Mark 6. 30-34; 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 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. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 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.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And 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.
In the Bible you can find different types of sermons. Some are positive and upbeat and some are angry. Today’s sermon is neither of those. Today we are in the category called lament. Lament is what people of faith do when their faith fails them; when something happens that leaves us deeply saddened or deeply troubled and we know we have to do something but we don’t know what; and we don’t know if anything we do will help.
Lament is hard work, as you all know because you’ve all done it a time of two. It is hard, but necessary, work. So bear with me, please, for the next few minutes. I am aiming for a good place.
I once read that if you want to take down one of these big old barns we have all over the Wisconsin landscape, you cut a 12” square hole in the roof and stand back. The wind and the rain will take it from there.
Not all at once, of course, but little by little. The rain will soften the edges of the hole and the wind will nibble away at the shingles. The water that falls through will begin to soften the 2” thick oak floor. Rot will set in and, in time, creep over to the grand 12” x 12” posts that hold up the 12” x 12” cross beams supporting the roof. The base of the posts will become a bit mushy. Encouraged by the incessant wind, they will begin to lean, ever so slightly.
You won’t even notice it at first. But one day you will be walking by and you will see that the whole barn appears to be heading just a little down hill. The rain will fall, the wind will blow, the posts will grow mushier. And right about the time you get used to the lean and have stopped even looking at it, Mother Nature gives one great blow and the whole thing crashes down.
It is very disheartening to me to watch as all these once proud and straight buildings fall to neglect. I think about the blood, sweat and tears that went into their construction. I think about the dreams of the farm families who built them; remembering how they filled their mows with hay, cared for the animals living below, provided for their families and fed their neighbors. I think about the loss of a way of life signaled by these slowly collapsing structures.
And then I think how fitting these falling barns are as a metaphor for what is happening all around us. Some decades ago, I’m afraid, somebody cut a 12” hole in the fabric of our society. And since then the rains have fallen and the winds have blown and the rot has set in. Now this whole social edifice we live in is dangerously close to falling over.
The consequences of this damage are becoming ever more clear to anyone with eyes to see.
The earth’s climate is in chaos. Nature is being destroyed at a frightening pace. Our politics is in shambles. Truth in our public conversation has become an antique notion. Our society is becoming nastier; more divided than ever. Some days it seems everyone in the world hates and fears everyone else. This is true whether you walk the halls of power or sit down for coffee at Sjolinds.
And it is getting worse.
“…despair for the world grows in me” Wendell Berry wrote, “and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be…” 
This week, in the midst of all the other chaos, it is this fear for our children’s lives that has taken over most of our thoughts.
This social fabric—the thing that holds us together as families and churches and neighborhoods and nations even, is fraying at every seam. Gaping holes have opened up and the storms are pouring through. As usually happens in times like these, the effects fall most heavily on the children.
On migrant children crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, their parents seeking a better life in Europe. On Central American children ripped from their mother’s arms at our southern border by a cruel, mean spirited, unnecessary government policy.
And now on our own children in Mt Horeb.
In the last two weeks, three of our children—one as young as 10, have taken their own lives. Six in the last nine months. Several more have attempted to do so and, thankfully, were not successful. We have felt the impact of these tragedies even here, in our little community.
Something has gone wrong. Whatever it is that holds us together and keeps us alive is failing us. There is a climate of fear and uncertainty. And the feelings of loneliness—of being disconnected from everyone and everything that matters have filtered down now to our young ones. The consequences, we are seeing, are horrendous. The pain and disruption these families are feeling is beyond description; and for a long time at least, will be beyond healing.
We need to do something. We all, and each, must do something before another child is lost.
The gospel story we have for this morning suggests a possible way forward.
Shortly after the traumatic death of John the Baptist—the story we read last Sunday, Jesus begins sending his novice disciples out on a preaching and healing mission. He gives them “authority over unclean spirits”, Mark says, and the power to cure diseases. He tells them to take no provisions for their journey, but to trust every day in the grace of God and the goodness of neighbors to feed and house them.
