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The Joy of Deserted Places (Sermon July 22, 2012)

Scripture: Mark 6:30-44

Adam’s friend at work asks for him to pray, it is a seemingly little task. Adam is almost annoyed at the proposition. His friend is not asking for something important, it is not life or death at least. He asks him to pray that his wife would let him go to the game with the guys. Seriously is this really something the almighty creator of the Universe should get involved in? It is like the teams praying for a win before the first pitch or the pitchers praying for a perfect game. Almost as if by clockwork another one of Adam’s friends grabs his attention over the top of the cubical and asks him if he is busy? What now is all Adam can think.

There is a reason for these interruptions to Adam’s workday. Everyone in the office knows that Adam is a religious person; many of these colleagues poke fun at his devotion to his God. Yet often these same people quickly run to him with every problem or situation they face. He has heard all about the marital struggles of both the men and women, sometimes he even hears both sides since like most offices there are the occasional couple. He has heard about the problems with the kids, and the unplanned pregnancy scares. He has had the managers and even the CEO ask him consider them in his prayers when they received a bad cholesterol test. Then there are the others at the office. The ones that are almost militant at the even thought of Adam praying for them or their family. These friends have gone as far as threatening harassment charges if he so much as suggested prayer. Although many of these people have also found their way to his cubicle asking for the mention of a problem the possibility of a divine being.

This story is one that we have often heard; many of us have found ourselves in this story in one degree or another. Sometimes we are Adam while other times we are one of the friends. We may even at some point have been the ones threatening poor Adam with his job. There is a reason that people gravitate as well as shun the religious.

Jesus’ disciples were sent out into the villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee and given the authority over evil spirits, and various diseases. They were able to free people from the bondage of evil and disease. If you can imagine these things happening all around you, remember the stories we hear from various areas of the world our missionaries have visited. Places like Nepal and Africa. Those who attend this year’s Ministry conference in Wichita will hear about some of these exciting adventures from Bob Adhikary who serves in one of these areas. The things these men and women have seen shock and amaze us. They want to tell the stories as much as we like to hear them. They travel around the world witness God working great wonders among people we only read about in National Geographic. That is how Jesus’ disciples felt and those that they spoke to. They followed them. The twelve quickly met with Jesus to tell him about the experience that they had. I’m sure they were talking all over each other trying to let Jesus know everything that happened while they were out.

Imagine the grin on Jesus’ face hearing these stories of how lives were changing all round them. You would think that the time was ripe for them to just quickly run back out to continue the ministry. They had the momentum, and the kingdom of God was being established all around them. Jesus does not send them out. He instead says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  He brings his closest friends into the intimacy and rest he enjoys with a disciplined life of prayer. He says rest for a while. This is not just taking a nap but Sabbath. Stopping the work just to commune and enjoy the sitting in the presence of God. There is a beauty in this lifestyle one that is almost beyond words. To work as hard as you possibly can and then to just let go and rest in the presence of God. It is a cycle, one that takes discipline to develop but it is often used in many various spiritual practices. Many of us have heard of the martial art form of Yoga, this was a meditative exercise used to challenge the body so that it could then enter into a state of pure rest. In my studies of Spiritual Direction I read once that many director would encourage their clients to engage in weight lifting for a period of time prior to their spiritual exercises. Which again is a cycle of work and rest. These small cycles daily are good but there comes a time where we must rest for an even longer time.

Jesus said to his challengers that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. Meaning that God commands us to rest not because he needs us to stop what we are doing to focus on Him to somehow keep Him alive like the sacrifices to the idols in Greece. He commands us to rest because we need that time to relax and reflect so that we can reengage in the ministry we are called into. Resting in Christ is a discipline; it is truly difficult to rest. To actually let all our worries and problems settle. Sure we may take a day off but how often are those days filled with small tasks that we have been too busy to accomplish throughout the week? Tasks like the laundry, mowing the grass, or writing the checks to pay the bills. We may rest from our careers but we struggle in the area of true rest. Our minds are still engaged in the hundreds of issues we are going to face in the next few days or trying to overcome the difficulties that were left for us from the prior week. We struggle to just let our mind go out of our own control and into the realm of God.

