Being not Doing
A sermon by Revd Richard Carter
Readings for this service:Mark 6.30-34, 53-end
On Friday I was at my mother’s house. She needs full time care now, as she has dementia and no mobility and my younger brother who cares for her like a saint is away on holiday. So after work each day I have been going down to be with her for the night. By my day off on Friday I was exhausted and with the carer present I lay down on my bed and at 3.00pm in the afternoon went fast asleep. I woke up two hours later feeling incredibly guilty. In the west somehow or somewhere some of us have imbibed a Protestant work ethic that makes us some of us feel guilty about sleeping in the day. Perhaps it’s a fear of being accused of laziness, or not doing enough. We are not putting the world to rights as we ought. “What are you to do about your mother?” I am asked. We feel we are judged by what we do. And we are so busy trying to do that we stop being. “What do you want me to do for you?” I ask my mother guiltily? “Stay with me,” she says.
This emphasis on doing also impacts on our wider anxieties and concerns. What are we doing about?
There are a whole list of terrible threats we feel we ought to be doing stuff to change or prevent. What are we doing about global warming? What are we doing about plastic and the vast pollution of our oceans with non-biodegradable plastic bottles? What are we doing about Brexit? As the cliff edge approaches and the very relationships that could build hope are sabotaged? What are we doing about knife crime and violence other than finding ways to punish it? What are we doing about the problems in the national health, the care of the elderly, the increasing number of homeless on our street, the refugee crisis- beyond even vaster issues- what are we doing about what are we doing about the war in Syria, Yemen, or Southern Sudan? What are you doing about the extremism and injustices of Donald Trump which continue to spiral like a spit in the face of humanity? What are we doing about torture, the incarceration migrant children and their separation from their parents? What are we doing about the rise in racism? What are we doing about refugees seeking safety that no one wants to land or own? What are we doing about a world which often seems to have lost its values and the decencies and when institutions we believed in and trusted are failing us? What are we doing? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, we the guilty bystanders sleeping. What are we going to do?
So what message does today’s Gospel have for this sense of overwhelming? Jesus says to his disciples “Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.” Well that’s not going to solve anything is it? There is a hell of a lot at stake in his day too. Earlier in the chapter Jesus’ disciples could not have been more active- he has sent his disciples out two by two into every town and place- sent them out just as they are to live the Gospel, directly with the people- those very most in need- the sick, the poor, those possessed by fear or mental turmoil. He’s sent them out at a time when his own cousin John the Baptist is being held prisoner by Herod- and in the most vile and perverted power game has been beheaded his head put on a platter- it sounds the most brutal and gratuitous act of violence but are there not similar acts of senseless violence that fill our world news today? The disciples have just taken the decapitated body and laid it in a tomb.
It’s now that our Gospel passage comes. How does Jesus feel after the trauma and shock of that death of John? His own life too and that of his disciples is at risk. Jesus is not living in stable times and as the next part of his story will show only too clearly- he cannot depend on just or stable government, or justice, or religious authorities which are going to show any moral compass- quite the contrary. So what does he do? He regroups. He sees his disciples pulled in all directions with no time even to eat together. And he calls them to come away with him to a deserted place. He cares about them. He wants to be with them. Not doing but being- face to face: their lives anchored in his presence, his life in theirs, the presence of God. You can’t get the world right if you yourself are not right. Communion begins not out there- but here and now, among us. Among the people you are going to meet today. There is no point in trying to save the world in cyber space if your own children have nothing to eat. How can we save the world when we don’t even share anything with the person living next door?
