The readings for each Sunday during Pentecost Season (which is almost half of the church year!) many times seem like they have no common theme. I have no idea what they were thinking when they picked the readings for today. So, I’m going to present a couple of ideas I have for two of the readings, and a separate idea I have for a most familiar story the lectionary designers just skipped over in the Gospel today.
In our first reading from 2 Samuel, we hear about King David wondering why God does not have a fabulous temple for all to see and for God “to dwell in”. David has been blessed by God to be the king over God’s people and has every extravagance in his own surroundings and in his life. He's grateful to God for all that God has done, in his finally having found a wonderful place to call home, a place for him and the people of Israel to put down their roots. Or maybe it is David's determination to be known as the one to build God a temple.
Instead, God says how things will work—God did not ask for a temple and does not actually need one. God says that David’s kingdom and people will continues to be blessed, David’s son will also have God’s favor, and that his son will be the one who builds the temple.
In the world we live in today, we all look for tangible things to secure our present lives, to ground ourselves in something that shows we lived. Tangible things matter: nice houses, nice cars, things to leave our children, and the hope our children can attend good universities and make a good living for themselves. Present "temples of God" -- our churches, the buildings and the church communities--sometimes fit a little too easily into the world we want rather than what is real. They are conveniently located, user friendly, fancy and elaborate, and they are not very assessable to the rest of the real world and its problems. The church of God is always vulnerable to becoming the place where God lives, rather than a place where we together worship God, where we get our shared inspiration to do the ministry of Jesus Christ around us, and even where we use our church buildings as a place for doing this ministry. At St. Mark’s, I know we already get this by how we originally built, have upgraded and maintain, and use our building for the ministry of helping others. It’s also why we have recently supported the rebuilding the Trinity Cathedral in Haiti, so it can continue as the central place of worship of God, to help build faith communities there, and to be a place of huge ministry for the Haitian people.
This week's Gospel from Mark picks up where we left off two weeks ago, with the return of the disciples who had been sent out by twos to minister to those they encountered. They were worn out, but excited by what they had been able to do in God’s name. Jesus urged them to seek a place to rest after their exhausting ministry. But on this day, there would be no rest, because the demanding crowds of needy people saw where they were going and were already there, waiting for them! And it just continued--everywhere that Jesus and the disciples went, there were crowds of needy people pressing in upon them and bringing their sick for healing.
The message here I see is that doing the work of Jesus Christ can really be tiring and frustrating, especially if the needs around you are great. But it is also very uplifting, and some amazing things can happen if you are looking for them. We have heard about the street ministry that Sarah has been doing the past year in Boston with the homeless, and that although it can be painful to see the plight of these people, she says she also has seen Jesus in these people and their stories in ways she never would otherwise. It seems unreal that any of us might do this type of ministry, but I believe there are ways we have all seen the face of Jesus in those we encounter around us that we don’t even realize. If we just open our eyes (and hearts!), we will be amazed at what we can find.
And last, the skipped over story in our Gospel from Mark. If you will look at your lectionaries, between “he began to teach them many things”, and “when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat”, there is a rather familiar story we know as the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It has been left out for this week because it will be talked about in future weeks using other Gospel versions of the story. This is one of my favorite stories of the ministry of Jesus, because it brings up all kinds of speculation for how this “miracle” could actually have happened.
Here’s my thought: what about looking at this story as a really large version of Jesus showing how to act in a social justice kind of way. The people who were listening to Jesus’ teachings were not the top 1%ers of the local society; in fact most were probably very poor and in real need of help in all ways—education, medical, financial, and even just needing a good meal!
Jesus, to the continuing amazement of his disciples, was able to take a small amount of food (a few fish and some bread given by a local boy), and turned it into a full meal for about 5000 men, as well as women and children. Jesus preached to all of them, and sent them home fed, both bodily and spiritually. How Jesus did this, especially the food miracle—who knows! Jesus showed his disciples (and us too!) that it is really important as a faithful community to be aware of those needy people around us and to work together to help them however possible. At St. Mark’s, we gain some awareness of the needs through the local social justice network and services, and by individuals in our church who watch for situations and people in need, and they help us understand ways we can help. We show our responses by our generous regular giving to St. Mark’s that supports our outreach budget, by our discretionary fund available for our priests to help others, and by our giving to specific calls to help in the community—like school supplies for kids, supplies for Union Gospel Mission, and others. Even our participation in the ecumenical Montesano Community Bible Camp each July, where we have the preschool age kids, is a great ministry to those new in encountering Jesus and for their parents as well.
I feel that our own church community efforts, and in a larger way, those efforts we participate in as a town, a state, and as a country, are really important in showing our shared commitment to and response to our common faith in God. We can ensure that everyone in this country has some minimum level of food, clothing, medical care, and other critical needs met, raising our whole country’s standard of living. This shows to the world that Americans do have compassion for all that Jesus preached about, whether it is to those in Galilee 2000 years ago, or by his words we hear every Sunday in our worship here at St. Mark’s.
You know what—there is a common theme for this Sunday! It is about the REAL CHURCH, and what it means to be one! Our Canon for Stewardship Rev. Lance Ousley asks these questions about this Real Church and our faith: “What is it that we love about our faith and our churches? Are we making known what God is doing in our lives and in the world through Christ? What are we willing to do to make this true for others?”
Our latest church reader board message says: “Compassion in Action”. I believe that describes St. Mark’s well! Let us continue to be one of those Real Church communities, and follow the message of Jesus in doing what a real church does! AMEN