From Pastor Kenny's Desk
July 22, 2018
The apostles came back to Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught. Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to someplace more remote, and rest awhile.” For there were many people coming and going, and the apostles hadn’t had time to eat. So they went away in a boat to a deserted area.
The people saw them leaving and many recognized them, so they ran together on foot from all the cities and got there ahead of the apostles. When Jesus went ashore, there was a large crowd waiting for him, and he felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things.
After crossing the lake, Jesus and the disciples came ashore at Gennesaret and tied up their boat there. No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognized Jesus. The crowds started hurrying about the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers wherever Jesus went. Wherever he appeared – in villages, in towns or in the countryside – they laid down the sick in the open places, begging him to let them touch just the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched Jesus got well. ~ Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Summer brings with it a certain playfulness … the joy of taking long weekends to visit the beach (who knew Virginia with all its beautiful trees and lush ‘country-side’ scenery even has a beach), camping, canoeing and other fun activities. Many are planning other kinds of vacations and get-a-ways all serving as a planned, much needed time of rest from the regular routine and demands of life. Rest and relaxation are important and should not be ignored. I believe there is a spiritual aspect to the importance of rest … of Sabbath … and of the role of the church to provide and encourage restorative rest. I am grateful for my times of rest and recreation and encourage everyone to take advantage of time to be refreshed in mind, body and spirit.
Yet … sometimes the realities of life, work and ministry bring us to put off time for rest due to unforeseen circumstances. While Jesus invites his disciples to rest, you’ll notice that they don’t get that opportunity. Instead, Jesus and his disciples respond to the
needs of the multitude coming to them. Seeing the crowds and their various unmet needs, Jesus, Mark reports, has compassion on them. He puts his plans for rest temporarily on hold and goes out to them, healing, curing, feeding, and teaching all who are in need.
And this is what I find interesting. That this passage, while it starts off sounding a note on the significant need for rest, shifts gears to move instead to talk about compassion and need. And these two … compassion and need … always go together. Which is why I’d like to suggest that we consider asking ourselves “What do we need?”
Really … ask yourself, what do you need to feel whole, to be happy, to lead a fulfilling life, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong and have a place to call your own.
I am convinced that one of the reasons some churches find themselves in decline is that they counted for far too long on people showing up to worship out of a sense of duty and obligation supported not only by the church but also by the larger culture. Keep in mind that politicians from Benjamin Franklin to Dwight Eisenhower urged people to go to church … any church … because they felt that church attendance made better citizens. In recent years, that cultural support has withered, and lots and lots of people are not remotely hostile to church but simply don’t consider it a particularly compelling option in light of all the other things they might do on any given Sunday.
Which is why I’d like to shift the conversation from coming to church out of a sense of duty to one of coming out of a sense of delight, and desire, and anticipation. But that will only happen if we’re clear and honest about what we … as individuals and as a community … need in order to flourish and be the people God has called us to be.
In the Sacred Text above and others like it in Mark, the needs seem clear: people who are sick want to be healed. People who are hungry want to be fed. Certainly there are those various needs in abundance all around us. Sometimes those needs are right there in our congregation, and sometimes they are spread throughout our community. In both cases, our faith and the mission of MCC Richmond can play an active role in meeting those concrete needs. Interestingly, in a study of vibrancy in congregations I attended before moving to Richmond, two of the factors that seemed to characterize all those congregations identified as vibrant were a substantial and sustained commitment to serving the community … food pantries, after school tutoring, various kinds of social ministries … and a willingness to experiment with forms of worship and engaging people as worship assistants.
But in addition, there are some less tangible needs in evidence as well. In fact, Jesus first responds to the crowds because they seem lost, like sheep without a shepherd. Here he doesn’t cure or feed but instead reaches out and meets them, teaching, preaching and opening up to them the power and possibility of life in God’s kin-dom.
Which is why I ask you to consider what you need … not just want, but really need. That alone would be an interesting conversation, but I’d encourage you to go further and also ask two more things. First, what might you change in order to get that desired element in your life? The question implies that we often have more than we might imagine and that our very confusion of wants and needs regularly contributes to our problem. It’s hard to make time and effort for what you need … in other words … if you’re always chasing some false want nurtured by a scarcity-inducing and highly consumeristic culture.
Second, ask yourself, how can MCC Richmond help you live a more abundant life? Because that’s what we’re talking about: abundance. Not just happiness, or belonging, or a sense of purpose, but something bigger that includes all these things but also includes justice, peace and community. In Mark’s story, Jesus calls this the kin-dom of God. In John’s story, he often describes it as abundant life. No matter what you name it … we all want it … we all sense something more is out there for us, and we’d all desperately like some help in living into the kin-dom world of more of the abundant life that Jesus offers.
So that’s the work I think we need to do … for ourselves individually and as a congregation … what do we need as individuals, households, and a community of faith to flourish as God’s people put on this planet for a purpose, and then to ask what we can contribute and what the church can do to support us in moving in that direction together. It takes both … the question about what individuals have to contribute and what we can do together as a congregation.
When we seriously ask, think about and live into these questions my hunch is we’ll be both surprised at what others are willing to share and also moved and motivated to start imagining congregational life that is motivated by the compassion to meet the needs of the people of God around us in order to meet the needs of this world God loves so very much.