Jesus took them out into a deserted place to do this, away from the distractions of the world around them so that they could develop the rhythm of devotion, or the dance of life with God. The deserted place is the sanctuary, a place of peace. You can almost sense the excitement of Jesus as he draws them to this place. It is an adventure, an adventure that may revive your heart, challenge your thoughts, and change your direction. It is a place Friends call open worship, Holy Expectancy, silence worship, or the Meeting For Worship. It is a call to prayer and communion with God, a call to Come Away from the world of stress and rest.

Do you know what happens when we learn to dance with God in these deserted places? Our lives change, we are met with love and grace by the Holy Spirit and are gradually formed into something new, something stronger in the face of a trial something that is slow to anger and merciful to those that do them wrong. People begin to look at us differently, and they try to figure out what it is that separates us from them. These people begin to watch us and eventually they start to move in closer to get a better view, eventually they challenge us with little things like asking us to pray for them, or asking our advice. They will sometimes mock us to see how we respond, or they will challenge our faith in some way to see if we buckle over.

The disciples went with Jesus to pray and rest in that deserted place but those that were watching followed, they even run ahead to meet you where they have observed you go. They are lost. They need direction and do not always know where to go. The crowd gathered and the time was getting late the disciple sat there on their boat seeing the crowd continue to grow and then they began to worry about what they should do? I grew up a mile from the middle of nowhere and I have experienced deserted places. The needs there are the most basic. There is a hierarchy of needs at the base is nourishment, and contrary to the news the top or least important are the luxuries like phones, cars, and even health care. Food and water in a deserted place is really all you think about without these basic needs the best car and most advance gadget means nothing. And in this desolate place before the disciples there was an abundance of food. They went to the easiest answer send them away, get rid of them so we don’t have to worry about the problem. But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”

You give them something to eat. We pray for various things in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Just this week we were met with tragedy in the news of a gunman entering a theatre with murder on the mind. Almost as soon as I heard the news I knew what the quick responses were going to be. The most common was getting rid of gun and we would not have the problem. As some of you know I am an opinionated and I made a few comments myself, my comments were just as empty as everyone else’s comments, because the quick solution is rarely the right solution. Getting rid of guns does not stop someone from becoming violent. It only removes a tool. The core problem remains that that individual does not know how to handle the stress in their lives. I thought about this and it was as if Jesus was saying, “you give them something to eat.” What is another option?

Our prayers sometimes seem to be empty word. We see the great needs and we are overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems, it is like a multitude of people crowed on a hillside in the middle of nowhere without food. The next step is probably just as bad as the first. We first try to get rid of the problem, and then we try to fix it totally. “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” People are hungry lets go buy them bread, spend what we don’t have to fix the problem. Jesus again corrected them. By asking them how many loaves they did have. They started spouting off answers without even knowing what the true options were. They looked around and reported back that they had five loaves and two fish. Jesus then took those loaves looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves, giving the pieces to the disciples to pass around. In the end there were twelve baskets of uneaten bread and fish.

People have tried to explain away this miracle saying that as one person shared others also began to share the lunches they too brought and soon they realized that they had plenty. I actually like this explanation but it does not explain it all. It tells us that sometimes the answer to our prayers have always been right there before us, we were just too distracted to see. We are distracted because we are worried. We are trying to control a situation, and we cannot seem to see outside the box we are stuck in. Paul speaks of this the best when he says, “the things that I want to do I don’t do and the things that I don’t want to do I do. Who will save me?” We get in cycle of despair. We want out but for the life of us we cannot seem to find the way.

Jesus calls us to, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Our minds are filled with hungry people, homeless people, people in financial trouble, violence, drought, abuse, and constant arguing. Jesus says come away rest a while. We try to save the world, but we often get pulled into our own complaints because we do not rest. Come away and rest awhile. We push the problems away letting other deal with it; we are distracted by the great burdens so we are stuck in inactivity. Jesus knows our struggle and says come rest a while. In that time of resting and prayer in the deserted place, the place where the worries of the world are left behind, we can open up to God being true before Him and He can say to us what do you have, Bless it and provide for the needs He calls us to fill.

Let us now Come away with Christ and rest in Him in this time of open worship. Let us let God direct our minds and missions and let us see ourselves and our abilities in the Light of truth. Let us allow him to bless what we have and become the living expression of His love to the world.

About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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