By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 18, 2021
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Mark 6:30–34 (ESV)
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:53–56 (ESV)
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
How has your week been? How many items did you have in your schedule? Did you get them all completed or are you thinking right of what you need to do as soon as the meeting for worship is over? We live in a culture that almost takes pride in being busy. If someone does not have to look at their calendar when you ask to meet with them, we almost feel as if they are lazy. And we almost feel embarrassed if we do not have at least one event conflicting with potential meetings. The conversation around juggling schedules is replacing idle chit chat about the weather, mainly because having an opinion about the weather would require us to slow down to notice if there are clouds or not.
We are a busy culture. When I was in Ukraine, I was constantly annoyed that people did not show up to meetings on time. I was annoyed that the trains were not where they said they would be when they said they would be there. I was annoyed that people did not have a sense of urgency. And I get back home and begin work in a corporate world, and my supervisors are telling me that I do not have enough sense of urgency. I have been told that I am too laid back and need care more. I have always found this to be surprising, and to be honest I would venture to say that those supervisors did not know me nor how I work.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus and the disciples in a bit of a different way. Usually, the gospel accounts have Jesus doing the ministry and the disciples just following him around. But today, is a bit different. Jesus is the one sitting around and the disciples are the ones that are on the move. Jesus sent the disciples out. He sent them to the surrounding villages around his hometown to minister. He told them to go. He advised them to put on their durable shoes and to grab a walking stick and nothing else. Do not pack a bag, do not run to the bank to get some cash from the ATM, he did not even want them to pack a lunch. Just go. And he gave them the authority over unclean spirit, he gave them the power and authority to do pretty much everything they had watch him do.
Jesus sends them out, but what does he do in the meantime? He morns his cousin’s death. Jesus sends out the twelve, giving them authority over unclean spirits, and they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. They cast out demons and anointed many who were sick with oil and brought about healing. And while they do that, we got that weird interlude in Mark’s gospel where we discuss the growing fame of Jesus’ name and Herod’s guilty conscience. Jesus sent out his disciples to give himself space.
We do not see this interlude as Jesus’s grief. Even though I spoke about the passage last week I did not present it in this manner, but if we consider the scene. The twelve are out wandering in the villages, expanding the ministry of Christ. And Jesus is alone, and maybe he joined with John’s disciples as they carried his body to the tomb.
Today, the disciples are making their way back to where Jesus was. They are sharing various stories and are filled infectious excitement. Do we sense the excitement? I want us to remember the Monday after the Chiefs won the super bowl. How many of us remember the score at the beginning of the 3rd quarter? How many of us remember as the opposing team posed for a picture after scoring a touchdown assured that they were going to win? How many of us remember the remarkable comeback? The conversations the Monday after were filled with commentary, smart phones were replaying highlights, and pretty much everyone was talking about the game. I remember that day, I remember how the supervisors at the store expected little to get accomplished that day, and their expectations were not far from correct.
That was just a football game. What the disciples experienced was far beyond even being present at the live event. They had watch people around them being released from spiritual bondage. They were seeing illnesses that crippled the afflicted leaving the body and lives being restored. We have trouble remembering how to tell the punchline of a joke at times, imagine trying to explain atrophied muscles becoming firm and toned.
They did not want to stop talking. They were excited to tell their stories and to hear the stories that the other groups had to share. Each group most likely brought people along with them to tell stories as well. We are not told this explicitly but if the story is too good to be true but it really is true, you would want to bring a witness or two to corroborate what you had to say. People are coming and going. Stories are shared, laughs are heard. There is so much traffic in and out that the disciples and Jesus could not even take a break, even to eat.
Have you had a day like that? I worked in retail for the past eleven years. I understand this kind of busy. There are days where the stores that I have worked at buy food for their employees for one reason, the stores are so busy that if they did not have food readily available their employees would not take the time to eat. It is not that they wanted them to work that hard there was just too much to do. When a store is preparing for inventory, the day when every item in the store is counted, employees are not thinking about food, they want to make sure their area is ready to go. When the Black Friday event begins and customers are herding into the aisles a retail working is not thinking about when their lunch break will come, because they are too busy helping their customers find the hot deal on an instapot. We have days like this. I am sure that during tax season accountants have their schedule booked so tightly they are lucky to have time to eat a granola bar within the course of their workday, and I know that during harvest farmers wives often must remind their husbands that sleep is necessary.
The camp of the disciples was busy. The excitement was at monumental levels. And I can just imagine that Jesus was probably having a great time watching and listening. But he also knew that the human body cannot endure that kind of stress for long.
Adrenaline is an amazing biochemical produced within our bodies. It can enable our bodies to perform in nearly superhuman ways, but it comes with side effects. The presence of this hormone causes the muscles in the body to become stimulated. The heart beats faster, our legs might begin to twitch, our senses become more alert. This happens because we are on edge, ready to respond quickly in instance of danger. The body then begins to produce more glucose so that the muscles can have the energy to continue to function at this heightened state. Our bodies are using more glucose so if we do not eat eventually our bodies will become hypoglycemic. To combat this the liver kicks into action converting the fats in our body into usable energy. This sounds great, but what happens if we are not actually using the energy?
