Can We Have It Both Ways?

30-31 The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

32-34 So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.

53-56 They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing. As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat—that’s all. And whoever touched him became well.  (Mark 6:3-34;53-56 The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

Our small congregation has a new mission statement: “Sharing Christ.  Feeding People.  Changing the World.”  It’s a tall order, but we believe it’s what Christ calls us to do.  We all share Christ in one way or another.  Sometimes we stumble.  Still, we must continue trying.  Feeding others means, for us, that we offer nourishment in the forms of food and healing.  Food to nourish the body.  Conversation and prayer and walking alongside to nourish the soul.  Each time we touch someone in a positive way, we change the world.

As I said, it’s a tall order.  There are many lives that could use some touching from the Master.  It was no different when Jesus walked the earth.  He ministered, taught and healed.  When his reputation spread, he sent out the apostles two by two.  His ministry grew in leaps and bounds and they found themselves in need of rest.  Jesus takes them away for that retreat and they’re followed and deluged with desperate souls, “like sheep without a shepherd.”

There are a lot of desperate souls today, both in and out of the church.  Life is filled with deadlines and family obligations; care-giving duties; health issues; jobs and careers. Kingdom work gets left to to a few people.

I wonder, “Where do we get off thinking we can reach out to those in the community in need of healing and nourishment?  After all, there are no guarantees.  Some of us will erroneously expect that this will grow the church; that we’ll attract young families and money and the church will thrive.

And I know the answer, even before I ask it:  “Jesus isn’t inviting us to grow our congregation.  Jesus is inviting us to enter into service with him.”

So, we get ourselves a head of steam, prepare for the organizational meeting, and we read this text,  “Come away and rest,” Jesus says to the disciples.  They try, only to be met by thousands who are hungry and need a piece of Jesus.  No matter where they go, they can’t catch a break  There’s not enough time or money or disciples or energy.

Jesus calls us to rest.  Take your Sabbath because God created it just for us.  We know we need to lay down our nets or our plows and simply “be.”  Sometimes we even accomplish it.  We allow the busy-ness of life to not take over our lives.  We rest so that our souls can be replenished.

We rest.  We pray.  We play.  We re-enter the world with recharged batteries.

Also known as: back to the grind.

Then there are those who lose themselves in the cause of justice.  These are the folk who watch the news with an equal mix of compassion and anger.  They try to help others while seeing the forces of evil bring them down.  Their spirits are zapped; their souls are sucked dry.

We rest.  Probably not for long enough.  We pray.  And wonder if Jesus is listening.  We play.  But not for long, because it isn’t right that we should be having fun while others are suffering.

Can we have it both ways?  Can we balance our lives and our service with rest?  Can we rest and work and find meaning?  Or do we simply burn out?

Sharing Christ. Feeding others.  Changing the world.

Jesus called his disciples into the wilderness for rest.  But, wait.  Why the wilderness?

The wilderness is where the Hebrew slaves found themselves after the Exodus.  No food. No water. No plan.

The wilderness is where Jesus spent 40 days being tempted.  No food.  Lots of tempting thoughts on how to take on the world.  Wild animals.

The wilderness is where Elijah escaped to avoid a monarch and his scheming wife.  He found wind and earthquake and chaos.

Whatever any of the disciples expected, they got just the opposite of rest: more work than they knew what to do with.

Can we have it both ways?  Can we work ourselves to death each week, take Sabbath rest and then go out to serve others?

No.  Because if we do it like that, in that order, “work” receives the bulk of our time, Sabbath rest comes in at a dim second and service to others?  We’ll get to that next week.  Or maybe the week after.

Can we have it both ways?  No.  I suggest yet another way.  Another way to view our lives.

The wilderness isn’t necessarily a place to which we travel.  We don’t need a passport, an airline or train ticket.  We don’t even need to pack a suitcase.  The wilderness is all around us.  We see those wilderness areas when we watch the homeless walking the streets; when we watch the news about war; when we talk to a friend of stranger about that tumor that is about to be biopsied.  We are thrust into the wilderness when we see God’s lost sheep without a shepherd and our hearts burst with compassion.

Rev. Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame had a compassionate heart that burned for children.  He read the newspapers and watched the news and then used his children’s TV show to address the hate and murder and evil in the world.  He affirmed children.  He spoke about assassination following Bobby Kennedy’s death.  He put his feet in a pool side-by-side with an African American after blacks were driven out of a pool by someone pouring cleaning solution in it.  He talked about acceptance and beauty.  He taught children to be kind; he taught them kingdom values.

Fred Rogers knew the wilderness intimately.  He saw the promises of Jesus in that wilderness and delivered them to children week after week.  No subject was off limits: adoption, disabilities, death.  He often said, “What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.” (

The wilderness is all around us.  Christ’s presence with us tames the wild animals; brings succor to dry tongues; nourishes the hungry.  Sharing Christ. Changing the world.

No, we can’t have it both ways.  We have it all ways when we recognize that we’re in the wilderness and there are so many in need of a word and more.  Yes, those without much want your money and some of them will try every trick in the book to get it out of you.  Yes, they’ll tell you what they think we want to hear, because that’s the only way they’ll get that help.  Offering healing to others is an awe-filled mix of soul-sucking and soul-reviving work.

We need rest.  We need work that gives us purpose.  We need to feel that our God-given gifts and talents are being used by God to serve others.  We are at our best when we can say at the end of the day that we tried to make a difference in the world today.

Can we fit it all in?  The family and work obligations with the sabbath rest with the service to others?  If you’re managing to make it work, go with it.  If not, I have a few suggestions.

First things first: identify your priority.  Not priorities.  Priority.  How does your life revolve around, engage with and point to that priority?  Simply stated; difficult to do.  When you see people who are doing this it’s probably because they did the hard work of figuring it out.

When you identify the One whom you worship, the rest will fall into place.  You’ll easily shed the unimportant, realizing that it isn’t giving meaning to your life.  Balance will occur.  Rest and prayer has a place, if you’re ready to sit and be still.

Jesus invited his disciples to retreat for a much needed rest.  What they got was more work than they could handle.  But, Jesus was present, providing food and healing and nurturing, to the disciples as well those sheep in need of a shepherd.

Jesus is still present, offering provision for our needs so that when we meet others in the wilderness of life, we can pay it forward to the least, the last and the lost: the sheep without a shepherd.

All glory and honor be to God.


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