Sermon for VII Sunday after Trinity, 18th July 2021
Gospel: S. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
What can be said about the scene in the Gospel we’ve just heard? The disciples had been busy in their proclaiming the good news to the kingdom of God, their missionary witness to all the people they encountered. Only last week did we hear of the beheading of John the Baptist and the disciple’s task of burying him. We can only imagine the need for some respite from their labours so when they meet Jesus he tells them to go to a place by themselves, a lonely desert place and rest. So they set out on a boat to a desert place, and doubtless thought that they would be on their own away from the crowds—after all they spent much of their time teaching, preaching, and healing in the name of Jesus. But it wasn’t long before they would be recognised by the crowds who managed to get to the desert place before them.
Imagine the look on their faces when they arrive at their oasis where they would be on their own, a place where they could rest and relax but it was inhabited with crowds of people. This was supposed to be their time away from the hustle and bustle of encountering the multitude they couldn’t even eat in peace. Not only did the crowd recognise the disciples but Jesus as well. Yet Jesus saw all these people as virtual wanderers appearing like lost sheep and he had compassion for them. They knew he had the power to heal so they didn’t waste any time in letting others know. Think of being right in the middle of a busy market square—-hordes of people are milling around—going about their everyday business, in the middle of all this seemingly orderly day, you see men and women carrying or dragging stretchers to the centre of the market square—there are people on the stretchers: the blind, the lame, the deaf, the deformed, the drug addict and alcoholic, the outcast and possessed, all the attributes of human suffering. Jesus had compassion for the crowds who pursued him and his disciples for healing and teaching. Jesus’ compassion to instruct was to bring openness and a guiding hand to those who were bewildered and lost.
Jesus tells us to come away, to a desert place, by ourselves, and rest awhile. By coming away—leaving behind modern technology and social media that would otherwise interfere with our complete and utter surrender to God; a desert place —- ideally a place which is virtually uninhabited by others; by ourselves—hermit like, alone, and rest awhile—without distractions, deadlines, meetings. Simply resting awhile—not something that is on-going but temporary.
One of the things we have experienced during lock-down during the past year was the absence of our guests and we know that guests are an important aspect of our ministry within the Community. We want them to share in our life. S. Benedict points out that all guests should be received in the monastery alike Christ. It is part of our vocation within the monastic tradition. Guests come to Mirfield for all sorts of reasons: sharing in the prayer life and worship of the Community, a time away to be spiritually refreshed and renewed, to engage with brethren for spiritual direction, confession or just to have someone to talk or listen to. All of these and much more we welcome. In today’s Gospel the crowds had come to see Jesus, to be nourished by Him in spirit, soul and body. They came for healing, physical as well as spiritual and they listened to what He had to say. In a sense we can see the multitudes of people, like the crowd, coming to a desert place such as Mirfield—where they feel welcome, safe, leaving behind their daily routine—for a day or several days. During a session in chapter we spent time on the implications when restrictions on lockdown have been removed and we return to some sort of normality. One of the challenges that face us will be the restoration of monastic hospitality and the impact it will have on us as well as our guests, but we believe are necessary if we are to sustain the life to which God has called us. I am sure that our guests and extended CR family will appreciate that we brothers also need some time to ourselves as a Community.
Just as the disciples needed a desert place where they could go and rest awhile away from the crowds, we need to find a place to recharge our own spiritual batteries from time to time and to take stock of our life together as Sons of the Resurrection. If we don’t make space and time for ourselves, how are we to care and minister to others who we are called to serve?
I’d like to end with a poem inspired by Psalm 49, written by Father Malcolm, our Retreat Conductor, for it reminded me of those who come to share our life, here in this place, as fellow pilgrims on a journey, our visitors and guests:
Where Christ Himself is there to welcome you then you are home, wherever you may fare and Christ will keep your inner compass true, though the world is rushing everywhere, this way and that before the winds of fear, between false hopes and premature despair. But you can hear a different tune. You hear the strong song of his love. Open your ears to hear his parables. The foolish veer, between their fatuous desires and fears, with fickle fortunes that they fear to share. Keep your security in Christ, who hears the slightest murmur of your smallest prayer, and do not be afraid, but trust in him, your hearts in heaven keep your treasure there. Amen.