Sermon for Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sergio Rodriguez, Vicar

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” Mark 6:31

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ compassionate teaching led the crowds to the still waters of God’s presence. The exhausted disciples heard Jesus say to them, “Let us have a desert experience that we may receive God as our rest.” Jesus continues to teach to us to us the manifold gift of orienting our daily lives to being with God in deserted places. We were made to abide in God and for God to rest along side us. The gift of abiding in God and God to abide in us is not just for the St. John of the Crosses of the world. This gift of abiding in God may appear to be of the mystic-purgative type. Our journey commences with the letter of the law. We then enter the dark night of the soul where we are purged of our sin. And only after, can we gaze through faith the unmeditated gaze of God’s presence. To abide in God and God rest alongside us is akin to waking up from a dream; to be beside yourself in your own skin.

Rev. Otis Moss the III makes a helpful contrast between the Mountain-top experiences of life (i.e. the St. John type of divine experience) and that of being in a deserted place. He says that human have sought to have Mountain-top experiences to find God; think Moses and the burning bush kind of an event. But since time immemorial, humans have departed for deserted places to find themselves. Humans have left for departed places to rediscover who they are and whose they are. Such is the oasis of God’s presence; to experience every hour and minute in the desert as the unburdening of life’s contingencies. Let us imbibe this water today for our meditation that God may abide along side us; let us spill the proverbial tea if you will.

Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to, “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while,” draws them into God’s reign and presence. While we may consider Jesus’ forty-day dance with the devil as his experience of a deserted place, we find it difficult to perceive this as grace for our lives. Yet Jesus goes out to deserted places to rediscover who God is to him and the depth of his proclamation for those burdened by sin, illness, and the powers of this world. Let us take for example, Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum at the start of the Gospel of St. Mark. He, alongside his four core disciples, John and James, Andrew and Simon, travel to Capernaum to proclaim the kingdom. While at Capernaum during the sabbath, Jesus casts out his first demon, healed Simon’s mother-in-law from her fever, and until night fall, cured the infirm of the city. What does Jesus do immediately following these sabbath graces?

Early in the morning, Jesus went to a secluded place to pray. Jesus went by himself to rediscover himself as washed in the waters of God’s ever-present grace. He went to be unburdened and to rest in God; to abide in God through prayer. What did Jesus say to his disciples after they took follow in his stead in healing, casting out demons, liberating people from sin’s oppression? What does Jesus say to us who are bound to our need to always be productive; be it at work or at play? Come away to a deserted place. Come to the still waters of God’s presence. Come to rest in God and rediscover God’s claim upon you as God’s beloved.

Jesus’ compassionate gaze perceived the great crowds’ need for God’s guidance. The passage appears to show Jesus in disregard for his disciples’ exhaustion; their vacation time was only a proverbial smoke break on their ministry. The heart of what Jesus began to teach the crowds centered on God’s in-breaking reign. God would unburden them from the everyday contingencies of our human condition. In this productivity driven society, we are bound to focus on activities, workshops, opportunities that make our lives useful. To be generative in society is a premium value in society. The opposite become implicit wards of whatever institution that provides for the general welfare. With the advent of society media, even our own personas become commodities for larger organizations and so we find it necessary to go on a digital detox. When the opportunity arises for us to have a respite from this productivity, a thought often comes to mind: I hope I manage to accomplish my chores or other so-called tasks that comprise adulting. Otherwise, I would have wasted my day off.

I image that the disciples must have been tempted to think similarly when they disembarked before the needy crowds on the shore: “The crowd needs the kind of guidance that unburdens them and leads them to God, our font of life. But am I so called by God that I do not need rest? The relational energize I invested, the lives that I touched, the evil I faced, the despair I experienced. I too required attentiveness to Jesus’ compassionate guidance for life.” For Jesus’ words are awash with God’s in-breaking restoration for our being. Our Benedictine siblings juxtapose God’s in-breaking restoration with the structure for life together. Joan Chittister notes in her book, The Rule of St. Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, that the daily reading of scripture at mealtime truly restored their weary bodies. To read the scriptures was to experience God’s instruction, a moment to be unburdened and to simply be with God alongside your neighbors. One need not be in actual deserted places to find solitude. To attend to God’s word, in a meditative fashion, is to hear to Jesus say anew to you, “Come away to this deserted place and rest for a while in me. Hear the wisdom that made you, the compassion that embraces you, the grace that saves you, the love that claims you as beloved.”

Jesus bespeaks the God’s unburdening grace for our productivity-driven lives. God’s unburdening grace does not parcel out our lives as between moments of productivity and opportunities for brief respite. God’s grace comes to us as the gift of mealtime meditation to feed your being in its entirety. God’s grace comes to us when we rise early to commence our day in awareness of God’s presence. God’s living Word, our Lord Jesus, says to us, “Come away at the the end of your days and rest in God, your life, your sweetness and your hope.”  Amen.