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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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COPING WITH THE COMPASSION DRAIN

July 22, 2018

COPING WITH THE COMPASSION DRAIN

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

July 22, 2018 (Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)

 

Shepherd God,
you call us into a rhythm of work and rest
that our lives may be the better for it.
So shape our leisure and our labor,
that the world will recognize us
as Jesus' disciples
and our ministry
as what you would have us do. Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He 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. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As 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.

Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And 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.

 

How do people who understand that we are created to be neighbors and care for one another in the power of God’s love deal with the constant demands of suffering people for help?  Today’s sermon invites us to deeply ponder the tension between compassionate living and leisure and how that tension affects our sense of life in God’s love and living in community with others in God’s world.  

 

The first passage (Mark 6:30-34) is an account about the aftermath of the “two by two” mission efforts by the disciples of Jesus throughout villages throughout Galilee that Jesus commissioned them to undertake at Mark 6:7-12.  We read at Mark 6:13 that the disciples “cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  At Mark 6:30, we read that the apostles “gathered around Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.”  Then we read these words at Mark 6:31:  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.

 

They had no leisure even to eat.  One consequence of being compassionate people in a suffering world is that we risk wearing out!  Suffering people are all around us.   As we develop awareness and ability to address those situations in the strength of God’s compassion, we will expend energy hearing and helping our suffering neighbors.  Compassionate living drains us!

  

Notice that Jesus directed the apostles to follow him to a deserted place for rest and leisure.   Living in the power of God’s compassionate love doesn’t mean we won’t get tired.  It doesn’t mean we don’t need sleep.  

 

God knows we need rest and leisure, meaning time and distance away from the demands of compassion.  We need time and distance away from calls for help.  We need time and distance away from fighting oppression.  We need time and distance away from the slings and arrows of resisting the powers of empire.  We need time and distance away from the oppression of mobile phones, text, email, and social media messages.  We need to get away from the work awhile.  

 

It is essential that we set aside time and distance for rest and leisure.  We must take the initiative for doing that.  Suffering will not stop while we take off.  But we must take off anyway!  

 

For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31).  Where do you go to get away from the demands of compassionate living?  When did you last take time for leisure and re-charging?  I confess to not following the “rest and leisure” example of Jesus, and I suspect I am not alone.  That is not a comfortable thought.  

 

Notice also that suffering people were waiting for Jesus and the disciples when their boat landed for what was intended as a leisurely retreat.  Before there were phones – in a word of mouth era – somehow people oppressed by illness and the absence of affordable healthcare treatment found out where Jesus and the disciples would be and were waiting for them at the retreat location!  The feeding of the 5000 occurred when and where Jesus and his disciples intended to be taking a break!

 

So the first lesson is that we need to take time and get away for rest and leisure.  But the second lesson is we need to remain ready and willing for God’s love and power to work through us even when we are supposed to be having a retreat.  God’s love and power don’t stop when we take time off.  Suffering doesn’t stop when we take time off. 

 

The second passage (Mark 6:53-56) occurred after Jesus had fed the 5000, spent a night in prayer alone, and then walked on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:35-52).  When Jesus and the disciples landed at Gennesaret, a crowd of suffering people flocked to him seeking healing from various health conditions.  Gennesaret was a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee where numerous hot mineral springs had attracted the sick and injured for centuries.  When Jesus landed, he was recognized as the prophet who had healed others, and was confronted by many people who wanted to touch him and wanted him to touch them and be healed.  

 

When we are known as people of God’s liberating love and power, people who desperately need to be loved and liberated will seek us out because they recognize their need and hope we may be God’s instruments for their liberation.  This is true even when we are trying to get much needed rest and retreat from the demands of tending to others.  

 

So, the challenge for us is how to balance our need for rest and retreat alongside the divine imperative to be people of compassion.   We need rest.  We need to retreat from where we are known to be active in order to rest and experience leisure.  Yet even when we try to get away, suffering people can find us.

 

One approach would be to say that we are on retreat and, therefore, that we really don’t want to be bothered.  I suppose we could turn off the phone, disengage from social media, disguise ourselves so we aren’t readily identified, and behave as if God doesn’t want us to attend the suffering people we see while on retreat.  

 

I get the sense that Jesus tried to do that at Mark 7:24-30 while on an intended retreat in the region of Tyre.  Jesus went there hoping to hide from the demands of suffering people.  However, a Syrophoenician woman somehow found him and begged him to heal her daughter who was tormented by a demon.   Although Jesus tried to rebuff the woman using what I would consider very ungracious language, her continued appeals for her child demonstrated such great faith that Jesus eventually relented.   

 

The truth is that we can’t escape our suffering neighbors.  It’s unrealistic to pretend our suffering neighbors only deserve our help at times and on terms that are convenient for us.  

 

Another approach is to follow the example of Jesus in this passage and recognize that suffering people need and deserve our help when they seek us out.  We may be trying to find a retreat at the very place and time a suffering brother or sister needs the compassion of God to work on their situation.  Our retreat may be the providential time and place for another person’s relief!  

 

Make time to get away.  Go away.  Rest and re-charge as best you can.  Meanwhile, recognize that your retreat time and location may be the season and site for the Holy Spirit to do liberating work for people you might not have otherwise encountered, and who might not have otherwise been liberated.  

 

When that happens, do as much as you can.  Then steal away, again, and try to find another place of rest and leisure.  Steal away, again, to another place to not be busy.  Steal away, again, to another place.  There will be another place.  Locate it.  Retreat to it.  And as you rest, know that the Spirit of compassion will give you wisdom and opportunities for rest.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018