A sermon, based on Mark 6.30-34, 53-56, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018
Who, at some point in time, perhaps all of the time, wouldn’t want…doesn’t want success? As dwellers in time and space, thus, in materiality, I define “success” in the expressly worldly terms of “more.” More opportunity for the exercise of vocation and the enjoyment of avocation. More creativity in the expression and expansion of our native talents and spiritual gifts. More, yes, money. Yet, coining a variation on that old saying: Let us be careful of that for which we ask (sorry, by training, I refuse to end a phrase with a preposition!), for we, to our delight and, at times, perhaps equally to our dismay, might get it.
Jesus inaugurated his ministry, proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” He recruited disciples, those whom he called to come to him and learn from him the discipline of the wisdom of the ages of who and how God is and what God does; so, to be sent out as apostles, as an extension of his ministry, to share with all the good news of the kingdom.
Jesus is a hit! A star! A chart-topper! And, because of his success, nowhere can he go without recognition. Nowhere without a following. Nowhere for rest. He who patterned his life on the cosmic-rhythm of engagement and retreat, of activity and refreshment, of time and attention given to God’s people in their need and needing time with God to pray and recharge his depleted powers (for, though, yes, he is God, he, too, is fully human, thus, subject to the frailty and fatigue of mind and body), is inundated by never-ending human want. But how else could it be? For this, proclaiming in word and deed the nearness of God’s kingdom, is his raison d’être.(1)
This is our common experience, is it not? We strive to achieve our appointed aims, our committed callings, whate’er they may be. Yet there comes a time, at least, annually, we call it vacation, when we take a break. There is an inherent and unchangeable connection between vocation, from the Latin vocare, “to call”, and vacation, from the Latin vacare, “to vacate.” These are tandem, inseparable realities, the yin and yang of human living.
However, this day, I suggest that the call of Jesus (as was…is his response to his call) is never-ending. Every thought, every feeling, every word, every deed of yours, of mine, of ours, whether in labor or leisure, is toward one end and one end only: To reveal to the world the nearness of the kingdom of God’s love and justice for all.
From this labor, there is no rest. Not for Jesus. Not for us as followers of Jesus. And here’s more good news. Jesus does not ask that we be successful. Jesus only asks that we, empowered by his Spirit, are faithful in bearing, in being the kingdom fruit of love and justice.
In this, remember that when we, at Eucharist, receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, this is not physical nourishment (indeed, no one ever satisfied bodily hunger or gained weight taking Communion!), but rather spiritual food to feed and strengthen our inner spirits that we, in word and deed, may…can…will share the good news of the gospel of God’s kingdom.
In one of our hymns we sang this day, I find words that convey this truth:
Christ for the world (who?) we sing!
The world to Christ (who?) we bring
with one accord (for it is our only labor);
with us the work to share,
with us reproach to dare
with us the cross to bear,
for Christ our Lord!(2)
(1) During a solitary moment of prayer, Jesus was interrupted by his disciples, saying, “Everyone is searching for you,” to which he replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for this is what I came out to do” (Mark 1.35-38; my emphasis)
(2) From the hymn, Christ for the world we sing!; words by Samuel Wolcott (1813-1886); my italic emphases and my (parenthetic) emendations.