18 July 2021

“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 went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.” Mark 6:31-32

I had the opportunity to rest while taking some time off these last couple weeks.  Some people would not consider a working vacation rest.  We had to deal with countless thunderstorms cancelling our night hikes, and redoing how we structured the camp wide Land and Sea games, where scout troops competed with each other in different events in the water and on land.  In the first three weeks of camp, there have not been a regularly scheduled night hike or camp wide games yet.  But what is restful is seeing the impact that the program has on the youth.  I have always loved working with the younger members of our nation in Boy Scouts, first in my home troop and then at Camp Sequassen.  It is extra special when scouts tell me that I have been special to them, that they look forward to seeing me year after year, and that I and the rest of the staff have helped them to either find hope or confidence in themselves.  It may not be restful for some, but for me, it refreshes my soul.  I know that I need to stay involved in things like this because of the way that it makes me feel, and because I feel like it is part of my call doing God’s work.

At General Synod 33, the opening worship service highlighted a message that “faith, justice, and love matter.”  Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. noted that we as a Christian people have to “keep our hands in God’s hands, staying rooted in God’s love.”  The UCC movement for the Three Great Loves was also reviewed on the first day of Synod.  The three loves that are emphasized are love of neighbor, love of children, and love of creation.  Love of neighbor is wanting justice for those who are not being given justice; it is spreading the glory of God to whom it may not yet have been reached.  It is extending forgiveness to those who we may not want to forgive.  Loving of children is giving of our time to built up our young people, enjoying it not for ourselves but because we know that we are able to make an impact on the way they see the world and on their lives in general.  At Boy Scout camp, many scouts over the years told me that I inspired them, that I made them see life in a different way, or that I was their favorite counselor.  They loved that I was willing to listen to what they had to say as if they were an adult.  I was one of few who would validate their thoughts; perhaps they were afraid to tell others who were close to them.  We each are called as part of our Christian duty to value and influence our young people who are the next generation of the faith that we carry.  Third, loving of creation is remembering to love the earth.  It is valuing our climate and protecting our resources for the next generation.  It is valuing plant and animal life both for their natural beauty, and because God created it.

One of the resolutions that General Synod passed this year was for the United Church of Christ to become “contemplatives in action.”  We can be contemplative, or thoughtful, in everything that we do.  One of the things that we can reflect on is how we live up to our Christian duty.  We need to allow ourselves time to contemplate.  Too often I have allowed the business of life to take away from the time I spend praying, reading, or reflecting, but this cannot happen if we are to truly live up to our duty.  For we are not only meant to reflect on advancing our own relationship with God; we are also meant to be contemplatives in action.  That is, we think about what we are called to do in the world.  We think about how we will move toward exploring the three great loves.  We think about how we can make an impact on this world, and how, ultimately, we are all built together for God’s kingdom so that we can encourage one another and have an impact on the world in which we live.

As we come to God as contemplatives, the author of Hebrews reminds us that we must live up to certain exhortations when we come to God.  He writes, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:22-25).  As members of the church and the church universal, we strive to be more like Jesus every day just as we strive to be closer to God.  When we do not, we are not living up to our duty as Christians.

First, we are asked to come to God with a sincere heart and genuine devotion.  Hebrews reminds us to “approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22).  That is, we have made an effort to have a clean heart which is not tainted by sin, but blessed by the grace of God’s forgiveness because we are seekers of God.  We also seek a clean heart by asking God to examine our heart and by renewing our minds so that we mediate on things of God rather than on earthly things.  Yet even more than a true heart, we come to God with full assurance.  We believe that because God is with us, God will guide us through whatever we face.  We have full assurance that God is with us through every trial and through every joy.  We are confident enough to come to God knowing that no matter what, God is on our side.  It is not a faith that one acquires overnight in most cases, but if one continues to seek God, making every effort to make one’s heart as clean as possible, ultimately devoted to God in every way, one will find God.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  In Proverbs, God tells us, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Proverbs 8:17).  We are given full assurance because the Bible tells us that as long as we are seeking God, we will find God.  We therefore remain devoted to God by spending time with God in prayer, in scripture, and in worship.  We remain devoted to God by living out our call and our duty as active Christians in a world that needs us.

Second, we are to maintain spiritual consistency.  Hebrews exhorts us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (10:23).  We have confessed to have hope in God because we have full assurance that God is always present.  Therefore, even in the worst of times, there is still hope to hold onto.  We do not waver in our faith, losing our hope from time to time.  Our hope is always constant.  Furthermore, we do not think of God sometimes and focus on other things when we choose.  We are to glorify God in everything we do and never stop striving to know God better.  The author of Hebrews encouraged the people to keep striving to understand the way of God, and was discouraged when he found that some had seemed to stop trying: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand” (5:11).  The moment we stop seeking God is the moment that we cannot find God.  Seek to have full confidence in your faith at every crossroad in your life.  Use your faith. Rely on your faith.

Third, we are responsibly called to one another.  We are to “provoke one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).  We are to attend church, or meet together, so that we are able to do this.  We are called to love our children and to love our neighbor.  We help one another become more like God as best as we are able.  When new members join the church in the UCC, the church promises to give friendship and prayers, and to “share the hopes and labors of the church of Jesus Christ.  By the power of the Holy Spirit may we continue to grow together in God’s knowledge and love and be witnesses of our risen Savior” (UCC Book of Worship).  We come to God also being responsibly called to one another.  We fulfill our duties to God by being devote, consistent, and loving.

In Mark 6, the disciples came back from working to be with Jesus.  They told Jesus about all that they had done to promote the glory of God.  Perhaps they expected to get a “Well done” from Jesus and get their next assignment.  Instead, Jesus encouraged – or commanded – them to come away for awhile and rest (Mark 6:31).  There was much work still to be done (6:56), there would always be time to rest.  We all have felt that there is never ending work to be done, but Jesus tells us that if we are truly seeking God, we will make time to rest.  We will make time to come away.  It is on our own assurances of faith that we build one another up.  It is our duty as active contemplatives to find hope in our devotion, to find faith in our consistency, and to find love in our call to one another.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”
7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”
7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:
7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”
7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;
7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,
7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
7:13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
7:14a I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Ephesians 2:11-22
2:11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” –a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands–
2:12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
2:14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
2:15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace,
2:16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
2:17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near;
2:18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
2:20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
2:21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
2:22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
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.
6:32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
6:33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
6:34 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.
6:53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.
6:54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,
6:55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.
6:56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

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