Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 18, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 8

Pentecost 8, 2021
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Well, last week’s gospel was . . . troubling, with the beheading of John the Baptizer by Herod’s soldiers.  This week, there’s a lot more good news in the gospel.  And, as you probably noticed, there’s a lot of talk about shepherds in our readings today.  It’s a reassuring change from last week.  

In the first reading, from Jeremiah, God speaks through the prophet to warn the bad shepherds, the leaders of God’s people.  Though they have scattered the flock, and driven them away, God promises to gather the flock back together, so they will prosper.  God will raise up new shepherds, and the people will have no fear.  And none will be missing.  None.

And then, we read Psalm 23 together.  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.  All that wonderful, pastoral imagery of green pastures and still waters.  Plenty of food and protection, and the goodness and mercy of God chasing us down, all the days of our life.  You want to to know how life is with a good shepherd, just read Psalm 23.  It is many people’s favorite part of the entire Bible, for good reason, because it shows us what life is like when God is our shepherd.

And in today’s gospel reading, from Mark’s gospel, we see what the good shepherd does in human form.  We see how it is when God walks among us, and actually does these things in the flesh.  But that can be a distracting thing about this story.  Because when someone tells us a story, we sort of imagine ourselves as that person.  And, I don’t know about you, but when I first read today’s gospel, I imagined it from Jesus’ point of view, and how I would react to the crowd pressing in on me.  Which, as I say, is not helpful.  Because—in case you haven’t noticed—I’m not Jesus.

So let’s look at it from the perspective of the other people in this story, starting with the disciples.  A couple weeks ago, Jesus sent out the disciples two by two, and “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  As today’s gospel opens, they have just returned from their journey, and they’re telling Jesus all that happened while they were away.  And there is a lot of commotion with people coming and going.  And I’m guessing they are exhausted, because Jesus says to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”  

Rest a while.  We have a hard time with that, don’t we?  We’ve all been taught from the moment we were teachable that resting is for losers.  Sleeping is for the lazy.  Or maybe that God wasn’t serious about the sanctity of the Sabbath.  Early birds getting worms and all that.  As Matt Haig has written, Rest is an essential part of survival.  An essential part of us. . . . Just as we need pauses between notes for music to sound good, and just as we need punctuation in a sentence for it to be coherent, we should see rest and reflection and passivity—even sitting on a sofa—as an intrinsic and essential part of life that is needed for the whole to make sense.  God planned for us to rest.  We need rest.

So that’s the resting part.  But Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.”  I don’t know how you feel about deserted places, but I’m not a fan, to put it lightly.  And if Jesus told me to go away to a deserted place, I’d probably say, “Um, no thanks, Jesus.  I’m good”  But notice, Jesus says come away.  Because Jesus is going with them.  I think this is important.  Jesus wants them to rest and reflect, but Jesus will be there with them.  But while they’re out in the boat together, the crowd recognizes them, and starts running around the lake, so that when they land in the deserted place, well, it’s no longer a deserted place, right?

And then Jesus goes ashore—not the resting disciples—and he sees the people.  And as we heard, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd;”  Which is a very wimpy translation.  The fantastic Greek word here is splagchnizomai, and it means much more than compassion.  It is more like a twisting in your bowels.  A better word might be gut-wrenching.  It is not pity or fondness, it is splagchnizomai.  Jesus is unable to walk away from this crowd of people because he finds their condition gut-wrenching.

And why?  Well, as we heard, because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  That is what has moved Jesus so deeply.  The shepherd connection.  That they are like sheep without a shepherd.  And so what does Jesus do?  Three things:  He teaches, feeds, and heals them.  We only hear about two of those things today though, because the text jumps over the feeding of the 5,000, which I’ll get to in a minute.

So first, Jesus “began to teach them many things.”  This description could hardly be more vague, right?  What many things?  If this is his response to the gut-wrenching sight of all these people, we’d like to know what these “many things” are.  But we don’t know.  My guess is that he is telling them parables, since Mark says Jesus only ever taught in parables.  

So maybe they’re getting lessons about the kingdom of God, and how it is breaking through everywhere, all around them.  Maybe they’re hearing about mustard seeds, and how those tiny seed ends up providing a place for birds to build their nests.  But no matter what “many things” Jesus is telling them, I imagine part of it is about how Jesus is the Good Shepherd, because that’s what sparked his compassion:  That they are like sheep without a shepherd, and here he is:  the Good Shepherd.

So, Jesus teaches them many things.  Then what?  Well, if you look at the gospel reading in your bulletin insert, you’ll see that we jumped from verse 34 to verse 53.  And part of what we skipped over is called “The feeding of the 5,000.”  Remember, a large crowd has followed them to a deserted place, and after Jesus has taught them many things, the disciples say Jesus should send them away to get some food.  And, well, we’ll hear that whole story next week.  But I just want you to see the order of things here:  Jesus has compassion on the crowd, That gut-wrenching splagchnizomai, and then those three things: He teaches, feeds, and heals them.

Which leads us to the third thing.  They get back in the boat, and they cross over to Gennesaret and tie up the boat.  And then, the people recognize him, and “they rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.”  Again, put yourself in the people’s place here.  Imagine rushing home to get your sick relatives and friends and carrying them out to wherever Jesus goes.  In villages, cities, farms, marketplaces.  Everywhere Jesus goes, people are healed.

In the first reading this morning, God promised new shepherds, good shepherds.  And in Psalm 23, we heard what it is like when God is our shepherd.  And in today’s gospel, we see what it is like when the Good Shepherd walks among us.  He teaches us, feeds us, and heals us.  The Good Shepherd has come, for you, for me, for everyone.  And when the Good Shepherd is here, we learn about the kingdom of God, we feed on the bread of heaven, and we are healed of brokenness and sins are forgiven . . . and not one among us will be lost.

The Good Shepherd has come to us, to teach and feed and heal, the things we all need in this life.  You are loved by this God who feels a gut-wrenching compassion for your needs.  Who cannot turn away.  Who knows you need a shepherd, and has sent to us the Good Shepherd—Jesus Christ, our Lord.  God leads us beside still waters, and together we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


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