The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: July 22, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Jesus’ says “Come away to a quiet, deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”
In most countries, people work to live, but here in America we “live to work.” And in New York, the city that never sleeps, we pride ourselves on being busy, productive members of society.
This spirit of busyness plays out in many ways encouraging cutthroat competition, excessive overworking, chaotic rushing around and of course extreme burnout. The temptation to stay busy all the time distracts and divides us from God, ourselves and one another — it drives us to believe that if we are not busy doing something, then we have no value as a human being.
And as our lives grow busier and busier, we lose sight of our humanity, more and more forgetting what it is to know and experience true grace that we are beloved by God not because of what we do, but simply because we are.
Each one of us is wonderfully made in the image of God – created with unique divinely inspired gifts to reveal and renew God’s reign here on earth. We have a part to play in making this Kingdom of God a reality. And if we are to find the wherewithal and the strength to bring God’s vision to fruition, then we must heed Jesus: “come away to a deserted place and rest awhile.”
Retreat – a practice our culture labels as weakness, defeat, failure, and inferiority is what our faith deems as vital – the place we go for solace and strength, for pardon and renewal.
When Jesus tells you to come along on a retreat, you think…yeah, ok…my schedule opens up like 2 weeks from now.
But if Jesus says, “hey come with me, I have a special treat for you.” I’d be like, for me? Ok I’m there!
If you think about the word retreat, RE-TREAT has the word treat in it. RE-TREAT means God’s saying treat yourself to something special each day and share this with God again and again and again.
Jesus knows how to do this. Throughout his life, Jesus retreats to the desert, to the wilderness, to the mountaintop, to the home of a friend, to the garden of Gethsemane — all of which prepare him for his trials on the cross.
Through the cross Jesus goes from practicing retreat in his daily life to becoming our place for retreat. Jesus is the one we can walk with each day and bring our fears, our flaws, our wounds, our joys. Spending time with Jesus, we experience a love that transcends evil and death – that breaks down the dividing walls of hostility and frees us the bonds of busyness and burnout. Jesus shows us the way of kindness, courage, and curiosity.
Retreat does not mean we surrender or flee forever from the chaos and craziness of life. Because we know life will eventually crowd in anyway! Just look at the disciples!
I mean here they are having just returned from an extraordinary, exceedingly difficult, and exhausting time of ministry. They’ve shared the good news, helped the poor, healed the sick to an oppressed community that feels hopeless under Rome’s ruthless rule. They are so busy they don’t even have time to eat!
So the disciples being good disciples actually try to follow Jesus advice to take some downtime. They get in a boat, go off to a deserted place and surprise! — the crowds follow them.
Have you ever had this happen? You actually take time out of your day to check in with God. Or you get somewhere off the map and – surprise! – life finds a way to crowd in!
Who or what is crowding your life? The news? Illness or addiction? Stress at work? Stress at home? Unemployment? Anxiety? Depression? Riding the subways?
It is the discipline of creating intentional, uninterrupted time to unplug and unwind – not just in the times of trial, but after the mountaintop moments. Even in the ordinary times of day-to-day living. Retreat is for all times. Say “no” to the spirit of busyness and take time to rest, reflect, wrestle with and reclaim who you are as God’s beloved. You may not feel a difference at first — but over time, it will transform your life.
If you have time for a long weekend at a monastery or retreat center – great! If all you have is 10 minutes a day – great! No matter where you go or how long you have, it is worth it. It’s practicing not doing it perfectly that matters.
For you it might be going for a walk, sitting on a park bench, taking a bath, using a prayer app on your smartphone like Pray as You Go or reading our Summer Psalms series. It could be listening to music. Coming to church.
What is your quiet, deserted place? Where do you go, what do you do to check in with Jesus?
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. (attributed to Oscar Romero)