In February of 2005 I went off to a deserted place.
It was a locale that many people would have dreamed about going to and wished that someday they may be able to make the trip. However, for me it was a deserted place because those that I loved and cared for were not with me. You see, it was a work trip, or at least paid for by my employer at the time. This deserted place that I speak of was St. Marteen. I will admit that it was gorgeous, and once my stomach went back to where it was supposed to be after I thought we were going to plunge into the ocean when we landed, I took time to enjoy the Island.
This deserted place also provided the opportunity for me to reflect and discern the future. It was in this deserted place that I heard God speaking to me and the call to come and be part of Jesus’ flock. I would say that I was Christian before this, but it was in this time away that I heard God calling me to become engaged in a church community. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be standing here preaching to you as a called and ordained minister in the ELCA.
In our gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus calls the disciples off to a deserted place so that they may take the opportunity to rest. This is not just a sabbath for them. This is an opportunity for them to reflect on everything that Jesus has called them to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, so that they may bring healing to those with unclean spirits and anoint with oil.
This was not easy work, and I am sure that the stories that they had to share with Jesus when they returned were amazing. Imagine sitting in that close circle of disciples and hearing of everything that took place over the period of time interacting with the sick and bringing hope and healing in the name of God.
We hear of Jesus going off to pray on his own and that may be what we first think that he has in store for the disciples. However, deserted places are not always good places. Jesus was tempted for forty days in a deserted place. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and desert for forty years. Deserted places are barren and quite often there are few signs of life. The deserted place that Jesus wants them to encounter is a place of contemplation. It is a place to discern their calling in the greater ministry of Jesus Christ.
The disciples must be overwhelmed. There are people everywhere that are coming to see Jesus and the moment they seem to get away, the people start following them along the shoreline and meeting them as soon as they come ashore. Truly, a sabbath may is needed. Yet within that sabbath is a time to reflect in a deserted place that does not distract.
It is so easy for us to become distracted in the twenty-first century. Probably more so then it was in the first century. We have television and the news to steer attention away from the things that matter most in our lives. We have smart phones that have seem to become our best friends because we can not step out of the house without them. On those phones are games and social media apps to keep us busy for hours on end, at least until the battery dies.
Not only do we have those modern-day distractions, as Americans we tend to overwork ourselves. We place great emphasis on the material things that can be purchased with those dollars that we earn in those jobs that we pour our time into. Did you know that compared to European countries, Americans work the most hours? Including all employed, Americans work on average 25 hours/week compared to the British at 21 hours/week, the French at 18 hours/week, and Italians at 16 hours/week. In Germany full time workers work on average 35 hours a week and received 24 paid vacation days.
A firm in New Zealand decided to shorten their work week to 32 hours/week from 40 hours/week. You know what they found? Their employees were more productive working just four days because they were more focused and intentional.
Perhaps working long hours and spreading ourselves thin is why America has been a world-leader. What is it costing us to be so? We have become fatigued and are easily distracted by the news and by the material things that are advertised around us daily. We work long hours and take short vacations. Sometimes to get away and enjoy sabbath or simply live into the deserted place and contemplate is counter-cultural.
I am sure that Jesus and the disciples were looked at oddly as well. However, that does not matter to Jesus. It does not affect his decisions or actions. Alone, in Jesus’ words to get away to a deserted place, is a sign of re-creation. It is an opportunity for the disciples to be restored in heart, body, and soul so that they can go and walk with those that need their love and compassion.
It is a chance for them to get away with Jesus and listen for how the Spirit is working in their lives, and by chance get a glimpse of what the future may hold for them. It is a promise that God will be with them in this ministry that they have been called. A calling that is overwhelming. A calling that requires them to stop and seek out a deserted place to be with Jesus and be reassured of the calling that has been placed upon their hearts.
Do you have that place that you can steal away to and be restored? A place where Jesus invites you to that is not only refreshing but also life-giving. It may be a place as simple as your favorite chair in a home office or family room. It may be a local park where you can walk and breath in the beauty of nature and experience God in all of creation. Maybe it was during your last vacation where you were able to experience a sense of peace and love that is unique to that locale.
Wherever that place may be for you, Jesus is calling you away to there. Welcoming you to your deserted place. He wants you to come away with him and be restored and be reminded of his love for you. A love that was bared on the cross in his death. And a hope that is revealed in His resurrection.
There will be times when we are overwhelmed and are required to work an unreasonable number of hours. We want to ensure that there is a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table to prevent hunger. Those are exactly the times that Jesus wants us to come away with him, even if it is just on that car ride home. It is even in these little moments that we can hear God’s love for us and the wonderful things that God has in store.
Let us pray. Restoring God, we give thanks for the calling you have placed on our lives, even if we have yet to fully discern it. May we continue to see you in the little moments and be intentional in stealing away to our own deserted places to be renewed. Amen