July 22, 2018
9th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
A couple of months ago, I spit into a little tube to discover who I really am. This week, I received the results. Keep in mind: my last name is Schmeling. My family remembers the year, 1870, when the Schmelings came to the United States. I took German in school.
The results of my DNA test: I’m 6 percent German. That’s only slightly more than the percentage from the Iberian Peninsula or the Caucasus. The highest percentage was Irish/Scottish/Welsh, with almost equal Eastern European. But, here’s the kicker. The third biggest percentage is Scandinavian.
That’s out of the blue. No one in my family has ever mentioned that. We’ve been in the closet for generations. So where did I come from? Which holiday to I celebrate? Am I a Viking? A Vikings fan? From Scotland? Should I be Presbyterian? Ireland or Poland? A Catholic?
It makes me realize how much our identities are constructed. We make up the stories that shape us. Or they are made up for us. We live out of them. Sometimes they turn out to be true; sometimes not; sometimes the truth changes?
The gospel text for today picks up with the disciples telling their stories. If you remember from a few weeks ago, they had been sent out two by two to practice Jesus’ ideas. They were to preach and heal, challenge evil forces, shout, “Get out” to the dark stuff that destroyed life.
We can’t tell from the text what they were saying. They must have accomplished something. The people were still coming. But it also seems like they were overwhelmed by it, because Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place.” They hadn’t taken time to eat or rest.
At one level, Jesus reminds us that rest is essential. There’s always more work to be done than we have the ability to do. If we are to survive, we have to figure out also how to put it down. In these days of summer, we appreciate that message. Stop working. Read a book. Take a dip in the lake. Make some raspberry lemonade. That’s a gospel message to those of us who can’t put our work down for a second, who check our email just a few seconds after the alarm goes off; who think the world will fall apart if we don’t accomplish everything first before taking the time away. It’s good news for caregivers to hear that taking care of yourself is part of taking care of another. You have to put your oxygen mask on before you can help the person next to you.
I’m rather fascinated that Jesus didn’t say, “Go on vacation. See the sights. Have a nice dinner and a glass of wine.” He said, “Let’s go to a desertedplace.” Let’s go to the wilderness. This is the place that doesn’t have everything you need. In fact, this is the place of great emptiness, where jackals circle at night. This is the place where you are at risk of hearing your internal voices; the place where you face your fiercest temptations. This is the place where you may discover that, all along, you’re not who you thought you were.
For the Hebrew slaves, who escaped out of Egypt with their lives but none of their livelihood, they found themselves in the wilderness where they had to craft a new identity, one that didn’t come from their history or from their oppressor, but from God, who turned out to be in the wilderness, too.
Mother Teresa said, “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
The deserted place is the space where we are left alone with nothing to hold us than God. The place where our need for love and the presence of love come together. This can be a place that is beautifully terrifying.
I learned a chant once. Sound Gong and Sing. “There is nothing but God. There is only God. There is no one but God. There is only God” “There is nothing but You. There is only You. There is no one but You. There is only You.”
God is in our DNA. Jesus, who is consistently moved into action does so because he is one with this Love. He is one with God. I think the tradition called him “The Son of God,” not to make him somehow essentially different than us, but because he shows us what human life really looks like; what it can be. We just don’t live out of God as deeply or as transparently. For Jesus, it was this open pathway.
Jesus invites his followers into that space with him, to learn for themselves what he had discovered. Most of us are quick to act. We’re a busy church, and we are mostly busy people. We hear the call of love and justice and we start making our lists, passing resolutions at church council, adopting mission statements, and showing up at marches. We take our children to do a morning of service at the food shelf. We mix up casseroles, and we’re determined to make a difference.
All of that is just noise if it’s not connected to love. We get overwhelmed by it when it’s only in our head or on our list, or we get frustrated by the slow or backward progress, or angry at our neighbor who isn’t showing up like I am. Those are signs that we need to come away to the deserted place, to the place where God can address you again, to remember where you came from and where you’re going.
The deserted place probably looks different for each of us. I know it means more than a vacation, or more than time away from work or even time away from church. Or more than unsubscribing from political news feeds. The deserted place is where we risk experiencing our need.
What do we need to put down that’s killing us? What will help us feel empty? Some of us may not need to far or work so hard at it. It’s right there. Others of us may have to do some work to figure this out. We’re too full and privileged.
The deserted place, a place of sheer and frightful silence, is the place of deepest grace; where you remember where you’re from; who you truly are.
Ring the gong.