First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
July 22, 2018
Scripture: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Sermon: “Just Stop”
There are four large unpacked boxes in one extra bedroom. There are three large unpacked boxes in the other extra bedroom. I have no idea how many unpacked boxes are in our basement, we’ll just say a lot. The garden shed in the backyard is functional but it is being overused at this point. We can get both vehicles in the garage but it is far from organized or arranged. There are pictures, some to be hung some not leaning against the fireplace and a whole host of knick-knacks setting on the ledge in front of the fireplace. There are at least three stacks of important papers and a file box on the dining room table… well, that is normal, but… there is still much to do.
It is not easy to know which box, which room, what thing we might need next to pick up the urgency of unpacking again. Yesterday I decided I wanted to accomplish three things in regard to unpacking and sorting. I made a list. I stood in the middle of the garage and surveyed the project. I began. I would get one thing started and which would lead to something else drawing my attention and the next thing I knew I had three sub-projects going and making little progress on any of them.
And then there is the difficulty that comes with the fact that we are unpacked and just settled enough we are functional and the sense of urgency to get things unpack has waned. With this level of functionality, it is easy to get home from work and just sit and enjoy time together or go about our tasks as if we did not have any additional unpacking to do and let the disorder and “chaos” be. Add to that disorder and chaos of the house to other minor emergencies that pop up needing to be taken care of, which on a strange level can almost, and I said almost, become a welcome distraction from the other duties at hand. One can almost become blind and unmindful or numb to the boxes and stacks of things when they are out of the way or out of sight.
I was sitting on the patio yesterday morning with a cup of coffee pondering my “list” of things I wanted to accomplish for the day and my vision of this chaos of boxes began the expand. I began thinking about my own daily calendar, all that I needed to do, things I should be doing, and how overwhelming the calendar can become.
My thoughts turned to the current state of our country and world and the chaos of issues that bombard us on a daily basis. The objectification of women and the continued patriarchy continuing to treat them as less than (mocking the #MeToo movement.). Homophobia and the unjust perception of the heterosexual that abuses and limits the rights of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The continued demonization of immigrants and undocumented in our country (building a wall of isolation and the beating of a Hispanic man to near death with a brick… hate). The blight of racism and white privilege continuing to raise its ugly head (Black Lives Matter and the calling of law enforcement on African Americans simply for being). An administration that continues to convey untruth and vilify our allies and by all appearances seeks to build relationships and refuse to stand up to dictators and despots. Access to healthcare and insurance (stripping away needed protections and access), the shaming of the poor and cutting programs of social uplift (drug tests and limits to the use of programs), the continued targeting of faith communities and the banning of persons of particular backgrounds, the church turning a blind eye to sin and evil indiscretions in search of more power and privilege. The touting of the threat to freedoms such as protest and the displaying of such things as white supremacy and a confederate flag by one side while disparaging those who exercise those freedoms on a football field. What appears to be a potential supreme court nominee as a threat to women’s rights. And this is the short list.
I don’t have to tell you the drain this kind of environment has on those of us who are concerned with, dedicate our lives to, the kind of social justice work we believe Jesus calls us to be involved in. Yes, there are those in the church who tell us we should not be involved in politics, if we just preached the gospel, we would not be so overburdened with all this secular stuff. It is like that time the disciples told Jesus, “Jesus, quit preaching the politics and the secular…all this “Social Gospel” stuff and get back to the real gospel.” Just kidding…that’s not in there. I have heard that critique by colleagues and other Christians though… let me just say this, and I suspect you’ll hear me say it again over the next 20 years…
If there is no Social Gospel, there is NO Gospel at all!
If Jesus was concerned with anything, he was concerned with the human rights, dignity, worth, and value of all persons. Not just within the walls of the community of faith… but in the rest of their lives as well.
And as I sat there on the patio and pondered all that is wrong with the world… the waters of frustration, anger, heartache, rage, disheartened-ness, overwhelmed-ness, swelled within me. This work of justice making and the social gospel is difficult work. I think I quoted this colleague a few weeks ago… when she told me, and this was six or seven years ago, not during our current environment, “The work of social justice in a world of injustice is soul-sucking work.” And I believe in the current state of our society and culture it is even more so.
Just when I think it can’t get any worse I wake up the next morning and I am wrong. It is like that saying I saw some time back, “Quit saying it can’t get any worse, some people are taking that as a challenge.” The work and task of our ministry and passion is soul-sucking work.
I lift all this up this morning not to depress you, but to encourage you. To encourage you in the context of our scripture passage this morning. Jesus too, was immersed in a society and culture, in an environment rife with oppression, injustice, violence, and bigotry. The disciples have just come back from their mission trip telling him everything they have been doing. And he invites them, because he knows what difficult work this can be, to come away to a deserted place to rest. That is not an easy request for those who are passionate about social justice work… because there is so much to do, so many people hurting, so many inflicting pain and oppression on others, how can we afford to rest. And it isn’t just those providing care, it is those in need and flocking to places of compassion and care for help.
