Year B – Proper 11
July 22, 2012
The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck
Jesus said to the apostles, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
A popular method of Bible study in our day, is to read through a text, invite all gathered to say what word or phrase jumps out at them. Then read through the text again and seek understanding of what God might be saying in general in the text. Then read through the text a third time, and seek understanding of what God might be saying particularly to those gathered, how God might be calling them forth into a new way of being through the text.
As I dwelled with this gospel text through the week, what I saw and what I heard was a call to the Advocate on the Homestead site: to be and to provide a place of rest a place of restoration a place or collaborative social ministry.
Early on in the Advocate’s life, sometime around 2004, we had a “parish retreat” at Camp New Hope. Ah, we were an idealistic group, dreaming about who and what we might become. Already thinking about a future location…
We wanted it to be accessible to all, we wanted it to be on the bus line…. (until we found out the busses don’t run on Sunday in Chapelboro.) We asked ourselves, what does the community around us need? Some were passionate that whatever else we did, we needed to provide meals for the hungry. Maybe a shelter for the homeless.
But then an elder of the congregation spoke up, George Esser, our Moses: “Food and shelter are being provided by the InterFaith Council”, he said. We don’t need to provide those things that other organizations and groups are already providing. We need to provide what isn’t being provided by someone else.”
It stuck. And in the years that followed, when we pondered and prayed about what the community around Chapel Hill needs that no-one else is providing, one thing we kept hearing was “a place of peace and restoration”. A place where busy people can come and be at rest, can experience the Peace of God that passes all understanding, and be restored to go back out into the world.
But that’s not all. In the years that followed that first “parish retreat”, when we pondered and prayed about what the community around Chapel Hill needs that no-one else is providing, we heard, “a place for collaborative ministry”. Collaboration among the church, the university, the non-profit sector, and government agencies, working for justice and restoration in the world in which we live.
Peace and justice; contemplation and action.
Turns out, given today’s Gospel text, this seems to be what Jesus had in mind for the church, his disciples, all along.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while.
One of the joys of being Vicar of the Advocate in the past three years is to be able to invite people out to the Homestead site. I get to watch them as they get out of their cars, looking around, taking in the trees, the lawn, discovering the pond, walking through the carport, watching their step. Then invariably, they turn and walk towards the pond. And there, just past the dogwood and under the large black walnut, I see, I hear, I feel, them relax.
It’s visceral. “Oh my”, they say, one way or another. “This is beautiful.” “Like and outdoor cathedral”, I say.
And then we stand, or sit, in silence for a while. Lay or ordained, Of the church or outside the church, young or old. the reaction is the same. Surprise, joy, peace, calm.
Then, after a time, we start to talk about the Advocate, about our history, about our dreams, about our vision. “We are a small church with a big heart and a bold vision”, I always say.
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them,
I have heard it said that this is the gospel text for social ministry. Many of the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry tell us about his conversations, miracles or callings, one to one, one person at a time. But here, here Jesus gazes out across a whole crowd of people and see that collectively they have a need. Collectively, something is not right for them. And he has compassion for them, because, scripture says, because the are like sheep without a shepherd.
Here is Jesus responding to the needs of a group of people. And we, the Church, Christ’s body, are called to do the same. We, the Church of the Advocate, are called to do the same.
One of the innumerable blessings, serendipities, miracles of the Advocate in our short life so far happened last fall. I got a call from a doctor at UNC named John Thorp. The Chancellor, he said, had recommended that he call. Turns out John Thorp is an OB GYN. Through John, Jesus saw pregnant women, many pregnant women with drug addictions, coming for treatment at UNC. So several years ago Dr. Thorp began a program to help pregnant women with drug addictions. It’s called Horizons.
The program has grown over the years. It is now a residential program serving more than 50 women a year. They come, largely through the court system, because they have committed misdemeanor crimes or petty larceny, or because they are having trouble parenting their other children. They are unable to hold down jobs, they often suffer with post traumatic stress disorder from violence in their past. And they are pregnant.
While in the year-long program, they receive drug rehab, PTSD counseling,vocational counseling, and parenting skills. As their babies are born, they are giving loving professional day care while their mamas learn to do the same. All in a rented facility in downtown Carrboro, right next to the cemetery where we conclude our Way of the Cross each Good Friday. The women live in blocks of apartments around town, funded by the UNC Health Care System. And Horizons staff live near them, available to them through the night.
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
After years of renting a facility in Carrboro that was built to provide offices for a utility, John Thorp is ready to build a building designed for the Horizons Program, designed to meet its needs. So he went to see the Chancellor. The Chancellor, Holden Thorp, knew about the Advocate, about our land and about our desire to serve as a collaborative resource in North Chapel Hill. So Holden suggested that John give us a call.
Since then, the Advocate Vestry and Horizons and UNC and the Diocese have been engaged in due diligence to see if we might actually be able to host the Horizons program in a building of their design and construction on our campus. It’s looking good, largely because our lay leadership in 2009 had the foresight to see us through a comprehensive site development plan gaining approval from the town for a 10,000 square foot building for “outreach” long before we had a specific vision for it.
There is much to be excited about in this project. And if it comes to pass, the timing couldn’t be better. Because it will allow us to know and to make known from the start that The Church of the Advocate does not hold the land on Homestead Road for ourselves alone, but as a resource for the region.
A place of rest. A place of restoration. A place of collaborative social ministry.
That land is a blessing, a gift. I know we all worked hard to contribute towards it and make it possible, but even so it is a gift. And we are its stewards.
Prayerfully, we are its faithful stewards.
Thanks be to God.