Welcome to Your Deserted Place!

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In February of 2005 I went off to a deserted place.

It was a locale that many people would have dreamed about going to and wished that someday they may be able to make the trip. However, for me it was a deserted place because those that I loved and cared for were not with me. You see, it was a work trip, or at least paid for by my employer at the time. This deserted place that I speak of was St. Marteen. I will admit that it was gorgeous, and once my stomach went back to where it was supposed to be after I thought we were going to plunge into the ocean when we landed, I took time to enjoy the Island.

This deserted place also provided the opportunity for me to reflect and discern the future. It was in this deserted place that I heard God speaking to me and the call to come and be part of Jesus’ flock. I would say that I was Christian before this, but it was in this time away that I heard God calling me to become engaged in a church community. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be standing here preaching to you as a called and ordained minister in the ELCA.

In our gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus calls the disciples off to a deserted place so that they may take the opportunity to rest. This is not just a sabbath for them. This is an opportunity for them to reflect on everything that Jesus has called them to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, so that they may bring healing to those with unclean spirits and anoint with oil.

This was not easy work, and I am sure that the stories that they had to share with Jesus when they returned were amazing. Imagine sitting in that close circle of disciples and hearing of everything that took place over the period of time interacting with the sick and bringing hope and healing in the name of God.

We hear of Jesus going off to pray on his own and that may be what we first think that he has in store for the disciples. However, deserted places are not always good places. Jesus was tempted for forty days in a deserted place. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and desert for forty years. Deserted places are barren and quite often there are few signs of life. The deserted place that Jesus wants them to encounter is a place of contemplation. It is a place to discern their calling in the greater ministry of Jesus Christ.

The disciples must be overwhelmed. There are people everywhere that are coming to see Jesus and the moment they seem to get away, the people start following them along the shoreline and meeting them as soon as they come ashore. Truly, a sabbath may is needed. Yet within that sabbath is a time to reflect in a deserted place that does not distract.

It is so easy for us to become distracted in the twenty-first century. Probably more so then it was in the first century. We have television and the news to steer attention away from the things that matter most in our lives. We have smart phones that have seem to become our best friends because we can not step out of the house without them. On those phones are games and social media apps to keep us busy for hours on end, at least until the battery dies.

Not only do we have those modern-day distractions, as Americans we tend to overwork ourselves.  We place great emphasis on the material things that can be purchased with those dollars that we earn in those jobs that we pour our time into. Did you know that compared to European countries, Americans work the most hours? Including all employed, Americans work on average 25 hours/week compared to the British at 21 hours/week, the French at 18 hours/week, and Italians at 16 hours/week. In Germany full time workers work on average 35 hours a week and received 24 paid vacation days.

A firm in New Zealand decided to shorten their work week to 32 hours/week from 40 hours/week. You know what they found? Their employees were more productive working just four days because they were more focused and intentional.

Perhaps working long hours and spreading ourselves thin is why America has been a world-leader. What is it costing us to be so? We have become fatigued and are easily distracted by the news and by the material things that are advertised around us daily. We work long hours and take short vacations. Sometimes to get away and enjoy sabbath or simply live into the deserted place and contemplate is counter-cultural.

I am sure that Jesus and the disciples were looked at oddly as well. However, that does not matter to Jesus. It does not affect his decisions or actions. Alone, in Jesus’ words to get away to a deserted place, is a sign of re-creation. It is an opportunity for the disciples to be restored in heart, body, and soul so that they can go and walk with those that need their love and compassion.

It is a chance for them to get away with Jesus and listen for how the Spirit is working in their lives, and by chance get a glimpse of what the future may hold for them. It is a promise that God will be with them in this ministry that they have been called. A calling that is overwhelming. A calling that requires them to stop and seek out a deserted place to be with Jesus and be reassured of the calling that has been placed upon their hearts.

Do you have that place that you can steal away to and be restored? A place where Jesus invites you to that is not only refreshing but also life-giving. It may be a place as simple as your favorite chair in a home office or family room. It may be a local park where you can walk and breath in the beauty of nature and experience God in all of creation. Maybe it was during your last vacation where you were able to experience a sense of peace and love that is unique to that locale.

Wherever that place may be for you, Jesus is calling you away to there. Welcoming you to your deserted place. He wants you to come away with him and be restored and be reminded of his love for you. A love that was bared on the cross in his death. And a hope that is revealed in His resurrection.

There will be times when we are overwhelmed and are required to work an unreasonable number of hours. We want to ensure that there is a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table to prevent hunger.  Those are exactly the times that Jesus wants us to come away with him, even if it is just on that car ride home. It is even in these little moments that we can hear God’s love for us and the wonderful things that God has in store.

Let us pray. Restoring God, we give thanks for the calling you have placed on our lives, even if we have yet to fully discern it. May we continue to see you in the little moments and be intentional in stealing away to our own deserted places to be renewed. Amen

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The Sabbath is for Us!

