2021 has been a year of change and adjustment. We began with hopes of life returning to “normal,” but unfortunately “normal” was not to return. The COVID-19 virus did not disappear in the winter of our discontent. An insurrection was experienced for the very first time at the United States Capitol to force an election. Yes, in the United States of America. A new administration came and began the work of restoring human decency but was met with roadblock after roadblock because people seemed to prefer the darkness of hate and prejudice. Mass shootings of women, Asians, Blacks, Whites, sisters, brothers, parents began to be the norm for the news all across our country and even in our own backdoor. Is this to be the “new normal,” we began to ask out loud to no one in particular? Hope seemed lost. Joy, seemingly a thing of the past.
All along, the church of Jesus Christ has been proclaiming a gospel of love, of hope, that despite all of this Jesus was with us in our darkest moments and in the moments of light that snuck in. I know personally the hard work of many churches - their staffs and their laity seeking to bring love, hope, and life to all of God’s children, members of their church family but also people who were without a faith community. Lines of denominations, cultures, classes, political leanings, etc. were ignored as faithful disciples of Jesus went out to bring the love of Jesus to all. These “apostles” who were sent by Christ offered hope even in the smallest of ways and smallest of measures.
We have been sent nonstop all year long and, I don’t know about you, but I am weary. My soul hit a wall somewhere in mid-February and hasn’t recovered. There has been much coming and going, much trying to offer a way for the people of God who feel and even seem lost. There has been no stop for the disciples of Jesus in doing the work of the mission of loving, accepting, and serving. I don’t know about you, but I need a breath.
The twelve apostles have been out and about for a long time doing the mission and teaching the words of their Master. Upon their return to Jesus, they are excited about all that has been accomplished and they desire to tell Jesus all. Yet even in their excitement, Jesus sees the weariness of his faithful ones whom he sent out. Jesus knows that they need rest, so he suggests that they go away to a secluded place to find rest. Jesus is not encouraging laziness but for time to find peace, rest, and to be recharged by the Lord who sent them out. The sent ones need time to renew their strength.
Oh, but before they got too far, the people of the community ran ahead to where Jesus and the apostles were going so that upon arrival, there they are - needy, lost, hungry, confused, aimless, broken, needing a Word. Mark says that the rest is delayed because of Jesus’ ability to give hope and direction. It was the compassion of Jesus, the tender concern for the physical care of his own apostles, that increases tenfold as he sees the people, people like sheep without a shepherd. His heart full of love, acceptance, and service for these, drove him and the disciples to begin to teach these children of God the truths of God. Moses had prayed that the people of God would not be left as “sheep without a shepherd” in the Hebrew scriptures, and so Jesus steps up with a compassionate heart.
Jesus assumes the role of shepherd, as does his twelve, and begins to teach the people - the people lost since John the Baptist’s death. The people tired of enslavement to a foreign power. The people persecuted with no end in sight. They need to be taught first and foremost that the mission of God, the God who loves them, will not be defeated. Yes, a good shepherd will guide, lead, and protect, but first, the sheep, the people of God, must be taught the heart of the shepherd.
The work continues as Jesus and his apostles feed and walk with the people in all aspects of life till again they are even more weary than before. A short boat ride to another place, hopefully for a rest, is interrupted as they come ashore and find hordes of folks bearing the sick for the simple touch of Jesus, the brush of his garment or even the look of his apostles upon the one in need. Oh, the masses of humanity pushing in, taking from him and his apostles all they had. But even beaten and hitting a wall, Jesus and his band reached out to heal. Yes, everyone who reached toward them was healed.
It surely was time for a breath! Just as it is now time for a breath for the children of God. But when we look beyond ourselves and our own concerns, we see the hordes of folks all around us. They are fearful of tomorrow. They are in need of direction for how to put one step in front of the other. They are uncertain who is for them. They are in need of a protector who will lay down their life for them. They are sick and tired of pandemics, of racial injustice, of hatred being acceptable behavior. They are in need of healing, the healing touch of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Oh, the work of shepherding, leading, loving, accepting, and serving God’s people is neverending. There is little, if any, time for a rest or even a breath. The work of Christ is never one to urge laziness, but the need to recharge as you are able is so important. Dan Millman, author and spiritual guide, says, “When in haste, rest in the present. Take a deep breath and come back to the here and now.” Take a breath and allow the compassion of Christ to fill you for the work that is ahead.
“I take my role as a teacher of the church’s faith very seriously,” states Bishop Will Willimon. “While I don’t do many teaching sermons, I do feel I have a responsibility to do my best to help you grow in your understanding of this faith, and sometimes that help is offered in sermons.” But friends, I am here to tell you the best “teaching sermon” is you living your life before your siblings, teaching them, healing them, loving them, accepting them, and serving them in every action. Not begrudging them the time needed to find hope. The great missiologist Lesslie Newbigin said, “Words without deeds are empty, but deeds without words are dumb.” The breath that we need comes from growing in understanding of the Shepherd Christ and of the significance of Christ for our understanding of ourselves and our siblings everywhere that Christ loves.
Many will say, “Yes, maybe I can teach something, but healing is out of my realm of gifts which I possess.” I disagree because your presence with those who are sick in body and soul is a healing balm that you may never understand but nevertheless heals. We have called this the presence of being, being with the person needing healing. Simply being present is a great gift.
I have to believe in those simple boat rides across the lake, the apostles and Jesus caught a breath and lifted each other up. They encouraged one another with laughter, with understanding, and with compassion. No, the rest they wanted never came as they envisioned it, but they caught a breath - the breath of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God within them - in order to bolster up the compassion of Christ within them, and within us.
We are in changing and adjusting times, my friends. The people of God are like sheep without a shepherd. Just as Jesus prayed over, commissioned, and sent out the first apostles, he sends you and me to out and to teach, to heal, to love, to accept, and to serve all till we all come to the place where we can do more than simply take a breath but breathe deeply the grace of our loving God and find the Good Shepherd before us leading us on to new life.
We have been longing for some down time. The complications of this world have been at our hearts for so long that we need a breather. But all we can do is take a breath and plunge ahead because the people of God need a shepherd, need you and me to do the work of Jesus for which God sends us - teaching and healing and loving a weary world. It is here we are ultimately sent to care for all God’s people, grabbing a breath where we can. Take a breath and let’s go.
Let it be so… in the name of the Creator, and the Redeemer, and of the Sustaining Spirit. Amen.