Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sermon, "Summer Days: Picnic," Mark 6:30-44

Sermon 7/26/15
Mark 6:30-44

Summer Days: Picnic

            Maybe you’ve had an experience like this: you are exhausted. It has been a long week at work. Some things have gone wrong. And all week, you’ll been looking forward to a quiet Saturday at home, where you can sleep in and spend down time alone or maybe with your family or closest friends. But you’re just going to hang out. No agenda. No schedule. No plans. And then, there’s a knock at the door. Or the phone rings. And suddenly, that time for rest and relaxation has vanished. And it’s not even that whoever interrupted your time is not a friend, a person you enjoy. It’s just that you were so exhausted, and you so needed a break. Has this ever happened to you?  
            That’s what I imagine when I hear the opening of our text today from the gospel of Mark. The apostles have gathered around Jesus, and they tell him all they had done and taught. See, he had sent them out to preach and teach and heal on their own. He’d told them to pack lightly, stay where they were welcomed, and shake off the dust where they weren’t. They’d been sharing the good news about the kingdom of God. And they’d returned, and wanted to tell Jesus about everything they’d experienced. Not only that, but Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, had just been executed by Herod, beheaded. It is in the context of these events that Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Mark tells us that it was so crazy in their lives that they didn’t even have time for a meal. They need this time away. So they get in a boat and head out to a place they think will be deserted. But the crowds are paying attention, and realize where Jesus and the disciples are headed, and hurry on foot to greet them, so that by the time the boat arrives, Jesus and the twelve are greeted by a crowd of people in their supposed-to-be-deserted place. You and I might respond to this in any number of ways. I can imagine my groaning, my shoulders slumping, and the feeling of being overwhelmed, spent.
            Jesus, we read, has compassion for them, because they’re like sheep without a shepherd, and he immediately starts to teach them many things. That word, compassion, is my favorite Greek word. The Greek is splachnizomai, and it means something to the effect of your guts are tied up in knots with the level of concern you have. You are physically moved with emotion for the person you’re considering. In the gospels, this word is used frequently to describe how Jesus feels about the crowds. In fact, this words is used more times about Jesus than in others instances combined. When Jesus sees people, his guts twist with the deepness of his concern. His response, despite his clear need for some rest and renewal, bowls me over. I’m not convinced I have the same response all the time!
            Nonetheless, Jesus teaches late into the evening. The hour is late. And the disciples, who, you’ll note, have not been described as looking at the crowds with compassion, come to Jesus and tell him to send the crowds home to get some dinner. They clearly are not feeling the twisted guts thing. I think of classic movies that are about life in high school, and inevitably, there’s some scene in the cafeteria where the new kid, or the nerdy kid, or the kid who people have suddenly decided to hate enters the cafeteria and tries to find a place to sit down. And one by one, you see them rejected by different groups of people. Maybe there’s one table of misfits that will let them sit down. Maybe eventually they make their way to the cool kids’ table. But the message is pretty clear: in school, which table you sit at, where you eat, is extremely important. Was your school like this? Maybe my high school wasn’t quite so dramatic. But still, in junior high and high school, everyone mostly had a table that they always sat at. There was very little movement between the tables. People generally sat with the same set of people every single day.
            See, for better or worse, we learn early on in life that who you eat with is important. Who you eat with is an intimate act – it suggests relationship, affinity, similarity between you and your table companions. I’ve mentioned before I think that one of the things people get so upset about in the gospels is who Jesus chooses to eat with. The religious folks are always complaining and grumbling that Jesus eats with sinners and low-lifes! And if he eats with them – well, maybe that means Jesus has something in common with them. Maybe he likes those people. Maybe he even loves them. And the religious leaders, in all their dignified ways, essentially react like kids in movies about high school: “Ew, gross!”
            I think we’ve learned to expect this reaction in the gospels from some of the religious elite. They usually seem to be arguing with Jesus about things like this: who is in, and who is out, and according to what set of rules – theirs, or God’s. But I don’t think we expect the same reaction from the disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, his closest followers. Still, where Jesus reacts with compassion, the disciples can’t wait to be back in their own group. It’s one thing to preach and teach people. But when they want to sit down to eat, they want to be back in their own group.
