The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost: July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Preacher: The Rev. Samuel J. Smith, Assistant Priest, St. Michael’s Church
Have you ever been so tired that all you can think to do is curl up and go to sleep? That feeling where very fiber of your being is working toward getting that rest, and anything that gets in the way seems much more insurmountable than it probably is?
I have had that feeling more than once over the last two weeks. As you may know, Don and I have already made the move to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where I will be the new Priest-in-Charge at St. Paul’s Church starting in August. The moving truck came a week ago Friday, and the boxes were unloaded in our new home this past Monday.
Things are coming along pretty well—the most essential rooms (Bedroom, Kitchen, Bathrooms) are unpacked and functional, and the rest is at least underway. But getting to this point has not been easy. We have had many long days, as well as many relatively sleepless nights. I have been really, really tired.
So I can easily identify with Jesus and the disciples in this morning’s gospel lesson. They too are tired. They have been traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and healing. They have been doing amazing things, and they have become known as healers—as miracle workers! The crowds are all around them, and they have been so busy that they have not even had time to eat. Jesus says they need some down time, so he suggests they go off to a deserted place, where they can rest. But the crowd sees where they are going, and manages to get there even before they arrive.
Now, can you imagine how they must have felt, as the boat neared the shore, to see that crowd gathered in a place they thought was deserted? If I had been on that boat, I think I would have been angry; I would have asked the crowd to leave us alone for a bit; let us recharge, and would have promised to get back to them shortly.
But that’s not what Jesus does. The text says that Jesus had compassion for the crowd, and he gets off the boat and begins teaching and healing. Jesus has compassion.
What does the word compassion mean? “Com” means with – so “with passion.” Jesus reacts not with pity, or out of any duty, but rather feels the plight of those pressing in on them – he is one with them. He could have kept them at arm’s length—we can feel pity for people and things without getting involved. But he is with the crowd. This God is not one on high, acting above and beyond us; our God is one that is with us; one that identifies with us; one that is willing to get down in the muck and mire with us.
Jewish theologian Abraham Herschel speaks of this distinct nature of the Judeo-Christian God in his book, The Prophets. He talks about the divine pathos of our God, saying, “God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world. He does not simply command and expect obedience; He is also moved and affected by what happens in the world… God is concerned about the world and shares it fate. Indeed, this is the essence of God’s moral nature: His willingness to be intimately involved in the history of man.”[i]
God is with us; God in the form of Jesus became incarnate, became one of us, in a truly unique act of love. God came to earth and became human out of a deep compassion, and that compassion achieves its full expression at Golgotha, when we see that God identifies with us not only in birth and life, but also in death.[ii]
This was a radical idea for the world of Jesus’ time, and it is still radical. God is not at some remove; God is among us! God completely identifies with us, and compels us to act in tandem with God in our world, for our world. We are called to be companions with God in compassion.
But how do we do that—work with God? Perhaps a hint may be found in the verses left out of today’s reading. Verses 35 to 44 of the sixth chapter of Mark are the feeding of the five thousand, where the disciples come to Jesus and tell him that he should send the crowd away to eat. Instead, Jesus tells the disciples that they should feed the crowd.
And you know how that goes. The disciples are incredulous. They have five loaves and two fish – there’s no way that’s enough to feed 5,000 people!
And yet, when Jesus blesses the bread and breaks it, and they begin to pass it around, it turns out that there is more than enough for everyone.
Jesus knows that there is enough, but insists that the disciples must act—they must be the instruments of God, in order for this bounty to come to the people. We are called to reach out, not to provide. God will do the providing part.
The other missing verses give more valuable information to us. Verses 45 through 52 are the story of Jesus walking on water. The disciples are frightened when they see Jesus walking across the stormy sea; but Jesus says to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
We must not let our fear of the unknown discourage our faith; rather we must continue to believe in the goodness of God and God’s world, and dare to see God in the very thing that frightens us. We are called to push through our fears, our trepidations, our reticence, and to continue to do the work God has put before us.
And yet, God does not expect us to be relentless. We are also called to monitor ourselves—to know when there’s no more gas in the tank. In my weariness over the last few weeks, I found such welcome in Jesus’ first words to the disciples in this passage: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
I think that New Yorkers especially need to hear this entreaty from Jesus. Despite what we might think, we can’t do it all. We must take care of ourselves; we must know when it’s time to go away to a deserted place all by ourselves and rest.
Only you can know what that means for you. But please, be sure to be proactive in finding your own ways to restore and refresh. God calls you not only to be active, but also to rest.
Now, I have been thinking a lot about what I want to say to you as I leave this magnificent place, and all of you magnificent people. More than anything else, I want to say thank you. Thank you for loving Don and me; thank you for listening to me, here in the pulpit and elsewhere, and engaging in meaningful conversation. Thank you for helping form me for my next call.
And I also want to call on you to keep up the fight—to keep doing the good work that God has called you to do in partnership with God. To continue to be God’s instruments of healing for a world that so desperately needs the love that God offers—through us.
And I also call on you to believe that you can make a difference in the world—that despite the obstacles that may arise, or the fear that you are not enough, or that you don’t know what to do, to know that, with God in your corner, anything is possible.
Sometimes I think the world’s problems seem so big that we are sure our little effort won’t make even a dent. But if we don’t try, who will? I call on you to dare to answer God’s call, despite your fears.
We are so privileged here at St. Michael’s. Privileged to have been a witness on this corner of Amsterdam and 99th for over 200 years. Privileged to be in this beautiful, beautiful building, gifted to us by previous generations as a haven for prayer and praise, for rest and rejuvenation, for support and salvation. Privileged to be fellow disciples with such different, smart, engaging, and fun people.
And as it says in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” [Luke 12:48, NRSV]
God is calling you to action, St. Michael’s Church. Are you ready to live out the compassion of Christ as God’s instruments in the world? Can you make St. Michael’s the seat of compassion for this neighborhood? Of course, the way will not always be smooth; things will not always go the way we would like. There will even be those who will strive to thwart the work of God that you undertake.
My friends, you know that evil exists in this world, and is not going away. But we can sing a song of love and drown out the voice of evil. We can use our words and our actions to point to the way of love. We can let the world know that God’s touch will heal us all.
So as I leave you, I call on you to continue with the work of God. Don’t be afraid. And be sure that you take time to rest and rejuvenate, so that you can continue to be God’s instrument—God’s partner in compassion—for years to come.
Let us pray.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.[iii]
[i] Heschel, Abraham, quoted in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 262. (Article by Douglas John Hall)
[ii] Hall, Douglas John, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, p. 264.
[iii] “A Prayer attributed to St. Francis,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 833.