“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
~ Mark 6:31
You’ve likely noticed how the same scripture, heard in a different context or at a different time in your life, can be received in new ways. God’s word is living and active. So, when I first read this Sunday’s Gospel, I heard it as the parent of a newborn and his three older brothers on summer vacation. “Many are coming and going.” Where is this deserted place for rest? During our first Sunday coffee hour at Bethesda in 16 months (!) someone asked me what it was like to be a father of six (instead of a family of six). I had to stop and count for a moment. It might as well be six sometimes.
Jesus, divinely more patient than me, was surrounded by a crowd of 5,000. Might as well have been 6,000. When he looked upon them he had compassion on them, for they were as sheep without a shepherd. He soon arranged for his disciples to feed them through his multiplication of loaves and fish. Jesus would have the occasion to get away by himself later.
We all know the struggle between self-care and sacrifice, between rest and work. At different seasons in life, this struggle intensifies. As a congregation we also know the struggle between congregational self-care and our call to mission for the sake of neighborhood and world. In some ways, the pandemic brought out the best in our service and worship ministries. Food, clothing and Sunday services were provided in new and creative ways, through much hard work and flexibility. I’m so thankful for your efforts and dedication, Bethesda!
As we return to the communion rail and to the parish hall coffee hour, my prayer is that God would bring out the best in our congregational self-care (even as mission and service continues). We have a lot of catching up to do! The Fall season will be here before long and we will have further opportunities to gather for worship, Bible study, small groups, and more. “Many are coming and going.” Our calling is to be engaged whole-heartedly in this dynamic between self-care and sacrifice. The Lord’s work is to multiply loaves and fish, bless the work of our hands, and as needed, call us away to a deserted place for rest and renewal.