Adrenaline is produced during high stress. This can be positive or negative stress. If positive we are usually working hard or exercising. The negative stress is the problem. Doctors will tell us to do things to relieve stress in our lives because its hard on our heart, or maybe because we are borderline diabetic. The reason they say this is because when we are stressed mentally our bodies still respond in the same way as if a dog were chasing us, but our muscles are not using energy so the adrenaline is pumping our body full of extra sugars with nowhere to go. Eventually when that is not used, the glucose is converted back into fat which usually is stored in places like the liver, or around the heart. Negative stress, the stress from work, and misplace anxiety contribute to our nation’s obesity problem. It is not only the amount of sugar we consume. It is the stress with no healthy outlet.
I am not saying that Jesus knew the potential health risk of unchecked stress, but he could have he is God. What I am saying is Jesus understood that once the body runs on adrenaline for a while a crash is imminent. While we are in the zone, we do not know how close we are to that crash. In our mind we have never been better. Our mind is clicking, our actions are honed with precision, but with each beat of the heart we are closer to that crash. That moment when we have no more to give, and our bodies fail us. If we are an athlete the crash might be an injury something like a pulled muscle, or a twisted ankle. For me, I will be writing away thinking everything is flowing perfectly and suddenly, my brain seems to stop. I cannot type, I cannot even think. It is as if the transmission of my brain popped out of gear and the clutch is out of sync and I cannot get things reengaged no matter how hard I try.
Jesus sees this in the eyes of his disciples, and he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Rest. Stop. Take a break. Go on vacation. Retreat.
Just when things were beginning to click, Jesus looks at them and says, “let’s take a break.” Imagine the shock of this. It would be like the coach of the football team calling a time out right when the momentum of the game was beginning to go their way. “Come away by yourselves,” Jesus says and he wants to show them and let them experience the holy rhythm that He lives.
I speak of this holy rhythm often. Enough that if you do not have it memorized after attending our meeting for a couple of months you have probably not been listening. Jesus’s holy rhythm is worship, prayer, and service. He made it his custom to worship. He withdrew to isolated places to pray, and the ministered to the need within the community. This rhythm is important for many reasons that stretch beyond the spiritual life. You can even apply this at work. Worship is celebration or remembering accomplishments. Prayer is taking a step back to examine what we are doing and looking at things from a different perspective. And service is reengaging a project. It is a holy and healthy rhythm to incorporate into your life.
But often we forget to “come away.” That coming away is in the center of the rhythm. It is in the center for a reason because it is the pivot of the cycle. If we put all our attention into service or ministry. If all our energy is on the work we need to accomplish, we might get a great deal done, but are we improving? In a football game, it is important for the offense to be on the field as long as possible. When your team’s offense is on the field that means you have control of the game. The defense is extremely important but if the defense is on the field too much you have lost control. Your defense must be strong, for the simple fact that it keeps your offense on the field.
If all we do is work, or ministry. If we are on the go all the time. It is like the defense is on the field all the time. When the defense is on the field mistakes are made and the other team gains the upper hand. When all we are focused on is the task right in front of us at any one moment, we are not able to see what is coming. When a department manager in a store is too busy stocking the shelves and not investigating the inventory levels eventually, they will sell out of items at the worst possible time. Ministry or work is immediate it right in front of us. We must do it now, those that live only in that place are highly stress. They might feel like they are keeping up, but eventually they will start to fall behind, because they have not had the time to anticipate what is coming up. If a factory pushes too hard to fulfill the orders and they do not come away to do routine maintenance, the machinery will break down causing greater harm. If a truck driver keeps driving and does not stop to rest an accident will eventually happen. We need to rest. We need to slow things down so we can regain control and perspective.
Jesus taught us that the sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath. God gave us the sabbath not because he required that day for us to worship him, but we need that day. We need a day to stop what we are doing so that we can reengage life with renewed energy. And sabbath is not just worship on a Sunday morning. Sabbath is an intentional and disciplined. It is routine maintenance of our physical and spiritual life. It is there to remind us of what is most important, and why we do what we do.
After the disciples joined Jesus in this sabbath retreat, we see Jesus coming ashore, he sees a great crowd, and he has compassion on them. He has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. I want us to focus on this as we enter our time of Holy Expectancy. A sheep without a shepherd is chaos, fear, despair. Sheep without a shepherd are wondering around without direction. They are eating the grass, following only their mouth and their stomach, until they are lost and vulnerable to attack. A sheep without a shepherd is the state of mind we find ourselves in when we live our busy lives without time to come away and rest. One thing after another, the next task, the next project, the next, the next. Wondering eating one blade of grass after another until we are lost and vulnerable. Yes, we might be working on good things, things that have great importance, even righteous importance but what is the cost? Come away, take a break, go on vacation, get some rest. Develop a holy rhythm in life, because the things that you are doing have great importance, and the offense needs to be on the field.
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