What I really wanted to do today for the sermon was say, “Remember what Corby said last week so well about the Feeding of the 5000? What she said!” However, we were all thrown a knuckleball by the Lectionary folks, as they chose to bypass that miracle and another well-known one about Jesus and his disciples in the boat—with Jesus walking on the water and then calming the storm. So, I had to actually work out my own sermon for today.
I’m not going to discuss any common theme from these readings, as I did not see one. So, I’ll work on each reading with its own message to us.
In the 2nd Samuel reading, we just last week had King David dancing away at his “installation” so to speak as king, with the ark in tow, bringing not only his earthly kingship to Jerusalem, but also officially showing that God was along too. David built himself a magnificent home/palace out of cedar, and then realized that God should have a splendid temple also for the ark and for worship—not just be housed in a tent. Nathan, his servant and confidant, first told him that was a great idea--and go for it! Then, God got Nathan’s attention and said that he had never asked for a temple, and that David would not be the one building a temple for him. (Of course it became King Solomon, David’s son, and probably the greatest Jewish king, who would get that honor.) In addition, Nathan was told that God would make David’s lineage last forever as faithful to God. (Some believe this even makes the connection to Jesus the Messiah, who established the kingdom of God forever for those who believe. Not too sure I want to go there with this reading.) Well, the earthly reign of the Jews in Jerusalem lasted about 400 years, until they were exiled away to Babylon and the first temple was destroyed.
There are some who believe that the Christians have now received the previous blessing of God to the Jews, because the Jews failed to see Jesus as the Messiah, and that only Christians are now blessed by God. Further, some even believe that only true Christian believers in the US are blessed by God, and all other people in the world are outside the faith, and are destined for eternal hell. I have not found any Bible readings that can make that claim at all, especially considering that the US did not happen until almost 1800 years after Jesus walked among the people in Israel.
There are so many ways to stretch the Bible into what one wants to make of it, and this is a really outrageous one—I call it “the city on the hill” syndrome, first described by John Winthrop in 1630 as the awful ruthless and intolerant leader of the Puritans in Massachusetts, and later used by President Ronald Reagan in his pre-election night speech in 1980 targeting the Christian Right to support him, adding the word “shining” to the phrase. For any people to claim that only true Christians know God, and to condemn all others is really off base, and does nothing to recognize the teachings of Jesus in showing tolerance, inclusion, compassion, mercy, sharing and so on. We all will have our own judgment time someday, and it won’t be others in this world who are the judges.
A concept of inclusion is brought out today in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul is writing to the new Christians at Ephesus, an area east of the Mediterranean Sea in Asia Minor--full of Gentiles, not Jews. He is making the point to them that the new church is based on the history and laws of the Jewish people of Israel—Jesus was a Jew! But Jesus has torn down those laws with his life and death, and now all are welcome into the family of God. Circumcision has no role to play in this anymore.
Arland Hultgen wrote on this point: “We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien. Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ. The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God. The congregation as laboratory for the kingdom can also be a witness to the wider, secular society. Differences among persons exist, but community is possible when dividing walls, based on hostility, are broken down. The bonds of a common humanity tie us together for the good of all.”
As I said earlier, the Lectionary folks gave us a strange Gospel, as they started with 5 verses talking about Jesus and the Disciples going away by boat to a deserted place, and that people saw them and when they returned they were overcome by a great multitude, seeking healing and preaching. A large section of Mark 6 (18 verses) is skipped--that includes both the feeding of the 5000 and the calming of the storm by Jesus when he took to the lake again. The lectionary resumes with the group landing in the area of Genessaret near Capernaum, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus and the Disciples do a lot more healing and teaching.
I confess I was confused by all of this and even confused a boat crossing that Jesus and his apostles did to the land of the Gerasenes (confusing this name with Genessaret). It turns out that the land of the Gerasenes, east of the Sea of Galilee, and the story of a demon called Legion inhabiting a man, who Jesus removed into a herd of pigs, was actually earlier in Mark 5.
Two things we discussed in our weekly Bible study this week, which was even more fun as Connie and Bonnie came in to join us with the Bishops Committee meeting happening afterwards. One was the importance of pulling back, taking “Sabbath” time, getting away to reflect and refresh, when one is overburdened with their life, their normal (or not so normal) activities, or their ministry. Even Jesus told his disciples that they all needed this and took them away for a short rest.
The second one was Jesus seeing all of the need in the local “common” people there, hungry and needing physical and mental healing, and he and his disciples provided it in abundance, on one shore with a very large group of 5000 and more, and then on another shore and another whole region.
In some ways, that is how we at St. Mark’s see our ministry—one that is focused on helping various groups in need. Through our local outreach here in Montesano we provide $$ help to the local food bank, the Children’s Center, and emergency kids’ needs at the high school. And as part of supporting the Chaplains on the Harbor ministry in Aberdeen and Westport we support those who are struggling in many ways. We also give some $$ to programs like the Domestic Violence Center in Aberdeen, and more generally in SW WA to Camp’s Michael and Victory—for kids looking for some fun, and also providing some encouragement in their lives.
To finish this, I read a phrase I had not heard before, but which to me is totally right on, when thinking about this Gospel reading—it is called “compassion fatigue”. Whether one is working within an organized ministry such as Chaplains on the Harbor, or a Children’s ministry, or a social service organization, or whatever, it is surely to occur that one will feel burn out, and that can be somewhat attributed to this ongoing compassion for those who are struggling, while one can have their own struggles too. I say this only to remind us all that this is something that IS—and it is ok. Taking some rest and relief is ok, and Jesus is ok with it—so take care of yourself, because Jesus needs us all but needs us in good operating mode and willing and wanting to be there. The good news, then, is that you and I can take a break at times. Rest, relaxation, vacation, is not only a God-given gift; it is a God-given necessity.