As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Come Away to a Deserted Place, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday July 22, 2018. The Reading was Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
The many things we need to do
What’s your standard response to the question, “How are you?” Do you say “I’m Good” or “I’m Well”, or “Fine” or something else? In a couple of weeks, Liesl and I will be at Officer’s Fellowship, which will be the first one for the whole of Victoria division. Apart from being much larger than normal, and fairly crazy as a result, I suspect that with a number of catch ups, there will be the question asked “How are you” and more than a few responses of “I’m Busy.”
In today’s society, “Busy” is almost becoming a default response. Our default responses are the way that we want to be seen. How often have you responded “I’m Well” when you have a cold? And as such, “Busy” is seen as something we want to be. If we are busy, we have many things on the go. If we’re busy, we’re doing lots of things. “Busy” seems to be the ideal, much better than “oh, nothing much”
And as Christians, there are lots of things that can keep us busy. You all know that I am passionate about Social Justice, and there are many causes that I am more than happy to talk about. I can talk for days on end about rights for refugees and asylum seekers, and the biblical reasons we should be welcoming them into our society. I’ve brought up a number of times about how we should be seeking reconciliation with Aboriginal people. Similarly, I am passionate about the environment that God has entrusted to our care, and so we should be doing everything we can to reduce, reuse and recycle. That we should be looking towards energy sources that are renewable and don’t put a strain on the earth’s resources. But I’m also passionate about Fair Trade, and ideally we should be making sure all our tea, coffee, chocolate, clothing, and all other things are sourced ethically, and making sure the people producing it are getting paid a fair wage.
But there are many other things that we should be passionate about as well. As we are part of The Salvation Army, we have a historical passion for working with the poor. We are also busy with working with those that are trapped by addiction, whether that’s drugs, alcohol, or gambling. And with those affected by Domestic Violence. And with the homeless.
And in all of that, as part of the Evangelical church, we have a distinct call to be passionate about sharing the gospel, about introducing people to Jesus and bringing them to faith.
Really, there is no reason why we should not be busy as Christians.
With so many things pulling our attention, how can we focus?
But with so many things that we could and should be doing, it can be hard to decide what we should place our focus on.
Do we put our focus on the homeless, but neglect our duty to the Asylum Seekers? Do we focus on Fair Trade, but neglect those trapped by addiction? Do we focus on caring about the environment, but neglect to focus on sharing the gospel?
Do we do one thing and do it well? Or do we try to do all of it, a sort of “Church of all trades”?
Ideally, we would focus on only the important things, but it is hard to argue that any of these things are less important. Why are the lives of refugees more important than the homeless? They’re not. They are equally important issues. Why should druggies get more attention than the time we spend spreading the word of God? They are both equally important.
If it were a matter of choosing between an important thing, say, Caring for the environment, and an unimportant thing, say, whether our walls are painted Arctic White or Heritage White, then it would be easy for us to decide where our time, attention and efforts should be focussed. However, when it is between two equally important issues, then finding that focus can be difficult to do.
Jesus calls us away to a deserted place
Jesus’ disciples were in a similar situation. There was so many important things to be doing. Jesus had commissioned the twelve disciples to head out on mission. Heading out in pairs, they went out to spread Jesus’ message to all who would hear it. They proclaimed that all should repent, they cast out demons, and healed the sick. And when they came back to Jesus, they were still busy. They didn’t even have time to eat, because they were recognised and asked after for all sorts of things.
Jesus recognises this, and tells them to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Jesus recognised that there are times when we are busy. But if we stay busy for too long, we lose our focus. We can’t decide what’s important or not, and we lose our connection to God.
So Jesus decides to try and model this life to his disciples. That it’s important to step away from everything, and spend some time in the desert.
What are the three rules in real estate? Location, Location, Location. For Jesus and his disciples, the desert was supposed to be the ideal place.
In the desert, there’s no noise besides the noise that we make. No presence except our presence. No company except the company of the plants and animals.
In the desert, there’s no peace, unless it is inside our hearts. There’s no fear, unless our heart lives in fear.
In the desert, we hear the words we speak, the silence we produce, and the movements that we make. We recover our hearts back from our rushed lives.
It doesn’t have to be the actual desert – though it can be. But any place where you can switch off, can become your deserted place.
When I was in Devonport, I had found this wonderful place. It was in Latrobe, a 15 minute drive from home. It was a little native forest area, with some park furniture put in there, that bordered the Mersey River. About once a month, I would spend a morning there. I’d get there at 9am after dropping Annabelle off at child care, and I would spend the morning playing praise and worship songs on my guitar, spending time in prayer, and focusing on the month ahead. I needed that time, because otherwise I would become to focused on the busy, and not focused on God.
It wasn’t a desert. It was a forest. But it was a place where I could be alone – just me and God.
I’m still looking for that place here. Sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes, not so quickly. If you’ve got any suggestions, please let met know. But while a separate physical location can be helpful, it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all develop a habit of removing ourselves from the busy. It could be a whole day once a month, or going on a retreat once a year, or actually spending time in silence with God every morning.
Whatever it is, we need to focus on the important thing – the most important thing of all – God.
When the busy comes, we can focus on what is important
When we develop that regular time of retreat and reflection, we are able to connect with God on a much deeper level.
I’m doing some research for my Masters Degree at the moment, and I’m finding it very interesting as I delve into the spiritual practices of The Salvation Army in its early days. From very early on, it was expected that all Salvationists should have quiet time every day, and the development and training of officers focused more on developing them spiritually, so that they could pass that training onto the soldiers under their care. It’s important, and we do need to ensure we focus on it.
I know from my own discussions with you, and from various survey’s we’ve had you fill out, that a lot of you are very good at your own private devotionals. You are great at reading scripture, and spending time in prayer every day. So don’t hear what I’m saying as “you’re doing it wrong”, or “you’re not doing enough”. Think of this more as an extra tool in your spiritual tool box.
You see, the time away that Jesus was advocating wasn’t so that the disciples could go and read the Torah – that was done in the temple. And it wasn’t so that the disciples could go and spend time in petitionary prayers – that is, prayers asking for something. Such as, asking for God to heal someone, or asking for God to be presence in a particular situation. What Jesus is advocating to his disciples is to just spend time in the presence of God.
When we do that, when we spend time just sitting in the presence of God, we find that we have a better sense of focus, and we are able to choose what it is that we need to be focusing on. We find that we can spend periods of being busy, because the connection we get with God in this time apart continues on through our busy-ness.
Spend some quiet time with Jesus
So I encourage you to spend some quiet time with Jesus. Let Jesus take you away to that deserted place. Maybe it’s a spiritual retreat week. Maybe it’s a morning in the forest. Maybe it’s half an hour of silent meditation every morning. Whatever it is, come away to that deserted place, all by yourself, and rest a while. Rest with Jesus. Rest at the feet of God. And be encouraged that the quiet time fuels the busy time. The stillness fuels the active.
And so, I’m going to invite you to come away and rest. To come and spend some time sitting in the presence of God. I have a little liturgy that we will share in as we prepare ourselves to sit in some silence. If you’re not used to this, this might be a bit uncomfortable. If you’ve never done this, it can be quite confronting. And that’s ok. If you’re finding it hard to still your mind, the words of reading will be on the screen, and you might like to slowly read through that in your head, to see what words stand out to you. Or you might choose to have a repeated phrase that you use to focus your thoughts: one I often use is “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom”. Or maybe you might use “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
When the time is up, you will hear a soft gong, and I will lead us through the Lord’s prayer to close our time.