A sermon offered on Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11B, Track 1, RCL), July 19, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.
(The lessons for the day are 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; and Mark 6:30-34,53-56. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page. Note: The Revised Common Lectionary provides that the first lesson is 2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19.)
I was ordained a deacon in May of 1990 and made a priest in June of 1991. For two years, I served as associate rector of a parish in Nevada and then accepted a call to be rector of a parish in the Kansas City metropolitan area in a small, exurban community called Stilwell. Sometime after we had moved to Stilwell, my family and I visited my parents in southern California.
Now I should tell you that my parents were not church-going people. After the death of my biological father in 1958, my mother pretty much stopped going to church. In 1962, she married by step-father, a non-practicing Roman Catholic, in a Methodist church ceremony, but that is the only time I remember my parents going to church on their own (that is to say, not dragged there for the holidays or some other special occasion by one of their children). My folks were not particularly happy campers the day I told them I would be leaving the practice of law and entering ordained ministry.
So we were visiting my parents about three years after my ordination as a priest and during the visit I happened to go into their bedroom and found, on my mother’s bedside table, a copy of The Book of Common Prayer and an Inquirer’s Class study folder from St. George’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, California. I picked them up and went out to the living room where they were both watching television and said, “Hey, Mom? What’s this all about?”
“Well,” she said, “I guess you’re serious about this, so I thought I should check it out.”
“If you’re serious about this . . . .” Took her three years after my priesting, but she finally, reluctantly got there . . . . But that was my mom. Today would have been her 96th birthday, by the way.
Once she decided I was serious about this, she got serious about this. She and my step-dad completed their Inquirer’s Class, became members of St. George’s and then a few years later transferred their membership to St. Wilfrid of York in Huntington Beach, California. Both volunteered to work at the church in various ways; he did handiwork; she became the secretary of the ECW. Both are now buried in the memory garden at St. Wilfrid Parish. That was my mom: “If you’re serious about this, then be serious about this.”
In the Gospel lesson today, I can imagine Jesus saying something similar to the apostles.
Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel is a bit hard to read because it’s all choppy and excited, like someone telling a story but who can’t get his words out fast enough to satisfy himself. Mark jams this chapter full of detail, but breaks the details up. Jesus goes to his home town and is rejected, so he and the apostles leave. He then sends the apostles out two-by-two with no provisions or equipment. They spread through the countryside, proclaiming the gospel of repentance, casting out demos, and anointing the sick. Mark tells us that King Herod hears about all this activity and becomes convinced that John the Baptizer has returned from the dead, at which point Mark goes off on a tangent and tells the story of Herod and Herodias, Salome’s dance and demand for the Baptizer’s head, and John’s execution. Now, in today’s bit, we return to the apostles and their missionary journey.
They are back, all excited by what they’ve done; Mark tells us (in Mark’s usual breathless style) that they told Jesus “all that they had done and taught.” So Jesus tells them to slow down; he can tell that they are excited by what they’ve done, but they are also exhausted and, because of all the coming and going of people who have heard about them, they can’t even take a break to eat. So he tells them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” I can almost hear him, in my mother’s voice, prefacing that with, “If you’re serious about this . . . .”
“If you’re serious about this, come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
What’s going to happen is that they are going to try to do as Jesus instructs, but people aren’t going to let that happen. They are going to get in their boat, head out to a deserted place a few miles away across the lake, the “Sea” of Galilee, a place now called “Tabgha,” but the people are going to follow; in fact, they are going to “hurry there on foot from all the towns and arrive ahead of them.” (v. 33) “If you’re serious about this, come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” But guess what, you’re not going to get the chance to do that today.
Do you notice the verse references on your insert? Once again, the Lectionary has us edit out some verses in our Sunday readings, nearly twenty of them from this gospel reading. Guess what happens in those twenty verses. Jesus feeds the 5,000 people who have “hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them,” and he sends the apostles back across the lake by themselves, and he walks on water, and he calms a strong adverse wind. All of that in this one short chapter . . . all of that, but no one actually gets away to deserted place by themselves. Instead, they are continually confronted by the demands of people who “rush about the whole region and bring the sick on mats to wherever they hear Jesus and the apostles may be.”
If you are serious about following Jesus, however, you have to find a way to get away to that deserted place by yourself. If you are serious about following Jesus, if you are going to love God, you have to find time for private time with God. If you are serious about following Jesus, if you are going to love your neighbor as yourself, you have to find time to take care of yourself.
We have another variation on this same theme in the story from the Second Book of Samuel. David has become king over Israel, supplanting Saul. He has taken over the city of the Jebusites, sometimes called Jebus, sometimes metsudat Zion, and made it his capital, renaming it “Jerusalem, the City of David.” He has built a fine house for himself (a “house of cedar,” as he calls it). He has reclaimed the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines and moved it to Jerusalem, where it is now housed in a tent. Now he wants to build a house for the Ark, a temple for God.
At first, the prophet Nathan, who is David’s trusted adviser, says, “Fine. Go ahead and do this thing.” But then Nathan has a dream in which he is given a message to David from God. He is to say to David, “Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day; I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.” In other words, God doesn’t want a temple; God is happy with a moveable tent. And Nathan is to remind David, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel….” In other words, God has given you a job to do and, if you’re serious about this, you need to do it. If you are serious about being king over Israel, make sure the people may live in their own place and be disturbed no more. If you are serious about being king over Israel, make sure that evildoers shall afflict the people no more. If you are serious about being king over Israel, do the jobs I have given you and don’t take on tasks that don’t need to be done now (building the temple will be someone else’s job).
And that’s really Paul’s point in writing to the Ephesians, as well. “You [Gentiles],” he writes to them, “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” He will, in a few pages, say to them, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3) He will remind them that every church member, baptized into the one faith, following the one Lord, is gifted, equipped for ministry, for the building up of the body. “If you’re serious about this,” he seems to be saying, “if you’re serious about being a Christian, then get serious. Do the job you have been given to do.”
And what is that job? The job given to each of us, though we may be given different gifts with which to accomplish it is, is the same. We who are “living stones … built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5) of which Christ is the cornerstone all have the same job: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)
If you’re serious about being a Christian, get serious about this:
Don’t take on jobs that you don’t need to do; building the temple is someone else’s job. If you’re serious about serving God, do the tasks God gives you.
Go away to a deserted place from time to time; spend time in prayer. If you’re serious about loving God, spend time with God. If you’re serious about loving your neighbor as yourself, take care of yourself.
If you’re serious about following Jesus . . . Love God. Love your neighbor. Use the gifts you have been given. Change the world.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.