Rev. Dorothy is a second- or third- or fourth-career ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. Her first professional degree was in Pharmacy. She went on to being a research scientist, an environmental scientist, and now a minister. Most of her time as a minister in the United Church was at Gladwin Heights United Church in Abbotsford. Now retired from continuous active ministry service she continues preaching, leading worship and teaching on a limited basis. She has a special interest in preaching and teaching about Ecology and Eco-justice. During this time of CoVid-19 gathering restrictions, Dorothy has focused her teaching and worship through ZOOM connections. Dorothy has more time for reading in preparation for teaching and preaching as well as reading beyond the scientific reading of earlier years. Dorothy last led worship at Northwood United Church May 9,21 and looks forward to sharing ZOOM services with you at Northwood July 4 and 11. She is married to Wayne, a Forensic Scientist who continues to work part-time as a consultant in the field of drugs and alcohol. They live in Burnaby, have one married daughter, son-in-law and an eight-year-old granddaughter.
Sermon on Mark 6:7,12,13, 30–34, 45, 46, 53–56
Rest and Compassion
July 11/2021 Northwood UC (remote recorded)
The Reverend Dr. Dorothy A. Jeffery
Prayer of illumination:
God of all peoples and places, hear my prayer, that
Between the words that I speak
and the words that are heard,
the Holy Spirit moves. AMEN
/adapted from the late Don Grayston.
The writer of Mark is again intertwining several stories. His purpose is to show the spread of Jesus’ influence especially among the Galilean peasantry – the sick, the poor, those in need of physical and spiritual healing. This portion of the story really begins with the sending out of the twelve to preach, and to heal, which we heard last week. Now the disciples return to give an account of this first missionary venture of evangelism, this first effort to be the hands and feet of Christ. Again, Mark does not really tell us how the disciples felt about their mission. Were they elated with their success which has gone even beyond preaching and healing – they report on their teaching also? We can imagine the excitement of the scene when they gather with Jesus. Everyone talking at once. Everyone explaining what has happened. Probably eager for their next assignment. But after all this work, they are tired. Yet the crowds around them continue pressing in.
Jesus recognizes this. The disciples have been so busy that they have not even had time to eat. Jesus has compassion for the disciples and invites them to a quiet time alone with him. They leave and travel from place to place in search of wilderness and a place for fellowship and rest. Their travels (in chapter 6) have covered much of the world known to Jesus – starting in Nazareth they travel by land among the villages, and then by sea from the northeast of the Sea of Galilee (Bethsaida), back across the sea to Gennesaret (on west side of the sea of Galilee). They have a purpose - preaching, teaching and healing, but now they seek rest.
‘Rest’ is completion of their mission in a quiet place of retreat. It is also a place for debriefing the mission without interruptions. Jesus names this as wilderness. Traditionally wilderness is a place where God encounters the faithful and provides sustenance, protection, renewal and direction (cf. Exodus 3:1ff; 13:20-21; 1 Samuel 23:14; 1
Kings 19:4ff; Psalm 63). Recall the stories of Moses and the wilderness wanderings. In wilderness he receives guidance from God (the Ten Commandments), the people are sustained (manna, and quail and water from a rock), and they are protected by a cloud of the Presence. Here in wilderness God forms a new community. Jesus seeks to do the same.
In a sense we have been in a wilderness for the last year and a half. A wilderness of isolation and separation from the communities we have known for years, including the church. Scott invited you to start thinking about the re-formation of community a couple of weeks ago. How is that going? The stress of longing for travel (even worldwide travel) may be just as much stress as actual travel. We too need rest as we assess what we have accomplished despite the pandemic, for it was harder and more demanding than the usual way of doing service for the community. We have been for the past few weeks reflecting on the shock of the Indian Residential school and unmarked graves revealed over the past month. What we thought was the way of doing things was neither compassionate nor following Jesus’ way. This shock and lament and reflection has also caused fatigue. Though we feel complicit and regret the past we may be now feeling compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is real. Amidst these realities I want to offer you a couple of stories that relate to compassion and the need for rest.
I see some personal connections to the travel stories in the gospel reading today, (superficial, maybe, maybe not). A few years ago, I returned from a trip across the sea, going back and forth (not in straight lines) from London to Amsterdam to London and finally home. There was purpose in my travel: to study the church in the Reformation (books and buildings). When I got home, I was in need of rest. It was not only ‘jet’ lag.