And we can become victims of our own work via compassion fatigue, where it all becomes too much, too distracting, too overwhelming and we burn out or worse. Compassion Fatigue has been studied and is a real issue with those inundated with compassion focused images and work.
In a Psychology Today article, July 20, 2014 a work cited Dr. Amit Sood, in his book, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living shared symptoms of possible compassion fatigue –
• Feeling burdened by the suffering of others
• Isolating yourself
• Loss of pleasure in life
• Difficulty concentrating
• Physical and mental fatigue
• Bottling up your emotions
• Increased nightmares
• Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
• Poor self-care
That is the short list. But that is why it is important to take care of yourself… go to a deserted place for restoration and transformation.
Jesus tried to take them to a place of rest… he said, “Just stop.” Okay, that’s a paraphrase.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He 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. And, they did. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
However, many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As 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. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
It is difficult work, this Gospel, this Good News… and there is something in me that believes, the powers that be… the empire and its supporters are hoping… if they throw enough at us… we will throw our hands up in the air and surrender, just give up. It is soul-sucking work… and every once in a while… the disciples, even Jesus the one whom we follow… and we… need to Just Stop! Go off to a deserted place, even if it’s your patio… and rest. Disconnect. Turn off the news. Turn off your computer. Turn off your phone. Leave the paper in the driveway and rest.
But it is not just about rest, it is also about transformation, clarity, focus, and renewed vision. In his book, Eager to Love, the Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, Richard Rohr speaks of this stepping away stepping outside, outside of not only the social consumption and production of society but also outside the church, a time of, what he calls, “Living on the Edge of the Inside,” the edge of both the inside of culture and the community of faith, meditation and centering, a time of inner peace that give us a “connection with the Divine so we can participate in the work of social justice with peace and enduring passion.”1
I was watching an episode of the new remake of the old television series, Lost in Space, last evening and one of the main characters in an impossible situation said, “I need to step back and look at this from a different perspective.” Sometimes, in our work of the Gospel, and especially now, we need to take times where we step back and look at things from a different perspective. A popular phrase of the last few years has been, “To go up to the balcony to view the organization, the community of faith…” which I believe is helpful… though I wonder in Rohr’s interpretation of Assisi, if he would say… no, the balcony is not enough. You need to get out of the building. It isn’t just about seeing from a new perspective, it is about transformation of self and the community and world.
I believe, to some degree this is the work of the progressive church, the progressive community of faith. How do we step out, step away from the way we have always done things, not just freshen tradition to make it more relevant and thoughtful… but of what do we need to let go? Phyllis Tickle, progressive theologian and teacher talked about an every 500-year church garage sale. She tracked history and said about every 500 years the church, the community of faith goes through another transition and to some degree steps back, looks at itself, and determines a new set of doctrines and traditions needing to be hauled out to the curb to be carried away. It is not easy work to discern what those things are needing to be carried to the curb. She said, before she died a few years ago, the church is in the midst of one of these 500-year transformations now. It is a daunting difficult task, this work of the gospel.
Rabbi Tarfon in the Jewish Talmud was recorded to have written… “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.“ Rabbi Tarfon, Pirke Avot 2:21 It is why we need to do the work of the community of faith, do the work of Jesus, the unrelenting ministry of the Social Gospel to which we have committed ourselves. And when the time comes, when we hear the inner voice, or the voice of a friend and colleague who says Just Stop for a bit, when the burden begins to feel too heavy, when the waters are up to our necks, when we are drowning in compassion and passion… take some time. Step away. Step out. Just Stop.
I’m going to give us a challenge this week. Take at least an hour… if you can two… or if you can a half a day, or if you really want to stretch yourself… a whole day… turn off your phone, your computer, the television, the radio, don’t open the paper… and use that time to meditate, work in the garden, write in a journal, pray, read the scriptures or other devotional, read other religious texts. Spend the time seeking out new words, new ways, new insights, new understandings… and share with me, if you wish, via email or face-to-face conversation, or letter, or social media… what that experience was for you…
And in the midst of this difficult mission of the gospel, KNOW THIS… in this troubled time… You are not alone. God is with you. We are together. And there is nothing, nothing that can separate us from the love of God or the bonds of love for one another. Nothing! You are not alone. Seek transformation and new insight, a new way into a world where we make justice happen, love as God loves, and be the very reflection of God in the world.
May it be so. May it be now! Amen.
1 Rohr, Richard (20140. Eager to Love, The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Cincinnati, Ohio, Franciscan Media.