Sermon: Finding Stillness
Mark 6: 30-34
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.
Jesus and his disciples have been traveling back and forth across that Sea of Galilee teaching, spreading the good news, healing and driving out demons. It’s hot! - really hot! - and humid! I’ve sat in a boat on that lake and traveled around Galilee, and it can drain your energy. And they didn’t have cars or motors boats.
They were exhausted, and Jesus, being the wise man he was, realized they all needed a little R & R, and the only place to find it was in a deserted place. So they headed out in that boat again, but to no avail. The crowds got wind of where they were headed and were waiting for them when they arrived.
If they were anything like me, I can only imagine how the disciples felt, seeing the crowds waiting on the shore. But Jesus, being Jesus, had compassion for them and began to teach.
In our scriptures, Mark has inserted two stories, the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water, between this one and the second reading for today. It has similarities to the first one, (maybe that’s why they were put together in the lectionary), only it focuses on Jesus’ healing powers.
Mark 6: 53-56
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.
Who do you identify with in these stories? - the crowds - many living on the edge, in need of hope for a better life (remember, they were living under Roman occupation) - in need of healing for their bodies, minds or spirits? Maybe this Jesus has the answer. Maybe he could restore them to wholeness.
Or do you identify with the disciples? - exhausted by trying to follow Jesus’ teachings and example - working to heal the broken lives they encounter - trying to spread a message that has resonated with them.
Or is it with Jesus, looking out at those crowds and feeling compassion for them - tirelessly teaching them that there is a better way - bringing them closer to God - healing those in need, yet realizing that he too needs to balance his life, to find time to fill his spirit by spending quiet time with God in a deserted place away from the crowds.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. July certainly hasn’t afforded me a quiet place to find some silence and solitude. The more I thought, the more I realized that I identified with all three.
I identify with Jesus because a lot of people come to me asking for help. It comes with the job description. I started saving all the solicitations I got in the mail this past month. Here they are, and it’s not even high season for solicitations. Just wait for November. This doesn’t include the phone calls, and requests that come in daily online asking me to sign petitions, contact my representatives, and of course, donate money.
I begin to feel a little like Jesus with the crowds closing in on him. But I’m not Jesus, so it leaves me feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, despite my compassion and desire to help.
Like the disciples, I too am trying to follow Jesus and his teachings. I’m trying to spread the good news of the many ways Jesus has changed my life. Like the disciples, he has sent me out to address the hurts and needs of the wider community and world.
And like the crowds, I need Jesus in my life too. I’m calling on Jesus to teach me how to be a faithful follower, to keep me on track, to remind me what is really important in life. And then at times I need him to fill my spirit when it’s feeling depleted, when I’m discouraged by all the pain and injustice I see in the world - when I have too much on my plate and need a little balance.
Who do you identify with?
I hope that summer has been for you a time to find some quiet down time and not just more activity and demands made on your life. We can’t always escape to a deserted place, so how do we quiet ourselves and fill our spirits at those times? How do we find peace in the midst of our busyness? Paramahansa Yogananda, in his book “Inner Peace” says “You cannot buy peace; you must know how to manufacture it within.” I often find it by meditating. How many of you have meditated?
Meditation is “Active calmness,” unlike the “passive calmness” we find in sleep or daydreaming. It’s the process of silencing your mind and turning in to the peace of God.
Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.” Yogananda says that “The first proof of God’s presence is an ineffable peace. … Finding God within, you will find God without, in all people and all conditions.”
So this morning I’d like to take you through a brief, guided meditation. I’m combining a couple of methods (there are many), but focusing on Yogananda’s peace meditation. We will end with his guided prayer.
We begin by sitting with our feet flat on the floor, keeping our spine straight and our chin parallel to the floor. Rest your hands comfortably on your lap. This posture will help you to remain still.
With your eyelids half, or completely closed, pay attention to your breath, breathing naturally, not forced, inhaling through your nose, and releasing the breath out of your mouth. As you focus on your breath, thoughts will come into your consciousness. This is normal. When you notice them, gently release them and go back to your breath.
Remain calm… Bid adieu to the world of sensations — sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch; Dismiss all sensations of the body; dismiss all restless thoughts. Go within, where your soul expresses itself.
The kingdom of God is just behind the darkness of closed eyes, and the first gate that opens to it is your peace. As you exhale, relax and feel peace spreading everywhere, within and without.
As you inhale and exhale, immerse yourself in this peace. If your mind starts to wander, come back to the sacred word “peace.”
(let this continue for several minutes)
Inhale deeply. Exhale. Now repeat silently after me:
Holy One, hushed are the sounds of the world.
I am in the temple of quietness.
Your eternal kingdom of peace is spread tier upon tier before my gaze. May this infinite kingdom, long hidden behind the darkness, remain manifest within me.
Peace fills my body; peace fills my heart and dwells within my love; peace within, without, everywhere.
God is peace, I am God’s child. I am peace. God and I are one.
Infinite peace surrounds my life and permeates all the moments of my existence. Peace unto myself; peace unto my family; peace unto my nation; peace unto my world; peace unto my cosmos.
Goodwill to all nations, goodwill to all creatures; for all are my brothers and sisters and God is our common parent. We live in the United States of the World with God and Truth as our leaders.
Holy One, may Your kingdom of peace come on earth as it is in heaven, that we all be freed from divisive discord and become perfect citizens, in body, mind and soul, of Your world. Amen