A Desolate Place

Some weeks the sermon flows freely from my sanctified brain like water from a faucet. Other weeks, like last week, the water drips like one of those calcium-encrusted high school biology room faucets that no one has used or looked at in over a decade. You aren’t even sure if the water is connected to it until the lead pipe under the counter finally gives way. That’s how I felt last week trying to write a sermon. There was a head-shaped dent on my desk from repeated pounding. It happens.

I couldn’t even tell you why it happened (other than my extreme mental exhaustion dangerously approaching a critical level of burnout). I just wasn’t feeling it. Drip. Drip. That was sad, because all three texts were rich with meaning and questions begging to be answered.

Moses tells the people God will raise up a prophet like him from amongst their brothers. You could have a sermon about Jesus’ fulfillment of the law, pivot to Galatians, talk about Abraham’s seed. Nah, I feel like I just did that recently. How about the epistle? 

Paul is not going to eat meat sacrificed to idols if it causes a weaker brother to stumble. That’s another good one, but I’d need to spend half the time explaining that such a stumble indicates the weaker brother believing that an idol and Jesus are the same thing—or at least interchangeable. Then, because I’m ornery, I’ll spend another 5 minutes explaining that mask wearing is NOT an applicable use of this text unless your weaker brother is offering oblations and prayers to the god of masks. Ugh. What’s the gospel?

Mark 1, Jesus exorcises a demon in the synagogue. 


Messianic secret?


Authority of the Word?


Demon possession?


Yeah, I got nothing. I had nothing. What I ended up delivering on Sunday was unorganized, uninteresting drivel. One of those sermons where, after I finish, I quickly pray, “Sorry Lord.” I hope the bulletin was an interesting read.

What I did manage to notice that benefited me and my thinking came in the middle of this belabored sermon prep. In a desperate effort to get some burst of inspiration, I just read the entire book of Mark at once. It only takes about 45 minutes, and it’s worth doing for several reasons I won’t get into now. But that time, the part that jumped out at me the most was Mark 6:30ff.

Jesus sends the Twelve out with authority to preach, heal, anoint, and exorcize. Then they come back and tell him all about it. Then he says this, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” They do. Finally, a day off! But the crowds heard where they were and ran on foot ahead of them. Psyche! No rest for you.

But notice, dear pastor, why there was no rest for the disciples and who was the one working: “When Jesus went ashore he was a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

The disciples really disappear in this story except to ask Jesus to send the people away. But miraculously, Jesus takes five loaves of bread and two fish and feeds everyone. Including the disciples. And there was a major surplus of this food to clean up afterwards.

That is what happened to me. I see it now, I believe it now. I was treating the sermon like work, so God dried up the well of inspiration. “You feed them,” he says. “How?” I say, “I have the mental equivalence of five loaves of bread and two fish!” 

But God knew that if I was pushed enough I would be forced to submerse myself in the Word. And that’s exactly what happened. I would not have read the entire book of Mark that day had my sermon not been desolate. And I would not have eaten my fill of the Word had he not pushed me out to that desolate place.