Surely, no matter how we choose to exercise it … we all agree that the human person needs rest. Whether it be at a beach, in the mountains, on a long drive, or just relaxing with a good book … our beings need to be away from the day-to-day busy-ness, to find a place of respite and rest.
Rest was actually ordained by God … Genesis tells us that on the last day, God rested, thus we have the Sabbath. And while so much of our society seems to work contrary to this principle, the church provides and encourages restorative rest, not only for vacation times, but every week. There is no doubt that we’ve all had a pretty intense year so rest should be at the forefront of our minds these days.
It’s interesting to note that while Jesus invites his disciples to rest, you’ll notice that they don’t get really 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.
While our Gospel today starts off sounding a note on the significant need for rest among our labors, it quickly shifts gears to move instead to talk about compassion and need. And these two – compassion and need – always go together. Which is why it’s always important to be in touch with what we need and how we can be better ambassadors of compassion.
What do you need to feel whole, to be happy, to lead fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong and to have a place to call you own? These are important questions, the answers which will undoubtedly give us not only greater insights into our selves, but more restorative rest. I say this because if we are not honest with what we need, we spend so much of our time and energy chasing that which we want, but not necessarily what we actually need. And clearly, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want … but Jesus reassures us that he will provide what we need!
In today’s passage and others like it in Mark, the needs seem clear:
1. People who are sick want to be healed;
2. People who are hungry want to be fed;
And certainly, there are those manifold needs in abundance all around us.
I believe that despite what things might look like on the outside or in appearances, some of those needs are right here in our congregation, and at other times they are spread throughout our communities and surely are so evident in our world. Our supplements to the summer bulletin have been sharing the goals from the United Nations … if you take away anything from reading these pages, you will agree that there are a lot of needs in our world!
Our faith community, our gifted parish, can and should play an active role in meeting those concrete needs on all levels. Interestingly, some studies measuring the vibrancy of a parish resulted in two concrete factors that seemed to characterize those congregations identified as vibrant. Those characteristics reported were (1) a substantial and sustained commitment to the community (like food banks, after school tutoring, various social ministries, etc.) and (2) a willingness to experiment with forms of worship.
I would say that we possess both of those marks of vibrancy, but there is always room for improvement. And in the midst of our relaxing summer, the staff and I continue to evaluate how we can become even a more vibrant parish community, not only for you who already are committed and regularly attend and support, but perhaps more importantly, how we can reach the unchurched … those who have walked or run away in alarming numbers.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus first responds to the crowds because they seem lost, like “sheep without a shepherd.” It’s interesting to me that at first, he doesn’t cure or feed but instead he reaches out and meets them where they are. He encounters the people of his day teaching and preaching and opening up to them the power and possibility of life in God’s kingdom. It’s a good model for us too. In order to meet the needs of our community, we will first need to meet people where they are, as they are, who they are … then and only then can we share the Good News of salvation. Otherwise, we will meet with frustration, futility and fights.
The Wall Street Journal this weekend has a very large article written by Francis S Rocca entitled: Is Pope Francis Leading the Church to a Schism?. And while I will write more about this in the coming days, I do believe that the Pope, in the spirit of Jesus, is challenging our Church to meet people where they are, as they are, who they are … and that challenge makes some people anxious.
In the end, I wonder how can the church help our people to live more abundant lives? … because in the end, that’s what we’re talking about: abundance. Not just happiness, or belonging, or a sense of purpose, but something bigger that includes all these things and also includes justice and peace and community, with one another and with our God. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls this the kingdom of God.
So amid these lazy days of summer, I think that’s the work we need to do – to reflect and ponder and pray about what we need as individuals, households, and a community to flourish as God’s children put on this planet for a purpose, and then, more specifically, to think about what each of us can contribute and what our church can do to support all of us in moving in that direction together.
I know that working together, praying together, with mutual respect and cooperation, we will all be surprised and moved by what we can accomplish to meet the needs of this world that God loves so very much.