Sunday, July 15, 2018

come away and rest a while

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
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.
I remember once some years ago standing in a queue in a credit-union in Cork. The line was long and moving slowly and the two elderly ladies in front of me struck up a conversation. And standing behind them as I was it was, of course, impossible for me not to overhear what they were saying.
'Ah, that plane crash yesterday was terrible, girl' said the first.
'Oh, it was,' said the second.
'All those poor people, going off on their holidays.'
'Shocking awful, girl.'
'Still, they had to be going off, gallivanting around the world on their foreign holidays. Back in my day, we happy enough to get on the bus on go down to Crosshaven for the day. And bring our sandwiches with us. No airplanes for us, flying here there and everywhere, and we were happy out, like.'
'Oh, we were indeed, girl.'
Now, while there is nothing wrong with spending the day in Crosshaven – I have spent many a happy afternoon there, a truly charming place, particularly in the summer when the weather is fine, there is a gentle sea breeze, and the merries are open for the children to enjoy a ride on the carousel or the bumper-cars - I can't help but think that the two ladies were being a little hard on the doomed holiday makers. For a holiday is a holiday, whether it is a day by the seaside or a fortnight abroad, and the difference between the two is only a matter of degree; and, of course, not only is air transport very safe, but a bus may crash perhaps even more easily than a plane.

And the truth is not only do we need a break now and again, it is actually part of God's plan that we should. He teaches us this by the example of his own actions when in Genesis he rests on the seventh day after the work of creation on the preceding six; and later in Exodus he makes it part of his Divine Law that man should keep holy the Sabbath day and refrain from work.

Our Lord in our Gospel reading today recognises his disciples need for a break. They have just returned from the mission he sent them on, out preaching and teaching and calling people to repentance. We don't know exactly how long they have been gone, but these are the instructions that he gave them before they went out:
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

We can presume from all this that they were gone more than a few days – weeks, perhaps even months. A good long time certainly, walking on dusty roads wherever they went in the hot, dry climate of Israel. They have been working hard, these fishers of men. And so Jesus wants to take them away from it all for a while. But the break he is suggesting is not the ancient world's equivalent of a 'mini-break' at some sort of spa-hotel. 'Come away to a deserted place' he says. And the word that is translated here as 'deserted' in used elsewhere in Mark's gospel, in the first chapter, where it is more usually translated as 'wilderness.' And there it refers to the wilderness where John the Baptist preached and the wilderness into which our Lord was driven by the Holy Spirit after his baptism. So already we should be realising that there are spiritual dimensions to this 'time away from it all' that Jesus wants his disciples to take.

And our Lord, of course, does not send them to this 'wilderness place' alone – he goes with them. They are going to a quiet place to spend time with Jesus. After their long, hard weeks of pounding the roads and working hard what the Son of God thinks his followers need is not some time in the local tavern, filling themselves with food and wine; neither is it to lounge on the shores of Galilee, relaxing on the beach in the sun and splashing in the cool water; nor is it to go off to some place they have never seen before and see the sights and learn interesting details about the local culture. It is to go to a desert place and spend time with the Lord.

Something for us to consider, perhaps, at the end of our own working day, or after a long, hard week, or even after many weeks of particularly arduous labour. Is there more to refreshing ourselves than an hour in front of the telly, or a shopping trip in a nearby town, or yet another holiday of sun, sea, and sand? Perhaps true refreshment lies in making a quiet space in our lives to spend time with the Lord. It was what he wanted for his disciples; and as we are his followers also, I can not but think that it is what he wants for us also. Amen
(as I am currently on leave, this is a reprint of a sermon preached 19 July 2015)

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