A sabbath rest: required for compassionate engagement in mission

I urge you to embrace the spiritual practice of rest and renewal for Jesus’ sake. Rest, relaxation, and vacation are not only God-given gifts; they are God-directed necessities. But then we must move from the Sabbath rest to the compassion and action of Mission in the world around us.

We talked last week about activism about being aware of what is going on in and around us and about the biblical imperative of mission, and action, and being a disciple

Last week was all about standing up for the truth and maybe even being persecuted for it. I spoke about being too comfortable in our faith. I even hoped that my sermon made you uncomfortable.

But this week we see Jesus telling his disciples to rest, to take some time out, to not be so busy. Is he contradicting all that has been said previously. Is being a Christian about being quiet and peaceful and reflective?

William Barclay sums it up quite well I think. He makes this statement ‘The rhythm of the Christian Life is the alternate meeting with God in the secret place and serving people in the marketplace’

I’m convinced that the essence of a Christian life is this ebb and flow of moving into the presence of God from the business of life and then returning to involvement with people enriched by our spiritual manure.

How can we do God’s work without some time to practice the presence of God in our lives? But as William Barclay says ‘prayer and devotion that does not lead to practical action for good is simply self indulgence.

Although we were distracted last week by that disconcerting reading about the beheading of John the Baptist, Mark is really continuing his story of Jesus’ response to the return of the disciples from their first missionary journey in the countryside of Galilee. They had reported to Jesus what had happened as they travelled around sharing the good news of God’s kingdom.

The twelve disciples had had an exhilarating but exhausting experience. This was the first time that they had been out on their own without Jesus with them. And you will remember that they had preached, cast out demons, anointed the sick, and they had called people to respond to God, by changing their lives. We heard that slightly earlier than our passage this morning in Mark Ch 6. As Jesus listened to each team report he must have been moved by the stories of healing children, inspiring people and boldly witnessing to Jesus.

But the Lord must have seen fatigue in their faces. And so in a gracious moment of concern Jesus says to them come away for a while and rest. I know a place close by, just across the lake – a deserted place. Come away and rest: beautiful words. An invitation to step out of the bustle and activity of life. To rest, to slow down, to change pace, come away awhile and rest.

July is holiday time for many people in this country. The schools have just broken up, and Friday apparently, was the busiest day of the year for airports. And our roads were busy too.

I always hope that people will take some time off to be with family to travel, to relax, to spend time re-knitting what can be torn fabric of lives. And the hope of escape to the beach or abroad can sustain us during those long dark days of occupational drudgery and busyness.

But despite the blessed potential that vacation affords. I know that many people do not take any time away. Some argue that it is too difficult to take time off. You have to work twice as hard to get ready to go. And then when you return you have extra hours of work to catch up on. And they insist it is not worth it. I confess that this is often my argument to the great frustration of my husband.

Others are actually afraid to be away, lest the people at the top get the idea that the company can function very well without them. In a time of downsizing, no one wants to be the unessential person.

And if people do go away, they often take with them the wonders of portable technology. Mobile phone, iPads, laptops, all those things that can keep us so busy. those things that allow work to stick to us like chewing gum on a shoe.

When Jesus invites his disciples to go away to a deserted place he was not inviting them to drop out. He made no suggestion that their ministry of witness and compassion was over. No he was simply inviting them to pause before continuing to bless and to serve.

It was an invitation to observe the proper rhythm of Christian life and they accepted the invitation, and got into the boat for the first of all Christian retreats.

But then Mark tells us what happens next, on the way to their deserted place. A large crowd saw where they were going and got there ahead of them. And when Jesus and the disciples reach the shore, over 5000 people were waiting for them. Alas even for Jesus, work sticks like chewing gum on a shoe.

Perhaps we can imagine how the disciples might have felt when they saw the crowd waiting for them on other side.

But Jesus had compassion for the crowd. We know that Jesus would again and again demonstrate his concern for people, who he likened to sheep without a shepherd.

But we need to hear our Lord’s words about the importance of Sabbath the literal breaking in upon on the craziness of life. We need to rest. Jesus tells us that today.

Our world is a hectic place with all the miracles of modern technology we are only a mobile phone’s ding away from whoever thinks he or she needs us. And we can get addicted to being needed. We must be careful that we do not wake up with an inbalanced life and an arid spiritual existence.

Come away: the beauty of the commandment about Sabbath is that it calls us to move away from what normally fills our lives. Jesus reminds us that he is not an angry boss who works us from sunrise to sunset. Today we are told that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who assures us that we will not want. The one who promises us that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

Today our Lord calls us to join him in a deserted place.

A place where we can be alone – not for ever, but just for a while. He calls us to find that deserted place from time to time where no wifi or 3g, email or voicemail, a place where briefly there is no Facebook or Twitter.

In the gospel today Jesus challenges us to recharge our batteries with him and no-one else. This rest is not laziness or irresponsibility, this is Sabbath rest, not a perpetual state: but just a time. We need to rest or we will be of no use to anyone especially to God.

If we work like the devil, we will soon be in his employ.

But let us not forget what William Barclay says because they echo the words of Jesus himself. Prayer and devotion which do not lead to practical action for good is simply self indulgence.

For Christ saw a great crowd, and he saw and he had compassion on them. That term compassion is used, for Jesus attitude towards people at least eight times in this gospel and it is implicit in the entire witness of his life. It is the very essence of his being and the imperative from Christ to us, his disciples.

We have to have compassion. And to have to have compassion we have to have knowledge. How can we pray and help others if we bury our head in the sand to the world’s problem.

How can we walk alongside those whose lives are shattered by war, conflict, disaster or political unfairness if we don’t equip ourselves with that knowledge. This means caring for our fellow human race whatever colour or creed they are.

Because we are all one race, the human race and they are all made in the image of God.

We must not forget that the church belongs to the world. Rather than cloistered in church buildings set apart from shared hustle and bustle from daily life.

We gather here to hear the Gospel and to the clarion call to action. We do not come here to read and study the Gospels to comfort ourselves but to comfort others. Jesus did not come to make our life comfortable, but to radically change it so that we would be like Him.

So I urge you to embrace the spiritual practice of rest and renewal for Jesus’ sake. The good news is that we should take a break at times. Rest, relaxation, and vacation are not only God-given gifts; they are God-directed necessities. But then we must move from the Sabbath rest to the compassion and action of Mission in the world around us.