            Jesus isn’t having it though. He says to them, “you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread to get them food?” Notice, the text does not say that they don’t have 200 denarii available among them. For perspective, later in the gospels, the costly perfume Mary of Bethany uses on Jesus is valued at 300 denarii. Both are high sums, to be sure. But we get the idea it isn’t really the cost that’s bothering the disciples. It’s the effort. They want everyone to just go home now. They want to be on their own. They’ve dealt with the crowds like Jesus wanted, but dinner time? That’s going to be just the group of them, right? Jesus and the 12 cool kids?
            Instead, Jesus orders them to gather what food the crowd has. They come up with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus gets everyone to sit down, and he takes the food, blesses it, and passes it out. And we read, “all ate and were filled” and there were twelve baskets of food leftover. This story of the feeding of the 5000 is generally counted as one of the miracles of Jesus. Scholars debate: Did Jesus multiply the food? Did he just inspire people to share what they had with them? What’s the significance of the event? I think there’s a lot of interesting things we could discuss here, but maybe first, we need to understand what we think about miracles. Miracles are events that cause wonderment. Surprising events that are welcome and not easy to explain, considered the work of God. To learn more, we turn to a scholarly source: E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.
If you aren’t familiar with the book, or have forgotten it, Charlotte’s Web is about a pig named Wilbur who is the runt of his litter. He is saved from death by the pleadings of a young girl, Fern, who raises him herself. When he gets too big, he goes to live on a farm, where he again faces death – they want to eat Wilbur, if you can imagine such a crazy thing! He is saved by the handiwork of a spider named Charlotte, who weaves words about Wilbur into her web. Fern’s mother is very concerned about everything, and goes to see the doctor, which is where our excerpt begins: 
“It’s about Fern,” [Mrs. Arable] explained. “Fern spends entirely too much time in the Zuckermans’ barn. It doesn’t seem normal. She sits on a milk stool in a corner of the barn cellar, near the pigpen, and watches animals, hour after hour. She just sits and listens.” Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes. “How enchanting!” he said. “It must be real nice and quiet down there. Homer has some sheep, hasn’t he?” “Yes,” said Mrs. Arable. “But it all started with that pig we let Fern raise on a bottle. She calls him Wilbur. Homer bought the pig, and ever since it left our place, Fern has been going to her uncle’s to be near it.” “I’ve been hearing things about that pig,” said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. “They say he’s quite a pig.” “Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider’s web?” asked Mrs. Arable nervously. “Yes,” replied the doctor. “Well, do you understand it?” asked Mrs. Arable. “Understand what?” "Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?" Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle." “What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle – it’s just a web.” “Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian. Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. “No,” she replied. “But I can crochet a doily and a can knit a sock.” “Sure,” said the doctor. “But somebody taught you, didn’t they?” “My mother taught me.” “Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don’t you regard that as a miracle?” “I suppose so,” said Mrs. Arable. Still, I don’t understand how those words got into the web. I don’t understand it, and I don’t like what I can’t understand.” “None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me.”
Maybe Jesus helping everyone to get fed isn’t the miracle in this story. Or at least, the specific nature of how it happens isn’t the part we need to worry so much about understanding. After all, today I mostly find it amazing that in a world that has more than enough food, somehow people are still going hungry. If what we describe is nothing more mysterious than people being moved by Jesus to share that they actually had more food than they first wanted to admit to share with others, than that’s no small welcome act of wonder in and of itself. If we could be moved by Jesus to start seeing how much we have, not how much we lack, I’d call that a miracle. If Jesus changed our lives so that our impulse was to share instead of keep, to open our hands instead of grasping tightly, I’d call that a miracle. But the miracle for which I give deepest thanks in this passage is that Jesus sees us with such compassion, again and again. That despite our giving God many reasons to be exasperated, we follow a Christ who gazes upon us with such love and hope as to be twisted up in knots over it. That’s a miracle. And if in our following of this Jesus, we can learn to look with the same compassion, with the same love, the same hope, so that we’re making room at our lunch tables, and opening the doors of our heart to those who are knocking: that would be a most welcome act of God in our lives. Fortunately, we serve a God of all kinds of miracles. In fact, these welcome surprises of God happen so often, I think our biggest danger is in failing to recognize them when they happen. Thankfully, God invites us to participate in miracle-making, giving us front row seats to the amazing things God has in store. “But Jesus answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’” Amen. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lectionary Note for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 11, Ordinary 16)

