"Sabbath Stopping" - Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He 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. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he 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.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Genessaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized Jesus and rushed about that region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard that he was. And wherever he 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.
It didn’t used to be this way, but when I read this bit of Scripture this time around, I wasn’t impressed by the crowds, so much. I wasn’t drawn to the way they recognized Jesus or how they chased him around Galilee, like a rock star. I wasn’t even moved by his compassion for those crowds or for the sick people he healed or even for the great faith it takes to believe touching his cloak would work a miracle, let alone that those sorts of miracles apparently happened.
What got my attention this time around was how it seemed like, maybe, Jesus was trying to avoid all of that some of the time.
See, the disciples show up - some time after he’s sent them out to share the good news and heal diseases and cast out demons and whatnot – and they start to tell Jesus all about their exploits. And I imagine they’re more than a little proud and excited about all they’ve been up to. I wouldn’t be surprised if these former fishermen had traded one sort of “big fish” story for another, if you know what I mean. Like, what used to be a competition about who caught and sold more or bigger fish after a stint on the lake, now had likely become a chance to one-up each other about who’d converted the greatest number of new believers; or who had cast out the most demons; or who had forgiven the most sinful sinner; or who had healed the grossest case of leprosy, or whatever.
Now, I’m sure Jesus was proud of his protégés. I imagine he was pleased with their progress, if their reports were true. I suspect he was impressed with their enthusiasm and their faith and all of their hard work. (For whatever reason, the verses the lectionary leaves out of what we heard for today, tell the story of the feeding of the five thousand and of Jesus walking on water and stilling a storm, so they had been busy, these disciples, following and believing in Jesus while he did his thing and taught them to do theirs.)
But, like I said, what gets my attention this time around is that Jesus tells the disciples to stop; to step away from all of that; to go to a deserted place, by themselves, and rest for awhile. And I think Jesus does this because he has as much compassion for his closest friends and followers, as he does for all of those crowds, who were like sheep without a shepherd, and looking to be healed.
See, the truth is, Jesus’ disciples weren’t any different, or better, or worse, than the crowds who followed them around. They needed healing, too. And the same is true for you and me, lest we forget it. We are no different, or better, or worse, than those for and with whom we live our lives of faith out there in the world. We need healing, just the same.
And sometimes we need to step away from all we’re up to in order to remember and to recognize and to receive the healing we need. Sometimes we need to stop looking outside of ourselves for the needs that surround us and start looking inside of ourselves for the needs that are within.
I read a blog this week titled “Busy is a Sickness,” by a guy named Scott Dannemiller, who credentials himself as an author, worship leader and leadership consultant. The premise of the blog wasn’t new in many ways. It was very much stuff I’ve heard before. I’ve even shared some of it with all of you over the years, I think. And you’ve heard and read and experienced it in your own life, for yourself, I know.
We are too busy. We’re too over-scheduled. We pretend we don’t like it or want it and that it’s out of our control. We pretend we’d prefer to do things differently, but we don’t. We are secretly proud somehow by how important we must be to have so much going on in our lives. Some of us are proud of how important our kids must be to have so much going on in their lives. We pretend we’re burdened by our busy-ness, but boy does it feel good to have survived another week or another weekend or another vacation even, and to have checked it all off of our list, before sucking it up to start all over again the next week; the next school year; the next busy season, or whatever.
See, just like those first disciples, we love a good fish story about how much we have to do; how much we are needed; how productive we can be; how much we can accomplish – and how worthy and worthwhile; how valued and valuable we must be as a result. But this blog I mentioned had me thinking about something new in all of this.
Scott Dannemiller, the author, told of an experiment where participants were left alone in a room for up to 15 minutes and then, over half of them reported not liking all of that alone time. In other studies, then, participants were given an electric shock and asked if they would pay money to avoid being shocked again. Of course, most said they would trade money in order to avoid the pain of the shock. (I think that part of the experiment was just to show how painful the electric shock really was.)
BECAUSE, when those same people were left alone in a room for 15 minutes, nearly half of them chose to self-administer the same painful electric shock, rather than to simply sit… alone in a room… with just themselves and their thoughts. They chose to cause themselves pain by way of an electric shock, rather than to be alone and still and doing nothing. The experiment seems to prove that for a lot of us, doing something … doing any thing – even if it causes us pain – even if it hurts us – is more appealing than just being.
No wonder we’re addicted. No wonder we live to work, rather than work to live. No wonder we let our calendars boss us around. No wonder we can’t find time to pray or meditate or rest. Are we afraid of what we might see or feel or find when we do?
What time apart and time away, in deserted places by ourselves, means to do for us is to give us rest and refreshment, yes. It allows us to stop and relax. It replenishes our energy and restores our enthusiasm and builds our strength and increases our stamina. All of this is called Sabbath, remember, and it’s one of God’s Top Ten commandments, after all. And when we get it right, it forces us to stop relying on ourselves and on our own accomplishments, but on God, instead. I think that’s what Jesus was calling the disciples to by the lake, that day.
Sabbath stopping takes faith, because we must let God be God in those moments when we dare to stop doing, producing, accomplishing, proving. Sabbath stopping takes humility when we let things get done without us and dare to see that others are capable and worthy, too. Some of you have heard me say that one of the lessons I learned over the course of my own sabbatical last year is that Sabbath stopping is a reality check that reminds you what you can/should do without and what really can/should do without you, from time to time. Sabbath stopping allows us to see that our value, as far as God is concerned, comes from being – nothing more and nothing less – and that is a lesson in grace, for sure.
And when we practice Sabbath well…when we put away our busy schedules and our big fish stories and the pride that goes along with them…we will start to see that value and that worth and that kind of grace in the mirror, for ourselves, apart from our ability to “do” anything about it. And when we learn to see it in the mirror, we’ll begin to see it in the world – in friends, family, neighbors and more. And when that happens, our compassion will be stirred, like Jesus’ was way back when. And we will begin to live and move and breathe and serve in the world, with joy, mindful of our place in the midst of what all belongs to God, and resting assured in God’s grace for every bit of it.