When I was in high school I was invited by our school librarian to volunteer at a summer camp that she directed. I started there as a counsellor in training when I was 15 and I spent five summers in a row there. When I was 17, so my 3rd summer there, I was asked to take on the role of junior chaplain. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Aside from leading the 6am staff devotions I was supposed to be available in case any of the campers or any of the staff wanted to talk about something with some level of confidentiality and support. Of course I think only one person ever came to talk to me, but it wasn’t so much the task itself that was so momentous to me, as it was the burden and the privilege of responsibility.
This was one of the first times in my, admittedly young, life when someone had trusted me with a responsibility for other people that felt like it really could have some consequence. It wasn’t just leadership in a school project that no one would remember two months down the road, and it wasn’t leadership in a sports team that never really seemed to go anywhere; it was a type of leadership that really had the potential to work in the lives of the people I was ministering with. It had the potential to bring healing to those who needed it. And that was a powerful experience to have when I was 17 years old. I’m convinced that it changed the course of my life. Somebody was able to identify something in me that I didn’t necessarily see myself in the beginning, and by trusting me in that role, the director, and the rest of the leadership of that camp, gave me a confidence that I never had, and they sparked a passion in me that I’d never known. By trusting me with the responsibility to bring healing into the world, they brought healing into my own awkward, 17 year old life.
When Jesus had healed a man in the synagogue who was suffering from an unclean spirit he left that place and he wandered over to Simon and Andrew’s house, and as soon as he got there he was once again called upon to heal someone from her illness. The passage in Mark says he took her by the hand and lifted her up. Nothing more miraculous than that, no magic incantations, no drama, just that simple act of reaching out to her. And then he went through the whole day carrying on with that same work. A gesture, a simple act, and he could bring healing into someone’s life.
You often hear this widespread opinion these days that Jesus was just this teacher of morals. A lot of people who don’t want to claim that Jesus was God will instead argue that he was someone who taught others lessons on how to be kind to other people. We often think of things like the beatitudes, or Jesus’ version of the golden rule, things like that to justify the idea of Jesus as a teacher of how to be nice. And he was that, and he did absolutely teach people important lessons about how to live good and responsible lives, but that wasn’t what drew people to Jesus. The thing that drew entire cities to Jesus, over and over again throughout his public ministry, was the fact that Jesus was changing their lives, not just their thoughts but their very lives: mind, body, and soul.
That’s the thing about religions, they’re not just ideas, they’re experiences, they’re rituals, they’re places of transformation and when we live out our Christianity, when we ourselves have been touched by the power of God, we’re entrusted with that same grace that Jesus had, the power to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted, of the hurt, of the sick. We’re given gifts by the Holy Spirit for exactly that purpose. That may not mean lifting feverish people up by the hand, or casting out demons in the midst of the assembly, but each of us has specific gifts that we’re given by God to lend our part to the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The tricky part of life is that it’s not always obvious what that gift is. It’s not always easy to tell where God is calling us or what God has equipped us with. And so sometimes we need to step back. We need to take some time apart from the work that we’re doing to make sure that we’re still on the right track, still going where God has called us.
Jesus snuck out of the house early the next morning when it was still dark out and he went away to a place where he could be alone to pray. Even he needed that time apart, away from the work, away from others. Time to be alone with God.
When I was working at that camp there was this outdoor chapel which we rarely used. It was out of the way, but it was one of the only places where you could go and you could see through the trees straight down to the water. It was a beautiful place and it was a holy place. I’d often go there, either really early in the morning, before staff meetings, or I’d find some time to sneak away in the middle of the afternoon. It was a place of such calm and such peace that sometimes it felt like those moments would sustain me throughout the entire rest of the year. Whenever I was feeling overwhelmed I could go back to that place in my mind and it would be like I was right there. And it wasn’t just the beauty of the place that I could recall it was the experience of resting in the presence of God that would wash over me, no matter where I was.
I imagine we all have those places somewhere in our minds, somewhere in our lives. They’re important places because when the mission and the ministry get challenging, they remind us of who we are before God. But we can’t stay in those places either. At some point the rest of our lives comes crashing back in and then we have to pick ourselves up and move on.
When the disciples found Jesus they decided to leave that village and go to the neighbouring towns. Jesus’ calling never stopped, it never stayed put in one place for too long. He was constantly on the fringes pushing out into new territory. Once he’d been fed by that sacred, silent place, he could keep going, pushing the borders of the kingdom of heaven ahead of him with every step he took, every word he preached, every person he healed.
Some of us are called to follow him in that path. Some of us need to take up the mantle of authority of the apostles, the ones who were sent out into the wilderness, pushing at the edges of the kingdom, pushing them ever farther out.
Others of us are called to stay, like many of the people from Capernaum, the city of Simon and Andrew. We’re left to pick up where Jesus and the apostles leave off. We’re left to figure out how to live lives that have been touched by the healing power of Jesus, how to incorporate that into the normal everyday lives we live and how to build communities that bring others into that same healing environment.
But we need both. We need people pushing at the margins, drawing the borders of the kingdom ever wider, making it ever more inclusive for ever more people, and we need people at the centre building up strong communities of love and support that welcome others in and give them a safe place to land.
And so today I wonder. Where is God calling you? What gifts has God given you? What ministry has God entrusted you with? What does it look like? What is your passion and where are your gifts needed the most in this world?
May you find peace when you rest in the presence of God, and may you find new life as you arise.