They do just that and meet with what must have seemed to them surprising success. “They went out and proclaimed that all should repent—(that all should open their minds to this new thing). They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”
Mark, in his typically understated way, says that on their return, “the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught”. Now you know this couldn’t have been a quiet conversation over a cup of tea. These guys would've been seriously buzzed— adrenaline high. They would have been talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences, asking questions, feeling confused and excited, wondering who they were becoming and what has going on. They were seeing some seriously different, seriously weird stuff. The world wasn’t what it used to be and they were not equipped to handle it.
Jesus’ response to their confusion was precious, and timeless. Right here, it seems to me, is where the story speaks to us in Mt Vernon and to our neighbors in Mt Horeb. “He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’”
The language is important. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Notice he doesn’t say “Go away by yourself and rest”. He isn’t telling his disciples to go take a nap.
“Come away”, he says, meaning with me, “and all of us together will rest”.
Sleep is important. The older I get and the less sleep I’m able to get the more I know this is true. Sleep is good. But rest is better. The disciples don’t need sleep, they need rest. They need what the Bible calls “sabbath”.
As Moses describes it in the book of Exodus, sabbath rest is almost never a solo experience. Sabbath is, rather, practiced with your family, your neighbors, your live stock even, and with the immigrant strangers who have moved into your town. Sabbath is a time to slow down, to talk, to get better acquainted, to see what’s going on—especially to see those things, sometimes very important things, we miss by living too fast, 24/7, week after week.
“Come away by yourselves and rest”.
Jesus is inviting his disciples to take time to talk with each other; to process all the strange, confusing, uncomfortable things that were going on. He wants them to see each other, get to know each other, to become helpers to each other.
Because he knows that if they are to survive the world of the future, they will need each other.
Ever wonder why Jesus had 12 disciples and not 1200? It’s because you can care about 12 people. You can really get to know 12 people. You can’t care, certainly not in the same way, about 1200.
I have 149 friends on Facebook. A mere pittance compared to some of you, I know, but a lot for me. Most of these 149 I don’t know well and don't see often. Many of them I’ve never met. The truth is I don’t contribute much to their lives through Facebook. Facebook creates the illusion of friendship, not the real thing.
You don’t log into Facebook to rest. You may have noticed that.
So, what if, once in a while, we turned it off. What if we followed Jesus away from the hustle and back into the real world where real people find real rest together?
What if we became friends with the real person in the next pew? Or even better, the person next door or across the street or around the corner from us? What if we got together regularly to talk and to eat; to get acquainted and to ask questions and to listen—especially to listen?
What if those of us who are old enough played Gramma and Grandpa to the kids next door whose other grandparents live in the next town or across the country. What if you younger folks were their second moms and dads or their surplus brothers and sisters? What if the struggling young girl around the corner trusted you enough to tell you what she could never tell her parents—that she is out of hope, holding on by her bloody fingernails? What if you could save the life of a bullied teen who no longer believes things are going to get better; and who knows where his father keeps a gun?
What if the tired parents two houses down knew you well enough to ask for a couple of hours of respite care for their over stimulated kids so they could get away together and rest awhile? What if the neighbor across the back fence knew you well enough that you could lean over that fence and say, “I’ve got this problem and I don’t exactly know what to do”?
The fabric of our community is fraying; coming apart at every seam. We are losing our children. We have to do something.
A lot is being done by our schools and social workers and mental health professionals. But this isn’t their fight alone. We too have work to do; perhaps the most important work.
I’m suggesting our work can best be done through the practice of sabbath. “Come away by yourselves, together, and rest awhile”, Jesus said.
The best rest, the most healing sabbath, is always taken in the company of family and neighbors and friends—neighbors becoming friends. So maybe we start by paying more attention; by noticing our neighbors and letting ourselves be noticed by them; by the practice of being neighborly.
We do this already, of course. But we need to do this more intentionally; more publicly. And we can. After all, aren’t we followers of the ultimate Neighbor? Haven’t we seen, over and over and over again, the neighborliness of Jesus?
Let’s give it a try. It may be too much to say that the survival of the world depends on what we do next; though I suspect it does. It is not to much to say the survival of our children depends on what we do next.
 Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
on summer hiatus