Amsterdam by its history is a very free thinking and acting city – politically, socially, ethically, and religiously. It has many old churches, most formerly Roman Catholic but now mostly stripped of the interior artwork and statues of saints. This happened during the Reformation in what is termed iconoclasm. Still most churches have bells and spires, and one of the joys of the city was the frequent peeling of bells on the hour and half hour. I often stopped to listen (and rest).
On that trip I met a few interesting people. One can never predict who you will meet on a journey. Among those I met, I saw issues that are familiar to us and the church and the world.
Issues like – where are the young people in church?
What can be done about hate in the world?
How can we be more accepting of diversity?
I engaged in some evangelism on this trip. By that I mean witnessing, speaking about religion in conversations where it seemed to fit. By that I mean going against the taboo of ‘never’ talk about religion in polite (initial) conversations.
One example of this type of conversation and of the interesting people I met was a young man doing humanitarian work with children in Jerusalem. He was working for an NGO based in Amsterdam. He was from Wales, and was going to visit friends in London. In our conversation, he said he did not know anyone who is Christian. That points to the decline of church and active de-Christianization which began at the time of French revolution. His work and his knowledge of religions and history in the Middle East was extensive. I pointed out to him he was using the word religious (the root meaning of which is to bind, bring together) and religious language about his work. He was doing spiritual work without naming it as being religion based. Another part of the Mark reading is the mention that the disciples had no time to eat. For some the connection to these stories may be not taking time to eat – skipping lunch, lunch or breakfast on the run, forgetting the joy of eating and sharing meals with friends and family, and the demise of the family meal, especially in the pandemic times. We are besieged by activities, responsibilities and health practices that reshape even the basic functions of life such as eating.
Here is another story of the need for rest and finding joy amidst busy-ness. It was shared by Kaji Douša, a New York City pastor.
Her story is also associated with the quote:
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." - Mark 6:31
This pastor has several friends who mark the anniversary of their birth by setting aside a whole month, in essence making this a month of abundant joy within the family.
A co-worker shared her traditions for her birth month.
When she was a little girl, when her mom was healthy and herself, her mother made a big deal of her birthday. She would think of different ways to incorporate her child's favorite activities into a series of events that couldn't be contained in a single day. Picnics in the park, instead of a hurried meal in their small apartment; ice cream on a hot evening; time together just the two of them in the presence of a city crowds.
Her mom, a busy woman working overtime, driving enormous buses through the crowded streets of New York City, would set aside this time as special. A month could barely contain the excitement and love she wanted to demonstrate.
On the actual birthday she'd wake her child up at midnight with a cupcake and a candle and say:
"It's your birthday now. I'm so happy you were born."
Later when the girl was in her early twenties, her mother had a severe stroke. Everything changed in their lives. The girl became her mom's primary round-the-clock care giver. There was no such thing as respite because her mom needed her. Their existence was survival. Making a living added to her commitments.
But to this day, her mom has kept up the tradition. Her daughter has to buy the cupcake and candle and leave it somewhere her mom can reach it. That series of phrases "It's your birthday now. I'm so happy you were born." is too much for her mom to say out loud.
But setting aside this time of rest and gratitude is holy to them and nothing, not even a stroke, can get in their way.
The world doesn't always allow working people much time to breathe, relax, and recharge. But with careful planning and values that seize the time, a birthday becomes the one place that allows for celebration away together and rest.
When we have found ourselves working entirely too hard, we can learn from this family story…and from Jesus, who worked hard again on the shore, but gave the disciples rest.
I have shared these stories which in various ways point to the need to rest alone or with relations.
We need time to rebuild Christian community. It is part of what we do. That is Jesus’ plan … but it is interrupted.
Is this what we need now? To stop, to rest, alone away from the rush of life.
In the situation of relations, with our indigenous neighbours, we to a greater or lesser extent share their pain. The way forward may be through building relationships on their terms when they have grieved and are ready to move on.
We may all suffer from the protestant work ethic, the drive to do good, to be constantly busy. But in doing so we wear ourselves out. I know I do, so in retirement I have not stopped ministry altogether but I carefully plan my retirement work.
