This past week was a wonderful week in the life of our church. For those who gave of themselves so tirelessly, from both our church and from Louisa United Methodist, my heart overflows with gratitude and thanksgiving. Each person gave of themselves and the talents they had — from making food to feed the children, too crafts, to teaching, to singing — to maybe even tirelessly wandering after a child who needed it.
Each of these actions and the hours given by those who helped with Vacation Bible School can be summed up with one word. Compassion. Each gave from what they had to meet the needs of the children who were brought here each day and I can speak as your Priest and say I was proud to be part of this congregation. The compassion of Christ was shown this week to children both in our church family and to those in our community. I even noticed on Wednesday a group of exhausted mothers who had gathered on the front lawn to take a well-deserved break and to just be together as mothers.
And I thank you. I thank you for giving our yourselves tirelessly to these children. The compassion and love of Christ was shown to many children this week through our love and selflessness. And I know you are tired.
Which fits in well with our lectionary text for today, because the story tells of how the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And Jesus says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”
Jesus recognized the importance and need of rest in the lives of the apostles.
This is one of the only times the disciples are referred to as the “apostles” — which signifies the work they would be doing — that they were not just followers of Christ - but he was preparing them out to send them as leaders of the faith. Leaders showed up this week and did those things that God called them to do.
The apostles/disciples here went away to a deserted place by themselves, but text tells us, the crowds recognized them and hurried there on foot and arrived ahead of them.
Can you imagine trying to get away to rest, and you get on a boat to slip away, and as you approach the shore where you are going -- people are there already waiting for you?
Jesus, when he went ashore, saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
So, while Jesus invited his disciples to rest, they don’t really get that opportunity.
Instead, Jesus and his disciples respond to the needs of the throngs coming to them. Seeing the crowds and their manifold unmet needs, Jesus, Mark reports, has compassion on them. He puts his plans for rest temporarily on hold and goes out to them, healing, curing, feeding, and teaching all who are in need.
This passage, while it starts off sounding a note on the significant need for rest among our labors, doesn’t end that way. He continued and began to teach them. The passage shifts gears to instead of talking about rest, talks about compassion and need. And these two — compassion and need — always go together.
Jesus kept going and his disciples kept going because he saw the need. They were like sheep without a shepherd and he began teaching them.
I was having a conversation with a friend this past week that has stuck with me and disturbed me some. This person has not attended church since he was a small child, and we were speaking of his experiences at VBS as I shared of our VBS - and he shared how he does not feel the need to go to church because what he got when he was little “has stuck with him”. I certainly hope that some of the things that we taught this week will “stick with the children” — and if the words didn’t - I certainly hope and pray that the children will remember our church as being warm and inviting, where they learned that special song that they still remember, where they made that special shelf that still hangs on the wall. They most likely will not remember what we taught — but they will remember how we made them feel. And they may be reminded of God’s love for them.
I think the same is true with the crowds and Jesus. They don’t appear too long remember what he taught, but I do think they remembered how He made them feel and that He met their needs.
This story in the Gospel comes right before Jesus feeds the 5,000 in the text. Our lectionary text excludes that story today, but putting the story in context is important.
Jesus moved to teaching them, and then he moved to feeding them.
And so even though the apostles and Jesus were tired, he began to teach them and then He fed them.
In today’s passage, and others like it in Mark, the needs seem clear: people who are sick want to be healed. People who are hungry want to be fed. There are those needs all around us.
It is important to see the needs and respond to the needs.
Faith communities who survive in the future are going to be those communities who meet concrete needs.
Church membership and attendance are shifting. People are not coming to worship out of a sense of duty or obligation. Cultural support for attending church has withered. Some are hostile to church because of pains caused, and others are not hostile to church, but simply don’t consider there to be a compelling reason to go in light of all the other things they might do on any given Sunday.
Few are going to continue to come to church out of a sense of duty — they will come out of a sense of delight, and desire, and because they can see some benefit in their life in some way.
The mission of the church may be displayed in Jesus’ actions in this story today.
To teach. To meet concrete needs. To have compassion. Even when we are tired. Because the people are like sheep without a shepherd.
Here Jesus begins by teaching them. Then he moved into meeting their needs. Jesus teaches and preaches, opening up to them the power and possibility of life in God’s kingdom.
Getting back to my friend, what does the church have to offer my friend? To all of those outside our doors? Abundant life.
The church can help the world live more abundant lives. Not just happiness, but a sense of belonging _ a sense of purpose. The church is the place that should be teaching about justice and peace and community. The love of God for people as individuals, and the love God has for the world. The kingdom of God. In the Gospel of John - it is referred to as “abundant life.” The church should not be willing in coming decades to take a second seat to civic organizations - the church must be on the forefront of leading.
I was very proud of St. James this week. It warmed my heart to see the love so tirelessly given by so many to meet the needs of the children and this community.
And I think my friend is not thinking about life right. It is not about what the church has to offer him only — the question is, “Is what does he have to offer to the church?” What can God teach him here? How can he take the love that God has for him and share it with others and the world to bring the kingdom of God to his community and the people around him?
We can all live in our isolated islands and not get involved. But that is not what Christ is calling us too. And even when the apostles and Jesus were tired — they kept going.
It is a pleasure to be here. It was a pleasure to be part of this parish this week. And even though we are tired — let’s keep going together.