Sermon for July 22nd, 2012

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2 Samuel 7:1-14A

1Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." 3Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you." 4But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: 5Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" 8Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14aI will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He 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. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As 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. 53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And 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.

Did Jesus Have a Man Cave?

I'd like to begin my sermon this morning with a confession: I have a rather unusual, perhaps unorthodox, hobby for a Presbyterian Minister. If you spend any amount of time getting to know me, you'll find out about this hobby pretty quickly, so I'd rather come clean earlier than later. Here it is: I am a homebrewer. I like to brew, bottle, drink, and share my own homemade beer. I say this is an unusual hobby for a Presbyterian minister, but I am certainly not unique. Most of our nation's founding fathers were homebrewers, and George Washington in particular was known to brew an excellent porter or stout. Today and for at least the past few centuries, some of the most renowned beer in the world is and has been brewed by Catholic Monks in Belgium. The great protestant reformer Martin Luther...was not a homebrewer. But his wife Katharina was, and I'm told by at least one historian that Luther considered this to be one of her most admirable traits. Going back even further, Jesus himself was on at least one occasion known to have crafted an excellent beverage for a wedding. Since he was from the Mediterranean, we homebrewers understand his choice of wine, although we can safely assume that had Jesus been invited to a Texas wedding he would have made a nice Amber Bock beer of some sort.

So what in the world does all of this have to do with today's scripture passage? I'm getting there, I promise. I needed to tell you *what* my hobby is, in order to get past that to the more important part. It's not the *what* but rather the where, when, how, and with whom that connect us to today's passage. I began homebrewing about four years ago, when I got to seminary. The first time I brewed, the strong smell of barley filled our entire apartment, much to Amy's dismay, and I was thereafter banished to the basement. Which turned out to be a great place to brew. It turned out to be a great place just to be. The friends I brewed with on a regular basis became some of my best friends at seminary, and we brought comfortable chairs, posters, snacks, and music down to the basement every time we brewed. It was an escape from the pressures of classes, papers and exams. It was meaningful work to do with our hands, that didn't require too much of our heads. Most of the time, I brewed with friends, but some of the time I brewed alone -- and even then it was meaningful, relaxing, a retreat set apart from the world. It was my man cave.

How many of you know what a man cave is? Man caves have become a pretty popular phenomenon lately, although as both of today's scripture passages will demonstrate, the idea has been around for a long time. One website defines a man cave as "a dedicated area of a house, such as a basement, workshop, or garage, where a man can be alone or socialize with his friends. Paula Aymer of Tufts University calls it "the last bastion of masculinity." If you do a Google image search on man cave, you'll find thousands of pictures like the one on the cover of today's bulletin, rooms furnished with pool tables, wet bars, large flat screen televisions, sports paraphernalia, and a conspicuous lack of floral arrangements and (often) good taste."

Now, to be fair, I did ask several women this week if there was a female version of the man cave. A few named "the bathtub" or "the sunroom" as possible equivalents, but when I asked my wife Amy if women had anything like a man cave, she said: "Why, yes, we do. It's called the rest of the house!" It's nice to have things put into perspective for you sometimes.

And so let's turn (at last) to today's gospel passage in Mark chapter 6. You may remember that in last week's text from earlier in this same chapter, we saw Jesus send out his disciples among the towns and villages to proclaim the gospel and heal the sick. They went door to door, house to house. I think I may know how that feels. One summer, when I was 16, for a summer job here in El Paso my friend John Feighery and I went door to door to almost every single house on the West side, and a few neighborhoods on the East side too. Our good news wasn't nearly so good--we were hanging little plastic bottles on doorknobs for a local water purification company. At the end of every day, we were bone tired. Galilee in the Middle East may actually have been hotter than El Paso in the summer, but I'm almost positive El Paso has more hills. After about two months we decided no amount of money was worth that much walking, so, tired and dejected, we turned in our bottles and quit. I can imagine how tired and dejected the disciples must have felt. When in verse 30 the disciples gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught," I suspect some of their comments were not appropriate to quote in Mark summarizes. Jesus, of course, immediately recognizes the state they are in. Listen carefully to the words he says to them. They are words we all need to hear: "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."

