On 19th July, the seventh Sunday after Trinity, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I woke and looked at the clock this morning. 9.15! I’m usually up by 7.30 at the latest, ready for Morning Prayer or sometimes preparing to travel to an early appointment with a counselling client. I didn’t even go to bed late last night. I was earlier to bed than usual. I think it has just been a tiring week.
Tiredness can be the result of unrelenting hard work, of course, with few breaks and a never ending ‘to do’ list. It can also result from a busy but pleasant time. Those of you who know me know that my ‘to do’ list never seems to get shorter, despite my best intentions. I’ve been working on it this week, as in nearly every week. I’ve also had the pleasure of family visiting to celebrate some birthdays, which was good fun – but tiring especially with small people around!
Today’s is a rather strange Gospel passage which comprises two short recounts with a big chunk missed out in between. In the first part, the apostles had returned from travelling around teaching and healing. They had come back full of their news. I have no doubt it had been a tiring time, with the travel and the demands of many sick people. It had also been very exciting. People had recovered, demons were driven out. These ordinary men had found they could perform extraordinary deeds with Jesus’ authority. They had probably lived on adrenalin for the whole trip. When they got back, they had to share their news with Jesus amidst continuing demands from those who recognised Jesus (and probably recognised the Twelve as well). We’re told: “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
Jesus never seems to have been too busy to recognise what he needed, such as time alone in prayer. He, as pastor or shepherd to his disciples, also recognised what they needed: some time away from the clamour and constant demands of the people. Time to eat at leisure and to review their amazing experiences with Jesus. And so they set out for a place far from anywhere, a sea journey away.
Unfortunately, the people worked out what was going on and headed around the lake on foot, getting there before the boat with Jesus and the disciples on it. At least the boat trip gave them a little peace, but it was short-lived. The people got there before the boat. It must have been an extraordinary sight for the disciples and Jesus as they approached their destination. One event which is missed out of today’s Gospel passage is the feeding of the five thousand. So, as the boat drew near to the shore, a reasonable number of those five thousand men (plus women and children) from various towns were gathered on the shore expectantly.
Jesus’ plan for his disciples didn’t work. If anything, the crowd here would have been bigger than the one they left behind. Once again, Jesus could see the needs of these people. He saw them as lost and leaderless, ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. They needed to know how to live, so Jesus set about teaching them.
The Gospel then abruptly switches to another boat trip, away from that place to Gennesaret. This time there seems to have been no reception committee but once again, Jesus was recognised. The news of his arrival spread like wildfire and as a result, sick people were brought to him to be made well in whatever community he arrived at. I have no doubt Jesus was teaching, but he seems to have had an emphasis on healing. The people had the faith necessary to believe that just touching the fringe of his cloak would heal the sick, and so it proved. Jesus understood the need of these people to exercise their faith and he responded.
We can see from the Gospel passage that Jesus understood the needs of the disciples and of two groups of people who sought him out. He responded appropriately to each group. What about our needs? Does he understand those? I have no doubt he does understand.
Just like his disciples, we need some time to recuperate from our busy lives. Jesus is not going to find us guilty of deserting our responsibilities if we take some time off. I doubt if he’s annoyed that I slept this morning rather than attending Morning Prayer. I don’t suppose he minds if any of us decides not to add yet another thing to our ‘to do’ list, however important and worthy it might appear to be. Jesus wanted time to listen to his disciples as they recounted their experiences. I’m sure he wants time with us as we talk to him about our experiences as his disciples, as we share our excitement and our disappointments.
Taking time out to relax, to unwind, perhaps to meditate, reflect and pray, can help us to put everything into perspective. Instead of seeing the things that press in around us, we can begin to have God’s perspective on our lives, such as Paul describes to the church in Ephesus. He urges the Christians there to remember: they are no longer strangers to God, without hope. Instead they are brought right up close to God through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. They are citizens of God’s kingdom, members of God’s household. Together they form a holy temple in which God lives.
Those truths are not just for the Ephesian Christians but for us also. We have needs such as for rest, food, drink, companionship and so on, which Jesus understands. He has also provided for us the satisfaction of our greatest need – salvation. He has drawn us into the household of God and made it possible for God to dwell in us. All we are asked to do is to remember, which is difficult to do unless we take some time out.
In the time when Jesus was on earth, people came from all over the area to hear him, to ask him for help, to touch the fringe of his cloak. They wanted to be near him. We can’t rush round the Sea of Galilee as the crowd did. We can’t bring our sick to physically touch his cloak. But we can be near Jesus. Paul assures us, with the Ephesians: “in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”