Summary: We often pride ourselves in our work ethic, but we are addicted to work! This sermon takes a look at our need to find rest in the midst of a chaotic world and a myriad of responsibilities; using Jesus' practice of finding rest as our example.
IMMEDIACY IN MARK
When we read the Gospel of Mark, we read a story moving at breakneck speed. Mark is the shortest gospel, and in it we don’t find a genealogy, or narratives from his childhood, or even much of a prelude before Jesus is baptized. And once he is baptized, it seems like he is constantly on the move, first calling his disciples, then healing and teaching, healing and teaching, all throughout Galilee until he rushes to Jerusalem at the head of his disciples where he is crucified. In fact, in the earliest manuscripts, we don’t even have an account of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances. It ends with the empty tomb and the frightened women who witnessed it. Mark seems to be in such a hurry to tell Jesus’ story, that the entire gospel can be read in about an hour and a half, if you read it straight through.
And peppered along the way is the Greek word, “euthus” or “immediately.” It is used over 40 times in Mark, more than the rest of the New Testament combined.(1) It almost seems like the need to do everything *right now* characterizes Jesus’ ministry throughout the Gospel of Mark. Mark doesn’t sweat the small details or give us much background info, instead seeking to build a narrative which puts us right in the action all the way through Jesus’ ministry and right to the cross. In some ways, Mark’s gospel strikes me as the first century equivalent of a summer action movie, with explosions and car chases right up to the ending credits.
In the rush to move from one event to the next in the Gospel, we tend to focus on the big stories in Mark. The big lessons, the big speeches, and the big miracles. And yet, our reading from Mark’s gospel this morning includes none of those things. Honestly, at first glance, it seems like an oddly unnatural selection. It begins with the apostles returning from their mission, where Jesus sent them out to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons. But we aren’t given any details about their results, rather their success is hinted at by the crowds which recognize them. And just as Mark is about to tell us about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and his walking on water, arguably two of his most spectacular miracles, we skipped right to the end of the episode where the crowds are again rushing to meet him, and he and his disciples are swamped with people in need of healing, renewal, and restoration.
Now you might be asking yourself, “Wait a minute, why did we skip all the good stuff?” Well, one of the tools I use when deciding what to preach on is called a lectionary. It’s basically a three-year tour through the entire Bible, where passages from both the Old and New Testaments are read each Sunday. It’s used by denominations and churches all over the world, and has been developed by pastors and leaders through the centuries. I don’t use it rigidly, because I still want to be sensitive to when the Holy Spirit may be guiding me to preach on something else. But the selection from Mark which it assigns to this morning intrigued me. By skipping over the two stories which would naturally draw our attention the most, we are forced to look at what I call “the connecting pieces” of Mark’s gospel.
In this case, the connecting piece brings out another very important theme in Mark, one that is often overlooked, and that is Jesus’ insistence on taking time to withdraw and rest. In fact, it’s so important to Mark’s gospel, that he explicitly refers to Jesus taking the time to withdraw, rest, and pray at least nine times; including here in verse 31, where his concern is for his disciple’s well-being. There’s almost a pattern of rushing between big ministry events, withdrawing and resting, then rushing to the next task or event. Some of you might be familiar with the Army saying, “hurry up and wait.” Well, Mark is the “hurry up and wait” gospel. In Mark, Jesus knows that without time to rest, where the disciples can be alone with him, they won’t have the strength to rush on to meet the challenges ahead.
ADDICTED TO WORK
The same applies to us today, perhaps more than ever before. We, as Americans, tend to pride ourselves in our work ethic. I mentioned last week that we often find our identity in “what we do”, whatever our job or profession is. And so, when we aren’t actively engaged in that profession, we often feel lost or worry that we are being lazy or forgetting something important that needs to be done. In fact, I’m sure almost anyone here has had moments where we find a break in our busy schedule, and instead of enjoying it, we are overcome with anxiety that we we are supposed to be doing something else. This cultural trait is reflected in the most recent statistics detailing just how much our lives are filled with work.