July 18th 2021
Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary 2 Samuel 7:1-14a Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Summer is traditionally the time of year when people go on holiday; and in spite of the pandemic, this year seems to be no exception. Average Sunday attendance at many churches, including Saint Margaret’s, frequently falls during the summer high season as parishioners head for the Balaton or places yet farther afield. After months of lockdowns and quarantines, the freedom to simply get away and relax seems even more precious. Yet the idea of going on holiday, or vacation as we Americans usually call it, is a relatively new concept, dating back only to the middle of the nineteenth century and the gradual development of a middle-class in certain parts of northern Europe and North America. By the end of that century, even common people often had the financial means to afford time away from home and work. And, thus the leisure industry – an oxymoron if there ever was one – was born. The industry has perhaps fallen on hard times because of Covid, but it is surely hoping for a resurgence of business as the pandemic is, as we all hope, brought under control. The notion of going on holiday was however not without controversy nearly two hundred years ago in that straight-laced and Puritan society, now often called the Victorian Age. Clergy in particular were suspicious at first of the idleness which a holiday implied and of the sins which were sure to follow from such indolence. After all idleness, as everyone knew, was the devil’s workshop. Just imagine the horrible possibilities thought many a priest and minister. People sunbathing, playing cards, taking naps in the middle of the day, dancing in the evening, having a tipple perhaps. The rest I leave to your imagination. The problem was eventually resolved however as many of those same clerics who originally objected to vacations and holidays hit upon the then novel idea of establishing bible camps – quite possibly the world’s first all-inclusive resorts -- places where families could holiday on the cheap under the careful watch of the Church and without fear of the temptations of unsupervised time to themselves. Such bible camps still exist of course, although the purpose of them may have evolved, as our own Father Andy of Hungary’s Acorn Camps could well attest. Yet the idea is still to bring people to Christ.
Of course, our Lord seems to have hit upon the idea of bible camps long before anyone else, as we see in our account this morning from the Gospel of Mark. He and his disciples have been hard at work spreading the message of the Kingdom across the land to anyone who would listen. And they inevitably find themselves surrounded by people keen to see our Lord and hear his message of God’s love and acceptance. It is time to get away, concludes Jesus no doubt wisely. And so, he and the disciples --called here apostles for the very first time -- get into a boat and head for a secluded place where they can be by themselves for a while and recharge their spiritual energy. Yet, it does not quite work out that way, as throngs of people learn of Jesus’s whereabouts and again seek him out. No rest apparently for the weary. Jesus heals those brought to him and, as the Gospel narrative explains, “he had compassion for them,” an expression which in the original Greek conveys a sense of great solicitude, empathy, and love; something far beyond simply feeling sorry for someone; far beyond a tap on the shoulder or a kind word. Our Lord genuinely loved the people who gathered around him, and they instinctively knew it. They were after all like sheep without a shepherd; directionless and desperate. Yet our Lord experienced with them their sense of hopelessness and despair, and he brought them encouragement and the assurance of God’s presence in their lives, something we all still crave. He had compassion for them. And “he began to teach them many things,” in the words of the Gospel. Oddly, Mark does not get around to telling us what those “many things” might have been, and scholars have long pondered what to make of this. But we might simply surmise that it had something to do with the love of God for his people. And, not just for the rich and famous of course. But for villagers and farmers and the poor and those who are sick and in need of healing. Indeed, wherever he went Jesus brought healing, a sure sign of God’s presence even amid the hubbub of everyday life. Mark does not tell us if Jesus and the disciples ever got their well-deserved break or holiday, their first-century bible camp. Still, as many of us will be away this summer on holiday, perhaps we should remind ourselves once again of our Lord and his disciples -- and of those early resorts of the nineteenth century -- and make at least a part of our summer get-away a bible camp of the soul, a time to sort ourselves spiritually and, like the people of Jesus’ time, to learn the “many things” he has to teach us. Jesus’ followers had found their shepherd -- even in a deserted place across the sea -- and they were determined to listen to him. We could do worse than to follow their example. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs