Here is the sermon I preached today at Vanderburg UMC. Praise God for gracious listeners.
“It’s Quite Difficult to Rest When You Are Lost.”
Please join in prayer with me: Almighty God, let these my few words be instruments of your peace. Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be holy and acceptable to you, oh God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Since leaving Vanderburg UMC, last August, I have begun my time at Duke Divinity School. I have learned so much about the bible, the history of the church, different ways of doing liturgy, different kinds of music (from Rachmaninoff to Modern Gospel), how to write, how to like to write, and even more about myself. And I thank y’all here at Vanderburg for being the stepping stone to the beginning of all this learning.
I truly appreciate how you took the time to show me the joy of ministry. And I would like to tell you how much the love of those around me here has sustained me through my church history exams, and my first all-nighter. It made learning seminary, truly worth it.
Like me, in Mark 6 beginning in verse 30 [-34]
The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Four summers ago, I worked at Camp Glisson in Dahlonega, Georgia. The second half of the summer, I worked as a counselor at the camp that allowed the campers to cook their own meals, sleep outside in tents, and have generally more free time than the structured camp down the mountain. But I found that I was spending so much time cooking over the gas stove and making sure that the kids were provided for physically, that I had almost no time to provide for them spiritually. Working in the camp, I realized that it takes time to make lasting relationships, that since I could not play as much, I could not build that deep friendship that I had before with my other campers.
If we spend so much time surviving, we do not have the time to go deeper. The deepness in which we find the true relationships that we need to make our lives truly full of the rich abundance which is offered to us. As the shepherd, Jesus allows us to find rest, and he also allows us to find peace and relationships in our world. A world where we can be not broken. Not only does God call us to rest in his presence, but he calls us to join in relationship with the others by providing these things for us. It takes time and energy to build relationships. It takes an effort from all involved. This is why God calls us into relationships with each other.
In Mark 6 Jesus goes on to feed the Five Thousand and Walk on Water. And these are really important stories about faith and the need to trust in the presence and strength of God, especially in the form of Jesus. I could talk about the need to rely on Jesus, and the influence on even the wind and the waves. But I want to highlight the next passage, too, Jesus has just had this great act of walking on water and then in verse 53 [-56]
After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to shore and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was. Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.
A different faith is required from the people than that which was required of apostles. Those who sought after him, for healing, they are those on whom he has compassion, because they are unguided, but they still find he who will lead them.
With Jesus we enter a world where a touch becomes that which heals. Those who ran along the shore to find him and be healed are so hungry for life, that they are not caught up in who has enough, because Christ has filled them to the brim and to overflowing.
The theme of being sheep without a shepherd is fairly common, in both Isaiah and Jeremiah. And I argue that the need to be led to that which is healing and can make us whole is the need that drives us even today to seek after direction from any place we can find it. Even if it is not true direction, we are so hungry for any direction, we will follow whoever and whatever promises that it will bring us into the “in” crowd.
But what in crowd should we aspire to be a part of? Surely there are all sorts, crowds of Baseball fans, Nascar fans, those who root for UNC and those for Duke (I am proud to be a member of the Cameron Crazies at Cameron indoor stadium)[hoooo *shaking hand*]. Crowds of those who will sing one way or another, or only like one kind of music, crowds of those who “appreciate” art, or who will only eat certain kinds of food. Truly, the crowds that we (myself included) attempt to join, are those which separate us. We do not want to be left out, or seem like we do not know what is going on. Sometimes it is so easy to use the words and the phrases that belong to one particular crowd, to have that one thing that only we know.
In Christ, however, we are called to be a part of his body. To join in his “in” crowd. To be a part of the church. This is why Paul reminds the Ephesians, and through them us, that we are to remember that we used to be outsiders. We were living apart from Christ. We were excluded from citizenship among God’s people, and we did not know the covenant promises God had made to us. We lived in this world without God and without hope. But now we have been united with Christ Jesus. Once we were far away from God, but now we have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. [Eph 2:12-13 NLT, my shift from you to we].
Since we have been brought near, we change what we see, say, and do. Christ has broken down the wall of separation between our groups and given us a new place to come and join together in him. This is an extraordinary gift. Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united us into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. [eph 2:14 NLT] And in so doing, created in himself one new people from the two groups. [eph 2:15b NLT].
As vastly different people, from different groups, we become the same sheep, with the same qualities, because we follow the same shepherd. We take on the identity of followers of Christ. But we must be open to the leading of our shepherd. We were once lost and separated, but because of the awesome work that Christ has done, we are able to form a new body, one that finds it’s identity in the one who brought us together.
Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to us outside and in. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.
That’s plain enough, isn’t it? We are no longer wandering exiles. We are no longer lost. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. We are no longer strangers or outsiders. We belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. [Eph 2:16-22 MSG, some shift from you to we].
As Christ comes to dwell within us, Christ makes us ever more fit to have the power and presence of God living within us. God forms us to be appropriate vessels for the Spirit to reside within. But we must allow the Spirit to form us. In this way, will God quicken the coming of the future Kingdom.
Make each of us like the one in this song: [–Horatio Bonar]
I heard the voice of Jesus say: Come unto me and rest
Lay down thou weary one lay down your head upon my breast
I came to Jesus as I was; weary, worn and sad
I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad
I heard the voice of Jesus say: behold I freely give
The living water, thirsty one stoop down and drink and live
I came to Jesus and I drank of that life giving stream
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived and now I live in him
I heard the voice of Jesus say: I am this dark world’s light
Come unto me your morn shall rise and all your days be bright
I looked to Jesus and I found in him both star and sun
And in that light of life I’ll walk ‘til all my days are done
Come and be open to the guidance of the shepherd, to the workmanship of the holy spirit as you are formed into a living vessel. Come and rest and walk hand in hand with your guide and your neighbor.