Blessed Rest

a sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

The idea of taking time off goes all the way back to creation – sabbath rest was the last thing God created. Or think back to the Ten Commandments: Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. Sabbath time is not just “church time.” It was intended to be a full day each week that God gave strictly for rest. Imagine what that must have sounded like to the former slaves of Egypt – one whole day out of every seven set aside for doing absolutely nothing.


It’s summertime, and the living is… easy!

This past week, I had the privilege of going to Camp Gravatt. It was my first time doing anything on the “camp side” of Gravatt. I was able to spend the whole week with about 130 elementary school campers, two of whom are from our congregation, as well as their counsellors and other staff folks. Now I don’t want you all to think I was just goofing off – oh no! It was hard work! First, I had to get up in the morning and go to Morning Watch, where we prayed. Then we had breakfast. After that, we did our chores. Then we learned about the Baptismal Covenant. Then we had to go and do archery, or swim, or maybe learn some high ropes, or work in arts and crafts. After lunch we had to rest. Then there was free swim, followed by canoeing, or more archery, or a hike to learn about the trees around the camp. Of course we also had to play games, like foursquare, or tether ball, or frisbee, or basket ball. Or maybe we’d just sit in the rocking chairs on the porch and rock.

Goofing off isn’t easy. And I think that’s some of what today’s Gospel is all about. Jesus had sent his disciples out in pairs to anoint and heal and drive out demons. Meanwhile, John the Baptist has lost his head so that King Herod could look like a big man for his step-daughter. Now, the disciples have come back from their mission trip and they are pumped! They’ve had some real success, and start telling him all about it. But Jesus knows that they’ve been working hard, perhaps too hard. And he also knows that things are probably going to get harder still, now that the authorities have killed John the Baptist. And so he urges them to take a little time off.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Ahhh. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Going off somewhere, just you and your family or close friends. Going off to recharge your batteries, to rest and relax, to keep sabbath, which literally means “to cease”. Cease all the buzz and noise. Cease all the work. Take some time out and rest.

The idea of taking time off goes all the way back to creation – sabbath rest was the last thing God created. Or think back to the Ten Commandments: Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. Sabbath time is not just “church time.” It was intended to be a full day each week that God gave strictly for rest. Imagine what that must have sounded like to the former slaves of Egypt – one whole day out of every seven set aside for doing absolutely nothing.

Of course, it turns out to be not that easy. Not for us today, and not for Jesus and his disciples. They trie to retreat to a quiet place, but the neediness of the crowd found them and followed them. People were milling about everywhere, hungry for anything that might have satisfied their desire for peace, for healing, for nourishment of body, mind, and spirit.

Of course, we are just as hard pressed as they were. We live in a time when the vast majority of adults are simply too busy, or perhaps too afraid, to take time off from work. While the average worker in Europe gets 4 weeks of vacation a year, the average American work gets only 14 days. But even that is an exaggeration, because most people actually take even fewer days off. And even when we try to take time off, we are still connected to work through computers, cellphones and iPads. At the same time, unemployment can carry its own set of stresses and pressures. In either case, we are too busy running around like chickens with our head cut off; or as Jesus put it, like sheep without a shepherd. And so we latch on to anything and anyone who promises us a little bit of rest and refreshment.

Maybe that’s where the 23rd Psalm comes in. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down… he restores my soul.” In calmness and peacefulness, Jesus brings us rest. He calls us to lie down, to take some time out of our busy lives, turn off the cell phones and the television, and rest.

The last thing that God created was sabbath rest; resting is part of God’s will for creation. It rejuvenates our bodies, it restores our souls. It is not only good for our bodies; it refreshes for our minds and our spirits, too. Recreation leads us to re-creating. And re-creation leads us to renewal. And renewal is all about finding new life in Christ.

Last week, I asked you to mark your calendars for August 26th, the last Sunday of August. That will be after school begins and before Labor Day weekend. I’d like us all to come together that day for a service of reunion and communion, of worship and celebration, of recommitment and renewal. We will need all of your creative juices flowing on that day, so please be sure to take some time off between now and then for yourselves, for your families, and for God. The world will still be here when you get back.

Come with me to a quiet place, and get some rest.

Thanks be to God.

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