August 10, 2015

Don’t Just Do Something – Stand There!


Text: Mark 6:31: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”

Let me begin with just a quick reminder of the language of the collect of day, the little prayer unique to each Sunday in the year with which we begin our worship each week. This is what it said:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There are at least two things about this collect, two claims, that are offensive to a lot of people. The first is implicit, but obvious: It begins from the basic assumption that there is a God, and that God is smarter than we are, and even smarter than we can be.

The second is a little more obvious from the language of the prayer; it’s the claim that God knows better, not just about a lot of things, but about us, than we do.

Let’s face it—part of us hears that with our Sunday School ears, and we are comforted at the idea of God looking out for us even when we’re careless, or thoughtless. But another part of us, and the largest part of a lot of people, hears that as pretty condescending, or worse. A lot of people would hear that language as an example of one of the things the most dislike about religion—the idea that we are somehow never better than children.

It’s understandable that this kind of theme wouldn’t sit well with us. We’re living in a moment when we’re in thrall to our own abilities. We can throw pianos at Pluto and come close enough for a picture. We can save premature babies, build giant particle accelerators to detect miniscule bosons, and design faster and faster computers that beat us at everything from dating strategies to chess. We are pretty confident of our own capabilities.

The story from the Gospel today gives us something of a corrective lens on that view of ourselves. Jesus has already commissioned those first disciples. He’s given them a kind of disciples’ boot camp in which they get some basic instructions on what to take and how to travel, and then they get sent out into the field.

When they come back they are nothing short of amazed at how successful they’ve been. It had to have been a pretty tense dare, going out among the villages with practically no provisions to preach the message Jesus had taught them. The text tells us earlier that they cast out many demons and healed many sick people—things they had never done before.

So we can imagine what that regathering must have been like. They’re probably giddy with excitement, a little full of themselves, and a lot exhausted. And in that moment Jesus doesn’t hand out awards for achievement or talk about their next excursion. Instead what he tells them is that they need to take a break. Come away by yourselves and rest.

The wisdom of that is as old as the commandments. It’s as old as the idea that a seventh of our waking life we ought to spend in some balanced diet of worship of God and restful reflection.

But here’s the thing to notice; even though Jesus gives them this advice, and even though they start on the road to that deserted place for the retreat he wants them to take—they never actually give themselves the time off.  At least so far as we know from the text we have, they never take the break.

Instead, they get chased by the crowds to the place they’d escaped to, and they just end up doing there what they had been doing before. In fact in twenty verses or so that are cut out of the gospel this morning by the editors of the lectionary, what happens during their time off is Mark’s version of the feeding of the multitudes.

Some vacation.

The question for today is whether we’re supposed to find an example in all of this. What do we do when the wisdom of God comes in direct conflict with the demands pressing in around us?

Jesus says to take a break. The disciples try to, but the needs of the world literally chase after them, and they choose to deal with those needs. When we look at it that way, it seems as though they chose well.

And we have something like the same choice before us right here. It’s summer; it’s vacation time; and as your pastor I feel strongly that I am responsible for admonishing all of you to attend to your own well-being by taking time to unplug, disconnect, and simply take time off.

But at the same time we have put right in the middle of our summer the opportunity, the invitation, to help out kids who are part of the B-Safe program, the summer school enrichment program our diocese has undertaken for nearly a decade. The needs of the world are right there, right in the leaflet in your hands.

What do we do when we’re confronted with the choice between heeding God’s wisdom and serving God’s people? What is our answer to the challenge of the collect when we see it through way the disciples lived?

The answer is not either-or; it’s both-and. We need to do, we have to do, both. And that the way we do both is to remember that the way we do all of our work as disciples is not alone, but community.

No one of us can do all of the work of disciples. All of us look for ways to engage our faith in the work we do in the world; and all of us need to take that time for reflection and renewal.

For most of us, the reality is that we’re much better at being busy than we are at being quiet; and that simple fact probably suggests where we need the most discipline. We are Type-A, hard-working, eager problem solvers. We can be that way because we actually believe that we can make a difference—and that is the good part of our confidence.

But that confidence has a dark side. It can lure us into thinking that thinking is all we need. And that can get us into pretty serious trouble, it can take us down the road of a series of well-reasoned steps that land us in disaster.

So we can’t always rush to the alarm bell. We should, when we can; but once in a while, maybe more often than we care to admit, we shouldn’t just do something. We should allow ourselves to stand there, to be still, to reflect, to consider.

That takes discipline, when the world chases after us. It takes a clear sense of our own limits. And most of all, it takes the confidence of knowing that we’re linked together in a community of people who will attend to the clamors of the world when we take time to rest, reflect, and reenergize.  Amen.