We continue our summer sermon series on the spiritual practice of “Rest”, reading from Mark.
“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught.Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. He said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” They departed in a boat by themselves for a deserted place.”
Common English Bible (CEB)
Pastor Sarah’s Message is below:
Our spiritual practice today is rest.
I have to confess, I’m really uncomfortable talking about rest today. Because this weekend we saw the largest public gathering of white nationalists in a generation. It was violent, and deadly, and evil. You know, and I know, that this kind of evil doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been growing, festering, in our country for a long time, since the beginning. And the church, white churches, have mostly been silent. We have preferred complacency to conflict, and been too quick to say, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace.
So I’m hesitant to talk about rest today. Because we can’t pretend that there isn’t a lot of work to be done. How can we rest easy when hate is literally on the march?
I wonder, though, if the disciples had the same question when Jesus told them to rest. The way Mark tells the story, Jesus’ command to rest is immediately preceded by news of John the Baptist’s execution. John, who was Jesus’ own mentor, was killed by the state because he called for justice and righteousness and refused to water down his message. His death would have been a tremendous shock, a serious setback.
It must have felt like evil was on the march. The authorities were gaining power. And at the same time their movement was gaining power and growing. Surely it felt like this was no time to stop, or rest. The stakes were life and death.
And yet, Jesus says, Stop. “Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while.” Rest for a while.
It’s worth noticing where our minds go first when we’re told to rest. Is your first thought, “Yes, please…” followed quickly by “But I couldn’t possibly?”
And why not? What are all the reasons? Because the work’s not done. Because we don’t deserve it. Because we’ll fall behind. Because people will think less of us. Because there’s too much to do, and the stakes are too high.
And Jesus still calls us to rest.
If you tend to resist rest, or if feel like there’s no way you could possibly rest because of how your life is right now, or how important your work is, or how broken the world is, maybe this week the practice is to just notice the reasons you “can’t” rest. Be gentle and curious and persistent. What makes us resist ordistrust the call to rest? Is it pride, or insecurity, or fear? What makes us so certain we can’t rest? Is it comparison or competition or a belief that we are indispensable?
Still there’s the metronome of our subconscious saying, “The work’s not done. The work’s not done. How can we rest if the work’s not done?
”I wonder how Jesus made peace with that. When he rested, was he haunted by the people he wasn’t healing? He fed thousands one time, and yet… there are millions starving in East Africa today. How can we rest when the work’s not done?
Sometimes, maybe, the work isn’t that important, or it’s not as important as we think it is. But sometimes it is.
I know you all. You do good work. You organize, and advocate, and educate.You heal and plan and design. In the daily rounds of laundry, cooking, cleaning, you feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. You love your neighbor. You work for peace and the common good. And you wish you could do more. You feel like it’s not nearly enough. Because the work’s not done.
How can we rest until that day when all is made right, the hungry are fed, the captives set free?
How do we rest when the work’s not done, and the work matters? That was the disciples’ situation. Because the needs just keep coming. The needs didn’t stop when Jesus called the disciples to rest. If we read further we see that the crowd chased them down, and they were still hungry. This interlude is followed by the feeding of the 5,000 and then Jesus walking on water.
It’s tempting when we read this passage to rush right past it and on to the hungry crowd and draw some sort of moral like, “Well, we can rest, but we better not rest long because there are hungry people and we need to go work miracles.”
But Jesus calls them to rest. This isn’t the only time. I think he really meant it.
If we are going to look ahead at what comes next—the miraculous feeding, the walking on water—then we have to notice that these are things Jesus does. Jesus is the one who brings abundance out of scarcity. Jesus is the one who balances wind and waves, fear and power.
The disciples’ rest not so that they can get up and do all that stuff. They rest so that they will be able to see it, and begin to understand, and be empowered to participate in the holiness and goodness already at work around them.
The pattern we see here is not rest for a quick second and then get up and work real hard to feed the hungry, bring about world peace, and get the laundry folded.
The pattern is more like: Rest. Then you will witness things you never could have imagined. Rest. Then you will be ready to participate in something greater than yourself. Rest.
Rest is fundamentally an act of surrender. If you doubt that, then watch a young child fight a nap.
Rest is reliance on others. It requires trust. Resting requires letting something or someone else care for you and those you love.
This is the beauty and power of rest. If there is a spiritual reason to rest beyond just being creatures who were made that way, it’s this: rest is a practice of surrender.
It is so tempting to make rest functional. Let’s rest so that we can work more. But that’s not what Jesus calls us to. He calls his followers to just… rest. Give up. Let go. Stop. And rest.
Notice that he tells the whole group of them to rest. He doesn’t say, “How about a few of you rest, while the rest of you work, and then you can switch.” He calls them all to rest. In bible study this week we talked about how often we take things that Jesus says to a group of people and individualize them. But faith and the fight for justice are team sports. And rest is, too.
That means we might want to ask, How can we arrange our lives, our communal lives—our families and friendship circles—so that there’s space for rest? So often in groups constant productivity becomes our god. How often have we heard at church, and in any other organization we’re a part of, “I’m too tired to do this anymore! We need some new blood to step up and work.”
There’s plenty to be said for sharing the load and transferring power, butI think there’s even more to be said for rest. What if we learned to say, “I’m tired. I bet you’re tired, too. Let’s rest.” Let’s stop. Let’s see what the Spirit is doing.
Even when the work isn’t done. We rest.
There’s a gospel song that says, “The battle is not yours. It’s the Lord’s.” This is why we rest.
We do not rest as if we had been tranquilized or anesthetized. We do not rest out of complacency or evasion. Rather, we rest, because we know there are miles to go. We rest because we are in this business of following Jesus for the long haul, and he tells us to rest. We rest to protect our hearts and our minds from the demons that gather round. We rest so that we can drink deeply from streams of living water. We rest so that when we rise, we will rise in power, standing firm, bearing witness to love.
by Sarah W. Wiles, 2017, all rights reserved