St. Paul’s 7-22-2018 – Proper 11
I’ve talked with enough parents of young children and having raised a couple of boys to know that one fond wish is a quiet place, a place of peace, and that for many, not even the bathtub is a safe haven! And I’ve known parents who desire peace from worry about their adolescent children, and couples who long for peace between each other. I’ve recently met a Salvadoran refugee who seeks peace away from her village where her husband was murdered and where she was threatened with death. I’ve visited an older woman who prays for peace, a final respite from the pain of cancer which is overcoming her. I’ve talked with an alienated son who wants to make peace with his father, and doesn’t know how. I know a man in a psychiatric ward who aches for peace from his obsessive thoughts.
You know them too. So many people, crying out for peace. Quite possibly you yourselves and people you love: longing for peace in mind and heart and body, in relationships, in the workplace, town, nation, and the world.
And then there is the Gospel reading. The lection is an odd one this week, a disjointed cut-and-paste job that brackets Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand to focus on the seemingly less spectacular events that precede and follow it. Mark 6:30-34 describes the return of the disciples from their first ministry tour — their inauguration into apostleship. Exhilarated and exhausted, they have stories to tell Jesus — thrilling stories of healings, exorcisms, and effective evangelistic campaigns. But Jesus senses that there are darker stories in the mix as well — stories of failure and rejection, perhaps. Stories of doubt. Hard stories they need to process privately with their Teacher.
Whatever the case, Jesus recognizes that the disciples need a break. They’re tired, over-stimulated, underfed, and in significant need of solitude.
Jesus, meanwhile, is not in top form himself. He has just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin and prophet, the one who baptized him and spent a lifetime in the wilderness preparing his way. Worse, Jesus has lost him to murder, a terrifying reminder that God’s beloved are not immune to violent, senseless deaths. Maybe Jesus’ own end feels closer, and his own vocation seems more ominous. In other words, he has many reasons to feel heartbroken.
Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile,he says to his disciples as the crowds throng around them at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Come away with me,is how another translation puts it, and I hear both tenderness and longing in those words. Jesus wants to provide a time of rest and recuperation for his friends. But he’s weary, himself; the hunger he articulates is his own.
In comparison to the size of some peoples’ wants, the disciples’ desire for a time of rest and quiet seems quite trivial. yet, however small, this yearning and pining we all have, like that expressed in a poem-lament by Gerald Manley Hopkins:
When, when, Peace, will you Peace?
I’ll not play hypocrite to own my heart:
I yield you do come sometimes:
but that piecemeal peace is poor peace.
Piecemeal peace. That’s about the best it seems we humans can do. here and there by some miracle of good-heartedness, we see reconciliation, healing, harmony. But so often we use the word peaceto mean lack of visible conflict, where hatred or mistrust simmers beneath the surface. All we can know is the Pax Romana type peace, peace enforced by threats of destruction, cold war, détente—sound familiar? We also keep peace by exiting scenes of potential conflict, ignoring issues to be dealt with, glossing over strained relations with perfunctory pleasantries and saccharine smiles. Piecemeal peace. Pretender.
We live in a world where touch is hard, and, therefore, shalom, seldom occurs. Perhaps the clearest signal of this is e-mail. It is quick but completely antiseptic. You don’t see the persons handwriting or touch the stationary. Likewise, we fervently champion great causes like equality without championing any particular person. And, of course, we wage war by pushing buttons and flying drones that send missiles to targets many miles away. We watch Television coverage and have the illusion of touching these people’s lives, but they are only abstractions to us. Shalom, God’s peace comes by breaking through abstractions to touch what is real.
God’s peace is a different sort. It is that peace which Paul says surpasses all understanding. It is, first off, pure gift, that for which we long from the marrow of our bones, that fundamental rightness with ourselves, each other, God, that we keep discovering, the world cannot give. It is a strange peace, a disruptive peace, a peace that often demands suffering, conflict, the pouring-out of self, all in the likeness of Jesus, who won our peace by his blood, who gave himself on a cross, uniting us who were far off,who was killed to kill hostility, who was broken for our wholeness.
This Eucharist is celebration of peace won by Jesus’ cross, our place of rest. Here we, like the disciples, come apart for awhile; here we are taught by Jesus and fed by him, given refreshment, guidance, comfort. And as the disciples learned, the respite is all too short. For we are also challenged. Our God who is rest is also restless.
I think this week’s Gospel reading is about the ongoing and necessary tension between compassion and self-protection. And the great lesson for us is that Jesus lived with this tension, too.
On the one hand, he was unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude. He saw no shame in retreating when he and his disciples needed a break. On the other hand, he never allowed his weariness to blunt his compassion. Unlike us, he realized that he was the last stop for those aching, desperate crowds — those sheep without a shepherd. Unlike us, he practiced a kind of balance that allowed his love for others, his own inner hungers, and the urgency of the world’s needs to exist in productive tension.
Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure. Strive for balance? Recognize weariness when you feel it? Don’t apologize for being human? Take breaks?
Yes. All of those essential things. But maybe also — and most importantly — this: We live in a world of dire and constant need. Sheep die without their shepherds. There are stakes, and sometimes, what God demands of our hearts is costly. While balance remains the ideal, it won’t always be available in the short-term. Sometimes, we will have to err. We’ll have to bend out of balance.
There is work to be done in a world where so many people cry for peace. As the sign of our Christian call to unity, we share the sign of peace, sacrament of the Shalom that Jesus established through his cross, an extension down through the age of the peace he offered his disciples after the resurrection, that wonderful blessing of communion with God, world, neighbor, and self continually wrought by the Spirit who dwells among us. As a sign of God’s gift of unity, we share the living bread and sacred cup. Jesus’ gift, this Eucharist, banquet of peace, both fills us and makes us hungry: hungry enough to keep praying for the gift, hungry enough to keep striving for peace among our sisters and brothers.
If that happens, what should we do? In what direction should we bend? If this week’s Gospel story is our example, then the answer is clear. Seek rest, of course. But err on the side of compassion. Jesus did. Let us go forth, to bring in word and deed the voice and embrace of our peacemaker.
Opening Prayer Caring and Gracious God, you are the shepherd who gathers us together today to celebrate with grateful thanksgiving the community in which we live. We are nourished by its diversity, brought about by the unique gifts each person contributes.
Be with us in this time of worship and
encourage us to never cease welcoming the strangers we meet
and accepting the gifts they bring.
Grant that they will enrich our lives and
will be a reminder of the joy that comes when all will be one in you. Amen.
Think of the beginning of the 23rdPsalm
and the words we pray every week,
Give us this day our daily bread.
God promises to provide us with what we need to live today
so we may see tomorrow.
When we think of what we actually have, though,
we have more than enough.
We give honor and thanks to God
when we make our generous offering from our abundance.
May the God of all consolation order your days in his peace
and grant you the gifts of his blessing.
May our God free you always from every distress
and confirm your hearts in his love.
So that on this life’s journey
you may be effective in good works,
rich in the gifts of hope, faith and charity,
and may come happily to eternal life.
as we continue on with the Blessing of god Almighty….