Mark 6-30-34-53-56

If you were in Church two weeks ago you’d have heard about Jesus sending the disciples out to minister.  When King Herod hears about their achievements he fears that John the Baptist, whom he’s recently beheaded, has been raised from the dead.  The Gospel writer inserts a gruesome account of this beheading which Julie preached on excellently last week.

In today’s reading we see the disciples returning from their mission and gathering around Jesus to tell him all that ‘they’ve done and taught’.  They’ve been proclaiming ‘that all should repent’, casting out demonsand curing the sick and now they’re gathered around Jesus having an honest debriefing. 

Perhaps this is where the idea of the Daily ‘Examen’ originated, that discipline of trying to look back on the day with God’s eyes and not merely our own.  Here we give thanks for the day, but also face honestly our shortcomings revealed in it.  We then look forward to the day to come and pray for God’s help in this.

It’s a great habit to get into – however if we do this it’s important to remember that Jesus is compassionate, this is shown so clearly in today’s reading.  It’s only when we know the extent of God’s forgiving love that we’re able to be totally honest with Him and ourselves.  (Sadly I suspect some of us believe God to be more like Herod than Jesus!) 

However I digress!  Back to today’s story.  After Jesus has heard all about what the Apostles have been up to he urges them to accompany him to a quiet place in order to rest. Jesus’ compassion isn’t only for the people who don’t yet know about Him – he’s looking out for his own team too!  

Likewise our Bishops have been encouraging us all to take plenty of rest over the summer.  They recently wrote ‘… every worshipping community needs to look with grace and mercy at what does not need to happen over the coming weeks.…. please do look at what can be done to support one another in order for everyone to have a proper rest and live a different rhythm, even amid the unceasing activity of life.’

There was ‘unceasing activity’ in Jesus’ day too.  Notice the words used to describe the crowds - coming and going…’ ‘ hurried’  ‘rushed about’.  Yet Jesus stands calm and still in the midst of all of this frenetic activity and his heart goes out to them.  They’ve chased Jesus and the disciples to the place where they hoped to quietly rest, but rather than being irritated we hear Jesus ‘had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

Psalm 23 which we read together earlier describes a ‘Good Shepherd’ – but these people lived in the inverse of this reality.  They lacked rest, refreshment, security, protection and comfort and companionship during their life’s dark valleys. 

So Jesus postpones the planned period of rest to teach the crowds.  I wonder what he said to them - Mark doesn’t tell us – maybe he used these words which we know he said elsewhere:

 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’  

Matthew 11:28-30

He then, like a good shepherd, provides the crowds with nourishment – our reading today misses out the middle verses about the feeding of the 5000.  As soon as this massive picnic is over he packs the disciples off into the boat and sends them across the lake; presumably to allow them their now even more necessary space and rest.  Meanwhile Jesus distracts and disperses the crowd and then goes up on the mountain to pray.

From this vantage point, early the next morning Jesus sees the disciples ‘straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.’

It seems that what we have here is a picture of not yet fully ‘discipled’ disciples, who (despite having performed many miracles) don’t completely understand the nature of their ‘good shepherd.’   We see them exhausting themselves straining against the adverse conditions rather than resting in their trust of God and believing as Julian of Norwich said: ‘All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’   ( My guess is that we can all be a little guilty of straining rather than trusting!) 

Yet once again Jesus shows his compassion by joining the disciples in the boat.  I imagine that the remainder of their trip, in Jesus’ comforting presence, gave them the rest and refreshment they needed as when they reach the shore they’re immediately back into the full swing of ministering to the sick.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that many of our Churches look like upturned boats.  My prayer is that our services might be places where after being in the company of Jesus you too feel rested and refreshed and ready to minister to the people you meet in the week ahead.  

We need to have a healthy rhythm of action and contemplation, alternating between whatever God is calling you to do in this season of your life, then retreating in order to be refreshed by God’s presence.  Usually one of these behaviours comes more easily to us than the other, so we’ll need to be disciplined in ensuring we do the thing that comes less easily. 

When we get into a habit of regularly retreating with God, when we move into action we’ll naturally carry something of His peace with us, even into the hurly burly of the everyday. 

The French Carmelite Monk Brother Lawrence talked about ‘practising the presence of God.’  He always tried to remember that Jesus was ‘in the boat’ with him.   I’m going to end with a modern paraphrase of some of his words: 

‘I don’t practise any particular prayer discipline. I have no specific technique I use to meditate. My thoughts are the biggest obstacles … little useless thoughts that drift through my head, making mischief, distracting me. I’ve learned to reject them as soon as I notice them …and once I stop paying attention to them, I can get back to communing with God…  My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy. 

When we walk in the presence of God, the busiest moment of the day is no different from the quiet of a prayer altar… 

I can’t always maintain my focus on God, of course. I’ll suddenly discover that I’ve barely given God a thought in a good long while. Usually what gets my attention is that I’ll notice how wretched I’m feeling—and then I’ll realize I’ve forgotten God’s presence. But I don’t worry about it too much. I just turn back to God immediately. And having realized how miserable I am when I forget God, my trust in God is always that much greater.’

As you go through this coming week – however buffeted you feel by the prevailing wind – do remember that you have the good shepherd in the boat with you.

Amen


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