It’s all very well being concerned for your own community, but what about the wider community? Well it’s the same for Jesus. He searches for rest. Yet of course the other huge needs and demands follow him and hurry after him and impact- and when he goes ashore there is a huge crowd. And we are told he has a great compassion for them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. When we seek Christ for ourselves what we find happening within us is that the boundaries begin to extend and we begin to seek Christ’s love for others and in others too. Far from a narrow self-righteousness what grows is an inclusive infinite compassion. A reaching out. From Christ’s compassion for us comes the realisation that this love and compassion is not private property but exists only because it is something shared. And that though the problems may seem insurmountable we actually have to live this love of Christ in the mess. We actually have to be Christ now, in the context we are, in the locality- not because we think that can solve everything but because that’s loves meaning, love can be no other way. It means for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health I am going to try and love and live Jesus. If you go on reading the Gospel of Mark that’s what happens. The disciples will in the next part of the chapter realise it’s not just them that needs to be fed- but a huge crowd of perhaps 5000 others. And they simply can’t just tell them to go away. The Gospel demands that we see the other no longer as the other but as one of us. Jesus is extending the reach of compassion- and everyone is fed because Jesus releases the generosity and the compassion of everyone and when you do that there is enough for everyone. That’s the miracle. You see the Gospel is not some private insurance policy or self-help plan it is the body of Christ- it includes everyone.
Jesus doesn’t go around offering solutions. In fact he doesn’t solve the immediate problems of his day. This is a Messiah who doesn’t overthrow the Romans or the hypocritical religious authorities. He doesn’t seem to defeat his betrayers and accusers. He doesn’t defeat injustice. Far from it- he is publically humiliated and put to death- the outcast- carrying in his own broken body the pain cruelty and sinfulness of our world.
And yet he changes the world. He changes the meaning of life itself. He rises. He lives on. He becomes our hope. He does not implement a plan for peace he lives peace. He is peace. He does not simply teach us how to love. He is love and calls us to make God’s love our own flesh and blood. He does not simply speak truth he incarnates truth and calls us into the light of that same truth. He does not tell us about God or God’s rules- he requires that we meet God face to face in him and in one another. He lives God in the midst of the world. That’s what it means to be baptised to be Christ- likened. We make that journey with Christ through the waters of death and struggle and to rise with him as part of his community, we become his heirs. What can beautiful Clemency do? She is so small, so vulnerable, in many ways so powerless. It begins not with what she does but what she is. She is made in the image of God. She is a sign of Christ to the world, she is a bearer of that eternal light, an inheritor of all the eternal goodness we see in Christ- truth and hope and forgiveness and joy and love. She releases love in others. She becomes who she is- a child of God and one of the company of the disciples reaching back to those first disciples and forward into eternity.
I want to give you a modern day parable of what this community looks like, a parable which captured the attention of the whole world and rightly so. It was a story of hope in a situation of total hopelessness that won the heart of the world. 12 Thai boys and their teacher stuck in a flooded cave miles underground in the total darkness. And above ground a group of people who despite all the odds being stacked against them did not give up and together galvanised support not only to first find these lost ones but then to plan and through cooperation and the sharing of skills and expertise bring about a recue that no one believed possible- and all in the nick of time. Why is it that this story transfixed the world- because I believe it’s the story of redemption and salvation and how that salvation is not brought about by any one individual but when compassion releases the goodness and the possibility of our common humanity.When the culture of self-interest and personal gain is transformed by a longing for a greater good. Then the miraculous takes place- because actually the compassion and the goodness of humanity is a miraculous thing. It was resurrection. The kids themselves did very little and yet did everything they were the victims who released the grace of others. They emerge radiating hope and resurrection and not just their own- but a resurrection of all those who risked their lives for them.
But that’s just 12 kids? What about all the other kids- What about the migrant kids waiting in France to be come to the UK? What about the kids in the refugee camps of Lebanon? What about the Mexican kids incarcerated in USA. Yes what about them and what about the other people too- all of them. You see our baptism means turning away from monstrous self-interest. Renouncing deceit and the egotism of evil and manipulation of truth which divides, and causes untold hurt. It means turning to Christ. Turning to the one who by his very being calls us into love and life and unity with one another and hope for the world. Being baptised is about seeing Christ face to face. And discovering the eternal face to face in the vulnerable. Discovering divinity in humanity. Eternity begins now- right here in the thick of things and seeking peace and rest for those you are among right now. It means finding God’s grace at the very heart and on the very edge of life. That’s how the kingdom begins. Talking about justice and salvation is not enough- we’ve got to be it. Just as clearly as Clemency is an embodiment of the miracle of love for us in this church today.