Pastor Steve Molin
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We called our best friends in Sioux Falls one Sunday night to go out for ice cream. Jerry was our pediatrician, Susy was dear to all of us, and their three young sons were great playmates for our kids. So Marsha called with the ice cream invitation. Jerry answered the phone, and Marsha asked for Susy.
“Susy’s not here.”
“Do you know when she’ll be home?” Marsha asked.
“No idea,” Jerry said, rather curtly.
“Well, where is she?” Marsha sort of demanded. They were really good friends, best friends, so we could be this way with each other. “Where is she?”
And Jerry answered, “Well, it might be at The Holiday Inn, or The Super 8, or The Hampton Inn. I’d go with the Hampton.”
On about Wednesday, Marsha called Susy and asked if everything was okay. “It is now,” Susy answered, and then took the time to explain to Marsha her week-end absence. “I was tired of it all. I was tired of the cooking and the cleaning and the transporting and breaking up fights, and looking for lost socks, and hearing complaints about ‘What! Chicken and mashed potatoes again!’ So I went on strike; a 48 hour strike from my family. I slept, I relaxed, I read magazines, and I slept some more. I’m better now.”
Marsha hung up the phone and told me the story and she just howled with laughter and thought it was great! I sort of scratched my head and was smart enough to say to myself, “Isn’t that kind of weird?” I know the audience I am speaking to today, and I would guess that right now, half of you are thinking “Isn’t that great what Susy did!” And the other half of you are scratching your heads and saying…again, to yourself…”Isn’t that kind of weird?” And I am guessing that it falls along gender lines.
That was twenty-five years ago. Just lately, I’ve been thinking Susy had it right. Just lately, I have admired the courage and wisdom she displayed when she called a “time out” from the craziness of her life, and found a quiet place to rest. Who knew it was a biblical concept to go to the Hampton Inn all alone? And perhaps if there was a Hampton Inn on Galilee in Jesus’ day, he might have done the very same thing.
When I shared with you what happened in the sixth chapter of Mark, what I did not tell you is how this “Day in the life of Jesus” began. It was the Sabbath – Saturday morning for the Jews – similar to Sunday morning for Christians, but Jesus wasn’t resting. He was teaching in his home church in Nazareth, and healing some sick people. Then he went to other villages, healing and teaching and preaching some more, and Jesus instructed his disciples to do the same. And when they reconnoitered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee later that day, the disciples were excitedly telling Jesus all they had done. This is where the gospel begins today…with Jesus saying to these excited but weary disciples, “Let’s get into the boat and find a place where we can rest.”
They rowed to what I imagine was a quiet, secluded cove, but the people followed them along the shore, and actually arrived at the cove before the disciples. The time of rest got delayed because Jesus saw the needs of the people, and the healing and the teaching resumed. When the day got late, and the people were hungry, the miracle of feeding the 5000 unfolds. Five buns, two fish, and Jesus turns it into a banquet. When those people leave, Jesus sends the disciples across the lake in their boat so he can rest and pray, but then he hears them fighting the wind as they rowed the boat, so he walks across the water to rescue them. And finally, when they get to the other side, they get out of the boat and Jesus is recognized and the people again flock to him for healing, and the quiet time Jesus had planned got delayed once again. I think this might be the one time in all of scripture where Jesus has set a poor example…a time when He says one thing, but does another. He sets out to rest, but he never does; and this is the one quality of Jesus that most of us emulate faithfully.
The fact is, we don’t know how to rest. Being still kills us, so even when we have times of leisure, we find ways to be busy. The internet, and cell phones make it possible to be reached any day, anytime, anywhere. Of course we don’t have to answer the phone, or open the email, but we do; and immediately our attention is turned from relaxing to reacting, from resting to responding, and our bodies and minds are denied a chance to recharge. Even if we were to turn off our electronic devices, we find something else to do. In an oxymoronic way, we become restless while resting, and we have to get busy.
And like Jesus, we can’t say no. The meals must be prepared, the lawn must be mowed, the paycheck must be earned, the kids must be driven to soccer and hockey and violin and dance and science camp and computer camp and horse camp and God knows what else we’ve signed them up for. And so not only do we inhibit our own bodies and minds’ ability to rest, but we’re teaching a whole generation that busy is good, that resting time is wasting time, and idle hands are the devil’s workshop. And we’re weary. We are so weary…but not so weary that we would stop the craziness.
Of course, until the big one comes. You can define “the big one” any way you want to. For people my age it’s the fear that heart failure will get my attention and my regret for not caring for my body. For people a bit younger it’s the threat of divorce that will get one’s attention and regret for not investing enough in one’s marriage or family. For the young adult it might be a DWI or an accident that causes them to slow down and take some time to breathe.
The 23rd Psalm is that one that we so often read at funerals and we assume it has to do with death, but in fact it is a Psalm that has to do with life. The first two verses inform us about a way of living that God desires for us. It begins “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Isn’t that what our busy-ness is all about? Isn’t it about wanting more? More thrills. More money. More stuff. More attention. More life. And the Psalmist says, “God, you are enough. What more could I possibly seek?” And yet we still seek more.
The second verse, more subtle perhaps, but just as insightful. “You make me lie down in green pastures.” You MAKE me lie down. When I chose to fill my days and my nights all the way out to the margins, when I schedule time to do everything but rest, and resent that I do not have 25 hours in the day. And then something happens; you make me lie down. Illness comes, or heartbreak comes, or failure comes, or disability comes, and you require me to lie down. And when I do, when I am required to rest, I take an inventory of my life and see the folly of it. That happened to me last summer, as some of you may recall. Two weeks homebound and going out of my gourd with boredom and then realizing that I needed to change my life, or my life would be changed for me. That I needed to slow down. I’m still not very good at it, and I still fight the guilt of resting when there are things to do. But I am aware. I am aware of my limitations. Are you aware of yours?
The Third Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” The word “holy” doesn’t mean religious. “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it religious.” The word “holy” means “set apart for a special purpose.” That commandment isn’t about being religious. It isn’t about making sure that one day a week you attend church. It’s about setting aside some time for the purpose of rest and renewal. It’s about being smarter about the way we live our lives. Jesus understood this. He understood that even when a day of rest wasn’t always possible, moments of rest were always necessary. And if you don’t think so, then probably your mind has already wandered to the list of things you have to accomplish yet today, and again tomorrow, and the overwhelming routine that awaits you later this week. But if you think that Jesus might have been on to something, then you understand that “It’s about time” and how we spend it. This is a sermon about the pace at which we live our lives, and the price that we pay for living recklessly. We need a change, and it’s about time.
I’m going to close with a very serendipitous exercise today. If you open your bulletin you will see just below the title of this sermon is a blank line…the sort of line where you might think you’d be expected to write something. And that’s exactly what I will ask you to do. During the instrumental music when I sit down, I’d like to ask you to write down one thing you are going to choose to NOT do today or tomorrow. Something you already have scheduled, or something you would typically do, but now you are saying, “No.” Not gonna do it. And once you have written that one thing down, you will write what you will do instead. It might be a walk, or a bike ride, or a nap, or read a book, or play Uno with your kids. Right now you may not even want to do the alternate thing, but I’m asking you to commit to doing it anyway. And then, at the end of the day, ask yourself this question: “Am I glad I changed my plan of what to do, or not?” I would love to hear your conclusion. Thanks be to God. Amen.
©2012 Steven Molin