Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When Jesus and the disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized Jesus, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
We often have a difficult time admitting when we’re tired.
Help us recognize our need for rest.
Shepherd us into holy rest.
Nourish and energize us for the work of ministry
To which you have called us.
There have been a handful of times in my life when I’ve been just truly overwhelmed…when I’ve felt completely underwater and like I’d not ever be able to get my head back up to the surface.
Not quite breakdowns, but times when everything feels like it’s too much, you can’t really see a way out of all the stuff that’s piling on, and you’re really not sure what your next step is.
And what these times look like for me is that I need some time to be some combination of angry and sad, sometimes I’ll need a scream, other times a cry, other times a hard workout and a place to put the frustration, and I just need some time to release those feelings, collect myself, make a plan for going forward, and then get on with the next steps and following that plan.
The majority of those times probably came in seminary. Once or twice toward the end of the semester, finals rush and all that. Trying to crank out papers. Another once or twice while serving as a chaplain intern at the hospital in downtown Chicago. You’ll certainly see some stuff on your overnight on-calls there…
But another was fairly recently…a couple of weeks ago when we were trying to figure out our response to the COVID-19 pandemic that just seems to keep going on and on and on and on…trying to figure out how to best take care of everyone involved in our community of faith, especially our young ones and immuno-suppressed and immuno-compromised folks who are the most vulnerable among us, trying to make sense out of numbers and data that I am not trained to make sense out of, and feeling like no matter what decision we make, it’s going to feel like the wrong decision to some folks.
I hate no-win situations. I’m a consensus builder, who tries to make everyone happy, who tries to find a way for everyone to get at least some of what they want.
But the pandemic has really been an extremely difficult situation from the beginning, and a couple of weeks ago was one of those build-up points when things were about to come spilling over the surface. So I came into the office on a day when no one was here, I lit a candle and some incense, and spent some time in meditation and prayer. Meditation to examine, observe, and release my thoughts. Prayer to ask God for a measure of wisdom and guidance and strength as we move forward.
I realized after I finished praying that it had been quite a long time since I had spent that much significant time in prayer. Turns out even pastors can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to pray.
But friends, that time was really helpful for me.
And I bet I’m not the only one here who has these moments of feeling overwhelmed. And I bet I’m not the only one here who gets so caught up in the day-to-day that I forget how to pray.
These past 18 months have been some of the most trying in our lives, haven’t they? How many times have you felt overwhelmed, at your wit’s end, or just barely hanging on? How many times have you felt beyond exhausted?
As we heard in our gospel reading from Mark this morning, the disciples experienced these moments, too. Even Jesus has these moments of exhaustion. “The disciples told Jesus about all they had done and taught. And Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let’s go away to a place by ourselves away from everyone, and rest for a while.’ Because many people were coming and going and they didn’t even have time to eat.”
Have you ever felt like you have so much to do, that you don’t know even when you’ll eat?
Martin Luther once famously remarked, “I have so much to do today, I shall need to spend at least the first three hours of the day in prayer.”
I aspire to Luther. I am not Martin Luther, but I aspire to it.
Last week, we started our worship series for the second half of the summer that we’re calling Bread of Life. And we’re hearing these stories about feeding and nourishing from the Gospels of Mark and John, and throughout this series, we’re asking these questions about what feeds and nourishes us.
Today, our reading from Mark begs the question, what can you do when you feel empty?
How can you possibly hope to feed and fill others, when you yourself are empty, are hungry, are starving?
Whether physically feeding someone and tending to their material needs or tending to their other needs through your time and resources, the thing about filling others up is that if you’re constantly pouring yourself out into others, your cup will eventually run dry. You can’t pour into others from an empty vessel.
So what do you need to refill yourself?
What fills you up? Where do you go and what do you do when even the reserves are running low?
Just like we’ve talked about for a couple of weeks now, Mark chapter 6 is an interesting one. It starts with Jesus the hometown kid being rejected by those in Nazareth who couldn’t understand what he was doing. “A prophet isn’t without honor except in the prophet’s hometown,” remember? Then last week, Herod throws a birthday party and John the baptizer loses his head. Then this week, we have the intro to Mark’s version of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, but we don’t actually hear Mark’s version of this story. we’ll pick that up next week from the Gospel of John. But the way Mark tells it, like we heard this morning, the disciples were sent out by Jesus, to teach and heal and cure. And they’ve been out doing this work, the same kind of work that can get someone beheaded if they get crossways with the powers that be, the powers of the empire. But they’ve been doing this work and people keep coming to them, so the disciples keep teaching and healing and curing. And more and more people keep showing up. And the disciples are exhausted, and they haven’t even had time to eat. So Jesus says, “Come away with me for a while.” But the people and the needs are unrelenting. And there are 5,000 people here, and they all need something to eat. And “Couldn’t they just go somewhere else, Jesus?” “Well, you give them something to eat.”
And even in the midst of their exhaustion, ministry—the work of teaching and healing and feeding and restoring people to wholeness—all still continues.
The work is never done. Have you heard this?
I have to tell you, I was pretty torn up when I heard this for the first time.
What do you mean the work is never done?! How do I know when I’m finished or not?
The work is never done.
This is a challenge for a task-driven, to-do list checker like myself. I’m motivated by a sense of completion, so if the work is never done, that’s going to be a problem for me. That’s how we end up overworking ourselves, and doing more than is reasonable, and not taking care of ourselves at the expense of our relationships to others.
“Jesus saw the crowds and he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Literally, Jesus was viscerally moved from his deepest inmost parts. He was physically moved from emotion to action because of his care and love for the people in need.
Jesus and the disciples are exhausted, and yet, the need is persistent, so they take whatever rest they could manage in that one verse and then went right back to it. Friends, sometimes we need to take whatever rest we can in the moment, however fleeting so that we can continue tending to the needs in front of us.
Sometimes the rest needed is a little more substantial, and so we take the time that we need. But sometimes, it’s about finding small moments of rest in the midst of ministry. Sometimes it’s about taking just 30 minutes to meditate and pray. Sometimes it’s taking a few hours out of your morning to pray. Sometimes it’s about remembering and being intentional about prayer, about having a conversation with God.
What fills you up? Is it worship? Prayer? 5 minutes of silence? Guided meditation? An audiobook on your commute? Interacting with others? Dinner and drinks with friends? Serving? Volunteering?
You are sent as disciples of Jesus to join in the work of ministry, to join in the work of healing a broken world, of restoring people to wholeness, of taking up the causes of justice, of loving and serving the world God so loves.
You are the body of Christ, sent to be the nourishing and sustaining meal for a weary world.
Don’t try and pour into others from an empty cup. It won’t work.
Make sure you yourself are full, or at least not empty.
Make sure you take moments to fill yourself up as you do this work.
As we’ll say in our communion liturgy in just a few minutes, Christ is here.
Eat. Drink. Be strengthened. Be nourished. Be sustained.