Too tired to taste the honey!
As we prepare to listen to the Word of God it is an absent story that inspires my message this week. I found myself reflecting on what is not said rather than what will we read as I followed the lectionary reading for the week — with a few verses added by myself.
So what I am going to do this morning is make you a gospel sandwich for which I need two pieces of bread. The first slice is from Mark 6 verses 30 to 34 that I invite you to read… Take a moment to reflect on that and then take the second slice which is from the same loaf, but from verse 45 to the end.
Two slices of bread for our gospel sandwich but there is something missing. What is it? Yes, a sandwich needs a filling to give it flavour and that’s the absent story… The tastiest bit in which Jesus feeds 5,000. I haven’t got time to make that many sandwiches!
That’s the stuff of real ministry as we take the opportunity to show the 5,000 — or more — how Jesus has compassion on the crowd who are like sheep without a shepherd. That’s what we really want to be doing, isn’t it: Reaching the crowds? That’s the honey in the sandwich. Or you can have jam if you prefer or something else of your choice between the bread to make your sandwich. It’s not a sandwich unless it has a filling and bread alone is not enough for us to live on, is it?
As a child I liked a spoonful of honey to help the medicine go down and I preferred my sandwich without the bread, but with the spoonful of honey! A spoonful of sugar didn’t do it for me so honey was the substitute and like a robin feathering his nest, with very little time to rest I trust a song will move the job along. Or, like the honey bee that fetch the nectar from the flowers to the comb never tire of buzzing to and fro because they take a little nip from every flower that they sip…. I am sure you will remember the words from Mary Poppins.
Unlike the robin we need the rest to have the energy to sing the song to move the job along and we will tire of buzzing to and fro from place to place before the honey can be tasted. The honey is the filling in our sandwich and we won’t have a sandwich without the slices either side…
Have you noticed what they are, these two slices either side with the taste of ministry sandwiched in the middle? They are places of prayer and rest that prepare us for the work to be done — and we will be too tired to taste the honey without them.
We can’t have a gospel sandwich without a filling, but we also can’t have the ministry that gives it flavour without the bread either side. One slice of bread is a place of quiet and rest and the other is the same, with the taste that excites us the filling in the middle.
The disciples have returned from one mission for which Jesus sent them two by two and after reporting back about what they had done and taught he wants them to follow him to a quiet place to get some rest. Then, after the feeding of the 5,000 the disciples are sent off in the boat again while Jesus goes up the mountainside to pray. We can’t do ministry and mission without rest and prayer and if we try we will be too tired to taste the honey!
Jesus knows that his disciples need to find a solitary place where they can be still to rest in the presence of the Holy One so they go off in a boat…. What we so easily do is see a crowd disturbing their quiet time and want to show the same compassion as Jesus thinking that if he can do it so must we. We are led to believe that there is no rest in the ministry of compassion, but where can be more secluded than the middle of the lake? He knows we need the rest and will show us where to find it.
Be still in the middle of the lake for the presence of the Holy One is there and the glory of the Lord will shine all around. So be still and the power of the Lord will move in that solitary space if in faith you receive from him the Spirit that will help you cleanse and heal. The middle of the lake is the quietest place for some rest while the crowds run ahead to meet them when they arrive.
Go with Jesus by yourselves to a quiet place because if you spend all your time feathering your nest without a rest the job won’t get done and if you keep on buzzing to and fro you will get tired and the ministry of honey won’t be one of quality. A spoonful of honey helps the medicine go down, but the medicine is the Bread of the sandwich: The Word of God heard through rest and prayer!
We need the Bread before we can spread the honey so rest and pray (not play) then God’s words will taste sweeter than honey to our mouths. (Psalm 119: 103) A spoonful of honey will help the Bread go down because it is the spreading of good news in community; the ministry of compassion that touches people’s lives and gathers the scattered into a new Kingdom. It’s the action that follows the prayer that makes the word taste as sweet as honey.
The middle of the lake IS the solitary place where they could be still in the presence of the Lord and it is where they go again after a ministry among thousands before being confronted by another crowd seeking healing. I might be preaching to myself here, but Jesus knows that we need our quiet places on mountain side or in the solitude of the lake if our ministry is to produce honey for the crowds.
It is the place where we can go with Jesus to celebrate what God has done through us, but it is also where we must go to confront our storms and know that Jesus will see us from a distance and come to us where we are. Be still for the presence of the Holy One will be with you as you rest and pray.
Jesus was refreshed by prayer on the mountainside and prepared to continue his ministry when he sees the disciples struggling in the dark against the wind. How often have you felt you don’t have the strength to make any progress and it’s so dark you can’t see the way ahead? Imagine yourself in that solitary place on the lake. You had been there before in prayerful celebration, but now it’s dark and you are praying for strength. Then Jesus appears, walking on water to be with you.
Remember, the disciples had returned from a mission of healing and preaching so I hope they didn’t sit in the shadows watching Jesus do all the work among the crowds. Jesus had sent them out with authority and they drove out demons and healed the sick (verses 6-12) so that they could discover gifts they never thought they had.
The ‘honey’ in the sandwich is what Jesus asks us to do. It is the ministry in which we can give the crowds what they need — and what they eat tastes so good because it is the word of God that feeds, refreshes and heals. “YOU give them something to eat,” he tells the disciples (verse 37) and he says the same to us today as we receive from him the power from being still in the presence of the Lord who comes to cleanse and heal.
We can give people something to eat from our inner resources, but it is draining and will empty us if we don’t stop and find the space to rest and pray. Jesus leads by example, telling his disciples to find that space and doing it himself on the side of a mountain. If we don’t make time and space how will we restore our energy?
I remembered how Jesus said “who touched my clothes?” and “who touched me” as he felt power leave him when a woman touched the hem of his cloak. (Mark 5: 24-34) So much strength being taken from him must have been exhausting! The Body of Christ WILL become drained and exhausted when we step out of our “boat” to be recognised in the community as the source of hope and healing.
The building can be “our boat” where we find our spiritual refreshment away from the crowds, but are we recognised as the Body of Christ when we go out into the community? This is not the place where everyone must come, but we are the people who must go and be recognised as the Body of Jesus Christ as a shepherd with compassion for sheep that are lost.
The sheep have been scattered by past experiences of church and religion, but they are now being gathered together again on the pastures of a new kingdom where they will want for nothing. Read Psalm 23 and look at it differently: It is not a place waiting in heaven, but a vision of what we can find on earth if we follow our Shepherd today. I don’t want to find it in heaven when I die, but to seek it on earth while I live. It is another place of rest where we can be refreshed by the quiet waters as we seek the paths of righteousness and know that we need not fear our walks in the shadows of death because our Shepherd is always near to comfort us.
The Psalm isn’t for our funeral service as a welcome to our final resting place, but is where the Shepherd leads us so we can be still in the presence of the Lord and refreshed so that goodness and love will go with us all the days of our life. He MAKES us lie down because he knows we must restore our energy. He MAKES, persuades us that it is what we need to do, because we have much bigger things to do.
Our diary can be too full to waste time sitting in green pastures, drinking from the quiet waters so sadly we decline: “I am sorry, but I have no time to stop and eat and I am too busy even for a drink!” Am I alone in being swept along in the rush of life with diaries so full of demands that there is no time for anything other than to be busy?
Jesus is saying, “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,” so are you going to leave more space in your diary so that our ministry will taste like honey between our slices of rest and prayer? Or are you too tired to taste the honey?