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Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 18, 2021

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

You’ll notice in the back of the bulletin that Pastor Stroud is listed as our preaching minister this morning. He had some health issues come up, and so I offered to fill in this morning. I invite you to pray for him.

It isn’t very often that I’m writing a sermon the day before I preach it. Usually I preach crock-pot style, reading the scriptures early in the week and letting the Word simmer for several days, but this week had to be a microwave sermon. But it worked out pretty well, actually, because as I was reading the gospel (yesterday!) I noticed that Jesus and the disciples, “went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.” I had to laugh, because that’s exactly what I did last week!

As many of you know I took some time off last week to go visit my dad in Post Falls, Idaho, and one of the things we did was go away in a boat to a deserted place by ourselves! One of my dad’s best friends took us out in his boat on Lake Coeur D’Alene to a place called Beauty Bay. This is the perfect name for this little bay because it is a beautiful place. It is a beautiful cove without any development nearby. The trees come right down to the shore. It is a small cove, so there aren’t any water skiers or jet skis zooming by. In fact, while were there, we had the whole cove to ourselves. It was glorious! The water temperature was a perfect 78 degrees, so we swam and we floated and we relaxed – in a boat, in a deserted place, by ourselves. I said to Amy on the way home that, although we were only gone for about the equivalent of a long weekend, it felt a lot longer. I felt so restored, so renewed, by our time away.

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” Jesus said to his disciples. What a gracious invitation! What a gracious Lord! They had just returned from several days of ministry, having been sent out two by two to carry out Jesus’ work in the world, and now it was time to rest. Jesus isn’t a demanding CEO holding his employees noses to the grindstone nonstop, demanding more and more productivity. Jesus is a wise and loving shepherd, caring for his sheep by leading them to green pastures and still waters, where he can give them rest. Jesus understands well that we as human beings need rest. We often hear in the gospels about Jesus himself getting away or going off by himself or taking a nap. We need such rest too.

There’s even a commandment about this, you know. The third commandment demands that we take time to rest. It demands that we observe the Sabbath day. Part of the purpose of this commandment is to give us humans the rest that we need. Part of it is to emulate God, who after creating heaven and earth, rested on the seventh day. But there’s another aspect to this commandment which is widely recognized by the Jewish people. Jewish wisdom teaches that by keeping the Sabbath – by refraining from work and resting – we are reminded that we are not God! We are reminded that the world will continue along just fine without us!

The Sabbath, then, has a way of putting us in our place! It humbles us. In so doing it helps us to keep the first commandment, which is to have no other gods. Because you see, when we get too busy with life, when we get too enthralled with our projects and plans, we start to believe that everything depends on us. And the truth is, no matter how important our work might be, it doesn’t! When we fail to rest or refuse to take a break, whether we realize it or not, we are starting to think of ourselves as gods. “Be still, and know that I am God,” the psalmist writes. Sometimes we need to be still in order to be reminded that God is God and we are not. The Sabbath helps us do this.

When Jesus and the disciples came ashore after their little getaway, there were crowds of people hurrying to get close to them. “Jesus had compassion on them,” St. Mark tells us, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

What do sheep do when they don’t have a shepherd? They wander around, fending for themselves. They have a tendency to get lost. They try to survive on their own, but often fall prey to predators. Instead of being led to green pastures and still waters, they try to push through on their own and only end up exhausted and depleted and, eventually, dead!

So it is with us. We not only need a break from time to time, we not only need physical rest, we also need the kind of rest that can only be provided by Jesus, our Shepherd. We try to live as our own shepherds, our own gods. We get so caught up on our work and our plans and our busy-ness. I know we have a lot of retired people in our congregation, but retired people are some of the busiest people I know! And while our work and our ministry and our volunteering are all good and important, they can take on a life of their own and mess up our perspective. They can lead us to believe that we can be our own shepherds and that we can get by on our own, without rest, without the Sabbath, without being still from time to time. Believe me, I’m preaching to myself this morning as much as I am preaching to you.

I’m not going to give you directions to Beauty Bay. As it is, over in Idaho they get frustrated with too many Washingtonians coming over to enjoy their beautiful spots. But I do encourage you to take time to rest, time away if at all possible.

Even more, I encourage you to think of this sanctuary as your Beauty Bay. I encourage you to think of this sanctuary as the place where you can be still, where you can float in the still waters of your baptism, where you can find that deepest kind of rest in the green pastures of God’s presence.

For you are not a sheep without a shepherd. Christ Jesus has come ashore today to be your shepherd. And he says to each of you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church