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January 23: Jesus Naps in Boats

Psalm 103:15-19

Mark 4:35-41


My wife, Kim, is bad at resting. Before we go any further, let me be clear, I ran this sermon open by her, and she endorsed it, so, don’t worry, I’m not in trouble for saying this. Anyway, Kim, she’s bad at resting. Kim is a do-er. She has to-do lists on top of to-do lists. She’s one of those people who can’t settle, who can’t just sit and breathe, unless everything is done. So, when we’re at home, when we have a day off, unless everything on the at-home to-do list is accomplished, she is restless – peace is hard to find. And, of course, the at-home to-do list is never finished. There’s always something more to be done. That’s just part of what it means to be a person. We share the household chores pretty evenly – I do the dishes and most of the cooking during the week, although Kim also does her share of cooking – and almost all of the baking – Kim does the laundry and the baking, we split the cleaning. Anyway, we each have our things to do. But, here’s the thing, when we have a day off, and those things aren’t done – because, again, they are never done, being adult is just a never-ending cycle of loading and unloading the dishwasher, filling and emptying the fridge, folding and wearing and washing and folding the clothes – but, when things aren’t completely done, or when there’s a project at work hanging over her head, Kim can’t rest. When we try to rest, she’s just thinking about all there is to be done. Even when the list appears to be complete, sometimes, when we sit down to watch an episode of TV or play a game, she just can’t find relaxation, because you know, there’s stuff to do. And she can’t feel settled until everything is accomplished. But, again, you can never accomplish everything. There’s always something more to do. It’s a vicious cycle. Now, Kim’s working on this – because, she’s a do-er, and so now one of the items on her to-do list is not to be so controlled by her to-do list. And she’s taken some real steps – finding ways to really step away from work on her day off, taking up hobbies the occupy her mind and allow her to focus on something other than the stuff that isn’t done yet. But, it’s a process. It’s a challenge.

But, here’s the thing: it’s not like I, the other adult in our home, am this master of rest. I mean, I’m better at saying “the dishes can wait for an hour while I watch TV” or “I’m going to take a nap on the couch right now,” but I’m not that great at unplugging from work. It is a real challenge for me to walk away from email or work-related messages. And, of course, because all of us carry around our jobs in our pockets on our phones, it’s so easy, even when we are on vacation, to just take a peek at email – you know, to see if anything is piling up, to respond to any emergencies. So, unless I put my phone away – on some days off I will literally hide it on another floor of the house, or on vacation I will make a self-imposed rule that I can’t check social media at all – I find myself checking in, getting drawn into work, finding it really hard to unplug, get away, and just rest.

And, why does all this matter? Well, there’s a joke I saw somewhere, where a pastor says “The devil doesn’t take a day off, and so neither do I.” And in response, someone says, “Honestly, I think you need to find a better role model.” But that’s the thing: we think we are so important, we think that we are absolutely necessary, we think that things will fall apart without us, and so, somewhere, deep down, we believe that we are not allowed to rest, that if we rest, things will spin out of control. It’s particularly a temptation if you think your job has a high purpose – so, for pastors, who believe that our work is a calling from God, that it’s holy, how do we ever take a break from it – people need to hear about Jesus! God’s work needs to be done! I once expressed that opinion – that I couldn’t take a real day off because the church needs me – I once said something like that to a mentor, and she responded by saying: “Brian, the church doesn’t need a savior. Jesus already took that job. It just needs a pastor. Stop trying to be Jesus, and just be who the church asked you to be.”

But it’s not just for pastors. How many of you, I wonder, feel like you can’t afford to step away from your job, because things will fall apart without you? In our families, how many of us worry that if we don’t engage with our kids all the time, that we are somehow failing them? Being a parent is hard enough already, and so many of us have guilt that we aren’t doing enough, that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t enough. But, again, a wise counselor once told me: one of the things your kids need is healthy parents. They need parents who model healthy patterns and who aren’t totally burnt out. So, it’s OK to take care of yourself. It’s OK not to do every enrichment opportunity. It’s OK to say “no” and just rest sometimes.

What’s my point? Well, in part, it’s this: most of us have been trained to be busy. We have been trained to find our joy, to find our contentment, in doing stuff, in completing projects, in collecting experiences, in achieving more and more. Because, in the modern world, we have been trained to believe – at a deep level, maybe so deep that we don’t even realize it – we have been trained to believe that our goodness, our value, comes from how much we do. Whether that’s at our jobs or in our homes or in our families or in our volunteer activities or in our relationships, doing stuff is what makes us matter, being needed is what gives us value. We need to be achieving in order to feel valuable, in order to feel that we are good.

And, that means – as my wife and I can show you – that means that just “slowing down” or “taking a rest” doesn’t always solve the problem. Because when we slow down, when we step off the treadmill – whether that’s because we take a day off or a vacation or we’ve just burned out and decide to run away and quit all our jobs – when we step off the treadmill, when we slow down, that often makes us feel empty, unimportant – a little voice in our head starts to tell us that we don’t matter, that we are useless, that we are good-for-nothing. How many people struggle with retirement because they feel like, now that they’re no longer producing, their lives don’t matter anymore? We’ve been taught that our value comes from what we do – and, therefore, the solution to our sense of busy-ness, the solution to the sense of being overworked, the sense that life is moving too fast – slowing down, taking a break, isn’t a magical quick fix, when we slow down, at least when we do it for very long, we go from feeling overwhelmed to feeling useless. We are trading one problem for another.

