July 19, 2015

Psalm 23
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“Rest Awhile”

Jesus said to his apostles: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” This has been an interesting text to reflect on during the final week of work before my holidays.

The context for the apostles is that they have been out on the road for some time… preaching, teaching, and healing in Jesus’ name. Remember how Jesus sent them out two by two? He gave them power to do amazing things, and off they went without the security of bringing food, or money, or extra supplies.

In some places they were likely welcomed, and in others the people had no interest in their message. When that happened, they dusted off their feet, and kept going on the mission. Now they are back with Jesus, telling about their adventures… excitedly sharing the moments of wonder and grace when people were healed and lives were transformed… wearily recounting the challenges and disappointments, and how those defeats made them feel as they continued on their way.

Jesus wisely invites his workers to take a break. Perhaps the plan is to spend more time reflecting on the mission so far, and to make plans for the next steps, but perhaps the plan is just to rest – to sleep, to eat (which they have hardly had time to do), to pray, to think, and to rest some more.

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Over the years, I have often seen Christians who have taken on many responsibilities and become involved in numerous ministries inside and outside the church. As Spirit-gifted people, others have recognized their potential and invited them to take on one ministry after another. In the midst of that work, they have grown and found fulfillment and joy as they served God faithfully.

But then the stress level began to rise, and the ministries began to feel like burdens, and those Christian leaders began to feel overwhelmed. And the next thing we knew, they were quitting everything!… resigning from this committee and that board, stepping back from all their church responsibilities, apologizing profusely, but saying, “I just can’t handle all this any longer!”

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

Whether our daily work is a high-stress occupation, a physically-demanding job, a heavy load of volunteer responsibilities, a full-time caregiving role, the constant task of leading a busy family, or some combination of those things, we are reminded today that we need to take a sabbath day of rest.

There is nothing wrong with working hard, but if we are going to find the physical, emotional, and spiritual energy to work for another week, we must take some time to rest, to sleep, to think, to pray, and even to play.

Some might say that me telling you that you need to take a sabbath day of rest is like the pot calling the kettle black. But, in fact, my own level of busyness over the last few years of balancing ministry and school has made me very aware of my need to have a regular break, a time to worship and pray, a morning to sleep in and stay out of the church office, and away from the constant stream of emails.

I also know how difficult it is to carve out the time and space to take that rest… because the work we are doing is important, and people need us, and there are so many things that are urgently demanding our attention.

We are in good company when our hearts go out to the people and needs around us, and we cut our break short to respond to a need.

Just as Jesus and the apostles went away in a boat to a deserted place, people saw them going and recognized them. The people hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. When 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.

Oh Jesus! You’re supposed to be taking a day off! You’ve already put in way more than 37 and a half hours this week – the normal full time expectation.

A number of years ago, I remember talking with some minister colleagues from another denomination in which there was some talk about the possibility of the ministers forming a union. I had only been in ministry for a couple of years at that time, but the concept sounded completely ridiculous to me.

I understand the value of unions for workers, and I believe they have done some very good things in building fair, just, and reasonable working conditions, remuneration, and benefits for many people. But when it came to ministry, it just didn’t seem to fit.

First of all, there is the fact that church folk should be taking care of each other without needing to resort to the pressure of unions. We should be repeating Jesus’ words to his apostles, encouraging each other to make time for rest, and prayer, and renewal. And we should be backing up that invitation with offers of assistance to give each other space to actually get away. Whether we are paid ministry personnel or lay volunteers, we need to support each other in good practices of self-care.

But the other problem with the union idea is that it’s based on the concept that we are simply performing a function, providing a service, and being compensated appropriately for that work. It loses sight of the fact that ministry – ALL ministry, whether full-time or part-time, whether a stipend is provided or whether it’s as a volunteer – ministry is a calling from God to give our lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

We can care for each other well by encouraging each other to take a rest, as Jesus did for his apostles after they returned from their first missions.

But like Jesus, who is our ultimate model for what it looks like to give our lives for others, there will be times when we will see the needs around us and have compassion on the people who need our care. And we will teach them, or care for them, or help them, or be with them because this is the ministry to which we have all dedicated our lives.

Over the last few weeks, I know that many Christians and others in Saskatoon have done just that for the evacuees from the fire-affected areas. Many have given their time, donations, and help to make life for the evacuees a little less unpleasant. And I imagine that many people interrupted their holidays or other summer plans to do so because they were filled with the compassion of Jesus for those who needed them, even on their day off.

So there is a balance to be found between caring for our own needs so that we can have the physical, emotional, and spiritual resources to care for others.

And when our rest is interrupted, we need to keep on following Jesus’ example – giving our hearts and lives for his mission, but also keeping on taking time out – even in bits and pieces – to come away to pray, and rest, and be renewed.

That’s what I plan to do over the next four weeks of holidays. I have some school work to do this week, and then I am looking forward to a beautiful drive through the mountains to the coast.

The fact that you are here this morning, and that many of you take the time most Sundays to come away from your daily work to pray and renew your spiritual life, is a good sign. And so today, I just want to encourage you to keep on doing that – “Come away and rest awhile.”

This week, and this summer, may you find the time and space to let the Spirit of God fill and renew your spirit. And may you continue to embrace the call that God has for your life – to serve and follow Jesus all the days of your life, to love as Jesus loves, to give your life and your gifts as he gave them for you. And may you be blessed so that your lives may be used to bless others today and forever. Amen.