The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He 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. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As 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.
Rest a while
A recent poll indicated that nearly half (47%) of parents say that they share fewer meals with their family than when they were growing up. 43% say that they have fewer family meals now than they did five years ago. 57% of parents say that when they do eat a meal together, family members are distracted by technology. I suspect we’ve all been at a restaurant and looked over at another table to see a family together, each on the phone, maybe even texting each other. Maybe that’s your family. It could be mine. (I’ve been known to send an email from my office upstairs to my wife working downstairs.)
In our work with congregations, we find that a busy schedule can be one of things that gets in the way of spiritual growth. We’ve learned that being busy with stuff at church is no guarantee of a deeper spiritual life. In fact, that kind of busy-ness can be an obstacle, an impediment, even an off-ramp.
And while there is no mention of smartphones or social media in the Bible, which is a mercy, the gospel reading we heard in church yesterday does have something to say on the subject, once again proving that scripture is a lively word.
There’s this interesting line in the reading from Mark, printed above, which says that Jesus invited the apostles to a retreat. He called them to a quiet place. Many were “coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.” I suspect every generation thinks it’s the busiest, the most overworked, the one facing greatest schedule demands. For whatever reason, the apostles were busy being busy, with no leisure even to eat. To my mind, as someone who rarely misses a meal, that is busy. Circumstances were of course different than ours. Maybe they had no leisure to eat because they lived at subsistence level. Maybe they didn’t have leisure to eat because they were scrambling to find money to buy food.
But I’ve always taken this passage as timely. When I get all flipped out about a crowded calendar, I recall that there’s nothing new under the sun. I think of all the times Jesus goes off by himself to pray, to rest. How did he have time to do that? He had a world to save. I imagine Jesus looking at the way we live, regarding it with compassion, seeing us coming and going, as we make life choices that forfeit time to sit and (literally or figuratively) have a meal. The gospels tell us that Jesus looked on the crowd who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. That could be us.
When I served in midtown Manhattan, at a church on a busy avenue, with as much pedestrian traffic in front of it as any church I know, I used to stand on the top steps at rush hour and watch people go by. On a good day, I’d pray for them. The words from the gospel, the description of harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd seemed to fit that New York crowd. Sure, many were accomplished. Many were wealthy. They still looked like sheep headed in a lot of directions.
As I noted, our work on spiritual growth has indicated that the busy-ness of our lives can impede spiritual growth. People claim that they simply do not have the time to gather for worship, or to sit quietly each day, or to engage in ministries to help people in need. With work now accessible 24/7, with stores open all the time, with sports practices round the clock, we probably do need greater intention about time for retreat, reflection, stillness, peace.
I’m taken with the call of our Presiding Bishop to commit to practice the way of love. At the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church, he invited Episcopalians to seven practices that help people move toward a life centered on Jesus. (You can learn more about this invitation and read about these practices at www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love.)
One of those seven ways: A call to rest. Just like Jesus’ call to come away to a deserted place and rest a while. Maybe summer is a good time for you to do that. Maybe it’s a good time to look at your calendar and consider whether you are busy being busy. Maybe you feel harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. If any of that is true, maybe you need to hear Jesus say to you: Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
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