Come Away to a Deserted Place

Meditation on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 18, 2021

Below is a recording of our live-streamed worship service on July 18, 2021:

Here is a downloadable bulletin from the July 18, 2021 service:

      It’s good to be back with you after having a weekend off to rest and hang out with my family and our dog, Mabel, and two orange cats, Liam and Seamus. We did plenty of eating and some projects around the house and garage. For fun, I have been enjoying evening walks, sometimes in the rain, and watching episodes of the ABC TV series, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” Have you heard of it? Here are some of the cast.  

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot” (Photo by Justin Lubin/ABC via Getty Images) COBIE SMULDERS

SHIELD is an acronym for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division; it’s a fictional federal peacekeeping and spy agency in a world of superheroes, aliens, and otherwise ordinary people with extraordinary “gifts” or powers, used for good or evil, depending on who is nurturing the gifts.

        One of the most intriguing things about the show is the gradual transformation of the agents themselves, the revelation of surprising details about each one’s past and present, and their growing relationships and reliance upon one another and their director, Phil Colson. Colson, who died and was brought to life with an injection of alien DNA, leads them to do acts of justice and fulfill his call—protecting humankind from enemies without and within and keep the struggling agents going, in spite of all their hardships, losses and disappointments—which are many.

       While the story is science fiction/fantasy and not particularly Christian, I hear echoes of our faith in the overarching themes of good against evil, life battling and winning over death, and love conquering hate. Those willing to serve risk their lives on dangerous missions and place their trust in their leader and the team that values their gifts and skills, but also loves them and cares for them as people, with all their flaws and weaknesses. There are many times when, between missions, the team is gathered on the specially equipped plane they call the bus, resting, recovering and getting ready for the next adventure so that the world may be saved.

     The apostles have returned from their mission, not so unlike the agents of SHIELD. Notice the use of the word apostles— the Greek word apostolos meaning “those sent out” by Jesus in pairs to go to all the towns, villages, and cities proclaiming peace, calling to repentance, casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching about the Kingdom of God. When they return, they gather around Jesus. They can’t wait to tell him all that they had done and taught. They want him to say,“Well done, good and faithful servants.”

     And Jesus must be pleased at how they had gone out for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom and were welcomed into people’s homes, where they taught and cared for people in need, as Jesus had told them to do. But here we see him concerned about the physical and emotional health and well-being of his disciples. For he loved them all and called them his friends. He says to them now,“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” For many needy people were coming and going and the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.”

     When Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest” – he doesn’t send each person off alone in the wilderness to pray—as he will do for himself on a mountain later in the passage. He is talking about the team coming together to share with one another, rest, eat and be strengthened for the work of ministry. They’re hungry. They’re tired. They have stories to share. So they get into a boat and go to “a deserted place by themselves.”

     Only it’s not a deserted place when they get there. So much for their break! They only get the boat ride before the demands of ministry begin again. People see them going and “recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”

     Waiting on the shore for Jesus and his followers is a crowd that has grown larger than before as word got out about the healings. Jesus chooses to put aside his disciples’ need and desire for rest when he sees a “great crowd” and has  “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd ….”

      The phrase has echoes from Jewish tradition. Moses and David, Israel’s greatest leaders, were shepherds. When Moses grows old, he asks the Lord in Numbers 27:17 to appoint a successor “so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel promise a future ruler who will guide the people like a good shepherd. (Jer. 23:4; Ezek. 34:23.)

     Sandwiched between where our lectionary reading stops at verse 34 and picks up at verse 53 are two miracle stories– Jesus walking on the sea and the feeding of 5,000 men, plus women and children on the green grass. (In Palestine, grass grows in the desert only in springtime.) The “green grass” and image of the shepherd, as well as the satisfaction of wants—as all who eat are filled and there’s some leftover!—are allusions to Psalm 23!

      Crossing over in their boat, after the miracle feeding that also satisfies the hunger of the disciples and the episode of Jesus walking on the sea, they arrive at the land of Gennesaret. This is not a town or village but a 3/1/2 mile long plain on the shore of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberias and Capernaum. Jesus and the disciples are recognized, again!

