. We find that Jesus and the disciples never get their little holiday. (For Jesus, after presumably three years of ministry, he would have to die to get three days of rest in the tomb!) I hope our new vicar, James doesn’t have to wait that long before he gets a regular day off. It may be a small point, but we can see that the success of the disciples in their ministry is not measured by how much they accomplish. Pheew, that’s a relief. Having been out on their own, now they are called back to Jesus. It is the same with us, it’s not a matter of how much we accomplish, but a matter of our relationship with Jesus and mine definitely became much closer during this year.
Mark writes, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” We all felt it when Gordon moved on.
We have seen other, similar scenes in Mark. This time the large crowd bears down on Jesus and the disciples, they interrupt the plans for a little rest, but nevertheless, still Jesus has compassion, a great word denoting sympathy, mercy, and loving concern. Why does Jesus have compassion for them? In his words because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” That is such a poignant and powerful image, and I suspect many of us have felt like lost sheep, at times.
If that is the case, then what would it look like for Jesus to show compassion to us, and these “shepherdless” sheep in Mark? We might be anticipating something like how Jesus healed their sick and took the children into his arms. But that’s not what the text says here. What does Jesus do? To the disciples’ consternation, he forgoes his rest and begins to teach them many things. It really is a different way of thinking about ministry.
There are all sorts of ways we can express compassion by attending to the pressing physical needs people have, helping out in an emergency as we all have during the pandemic, but it is just as important for us to be teaching others, by clearly and faithfully speaking and living out the Gospel.
Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples looking for a quiet place, landed at Gennesaret on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Gennesaret). It could well be that Jesus had previously passed through this area while travelling between Nazareth (twenty miles or so to the southwest) and Capernaum (a few miles further along the shoreline to the north). What happens after they step ashore? “People immediately recognised [Jesus]” (Mark 6:54).
I wonder how did they recognise him? Had he walked a few yards on the water while getting to shore? Had they seen pictures of him posted in the marketplace? Or is the scene more like that when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John? Without any apparent previous knowledge of Jesus, they left everything immediately and followed him. What was it they recognised in Jesus? And still he got no rest.
It is frustrating that none of the gospels provide a physical description of Jesus. We will never be able to pin him down by virtue of his appearance. Rather, we will always have to recognise him in his words, to see Jesus for who he is and what he does. It is quite interesting to think about his identity. It is, after all, more than the miracles and healings Jesus performed or the things he taught. It may actually take the gift of faith for us to recognise the one who died on the cross as the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
Jesus, in Mark, clearly deserves to be thought of as the lion who bounds through the story of his life and ministry. It is no surprise that C. S. Lewis in writing for his nieces and nephews, portrayed Jesus as Aslan, the lion. There was no time for rest when there was work to be done and battles to be won. As we come to the end of legal regulations around the corona virus and its spread, it is clear we have not yet won the battle, there remains work to be done. We at St Mary Magdalene still have a reasonably stable worshiping community with a new shepherd, and we have a thirst for God, who understands our need to work, rest and play. Amen.
The Rev'd Maureen Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 18/07/2021