It’s 3am. At least that’s what time you figure it is. The last time you looked at the clock it was about 2:15 and you’ve laid there in the bed for a while since, tossing and turning and trying get comfortable. Trying to calm your mind, trying to stop it from racing through all the things that have to get done. But nothing has been working these last 45 minutes. Not deep cleansing breaths, not counting sheep, not even repeating a mantra over and over, I am asleep, I am asleep, I am asleep. You are not asleep. Not even close. You are wide awake. And now it must be about 3:30.
Maybe that has happened to you before. Maybe you’ve had a sleepless night or two or six. A time when you wanted to rest. You had to rest, but every time your head hit that pillow, you couldn’t find any rest. Not with all the projects and problems and worries you’ve got. The things you have to solve, the things that pop up even when you go to sit down. There is no rest for you. No peace and quiet. No way that you are going to be bright and chipper on any morning.
If only you could relax. If only things were taken care of. If only you could rest. It would be great to have a chance to unplug, wouldn’t it? To take a deep breath and give it all a rest. But it’s getting harder and harder to do that. Especially in this world, where things are moving so fast. Go-go-go. Get from one thing to the next. Be available and plugged in. All access, all the time. Speaking with a pastor friend the other day he told me about the Blackberry phone he got to help organize his life. You know, with the camera and the voice dialing and the GPS. And with all of it right there, between the emails and phone calls and calendar updates, he said, I never get a break. And I can’t make excuses because the phone always knows where I am. My phone is running my life. Yes, it even happens to pastors. Work, work, work. Get things done. Work, toil, labor, organize, accomplish. There’s no time for a break. No time to stop. We can’t give it a rest.
But in Mark 6:30-34, Jesus telling us to give it a rest. Right in the middle of everything. Right in the middle of life going full tilt. Jesus tells them to stop. Even though the disciples are in the middle of a project with the Holy Spirit. On a mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. And the response has been incredible and they are making such progress. All the healings and conversions and the cheering crowds. How can they stop and rest? How can they possibly stop when there is so much to do? But Jesus says it’s time for a break. ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Mark 6:31) The disciples have to stop and get away to a place where there are no crowds and no projects and no issues and no phones and no day planners and no work, because the disciples, yes, even the disciples, are so swamped they don’t even have a chance to eat. The mission, the work, it had all been so explosive. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God to people was like igniting a barrel of fireworks. People everywhere were caught up in it, once they heard about how things could be different. How they wouldn’t have to be trapped by sickness and overcome by demons and pushed down and stomped on by life, the blind, the lame, the broken and broken down. They could have a break. They could take a deep breath for once. Feel whole and complete and free of fear. They could have peace and rest and Jesus could give it to them.
So they came to him in droves. Lined up around the block like girls going to a Jonas Brothers concert. All these people with needs. With hopes. With desires to see the Kingdom of God. And the disciples had done their part. Going out two by two without money or baggage and only the clothes on their backs. In the flush of utter dependence on God. And they found they could heal and cast out demons and they, they were part of this amazing thing. God’s Kingdom on earth. And it was spreading like kudzu on steroids. Growing and growing, and building and increasing and their adrenaline was pumping. It was so exciting and took so much that they hardly had time to think or catch their breath or to eat their meals over the sink before they rushed on to the next thing.
Something was happening. Things were changing. And now was the time to get out there. To keep up the good work, to build on their successes, to increase development, make new disciples, expand the ministry. And there was so much to do. Marketing and strategy and training and getting things to the next level. There wasn’t time to rest. There was only time to be hard at it and get things done for the Kingdom of God.
You’d think that’s what Jesus would want. You’d think Jesus would be pushing, like so often happens in the world, pushing the disciples to do more. “Work harder. Put in more overtime. Sacrifice more for the team. Let’s see some results here! Let’s get things done! I want to see progress!” Isn’t that the message? The message we get every day from our profit-driven, portfolio-monitoring world. It’s about the results. And the success and the accomplishment and the intoxicating feedback. For all of us disciples.
