One can’t help when reading and hearing this Gospel passage, but get a real sense of finding rest in God, experiencing healing and refreshment in Jesus.
I mean, there’s Jesus, inviting his disciples to a time of rest and renewal: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus is giving them permission to rest from their work among the people.
This is something we, in our 21st century world of frantic striving, competitive achieving, greedy acquiring and frenetic accomplishing need to hear. In our pride, we’re addicted to feeling we always need to be doing, need to be busy with a thousand different things. Being a “workaholic” has become something even to be boastful about.
“Workaholism” is the addiction from which Jesus wants to pull us. Jesus is giving us permission to unplug, to slow down, stop, and rest awhile. It’s OK to be still, do nothing, and just “be.”
And then we see Jesus the healer. How all the people who had skin diseases, broken bones, unable to walk, see or hear – how all of them were healed even by touching “the fringe” of the cloak of Jesus.
How we’d all want and need that deep healing and rest of heart, mind, body and soul.
The world that Jesus moved around in some two thousand years ago is not very different from our own world. Suffering, brokenness and pain is as much a part of our own world, as it was in the time of Jesus.
But where is Jesus today, to give that same kind of healing, rest and renewal?
Today’s passage from Ephesians echoes some of the Apostle Paul’s other writings, where we today – the contemporary church of 2012 – are the “body of Christ”, representing the very presence of Jesus in the world today, being the “hands and feet of Jesus” in the world today, for the sake of others.
We read in Ephesians: We are “members of the household of God…with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” The living Jesus resides in and among us. We are joined together in Jesus.
A good question for any church to ask of itself is: Do people outside the church really recognize Christ’s healing presence in and through the church? Do people really see Jesus in and through us – through our words and our deeds?
We can certainly point to and celebrate those ministries of St. Matthews that do indeed tell of the compassionate, generous, self-giving love of God in Jesus, such as: the Out of the Cold program, Dorcas Cupboard, Loaves & Fishes, Golden Hour, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, music-making to the praise and glory of God – all of these point to, hint at, and reveal something of the living presence of Jesus in our midst.
It is also true, that churches frequently fall short, and have sadly allowed too much self-focussed pride and inner dissension to cloud and obscure the presence of Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi, who was a Hindu, once said this about the Christians he knew: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
We need to confess these times when we as a church have not been like Christ, and always seek how better to represent Jesus in the world today – a worthy mission and goal.
But in the meantime, we need to focus on, remember and celebrate those times in the past and present when followers of Jesus in faith communities have indeed been the “hands and feet” of Jesus, and what a good and lasting impression that leaves on the young, on newcomers and inquirers in the faith!
One of the earliest memories I have – I think I was around ten years old – was on a trip to Germany visiting extended family there, when my mom, dad, brother and I visited a monastery of sorts in Darmstadt Germany.
For only about two days, we stayed at “The Sisterhood of Mary” which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany. A group of nuns living and praying and working together. I don’t know if they still do today, but some thirty years ago, they wore these light blue, denim-type dresses and habits.
As a ten year old, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of meeting a group of nuns, being in a quiet, forlorn looking place, and sitting through long worship services.
But what I actually remember from that experience so long ago, was actually good and positive. And that’s because of the way the nuns treated us. It’s funny what images you remember – but I remember the eyes of some of these aging sisters – how bright, and kind, warm and open they were. Their eyes seemed shining with warmth and hospitality.
And the hospitality! I remember at one worship service we all sat through. For each of us – my dad, brother and I, who weren’t fluent in German – they had a sister sit beside us, and throughout the whole service, the sister would whisper into my ear the English translation for everything that was said or sung.
I was amazed at the lengths they were willing to go to make our brief stay as comfortable and meaningful as possible.
No doubt, to this day, that early memory serves as a living example of how a faith community can so well reflect the goodness, generosity, hospitality and compassion of Jesus. For a ten year old like I was, or for anyone, experiencing that faith community at that time and in that place was like touching the fringe of the cloak of Jesus.
I don’t think we realize sometimes how powerfully contagious the goodness of Jesus is – how it breeds more good spreading outwards, through us, touching many lives.
We pray that when our friends, neighbours and others come into contact with us, both individually and as a faith community, that it may be for them, as for us, like touching the fringe of the cloak of Jesus – a holy moment, a holy encounter, where friendship and care and goodness is experienced.