Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 6th chapter.  
Glory to you, O Lord. 

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He 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. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Creator, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

I used to travel quite a bit for the church in my previous calls and when I was on the deaconess board, so I used to fly a lot.   Most people who are frequent flyers can recite the safety information in their sleep, so they don't pay much attention when the flight attendants start talking.  But one of the best pieces of advice you can get in life is from the flight attendants giving safety instructions on the plane.  

Remember what they say about a loss of cabin pressure?  The oxygen masks will drop down automatically.  Then they always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help anyone else.  

Put on your own mask first.  Make sure you are breathing OK before you try to help anyone else.  Make sure you are okay so that you can help take care of other people. 

When we begin today's gospel lesson, the disciples had just returned from a trip.  They had just come back from an incredibly successful mission trip.  They had gone out in pairs, all over the countryside.  They were healing the sick and casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  It was a great mission trip, but they had to be exhausted.  

Have you ever had one of those weeks?  You know the kind I mean, ultra busy.  People lined up outside of your office to talk to you and as soon as you get a break and start to do something the phone rings.  If you are lucky, you can eat a sandwich at your desk, because there is no way you are making it home for lunch. When I worked in a hospital, I had weeks like that all the time.  

This past week was busy at church.  Not quite that bad, but busy enough.  I gave blood on Monday, so I started the week tired.  Then Lea was out sick.  By Thursday, she was back and things were calming down.  I had time to work on this sermon.  I even went home for lunch before making a call at the nursing home.  And I didn’t have to come in on Friday or Saturday.

Jesus had become so well known that the crowds were following him everywhere. Now the crowds were following the disciples too. They can't even get a lunch break.  Jesus tells the disciples it is time to come away for awhile to rest.  He wanted them to take care of themselves first, so they could help others later.  He wanted them to have a chance to rest. 

Rest is such a wonderful word.  It brings up images of relaxation and recreation.  It is a chance to slow down and stop working.  It is a beautiful idea.  It really sounds good, doesn't it?

Many of us, I suspect, have filled our lives with so many activities and so much work, that the idea of resting sounds very, very good.  This isn't to say we don't enjoy the things that keep us so busy.  We have so many things that fill our lives that we may have forgotten how to rest.

There was an article in the Boston Globe a few years ago about a study done by UCLA.  They wanted to find out what a typical family was like in the 21st century.  So they sent out observers to 32 middle class families in Los Angeles.  What they found may not totally apply to families here, but some of it may ring true.

The results made the researchers sad.  They said that people spent so much time working. People believed they had to work that much so that they could buy things they need and get ahead, but they didn't take the time to enjoy anything they had.  

One thing was particularly sad.  Even though they all owned nice houses, most of them said they never had time to go outside and enjoy the backyard.  Any free time was spent in front of the television or computer. They didn't have time just to rest, relax, and enjoy the world around them. 

We all know the third commandment from confirmation class.  Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.  Unfortunately, we usually think of it as one more law we have to keep.  Or we think of it as an obligation to go to church.  

I would like you to think about it for a minute in a different way, perhaps the way the Israelites heard it when Moses read it to them the first time.  It would have been incredibly good news to people who had been slaves.  These were people who always had to work without any break.  

Think back to when you were a little kid, or to when your kids were little.  When little kids start getting grumpy, what do we say?  We say it's time for a nap.  Well, if you are the little kid, you don't want to take a nap because you don't want to miss anything.  Of course, that is mostly because you are tired and grumpy and feeling obstinate. 

When you get to be an adult, sometimes a nap sounds like a great idea.  You wish you could go back to that time when they were a required part of the day.  That's how the commandment to keep the sabbath sounded to the Israelites.  Not only do we get to rest, but we have to rest.  God said so.  

We were never enslaved like the Israelites.  But we are slaves to the idea that we need more and more things.  We are slaves to the idea that our children must participate in every possible opportunity.  We are slaves to the definition of success that says more is better, bigger is better.  These ideas can enslave us so that we don't have time for anything but work.  

Today, Jesus says to us,"come away to a deserted place and rest for awhile".  He means more than taking a day off every week, although that is a very good start.  Jesus wants to free us from our slavery.  He wants to free us from slavery to the idea that more is better and the way to get more is to work all the time.   

Listen to the first verse of Psalm 23, especially the second half.  "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want." I shall not be in want.  Because we can trust God to take care of us, we are freed from our slavery.  God has provided everything we need. 

We are freed from the need to have more and more and more.  We are freed to see that all that we have is a gift from our Loving God.  We are freed to enjoy the abundance God has already given us.  

We are freed to give thanks for all that we have.  We are freed to enjoy our time with our families. We are freed from the fear of being in want.

I know it is hard to take time to rest.  Maybe that is why the psalmist doesn't say that the Lord invites us to do it.  The psalmist reminds us that the Lord makes us lie down in green pastures.  Jesus tells the disciples to come away to a deserted place and rest for awhile.

This week I would like to encourage you to think about at least one thing that you can say no to doing.  Think about one thing that you can cross off you list and let it go undone.  Maybe there is an appointment you can cancel.  Maybe there is an opportunity you can pass up.  