But Jesus is telling us to give it a rest. The Kingdom of God isn’t about those kind of results. It isn’t about the numbers and the productivity and the fixation with what we do. It’s about who we are. It’s about our being the children of God that God longs to love. It’s about undoing all the mislabeling and miscalculation that make this into a tired and worn out creation. Today Jesus says, Come away and give it a rest. It’s a countercultural message. And one I think that God always intended. From the very beginning of creation when God took a day of rest. From the time God laid out the Ten Commandments and said I want you to take a day off. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Don’t work on that day. Don’t make your servants or slaves work on that day. This is the Lord’s day. This is a day to stop running on all cylinders. To rest. To remember life is about more than what we do. Life is about what God does and who God is. And for our own sake, for one day, we remember that with all our plans and worries and give it a rest.
There was a time when we used to be good at it. The day of rest, the Sabbath. Nobody worked. No stores were open. There were no little league games or sports tournaments. No grocery shopping to catch up on. No little chores to do. You had to give it a rest. I heard stories about my great-grandmother who would not do one bit of housework. She wouldn’t even light the stove. It was cold roast for everyone on Sunday. And a quiet day at home. All the work set aside. Don’t touch that laundry pile. Don’t chop any wood. Just sit and rest and be still. Things will keep.
But it’s hardly like that now. There is no day of rest. There is only work and more work to be done. Errands to run. Games to get to. Appointments to keep. Every spare second is a second we need to get something else done. There is no down time. No break. And we feel guilty there is because that was time wasted when something could have been accomplished. Something that had to be done. It’s anticultural now to take a Sabbath. It’s anticultural to rest. Even though it’s one of the Ten Commandments. The very same Ten Commandments some want in post offices and city halls. The very same commandments that call for shutting down Walmarts and soccer matches and gas stations for just one day. How wonderful it would be if people really wanted to follow the commandments and make all that effort so that everyone could rest. Rich, poor, young, old, executive vice presidents, day laborers and immigrants. All of us would give it a rest.
God commands us to take a Sabbath and Jesus enforces that by telling the disciples in Mark 6:31 to take a rest. Even while the world is spinning wildly around them. Even as they are going out on vacation, there is still work to do. Even as it follows them and goes ahead of them to the other side of the lake. Oh, the work is still there. All the people from all the towns. Desperate to get a break from their disease, their pain, their suffering. The lost sheep, so desperate for rest. But God can get things done without the disciples.
The disciples step aside and Jesus feeds people. Jesus heals people. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath brings rest. And Jesus lets the disciples see that this is so much bigger than just what they do. The work of God is happening around them and beyond them. And it is happening around us too.
We believe in the Spirit of God that is at work all around us. Ahead of us, around every corner. Out there in that world we try so hard to control. God is already there loving us. Telling us in the midst of our work to stop and be still and know that God is still God. To concentrate on what we really need. Grace. Joy. Forgiveness. Hope. And to give everything else a rest.
Are we ready for the rest Jesus wants to give? Are we ready to give up the idea that the world will not work without us? Are we ready to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. As weary and worn and tired of carrying the world as we are, maybe we are ready for someone else to take it off our hands.
Maybe we are ready to say to that world that keeps us so busy, give it a rest. Maybe we are ready to stop the frantic schedules and plan what’s important and tell that calendar, give it a rest. Maybe we are ready to look at the rules that tell us work harder and longer and faster and say, give it a rest. Maybe we are ready to take those health problems and the diseases and the pain and the worry of what might happen and say, give it a rest. Maybe we are ready to turn to the world that demands we shop more and have more and buy more, and say, give it a rest. Maybe we are ready to trust God, that God wants life to be full and joyful, and face our fears and say, give it a rest.
God is at work in us and around us all the time. A new Kingdom is at hand. A countercultural place of hope and rest. A place where we know it is not our labors that keep the world spinning, but the love of God in Jesus Christ.