I don’t have a magical solution for this problem: this is part of what it means to be a human being in the modern world. But it is interesting to compare our situation to the story of Jesus. Jesus was, for sure, busy. He had a lot on his plate. He sometimes seems to be overwhelmed by the crowds, the multitudes coming desperate for him to heal them, to feed them, to speak the words of life to them. I mean, he was the savior of the universe, and he gave everything – even his own life – in order to save us – going all the way to death on a cross in order to bring us life. What I’m saying is, his job was more important than mine is, his job is more important than yours is. And, yet, in today’s story, where do we find him? Taking a nap. And not just any nap, a nap on a boat that is taking on water in the middle of a storm. He and the disciples have just finished a long day of teaching and healing, and they are crossing the lake to the town on the other side. As the storm rages, Jesus is asleep in the stern. The disciples are freaking out – and, so they wake him up “Don’t you care, Jesus? Don’t you care that we are going to die?” How many times have you asked that of Jesus, I wonder: don’t you care? Don’t you see what’s happening in my life? Why aren’t you doing anything?

So, Jesus wakes up. And he asks, “How do you still not get it? Why are you worried?” It seems that he’s saying “Y’all, haven’t you figured out what God is doing in and through me? Don’t you know that the One who is at work in me never slumbers or sleeps? Don’t you know that I’ve got bigger storms to face than this one, and we are going to be fine?” Anyway, it seems that the disciples do not get it, and so Jesus, with a word, puts an end to the storm. And, the disciples, in awe, ask themselves “Who is this Jesus, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” You see, here’s the thing about the Gospel of Mark – Mark loves to imply stuff, to use irony and subtlety to tell us stuff, without saying it directly. Mark never says that Jesus is God with us, but in this story, what Mark wants us to do is answer the disciples question: who can command the winds and the waves with only a word? To Mark, that’s obvious – it’s God, the one who created the waters, who calmed the chaos at the beginning of the universe and spoke it into order, who hung the stars in the sky and held back the waters in the clouds and in the seas. So, Mark is saying that Jesus is God. Full stop.

And, that’s where this gets interesting. Jesus is the one who hung the stars in the sky. Jesus is the one who keeps the earth spinning on its axis. And he took a nap. He was willing to shut it all off and become oblivious to the world. In other stories he parties – and gets mad when people interrupt him to try to get him to work – and he sneaks away to pray. How can it be that the One who creates the world, who sustains the world, who gives life to the world – how can that One take a nap on a boat that is sinking? Well, there are a lots of good answers – most of them including the reminder that God is Trinity, three persons but only one God, which means that Jesus, the incarnation of the Son of God, the Second person of the Trinity, Jesus can be napping on a boat while the other two persons are keeping the world spinning – but, if you want something less metaphysical or philosophical and more practical, part of the answer is this: Jesus, as the Son of God in-the-flesh, trusts God-the-Father perfectly. Hear that again: Jesus trusts God completely, perfectly, with his total being. Jesus knows that he can let go, that he can take a break, because he doesn’t have to keep the world spinning by himself. We can let go, we can rest, only when we remember that it’s not all on us, that we are part of a community that supports us, and that, more importantly, our God is with us, sustaining us, that it’s God’s job to keep the world spinning, not ours. We don’t have to produce, we don’t have to always be doing something. We can rest when we remember that there’s someone in the boat with us, that Jesus is riding out the storm alongside us. He won’t always stop the storms of life from raging – sometimes our boat will sink – but we can trust that he is with us, and that, in the end, he will lead us into love, into life, into joy. God is faithful, God is with us. We don’t have to do it all on our own. And that means we can rest.

When Jesus says, “Peace, be still!”, he’s not just talking to the waves – he’s not just telling the storm to stop – he’s also talking to his disciples, he’s talking to us. He’s inviting us to choose trust over worry, to choose faith over fear. And, that doesn’t mean that our work doesn’t matter. We still have important things to do, our work and our to-do lists and our striving does make a difference. We can add goodness or evil to the world, we can add peace or brokenness to the world, we can multiply justice or injustice – what we do really does matter. And, yet, we are free to rest from all of our doing, to rest from even our highest calling, because we know who holds us, we know who holds the world. True rest requires trust. Imagine a child, a child who knows they are loved and protected, sleeping in their parents arms, because they know they are safe and held in love. God invites us to that – to know that we are held, and that we may therefore rest, even when the storms rage, because we know that God is holding us.

In other words, Jesus invites us to find our value not in lives that are busy, but in lives that are full. The difference between making our time busy – doing more and more so that we can feel like we matter and push away the anxiety that if we don’t keep doing more the world will fall apart – the difference between time that is busy and time that is full is that fullness isn’t about how much you do, it’s about how rich the moment is. Imagine a class of three-year-olds playing with one of those big multi-colored parachutes, laughing with glee, overwhelmed with wonder. Imagine a child laying on their back, staring up at the stars, imagining what’s happening in distant galaxies. Imagine sitting by a lake, or looking out at a mountain, or watching the sun rise over the ocean, sipping coffee, enjoying the moment with nothing else to do except for be there. Those moments are acts of trust. They are acts of faith. They are full of goodness and beauty not because we’ve done enough to deserve them, but simply because they are rich with wonder and joy.

So, Jesus invites you to follow his example and embrace fullness rather than busy-ness, to trust in God rather than in your own capabilities, to let go and rest. But, the Good News is that even when we don’t, even when I’m stuck in my phone, struggling to walk away from work; even when my wife is struggling to rest because not all the laundry has been folded or one of her jobs wants her to do one more thing – even when the storms of life rage, whether they are storms from outside of us or storms that brew within our own hearts, our own minds, our own over-busy spirits – when the storms rage, Jesus does not abandon us. When we just can’t rest, Jesus still loves us, is still there holding us. When we are over-stressed and overwhelmed, Jesus offers us rest, bids us to be still and welcome his peace. But, even when we don’t, even when we can’t, even when rest is impossible, Jesus is still with us, riding out the storm alongside us. And that, my friends, is Good News.

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