2018-7-22 “Jesus’ Summer Staycation”

“Jesus’ Summer ‘Staycation’”

A meditation based on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

July 22, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   For a summer, it’s been a busy time around here.  Pelito painting in the office.  Amber and Victoria tag-teaming surgery and illness, and now both, thankfully, healthy and back at work!  Volunteers training to do various office and church jobs.  Women’s Fellowship leaders actively preparing for their upcoming Card Party…that lively annual fundraiser from which they do so much good throughout the year.  Search Committee busily interviewing candidates to be your next permanent pastor.  Yes, this church remains busy, for a summer.  One of the only groups to take a break has been the choir, and we welcome them back today with joy!  Yet in their absence, our worship services were deepened by Cameron and Earl and our own youth from this congregation.  There is no lack of talent and gifts around here!  Amen??!! 

                   This summer’s busy-ness is to be expected.  After all, this whole interim season has been focused on preparing for your next permanent pastor.  So what remains to be done?  Another way of asking the same question: what prevents you from moving forward with your next pastor?  Those of you who are concrete literal thinkers will be responding, “Well, Sharon, duh…we don’t yet have our next pastor…so we can’t really move forward yet…”  Truth.  Yet not the whole truth.  For this church runs on Spirit’s energy—Holy Spirit fuels this place and always has—and the rest of the truth started by our concrete thinkers is that Spirit, right now, is helping you move forward to receive your next pastor.  Let me hasten to add that such forward movement for you is, in no way, a judgment against or indictment of our pastoral relationship.  I don’t take any of this personally!  This movement forward is your work and your path from God to seize.  Your forward movement is my joy!  Because it means you are spiritually ready to receive the next pastor God has put in your path.  So, in Spirit’s reckoning of these things, we can logically assume that you still have some preparatory work to be accomplished.  To return to the same question: what might that be?  What prevents you, Community Congregational Church, from moving forward to receive your next pastor? 

                   Some might still look back at history and claim it is fear holding you back…fear standing in your way.  After all, long ago, some poor pastoral choices led to a lot of pain that nearly everyone here felt.  Yet, I look at you now—15-20 years later than those painful days—and I see fewer people, yes, but I also see resilience and gratitude and a unified strong multi-cultural congregation that enjoys learning about each others’ lives and cherishes one another’s stories.  Do you know how many churches would give a lot to be in your place? 

                   When I speak of the effect of long ago on the present, I’m talking systems theory…for when churches survive such traumas, there is often residue remaining that new people assume.  To heal from trauma requires strong and steady attention to that healing, and you seem to have accomplished that healing here through your deep love for God and for one another.  So I don’t believe fear is the main deterrent keeping you from moving forward.  I see your trust in Spirit as stronger than any fear you may harbor.

                   The scripture reading today, not surprisingly, gives us a glimmer into one possible answer to the question of what may be holding you back just now.  Let’s look at it more closely.  [verses on screen]  Before we get to these verses, we see a very busy Jesus, and we’ve been reading about his busy-ness for several weeks running.  He’s been teaching large crowds, healing individuals like that young girl and the woman bent over with pain for twelve long years.  He’s calmed one storm and, after questioning the disciples about their own level of faith, he later assures them they have it in them to go out and do the same kind of healing he does.  Jesus entrusts them with his ministry.  As we meet Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of Mark’s 6th chapter, they have just arrived in his hometown of Nazareth, where his credentials are doubted by his former neighbors, and he replies with that famous saying, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown.”  Remember, that passage goes on to note: Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all.  He couldn’t get over their stubbornness.  And so he left and went on a teaching circuit of the other villages.  It is then Jesus emboldens the disciples to go out in his name, two by two, and while they are gone, we hear about the death of John the Baptist, which we read and studied in last week’s message. 