People run, bringing the sick on mats to wherever he goes. And Jesus walks everywhere; his compassion is for the people of the towns and cities, villages and rural areas. His love is for all.

   Says William Placher, “Jesus acts with compassion and confidence. The people, sheep without a shepherd, take him as their shepherd. The disciples worry about scarcity and want to exclude; Jesus creates plenty and includes everyone.”

    The faith shown by those who are sick is tremendous! What a contrast to that terrible day when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by his own and prevented from healing but a few people because they did not believe in him.

     But now, the sick and their loved ones follow Jesus around and beg for the healing that only he can give….. And did you catch the way they are healed? They believe they only have to touch the fringe of his garment. The fringe are the tassels that Jewish males were required to wear at the four corners of their garments to remind them of God’s commandments—and to obey.

     Mark says, “And all who touched it were healed.”

     The word translated “were healed” is literally “were saved.” For this is a healing of body, mind, and soul.

      On Thursday night, we had our first Confirmation reunion for the class of 2020. I had been longing for a reunion ever since last October when we confirmed them during worship on Reformation Sunday. And what better “deserted place” than the country home of the Swigerts in Newcomerstown? Here they are—the four students—on Sarah and Matt’s front porch.

 It was a time to eat, talk, and laugh. No agenda—except rest and fellowship for the students, families, and their pastor and her spouse. We had grilled hot dogs with homemade coney sauce, creamy potatoes, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, and other sides and drinks. For dessert, we had four different kinds of ice cream and triple chocolate brownies.

     As we finished eating, it suddenly began to rain. It poured, soaking the children and youth who had gone outside to explore the woods on the Swigert’s property. We heard laughing and happy screaming! Ethan ran back to get the 4-wheel ranger  and rescue the girls—and their discarded shoes. Sarah ran for some towels to dry off the kids and the dog named Boone.

     Later, there was an impromptu game of tug of war on the front lawn. And lots more laughing, slipping and sliding. Some of us were relaxing on the front porch swing. 

It was a time to build up relationships and prepare us for the ministry to come. For we are in a season of healing and recovery from the pandemic and the months of separation and isolation. We are all anxious to feel more and more like we are back to normal. But during this time of healing and recovery, God can and will still use us for compassionate ministry, if we allow Him. It’s in the serving and caring for others that we often find our own healing. Dear friends, so many people in our communities are like sheep without a shepherd, crying out in need.

     I like to think of the children and youth of our congregation being like the secret agents of SHIELD.  The church is our home base, like SHIELD’s plane, a place where we receive and share God’s love and encourage one another. We love our children and youth and want to help them discover and grow their faith and God-given gifts.

    Christ sends us all out to conquer evil with good and overpower hatred with love, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our compassionate Lord sends us out to feed the hungry and meet other needs. And like the first apostles, we are sent out to bring the Spirit’s healing to bodies, minds, and souls.

     But as we seek to be faithful to serve and care for others, let us also remember the importance Christ placed on spending time alone with God—to pray and be still—and to gather together with other believers—in large and small groups—for rest, food, and fellowship, like we did with our Confirmation class reunion. When we gather is when the Spirit works in and among us to restore, renew, revive, strengthen, and bind us together for the ministry God has planned.

     May we be led to accept Christ’s invitation to come away to a deserted place– together, all by ourselves—and rest awhile— so that we might serve our God who desires the world to be saved.

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for your love shown by your Son, who was concerned for the wellbeing of his followers when they were weary from their mission, and yet saw the crowds of sick and otherwise needy people and had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Thank you for sending your Son to be our Good Shepherd, who watches over us each day and guides us on our way, filling us with your love and grace. Lord, teach us how to be quiet and still and listen for you. Heal our hurts, Lord, so that we might be your agent of healing for others. And gather us together, Lord, with other believers for rest, food and fellowship so that we are strengthened to help you save the world. In the name of our Holy Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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