Come Away With Me
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Well, maybe not that far away. It was more like 2,000 years ago in a little place called Galilee. As you remember, Jesus just sent out his disciples on their first mission field. While they are away, he received the news that his friend, his mentor, John the Baptist has just been beheaded. Now the disciples are raggedly returning from their mission.
How many of you parents have lost the coin toss and had to go pick up your kids from summer camp? It’s a long ride home as you listening to your kids sing every camp song they know in a continuous spool. And for days later you hear, “Well, at camp we use to….” and at every meal, “They never made it like that at camp!” I could arrange to send you back permanently!!!!!
I sense the disciples’ return was much like that. After all, let’s remember that these were simple folk, these disciples. Up until now, they had just been part of the scenery of everyday life. But now, now they are preachers to crowds, healers of the sick, and miracle workers! So popular have they become that, as they sail across the Sea of Galilee, the crowds are traversing the shore on foot and actually arrive before them to the other side.
They are the latest Galilean sensation and Jesus is worried. He is worried that fame will twist their souls. After all, fragile egos purr easily when stroked. He is afraid of self-aggrandizement. He is afraid that they will begin to identify who they are with what they can do; that they will begin to think this power comes from them, and them alone. And when this fad fades, as they all do, where will be their commitment to continue this mission when it is no longer popular to do so?
That is why, I believe, Mark’s gospel talks so much about desert places. The whole prelude to his gospel begins in the desert with John the Baptist eating honey and locusts. People go out into the desert to hear the great prophet’s words. He never ventures into the city.
Jesus is baptized in the wilderness and. immediately following his baptism, he spends 40 days confronting human weakness in the desert.
These temptations centered around one simple issue, the temptation to take the power God has given you and to use it as if it was your own. To use God’s power to provide bread for your own comfort, to take God’s word and twist it for your own advantage, to use your power to have the kingdom of the worlds fall at your feet. And we all have power. A gift given to us by God. And that is what worries Jesus. So he says to his disciples upon their return “Come away with me to a desert place.”
I confess that my canoeing/out-tripping days are numbered. The days of sleeping with rocks in my back and picking pine needles from my food are done. Today, it is what I call geriatric camping: going into the Park for the day and then coming back to a hot shower, and good meal and a comfortable bed.
But…. back in the day, I needed those desert places. Still do. I always remember lying in my tent after my first day out. The canoe is secure, the food pack hung, the tarp stretched over the fire pit. All is as it should be, but somehow there is still anxiousness and the invasion of loneliness. At this point, I am still a foreigner in this place. Suspicious, I twitch at every sound, a scurry here, and branch moving there. Yet somehow, as I awake from the fog of sleep which evidentially swept over me, I am aware of the song of a single loon. Morning mist surrounds me as I exit the tent and, sitting on a rock by a still lake, tea in hand, ….all things have fallen away, my soul settles, and I am one with my surroundings and I find peace.
Here, life is reduced to the essentials of life, food, shelter, weather and travel. Nothing else matters. At some time and some place in this desert, life’s questions will emerge: ‘Is all that stuff which preoccupied my mind and heart back home, the things I stress over, the things that cause me anxiety, …are they really that essential? What is my life about? Was I simply born, received an education, worked, endured, raised a family, retired, only then to die? Will anything I have done in this world mean anything to anyone 10 years after I’m gone? Am I just filling my time while on earth with ‘things to do’? Do I simply preoccupy my time? Is my gratification found in other people’s affirmation of me? Do I feel like wall paper in a group, feeling like I’m being looked through and dismissed? Why do I care?
That’s why when Jesus says, ‘Come away with me…’ he is talking about more than having Miller time or TGIF time. I think we all know that owning a heart which has experienced God’s compassion and love, and to do nothing with it, to not share that healing love with others, is… is… well, to say the least, it is ineffective. But…but the opposite is also true. To perform an act without heart, even if it is an act of justice or mission, is an empty action which can easily be twisted towards self-gratification.
What do you think colonization was all about? Good Christian people who had reduced or confined the Spirit of God to the traditions of a Church; who believed as long as they went to church on Sunday, attended confession once a month, placed their few coins covered with pocket lint into the offering basket, they were good disciples of Christ. But they had lost the heart and soul of the gospel. They believed they were religiously justified in circumnavigating the globe, planting their flag wherever they wanted, justified in dismissing the indigenous culture as heathenism, sought to convert them not only to Christianity but to the values of their civilization, all the while stripping their lands of their resources and carrying them back across the pond.
The slave trade was founded by Christians. Hitler confessed to being a Christian. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists quote the Bible. And let us not, in this desert place, seek shade from the light of truth. We walk upon this earth whose paths are of brutal destruction. We are eliminating the basic structures of the earth because of our own desires, greed and entitlement. Every tree is asking us for support, every lake is crying, every fish begging to survive, every bird is singing to remind us of our place in creation.
That is why Jesus is calling all of us to ‘Come away with him to a desert place.’ A desert place is where the roads of this world end. It is where the gospel belongs, and the heart of the gospel can be heard again. In the desert, there is no noise besides our noise and the wind.
No presence besides our presence and the Spirit of God. No company besides the plants and animals. In desert places, there is no peace until our hearts have found peace. The only fear that exists in the desert place is the fear found within our own hearts.
In desert places, we recover our hearts and perform CPR upon our souls. We hear the words we speak, hear the silence we produce. This desert can be found anywhere, in any place where you can turn down the noise of this world and listen, hear God’s word stirring within, pray, mediation, reflection, journal.
“Come away with me…” is the invitation “… to know that God is the great ‘I AM.’