As Christians we need to stop, to come away together as a community and break bread together. We need to gather as a faith community on more than Sunday morning, to rest from our labors and partake of a common meal, an important part of life together. When we return from individual activities, even those in the name of church and for the sake of Christ we need to re-form ourselves as the body of Christ, otherwise we may be broken and so poured out that we cannot function as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
A balance needs to be maintained – renewal, and ministry which makes us need renewal and rest. We need time away, but we need to remember those who need our help and not forget about them after we have regained our strength.
The reflections of an 18th century spiritual director say that while God calls us to renewal through three communal practices of Sabbath keeping, Eucharist and theological reflection, God also pledges that when others interrupt our plans for retreat God will sustain us.
In the passage from Mark’s gospel after the disciples had come back from their time of mission, Jesus knew they were excited, exhilarated and exhausted. He said, ‘Come away with me and rest.’
He didn’t say, ‘Go home and rest’. The writer of the gospel is saying to his church, ‘When you are worn out from doing Christ’s work in your daily life, you need to rest. But the rest you need isn’t just physical, all by yourselves in your houses. What you need is to spend time together with other Christians and with Christ. When you are tired, you need spiritual rest as much as physical rest. You need to be together with Christ in worship and in fellowship.’
That is what Christ continues to offer to us today. When life is difficult, that’s not the time to stay away from worship. It’s the time to come to worship and to be with other Christians who will care for you, pray with you and encourage you.
But there is more than worship for which Christians gather. Through the Northwood Spiritual Practices you are invited to take time with Jesus (God), through mediation. For others there is study and for others there is physical rest through Yoga. If you never have before or if you are ready to return, now in this waning pandemic summertime try some of these practices.
According to Canadian theologian, John Douglas Hall, these brief scenes in Mark address two foundational questions of any religion.
How does God view the world?
And how does God ask us to view the world?
Theology (the first question; how does God view the world?) drives ethics (the second question; how does God ask us to view the world? ).
The answer is revealed here in brief and pertinent form (v. 34) “he had compassion”.
This is also found in the essence of the prophetic traditions of ancient Israel. Abraham Heschel said “God is moved and affected by what happens in the world.”
God is a God of compassion. Compassion from its root meaning “with suffering”. Compassion cannot be experienced from afar. Pity maybe, but compassion requires being with the one who suffers.
So we see here Jesus, though he is tired, though he wants rest with the disciples, heals those in need because he has compassion. Jesus identifies with the crowds. The Jesus’ story is a continuous story of compassion – ultimately leading to the supreme act of compassion – suffering with all humanity in his death on the cross.
I think back to the young man I met on the plane from Amsterdam – he had compassion by this definition. He was “suffering with” the children of Jerusalem, not from afar, and not without risk to himself.
God will sustain us when our plans for rest are interrupted by those in need - a formula for break down, or a formula for trust in God. Jesus did the healing while disciples rested in the background. This is implied in the story.
A colleague suggests that the reading should stop at v. 32.
32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
It certainly avoids the ambiguity of the passage which continues at V. 33-34
33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
34As 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.
These two verses seem a recipe for burnout – respond to every need, regardless of your own needs. We are tempted by our view of Jesus as a model and a guide to believe that we are called to do everything as Jesus did. We fall into the trap of seeing Jesus as simply human. Yet this forgets one of the fundamental points of Christian doctrine – Jesus is fully human and fully divine.
You will note in v. 34 only Jesus is in view. The disciples fade into the background (the ‘they’ of v. 33 becomes ‘he’ in v. 34). Implicitly the disciples are taking the rest they need. Similarly, we don’t have to do everything that presents, or that we discover as a need. We cannot do everything but we can do something to advance the kingdom of God. Ultimately, we must trust God – to sustain us, to protect us, and to act when we cannot. The very nature of God is compassion. Sometimes we must trust God to find ways to be compassionate – to us and to the whole world. Jesus, as the ultimate revelation of God to Christians, heals (all he does at the end of the story is heal – no teaching, no preaching). When he reaches Gennesaret v. 56 there is no teaching only healing.
56 …wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, … they … touch(ed) even the fringe of his cloak; and all … were healed.
The compassion of God, combined with God’s limitless power, is sufficient to meet both our spiritual and physical needs. As we have experienced the abundance of God’s compassion for us, may we also be filled with compassion to serve God and others, reenergized and revitalized to bring the good news of hope and a future to those to whom we minister.
Your body - your mind - are the temples in which God dwells. If you don't give yourself the needed rest, you will find it hard to be aware of God's presence in your
Let us take rest and refuge in God when we need it. That too is being disciples.