Sermon text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
It’s said that often times you write the sermon you personally need to hear. This week that truth was as plain as the nose on my face as I kept reading a portion of our gospel lesson over and over again. This single verse kept resonating with me and yet I was lacking the focus and the energy to do much with it. “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.” These words, that invitation from Jesus, was sweet music to my ears, because I am not afraid to admit that I am tired…I was certainly tired as I was writing this sermon.
Quite frankly we are not our best when we are tired. We can be grumpy, short-tempered, easily distracted, unfocused, irritable. When you’re weary it is difficult to finish a creative thought, let alone complete a sentence.
For me, this started because I put a little too much on my plate for what was already a busy week and weekend. And while I survived the work week, and family camp, and a funeral, and our services, and drive through communion, and the multiple round trips to Camp Sequanota, I’m paying the price on Wednesday as I write these words.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint. I love my life and I would much rather be occupied than not. No, this is not a complaint, this is a confession that somewhere in all of life—in work, play, travel, and all of the other components of a blessedly hectic life—I sometimes forget to rest.
That is my confession and I suspect that I have plenty of company. I know I’m not alone.
Busyness has become so common in our culture that it is viewed as a badge of honor and a sign of success. But due to our constant state of being on and busy, people now struggle to relax and rest when they slow down or when they go on vacation. It’s called leisure sickness, and it is real. During breaks from work some folks complain of headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and even cold or flu-like symptoms. This is all brought on from an adrenaline imbalance that takes hold of us when we’re on the go 24/7. It’s pretty telling how frenetic we’ve become when rest itself is foreign and can make us feel unwell.
We are all familiar with the Third Commandment to honor the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy. Usually we Christians make the assumption that Sabbath means going to worship. After all, Luther writes “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching of God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” That’s all well and good, but that’s not the original intention of Sabbath that the people of Israel received. The Sabbath meant to rest as God rested on the seventh day of creation, and that’s unbelievably good news for people who were coming out of slavery.
Imagine hearing that commandment for the first time. “Wait a minute…we get to rest? We are commanded by God to rest? Praise the Lord!” This command sets the Israelites apart from every other culture in the Ancient Near East, thousands of years before the idea of a weekend was ever invented.
I have a hunch that we’re not all that far off from Egypt where the ancient Hebrews languished under their task masters. Except our slavery is self-constructed, self-imposed—which means it is exceedingly difficult for us to detect and overcome this problem.
We are enslaved to notions of success, so we put fewer limits and boundaries on work. We are enslaved to ideas that our children need every opportunity available, and therefore we schedule them into oblivion and wonder why they struggle to focus. We are enslaved to our fear of missing out, allowing social media to dictate our lives rather than our genuine interests. We are enslaved to the belief that contentment comes from more—more money, more square footage in our homes, more likes and followers, more things to put on our resume or in our closets. When these are our driving forces there ain’t no rest for the wicked; money don’t grow on trees.
In light of all this, listen again to our Lord’s invitation: Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile. This isn’t taking a half day at work or a week of vacation, this is an invitation to loosen our shackles and escape our cages. Break loose from the belief that more is the ticket to happiness and workaholicism is the ticket to more.
Sabbath rest also gives new meaning to today’s appointed psalm, Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Because Jesus is our shepherd we shall not want. Because God provides we do not need to consume everything in our path to find meaning. Because God has promised to take care of us we can step off the hamster wheel of futility and accumulation so that we can rest, pause, and notice the abundance we have. We can pay attention and rejoice.
That’s the key to Sabbath rest: we are invited to step back and stand aside from the typical forces that drive and consume us so that we might detect the presence, providence, and blessing of God. We can be content. We can give thanks.
That’s incredibly hard to do. There’s no wonder why the Psalmist writes that the Lord doesn’t simply invite rest, but confesses that the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures.” Even though we are a people in desperate need of rest we resist it, just like I resisted my nap every afternoon when I was in preschool. Therefore, God commands it.
God commands rest. God commands us to abandon the rat race that enslaves us. God wants us to spend time with one another, to enjoy creation, to enjoy the things we worked for, and to enjoy communion with the divine.
The abundant life isn’t just about quantity, it’s about quality. That’s why Jesus extends the invitation and God commands it, after modeling the behavior from the very beginning of time. This is a compassionate offer to find rest for our souls. So please, join me, and find the time to kick back, relax, and enjoy this gift of rest that God has given to us. AMEN