Rick Morley, an Episcopalian priest who has written about this passage, divides Jesus' instructions into four parts--I will follow his lead:

  1. Come away -- this is not a request, for the disciples or for us. It is a command to leave behind the worlds that we are so caught up in. Note also that Jesus doesn't say "Go away" but rather "Come away"--the implication is that we go with Jesus, we follow Jesus, for only he can truly lead us out of the messes we get ourselves into.
  2. To a deserted place -- this of course, is Jesus' man cave. Or woman cave. Or whatever else you want to call it--for Jesus, and for many early Christians, it was often a wilderness, a literal desert. In the Old Testament, Moses goes into the wilderness to encounter God as burning bush. The Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years, learning to follow God. Elijah hears God in the silence of the cave to which he retreats in the wilderness. John the Baptist goes into the desert to preach, and there he encounters the Messiah. And of course, Jesus, at the end of 40 days of nights in the wilderness is ministered to by God's angels. The point here? It's hard to encounter God in the noisy city among the busy crowds. Come away to a deserted place.
  3. All by yourselves -- while this phrase certainly supports the previous one--get away from the busy crowds--notice that it is plural: yourselves. You can be "alone" with a few friends. Sometimes Jesus does go off by himself, and that's a good thing. But sometimes it's with the disciples or others. Before his greatest ordeal, the crucifixion, and his greatest miracle, the Resurrection, Jesus goes off to be alone in the garden of Gethsemane, and he takes with him the three disciples he loves the most: Peter, James and John. So if you're wondering what was in Jesus' man cave, it wasn't a big screen TV (although I'm sure that would have been just fine, too). It was his friends. Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves...but leave room on the sofa for some buddies.
  4. And rest for a while -- this is the final phrase, the climax of the instruction, and likely the hardest part. We long for rest, we talk about how great it is, how much we need it...but we aren't very good at doing it. I can hear it now (because I've said it to myself many times): "Sure, rest. That'd be great, but I still have all this stuff to do! If I rest, it won't get done." Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "and only when you have finished the task I've given you, then rest for awhile." He also doesn't say, "Ok, James, Judas, Andrew, and John, you guys rest, but Peter, your job is too important. You keep going." But in case you think you might be the exception, I'll ask this: raise your hand if you think your "to do list" is more important than the one that the Son of Almighty God gave directly to his disciples while here on earth? Ok, good, we're all in the same boat then. No excuses. Rest. For awhile--there will always be work to do, and Jesus always calls us back to that work again. But he also calls us to rest. Find your man cave. And just rest. Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for awhile.

Those who do not rest, who cannot withdraw from work and society because they fear dropping the ball, falling behind, or losing control, miss out on a pretty amazing pattern in Jesus' ministry. I would challenge you, sometime this week, to pick up your bible and flip through the gospels looking for Jesus' greatest miracles, and his greatest teachings. We spend a lot of time on these, but often skip the parts in between. So when you find Jesus doing something remarkable, look what happens immediately before or afterwards. It's almost always the same thing:

  • Matthew 14:23 - After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
  • Mark 7:24 - Jesus left that place and entered a house and did not want anyone to know it.
  • Mark 1:35 - Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
  • Luke 6:12 - In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.
  • Luke 5:16 - ...crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
  • Mark 3:7 - Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake...
  • Matthew 14:13 - When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.

And countless others. I would like to suggest that Jesus' greatest accomplishments were born in the wilderness. Without solitude in the desert, there would be no feeding of the five thousand, no sermon on the mount, no walking on water, healing the sick or raising the dead. If you don't want to drop the ball, if you don't want to fall behind or lose control...then you, especially you, NEED to follow Jesus into the wilderness, and rest.

For me, that's brewing in the basement with friends. Maybe for you it's tinkering on an old car in the garage, or baking cookies with your kids on a Saturday afternoon, or curling up with a good book in a big cushioned chair. Maybe it's riding a mountain bike early in the morning on a desert trail, or a Friday-night barbecue with your neighbors, or fishing on a lake with your grandchildren, or just a long-distance conversation on the phone with someone you love. Whatever your rest is, I encourage you to take it. I also encourage you to make Jesus a part of it, through prayer (and I do believe you can pray with the labor of your hands) or make Jesus a part of your rest by following his example and sharing your rest with others in compassion and love. All rest is good, but there is nothing better than the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Or as Augustine of Hippo put it: Lord, our hearts are restless...until we rest in you.

Thanks be to God.