Rest and Renewal

By Chad Hershberger

It happens every year. In November, I gather with hundreds of my friends and colleagues in ministry for the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Conference. It is held somewhere in the United States, rotating between the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest. Camp directors, board members, and program personnel get together to hear inspiring speakers, attend educational workshops, worship together, and, well… have some fun, too. This event is always a highlight of my year and has been key in helping me stay fresh in my role as executive director a Camp Mount Luther. The time away gives me a chance to be educated and renewed, equipped to come back and serve God in ministry.

In fact, through my conversations and learnings at the LOM Conference, I’ve been inspired to look at my work in new ways. It has helped me to curtail burnout. It gives me a renewed zeal for what I do and gives me fresh and exciting new ideas.

I thought of the outdoor ministry conference this week when I read this verse from Mark 1:29-39: In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Just as I need a break in November and Jesus needed a break while doing his ministry, we all need time away. I’m sure you will agree, time away helps rejuvenate the soul and gives the space to look at life from new perspectives. Jesus shows us in our passage today this important rhythm of work, rest, prayer. I don’t know about you, but I find that when I’m my busiest, if I take a break, perhaps a walk to clear my thoughts, I come back to what I was doing with new perspective. We all need a break! It helps us to reset.

For those of us that are Christians, that also means we need a break from serving others in this world. We need time away to connect with God. Prayer is one of the obvious ways but that also might mean spending time reading the Bible, going on a church retreat, or spending time in God’s creation. We see that in Mark today.

Jesus goes to a place that it “deserted.” Mark already described a similar setting where John the Baptist appeared and where Jesus is tempted. It seems from our reading that Jesus’ prayer time was not just a casual, beautifully worded prayer. It feels like Jesus is doing his own searching. The disciples come to him and say, “Everyone is searching for you” (v. 37). Biblical scholars don’t know for sure what was going on in Jesus’ mind here, but it seems that after all the healing he was doing in the rest of the story, he was trying to decide what’s next. Maybe he was feeling overwhelmed. Maybe he was taking time to clear out his own will so that he could be open to the will of the Father. Did God want him to focus on healing, preaching, or teaching? Regardless of what Jesus was discerning with God, we know what he did next. He went with the disciples to continue his ministry. He “went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (v.39)

And isn’t that a logical next step for us, too. After we have a time of rest and renewal, reading scripture and praying, we can go serve others. It happens for me after my conference.

God puts to death my preoccupations and reminds me what is important. God clears out the million little tasks that distract me and reminds me of the main ministry to which I have been called. The time of retreat and interacting with God helps fill our cups with gratitude so that we want to share God’s love with others. That might be in the form of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. Our time of retreat and refocusing will help us be renewed in our service in God’s name.

Our gospel reading for today is a microcosm of this idea that time away allows God to clear away the gunk to make us a better channel for God’s ministry. Or, to use a radio analogy: God adjusts our antenna to clear the static and make the message clearer.

Jesus goes out to proclaim the message in the synagogues and cast out demons. He was doing ministry. He was serving others. Now, what did he do right before that? He got up in the morning, while it was still very dark, he went to a deserted place, and there, he prayed. He spent time with God. But he knows that he must go and preach and do his work on earth. He knows his mission and while a break is important to renew and refocus, he gets back to it! Jesus rests but continues to do what he was commissioned to do. And so should we go back out and serve after we have time away to refresh.

Even Simon Peter’s mother-in-law shows us that. She is sick. She has a fever. And then Jesus comes and heals her. And you know what she did? She immediately began to serve them. Why? She encountered God’s mercy and love and responded with gratitude. When we encounter God as we retreat, we often are compelled to respond with gratitude, as we are renewed, refreshed, and inspired. And we can do as Simon’s mother-in-law did: we can go serve. Immediately.

When I was growing up, there was a commercial on TV for Dunkin Donuts with Gary, the Baker. His alarm would go off early in the morning and he would say, “Time to make the donuts.” The purpose of the commercial was to remind us that Dunkin’s donuts were freshly made because Gary made sure of that each morning.

Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, and she immediately goes to serve God. Jesus is tired and tries to take a break; but there are crowds gathering to see him. He goes back to doing his earthly work.

Just like the donut baker, we need to rest. And hopefully that rest will remind us that God has done the work and our response will an attitude of gratitude and service. We go forth to “make the donuts,” knowing that we are participating in something that is all God’s.  Do you hear the alarm? What has your rest shown you? Amen.