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June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

 

Many of us may know the 3rd Commandment, but are we following it? Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Rolf Jacobson, professor at Luther Seminary, thought this seemed a little too polite and rewrote the commandment for us living in the present:

What is wrong with you people? 168  hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour work weeks, and super centers open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!”[i]

I know, probably a little too in-your-face, yet it attracts our attention. Jesus reminds us that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (v. 2:27). The sabbath is created for us. For those that are overworked and underpaid. For those that are so stressed out they get ulcers and high blood pressure. For those that don’t know where to turn. The sabbath is created for humankind. It is a time to rest and be renewed so that we can reset and go back out and be God’s hands and feet in the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ through our words and actions.

Do you remember when the people of Israel received the Ten Commandments? After Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. A land where they had been enslaved and did not know what rest looked like. In the commandment to rest on the sabbath day, the Israelites were not only instructed to rest, but also their servants and animals as well. It was meant to be a day of renewal for all of God’s creation.

While this may have been the intention of the sabbath, this is not necessarily the way that the people of Israel viewed it in the 1st century. Jesus was not afraid to call them out on this fact either. He did not step out of his way to make sure he did not cause any waves. He did what he was called to do. He came with love and compassion that encompassed his entire ministry. When writing of the sabbath, N.T. Wright says that,

“It had become a weapon. It had become a sign of his fellow Jew’s commitment to a fierce and exclusive nationalism. Along with other badges and flags, it spoke now not of Israel as the light of the world but of Israel as the children of light and rest of the world as remaining in darkness. And this attitude, as so easily happens when religion and nationalism are wedded tightly together, spilled over into popular attitudes even towards fellow-Jews. For many groups, it wasn’t enough to be a loyal Jew; one had to be a better loyal Jew than the other lot. And in this no-win situation the whole point of the commandment – celebrating God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future – had been lost sight of. The rule mattered more than the reality.[ii]

This is where the Pharisees are when they keep watchful tabs on Jesus, hoping that he makes one wrong move, in their eyes, so that they can set the train into motion that will ultimately lead to the cross. The Pharisees believe that they have the only answer when it pertains to God and Jesus is stepping out of their preconceived notions. This is not only a challenge to their understanding of God, but it could impact the entire world!

We are now two thousand years removed from 1st century Israel, yet as humanity, we are not too far removed from the same sins. We continue to lift up our own righteousness over others and believe that we know everything. In the past couple of years, we have heard from the so-called evangelicals and their belief system that has drastically changed from the likes of Billy Graham. We have the word evangelical in our name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To be evangelical, we share the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ. To be evangelical, means that we should be excited around worship and the sharing of not only our faith, but the ministries we are doing. To be evangelical means welcoming all people in no matter where they are.

The evangelical that you hear of today, has nationalism so tied up within it that it speaks to the understanding of today’s gospel lesson that N.T. Wright comments. Our struggles and challenges that we face as part of the body of Christ, are not much different than the struggles and challenges that Jesus and the first disciples experienced two thousand years ago.

Jesus knew that whatever he chose to do on the sabbath would be criticized. He knew that the leaders of the synagogue and the Roman authorities would be keeping close tabs on him. He knew that they would be looking for ways to catch him in violation of anything they came up with. So, you might as well be bold in what you do.

First, he stands up for his disciples that are gleaning on the sabbath. To glean, means that they are picking from the harvest that was left behind. This was also a Jewish law. Those harvesting were to leave ten percent of their crops for those that are not as unfortunate. Almost like a 1st century food pantry. Jesus’ disciples were not doing anything wrong. They were not working. They were gathering what was needed to feed themselves. Again, as Jesus enters the synagogue, he challenges those that are watching by healing the man with the withered hand. What he does is not against the intention of the sabbath, yet the authorities have made their own rules and are looking for anything to squash this movement of Jesus.

The actions of Jesus’ disciples and the healing by Jesus that takes place in these passages are ones that are meant to highlight the sabbath. The disciples are being renewed and replenished in their well-being through the gleaning of the grains of wheat from the field. Creation is being fed and renewed! Again, in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand, he is restoring creation. He is bringing a sign of life to a man that has been seen as less by those that pass him by. Jesus’ love and compassion that shows through this gospel lesson is one that we can learn from today.

It is hard to find Jesus in the midst of our disagreements and bickering with one another. When we take up sides, we leave little room for Jesus and the Holy Spirt to work in our midst. We have become a society that is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options that are available to us and in our reaction to draw back, we go to extremes and strip everything away. In this stripping away, we manage to strip away Jesus as well.

We leave little room for Christ in our gathering because we think we know what it is right, and we do not need him to show us any different. And it is in this that we disregard the sabbath and become overwhelmed.

The sabbath was created for us too! The sabbath is meant for us to be renewed in the saving grace of God. The sabbath is meant for us to be reminded of the waters that we find in the baptismal font that wash over us and make us new. The sabbath is meant for us to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ so that we may go out into the world and continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that so much needs to hear of the saving grace of our lord and savior.

Let us pray. God of the sabbath, you have created a time of rest and renewal for us to find strength in you. May we take time, when we need it, to sit in the silence and welcome you into the craziness of our hectic lives. May our sabbath, whenever it may be, renew and refresh us to continue in the calling you have placed in our lives. Amen.

 

[i] Rolf Jacobson, Crazy Talk, pg. 150

[ii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone pg. 30