Then use the time you have saved to relax and have fun.  You know what you enjoy doing.  Maybe you want to call a friend you haven't seen in a while.  Maybe you can play a game or read another story to the kids.  Maybe you can read a book you enjoy.  Maybe you just want to sit and count your blessings.  

When you do count those blessings, remember that the opportunity and the command to rest is one of the blessings we are thankful for. 

Nativity of John the Baptist, June 24, 2018

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

You have heard of Christmas in July.  Well, this is Advent in June. Christmas Eve is exactly 6 months away. John the Baptist is usually a character we hear about in Advent.  We Lutherans tend to ignore the saints days unless one of the main Bible characters has a day that falls on a Sunday. That happened this week.  That's why the color of my stole and chasuble and the altar paraments are white today.

I like to remember the saints.  I think it is good to remember our heritage in the faith.  The saints provide an example for us.  They show us that others who are human like us can share the good news of the saving love of God.

They show us that our ancestors have gone before us and our descendants will come after us.  Sharing their stories helps us know we are part of a much bigger story, God's story. A story where we can all say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

June 24th is the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.  We know from the story in the first chapter of Luke that John was born six months before Jesus.  When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, he tells Mary that Elizabeth is in her sixth month.  June 24th is six months before Christmas.

It is also a few days after the summer solstice, the day with the most hours of daylight.  The church also remembers birth of John the Baptist in the season when the time of daylight is getting shorter in the northern hemisphere.

We remember the birth of Jesus when the time of daylight is getting longer.  This is because John said, "He must increase, and I must decrease."

Saints are usually remembered on their heavenly birthday, that is the date of their death, so today is an unusual feast day.  John is unusual because we have a story about his birth in the Bible.   We don't have many birth stories.  The story of his death will come up in our readings later this summer, but today we remember his birth.

John is an unusual character in many respects.  He is born to elderly parents who had thought they couldn't have children.  The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, his father, who was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.

Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son.  When Zechariah asked for proof, the angel got a little testy and said,  "OK, here's your proof.  You won't be able to speak a word until it happens."

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."  Those were his first words.  John's father Zechariah spoke for the first time in nine months.  That was quite a faith statement.  He joyfully praised God.

Then the Holy Spirit gave Zechariah prophetic words.  A prophet is not just someone who tells what is going to happen.   A prophet is someone who tells the truth, God's truth.  Zechariah spoke of God's truth, both past and present.

It has been said that if you don't know history, you are doomed to repeat it. John's father reminded the people of their history, their heritage, our heritage.  He tells us we are all part of a much larger story.

Paul also reminds us of the same heritage in the second lesson.  He and Zechariah tell us the same story, the story of our ancestors.  The story where we can all say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

The story of our ancestors is all about the story of their relationship with God.  God made a covenant with our ancestor, Abraham.  God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations.  God always loved and cared for Abraham even when Abraham didn't always trust God. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

God made a covenant with our ancestor, Moses.  Through Moses, God led the people out of slavery, through the Red Sea.  The people wandered, and God put up with them and cared for them in the wilderness for forty years.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

Then God gave them the land of Canaan.  They lived there with the judges as their rulers for many years.  Then they asked God for a king and God gave them Saul.  Saul ruled for forty years then God chose David as king.  David is remembered as the greatest king. Jesus is descended from David. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

But, before Jesus, we have the last prophet of the Old Covenant, John the Baptist.  Like the prophets before him, John reminded the people of all that God had done for them.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

Like his father, Zechariah, he reminded everyone that God rescued our ancestors in the past.  He reminded our ancestors to repent and return to the Lord.  He reminded them to worship the Lord in holiness and righteousness. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

John's parents and all their neighbors and relatives knew he would be special when he was born.  They knew that God was doing a new thing. They all wondered what this child would become.  Zechariah prophesied that John would prepare the way for the Messiah, the Christ.

"And John grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel."  We know the story from there.

John preached that people should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  John didn’t mince words in his preaching.  He called out the religious leaders who colluded with the government against the people.  He called them a brood of vipers.

Baptism was a sign that they had turned their lives around and were committed to following the Lord in righteousness. Like the prophets before him, John reminded our ancestors to repent and return to the Lord.

Jesus began his ministry by asking John to baptize him to fulfill God's righteousness.  We also are baptized to fulfill God's righteousness because Jesus has commanded it.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

Unlike Jesus, but like our ancestors, we need forgiveness for our sins.  We need to repent and return to the Lord daily and remember all that the Lord has done for us. We need to worship the Lord in holiness and righteousness.  We need to say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

John the Baptist is one of our ancestors in the faith.  The stories of our ancestors are the stories of their relationship with God. John's whole life was dedicated to preparing the way for Jesus Christ.  God began to do a new thing with John.  John prepared the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

We give thanks for the birth and life of John the Baptist today because he dedicated his life to preparing the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

It is that New Covenant, the new way of living in relationship with God, that we celebrate today. We celebrate as we remember that we are baptized children of God.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.

When we were baptized our parents also wondered what we would become.  We are Abraham's descendants through faith.  Like our ancestors, our stories are also all about our relationship with God.

Our relationship is with the God of our ancestors who came down to us in Jesus Christ and gave his life for us.  We celebrate as we remember Christ is with us in this meal and gives us the forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant of his body and blood.

With our ancestors, we say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Amen.