Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Balancing Act of Life

Mark 6:30-34

 We pick up today where we left off two weeks ago.  Two Sundays ago we looked at Jesus sending out his Twelve Disciples to do ministry on their own.  Last Sunday, we looked at the interlude in Mark 6 where Mark talks of the death of John the Baptist.  Now we are back to the main story line, the ministry of the Twelve.  

 They were very successful in their ministry.  And success brings new challenges.  Sometimes being successful brings more challenges than failing.  I think it might be the reason that many churches resist the idea of growing.  Because if your church grows; it brings new challenges.  It’s easier just to limp along as you are than to grow.  

 Jesus’ popularity grew through the ministry of the Twelve.  This was still in the early phase of Jesus’ ministry when he was very popular with the common people because of his healings and his miracles.  It was only later, when Jesus began to challenge people’s religious notions and when he made declarations about the cost of discipleship, that the crowds thinned out.  

 But for now, more and more were coming to see him.  And it was wearing on the disciples.  It was wearing on them so much that they were not even taking the time they needed to care for the most basic needs of their bodies.  They weren’t eating, they weren’t sleeping.  

 Jesus knew when to get away and how to get away.  He did it frequently throughout his ministry.  Mark 1:35 tells us how, after Jesus’ first miracle, he snuck away early in the morning to a lonely place to be in prayer.  And that pattern repeated throughout his ministry.  After being heavily involved in ministry, he made the time to get away and be refreshed.  

 Life needs balance.  If we are always giving ourselves away to others, it will not be long before we wear ourselves out.  Jesus knew to seek out times of personal renewal.  The disciples apparently did not yet know how to do this.  They were so busy with the needs of others that they were not caring for their own needs.  

 So Jesus said, “Let’s go away for a while to a quiet place.”  They left by boat, heading for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  They were on the western shore of Galilee, the region of Galilee.  They were going to the northeastern shore of the lake, which is the part of the lake that did not have a significant population.  

 It was a wilderness region.  And if you read through the Bible, you will often see that wilderness becomes a place of refuge and healing and renewal in Scripture.  When God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he gave them rest in the wilderness of Sinai.  When David was fleeing from King Saul, who wanted to take his life, he went out into the desert of Judea.  There he composed many of the most beautiful of the Psalms.  When the prophet Elijah was worn out after his contest with the prophets of Baal, when he was despairing that he was the only one still faithful to God, God led him back to the desert of Sinai to be encouraged.  When Jesus was first anointed with the Spirit for ministry, he went into the Judean wilderness for 40 days and nights to be prepared spiritually for the challenges ahead.  He frequently went back, seeking lonely places for prayer throughout his ministry.  When Saul of Tarsus became a Christian after his encounter on the Damascus road, he found himself now one of the very people he had been persecuting.  When his own life was threatened, he escaped into the Arabian Desert for three years.  Many people think it was during that time that Paul received his vision of Paradise that we talked about two Sundays ago.  

 I have also found wilderness to be a healing place.  I enjoy going on trips by myself into the backcountry.  And for many years now, I’ve been leading trips to Algonquin Park in Ontario as part of the camping program.  Algonquin has an interesting history.  Throughout the 19th century, that region was heavily logged, to the point that most of the region was completely stripped of trees.  But it was set apart as a park, the first park in Ontario.  And today, if it weren’t for the occasional piece of old, rusting logging equipment, you would never know what it looked like 100 years ago.  And I find that to be a picture of what God can do.  When we come apart from the world that wounds us, God can heal us.  

 So Jesus and the disciples left, seeking rest in the wilderness.  Their plans were thwarted though, because the crowds saw them leaving, and many rushed on ahead to arrive at the place they were going even before they got there.  But rather than being angry that his plans were thwarted, Jesus had compassion on them.  After all, the wilderness can also be a dangerous place for sheep without a shepherd.  

 Jesus demonstrated agape.  In the Greek language, there are four different words for love.  One is the love between lovers.  One is the love between friends.  One is the love between family.  And the last, the greatest, is agape love.  Agape love is self-giving

love, the love that thinks of others before self.  Even though Jesus was tired, he gave of himself.  Even thought it cost him, he gave of himself.  

 I think the story reminds us of a great truth:  If we are going to be useful to God, then we need to balance caring for our own needs and caring for the needs of others.  

 If we only think of ourselves, then we are of very little use to God.  And unfortunately, that’s all too common in our world today.  We live in a society that places so much importance on the individual and not enough on the community.  The credo of our society is “Think of yourself first.”  And the self-centered life does not honor God.

 I feel free to share some of this story because the folks in it are no longer in this world, but in one of my former churches, there was an elderly couple that I would go to visit.  The wife was blind.  But she had adapted very well to it.  She could find her way around the house easily.  She even knew which kitchen cupboards held what.  And not only that, she helped to care for her sister, who lived next door.  

 It was a good thing she could do so much on her own, because every time I went to see her, her husband never lifted a finger to help her.  All he ever did, every time I went there, was sit on the couch and watch television.  I would come to see her, and she would take me into the kitchen, offer me a drink.  She’d call her sister next door to come over and receive communion.  She’d do it all on her own.  And the whole time, her husband just sat on the couch, never said a word to me in all the times I went there.  I thought it was sad, to be honest.  Maybe he was more helpful when I wasn’t around, but I sure never saw it.  The only he seemed to care about was what was on TV.  

 We can do the very same thing in a “spiritual” way.  We can think only of ourselves and our own relationship with God.  I once heard another pastor talk about “Bible Study junkies,” referring to people who never miss worship, never miss Sunday School, never miss Bible study, never miss any opportunity to nurture their own faith.  But they aren’t doing anything to nurture the faith of others.  And I think I’ve seen some of those folks myself over the years.  If we’re going to be useful to God, we have to put the things we learn into practice.

 But on the other hand, if we never think of ourselves, if we only think about others, we burn out and become useless in another way.  

 The very first commandment of God in Scripture, given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, was to take care of creation.  We call that stewardship.  And one of the things that we need to steward is ourselves.  We need to take care of ourselves.  If we don’t, eventually, we won’t be of use to anyone because we’ll be dead.  And there are people in our society who are so invested in caring for others that they are wearing themselves out.  

Sometimes we hear about “Caregiver Fatigue.”  It’s the blessing and curse of modern medicine.  Medicine allows people to live longer.  Things that would kill a person 100 years ago often do not now.  But often we live in a state where we depend heavily on others.  And sometimes, those who are caring for others become so overwhelmed by it that they begin to break down.

It happens in other ways:  a parent caring for your children, a clergyperson, caring for the needs of a congregation.  Clergy burnout is a huge problem in the Church today.  I was ordained four years ago as part of a group of 13 pastors.  Of the thirteen of us, three have already left the ministry because of burnout in one way or another.  

The work of caring for others, whether it be as a parent or a caregiver or a pastor, is draining, if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually.  And we need to care for ourselves along the way if we want to avoid burnout.

The key is to find balance.  We need to learn the rhythm of going in to the presence of God through worship and prayer and study and then going out to the world in service.  As one author I read said, “We must balance meeting God in the secret place with meeting men in the marketplace.”

Jesus gave us a good example of this.  He was passionate about caring for others, even when it was difficult to do so.  But he also always found the time to step away from the needs of the world to be refreshed in spirit.  We would do well to follow his example.  

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