Lectionary Sermon on Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 for 16th Ordinary, Year B, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of
Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
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.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Master Class: Planning and Not
I am so glad that we have this small window into the life and practices of Jesus and his disciples; I believe it is here, in the gospels, to teach us something powerful that we all need.
But what if it were not here? What if all we had was a collection of Jesus’ teachings, but no connecting stories about his life? Would that be enough? If we had his teachings, like, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, wouldn’t we have everything we needed? The core of his ethical, moral and wisdom teachings would all be there, right?
The Gospel of Thomas: Sayings Alone
Actually, there is such a text. Discovered in Egypt in 1945, the so called “Gospel of Thomas” is a collection of sayings, attributed to Jesus, most of which are found in parallels in the biblical (canonical) gospels.
But the gospel of Thomas has only sayings, no narratives about Jesus’ life. There is no story of his birth, no miracle stories, nor any crucifixion nor resurrection accounts. Clearly, many elements crucial to our faith are missing. The story we read today is, of course similarly absent. It contains no famous “sayings” of Jesus, so someone felt it had nothing to teach us.
That idea is so tragic! This text is hugely important to us. Why? Because, though Jesus’ direct teachings are of utmost value to us, so too is his life. Jesus came, not just to present a set of moral teachings or an ethical guide to life. Jesus came to announce the Good News which he himself defined as the arrival of the Kingdom of God among us.
Jesus’ Vision of God as King
Jesus had a vision of God as king: not just a replacement for local king Herod, and not just an alternative to Rome’s Emperor, Caesar. Rather, Jesus had a vision of God as rightful King of the Universe, king of all people.
What is more, Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God actually turned the whole concept of kingship on its head. Normally we think of kings as those who wield great power and authority. The ones able to do what they like – like assassinate prophets if they care to, even at the whim of child-dancers at drunken parties – as we saw Herod do last week.
King of Responsibility
Power and authority is one side of the coin of Kingship; the reverse side is the king’s responsibility for the citizens of the kingdom. The king is the one ultimately responsible for the protection and safety of his people. He is the one who has to make sure that there is justice in the courts and righteousness at every level of government. The King is the one who is responsible to ensure that the dignity and integrity of all of his people is protected.
This is why the lectionary gives us that Old Testament text from Jeremiah. In it, the prophet speaks on behalf of God who is scandalized at the irresponsible kings, the bad shepherds of Israel, who have failed to be responsible to produce “justice and righteous” for their “sheep” – their people.
The solution is that in the future, the prophet says, God will raise up a new “branch” from the old family tree of the ancient king David. Speaking for God Jeremiah says:
“I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5)
So, Jesus has been proclaiming that the kingdom of God is present and active in his ministry in a new, climactic way. Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God is that God’s will is perfectly done, starting now, on earth, not just in some remote, distant, heavenly realm – as he taught us to pray;
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”
God’s will, in this rather upside-down looking kingdom, includes that each one of his citizens comes to know each other as one large extended family. One Father in heaven is father of all of us – the old barriers that humans have erected out of fear of each other, out of hatred of those who are different, or out of sheer envy, have been eliminated in the Kingdom of God. Jews and gentiles, people in all the world, “from Jerusalem to Judea, to the ends of the earth” are included (Matt 28:18-20).
What does this mean, practically? Because God is Father and we are all family, we all have responsibility for each other. We all become extensions of the King’s responsibility to care for and protect his people. We are responsible to care for and protect each other, in the family. The same perspective holds true in this family as in any healthy family: the older, stronger members of the family look out especially for the younger, weaker members.
You heard stories this past week of people shielding others with their own bodies in that theater in Colorado as the man opened fire and
started shooting. One man was interviewed and described crawling on the floor with his four month old baby, shielding this precious life with his own. This is exactly how families live for each other, even to the point of sacrifice.
Now, it is true that everybody who is normal and healthy looks out for their own – their own family, their own kind. Even the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s were good to their own kind, their own family members. There is nothing particularly praiseworthy about that (in fact, it’s simply the function of the “selfish gene” protecting its own future).
Our Extended Family
This is where the vision of the kingdom of God is so powerfully different. This vision is not a selfish, parochial, chauvinistic one, like is so common among humans. In Jesus’ compelling vision of the Kingdom of God, compassionate care for the family extends to the family that migrated to Holland and now speaks Dutch. It includes the family in Africa where the Klaas family live and work.
This is what we see at work in this bit of the story of Jesus that we see today, that the Gospel of Thomas misses.
There are two parts of this text: In the first part, the disciples return after their two-by-two mission that Jesus sent them out on.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.”
People who have embraced the fantastic vision of the kingdom of God do what Jesus taught his disciples to do: they organize for mission. They plan mission work. They go out intentionally as a missional community to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s all very organized and strategic. Plans were made, locations chosen, pairs were formed and off they went.
We do that too. We plan for mission; we organize and strategize ways of getting God’s love and mercy to people. We support the methodical work of literacy that people like the Klass’ are doing through Wycliffe. We organize and run the Christian Service Center.
We raise money to respond to distant disasters through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. We go fix houses of poor people through Repair Baldwin. We learned all of this strategic organization from Jesus – from texts like the one we read today. We are a missional community, organized for mission.
Spiritual Basis for Mission
We also learn from texts like this that we are, at root, fundamentally a spiritual community. After the disciples return from organized mission, what does Jesus do?
“He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Jesus frequently got away from the noisy, chaotic, needy world, so he could be alone with his Heavenly Father. He was used to getting away to pray in solitude. This is the source of the fuel that fires mission: it is our spiritual connection with God who is Spirit.
Notice, they didn’t go to a temple or even a synagogue. They simply went off for some solitude, to commune with God. There is no such thing as authentic Christian mission that is not, at it’s very root and foundation, based on a vital spiritual connection with God.
There is one more powerful lesson we learn from this Master class text: it is that some ministry happens because we organized and planned for it. At other times, our mission is simply plopped down in front of us, unexpected and unplanned.
This is exactly what happened to Jesus and the disciples that day we read about.
“As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”
What was it that motivated Jesus in this unplanned moment?
“he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them”
“Compassion.” The word for “compassion” means that when you see need, it gets you in the guts. It moves you. You see hurting people, and it does something to you inside, so you naturally respond.
There is no law here that is there to obey such as: “thou shalt help people”.
There is no duty here to feel obligated to. There is no assignment, no command, no drudgery here.
Rather its the opposite. From deep in the heart comes this feeling – “O my! Look! There are people in need – and here I am with something to give. I didn’t plan this, but God must have put me here for a purpose.”
This is like the impulse to dive on top of children being shot at in a theater – it is “compassion” that comes from having embraced the vision of the Kingdom of God, responding to unplanned opportunities to be family.
Some local examples
This is who we are; this is what we do. We are now going to hear a report of two of our family here, who have recently been “sent out” on an organized mission, right here in Baldwin County through the ministry called Repair Baldwin.
Hear the “Halverson Benediction” which sums up the message today:
“Wherever you go; God is sending you there. Wherever you are; God has put you there. He has a purpose for you being there. Christ, who indwells you, has something he wants to do through you, where you are. So, believe that.”