                   Whew!  If you weren’t tired when you came into church today, you ought to be exhausted now just listening to the ministry Jesus and the disciples have been doing in just a few days time.  Point: at the beginning of today’s gospel reading, Jesus and the disciples can’t help but be tired.  They badly need a vacation.  Three times in today’s reading Jesus tells the disciples to take a break…three times they get in a boat for that time off…and three times, ministry happens instead.  Their attempted vacation isn’t exactly a “staycation” in our sense of the word, where they would actually get that needed rest by seeing sights around home.  Rather, Jesus and the disciples go back and forth and back again across the water to get away from the crowds, to take a break from the work, but it is the work of ministry that stays with them wherever they go.  Their VAcation turns into a STAYcation, and it is the work itself that takes no break. 

                   Now what does all this have to do with Community Congregational Church?  Plenty!  Just as Jesus and the disciples keep busy, so do you.  Just as Jesus and the disciples give their energy and attention to ministries of healing, so have you.  Just as Jesus and the disciples face the work before them in each sacred moment, so do you, Community Congregational Church.  You are attentive to the day-to-day work of ministry, and you do that work with faithfulness and with grace.  If I may meddle a bit, for that’s my job as your interim, you do not do that work of ministry with speed or with efficiency.  You take your sweet time to do most everything that happens around here.  And no matter the age or generation.  Slow pace, thoughtful prayer, careful and gentle responses, being present to God and to one another in this present moment—these are your signatures—as we see they were also a part of the ministry of Jesus and the disciples.  Look again at the first slide: “his heart broke…so he went to work teaching them…”  And on the second slide: the image of people darting and pushing to simply touch Jesus, and all who touched him were made well.  Jesus and the disciples gave themselves to the work of the people.  So do you.  In so many of the moments of your life together as a congregation.  And that is good energy…gentle energy…soft and loving energy.  Like Jesus.

                   Now, however, at this point in this interim season, you need more than gentleness and kindness.  You need the ability to make a change.  Here, again, Jesus and the disciples help with that.  For embedded in the busy-ness of the schedules of Jesus and his disciples are little jewels of wisdom about how to navigate change.  The first is on the first slide, first line: “after going out two by two…”  Remember that?  Remember Jesus delegating and empowering the disciples?  That was a change…for Jesus…and for them.  And the impetus for that change came from the work itself.  From the work itself, Jesus saw the need to empower the disciples to take up that work.  So his ministry changed in that moment, from singular (all about him)—to plural (all about them).  Change was—and continues to be—inherently part of the Christian journey. 

                   A second jeweled piece of wisdom is seen more clearly in another translation—the one you have in the pews.  [also 2nd slide]  If you wish, check out page 41 in the New Testament, and at the beginning of verse 53, we read, “After they had crossed over…”  Simple as it may appear, that phrase “crossed over” gives biblical scholars a lot to think about.  Crossing over.  Starkly, it can mean death, as one crosses over from this life to the next.  It can also mean intentional action, as in choosing to cross over from one point to another.  At the very least, “crossing over” suggests some sort of change and change that is successful.  They crossed over!  Hallelujah!  They made it!  Praise God!  No storms.  No lack of faith.  They got there.  And so did you, repeatedly, my dear friends, and so will you. 

                   One more, quick story to make the point.  It comes from an email meditation I received this week about a word new to me: the word is imperturbability, and the story is from the writer’s martial arts training. Here’s what he has to say about imperturbability:

“In my martial arts training, we talk a lot about imperturbability. Imperturbability is the ability to remain calm, peaceful, loving, and discerning even in a moment of high agitation. In my training I was invited to consider the image of a rock dropping into a body of water. Sometimes we are a like a puddle. When a rock is dropped into a puddle, it will HIGHLY disrupt the water. There will be a huge splash, and it will actually change everything. Our goal, however, is to be like the ocean. Virtually any size rock dropped into the ocean will be easily swallowed up and unnoticeable.”

Community Congregational Church, you’ve got this.  You know how to be an ocean.  You know how to receive changes with grace.  More than that, you trust in God and in Christ, and you are fueled by Holy Spirit.  Seize this moment of change, sisters and brothers, imagine getting in the boat to cross over to the other side with your new pastor, whoever she or he might be, and know, in the words of 14th-century Christian theologian Julian of Norwich, that “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well…”


Amen and Blessed Be!