Readings for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/22/12: 
2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

2 Samuel 7:1-14a:
  • David feels bad that he's living in a nice house while God travels via tent in the ark. So he offers to build God a cedar house. And God says, "who says I need a house? I've been doing just fine without one!"
  • I think David's impulse is ours - wouldn't it be nicer if we could put God somewhere where we would always know where God was? But we get into trouble when our wanting to know where God is turns into wanting just to control God - period.
  • What would it mean if you would just led God travel through your life, and not try to restrict God to only a part of your life?
Psalm 89:20-37:
  • Says Chris Haslam, "Overall, a king, on behalf of the people, laments some disaster and blames God for it, but our portion of the psalm recalls what God “spoke in a vision” (v. 19) to Nathan and/or David."
  • Our part of the Psalm focuses on God talking about the power and anointing that he gives to David.
  • If God was to write a promise out like this for you and what God has planned for your life, what do you think it would say? What do you hope it would say?
  • "forever I will keep my steadfast love for him" - God's promise not just to David, but to us too.
Ephesians 2:11-22:
  • "For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." Yes, yes, yes!! Oh, what a message we need to hear and live into in this time, this country, world, church, denomination...
  • "one new humanity in the place of the two [groups]" - Why do we still live as if Christ had never eliminated the groups we've put ourselves into?
  • "peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near" - throughout, Paul is speaking about Gentiles and Jews. But we can always self apply. Do we always see ourselves as "those who [are] near" and everyone else as "far off" from Christ? He brings peace to both.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56:
  • This scene takes place immediately after last week's text where John the Baptist is beheaded. Retreating, then, seems to be in response not only to the disciples returning, but also to John's death.
  • "compassion for them" - the theme of Jesus' reaction towards the crowds throughout his ministry, even when he wants to be getting away. I wish I could say I always reacted the same way when I'm trying to get away and someone comes to me in need. The Greek word here for compassion is  from splanchnizomai, which means literally to "feel bowels of pity" - it is a physical, gut reaction of the insides - your stomach literally turning over in compassion. That's what Jesus feels when he sees the crowds.
  • "like sheep without a shepherd" - wandering, aimless, lost, without purpose. That's us at worst, isn't it?
  • "rushed about the whole region" - imagine how excited they must have been to have an opportunity to meet with Jesus, considering the communication available to them to let people know he had arrived.
  • relentless. The people were relentless in their pursuit of Jesus. Mark even indicates this in the pace of his short but relentlessly paced gospel. Very little rest in this account of Jesus.

Lectionary Notes for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 10, Ordinary 15)

Readings for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 7/12/15:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19:
  • This is a strange passage, and in it, Michal, one of David's wives, and daughter of deceased King Saul, comes out looking whiny and moody. But make sure you know her whole story. She was in love with David, and he married her, but eventually when he and Saul came into conflict, Saul gave Michael to another man to be married. When David wanted Michal back, he had to tear her away from her new husband, who followed after them crying. It is not surprising that she isn't thrilled to see David prancing around in his ephod (decorative ritual underwear!) Chapter six unfortunately ends with noting that Michal remains barren, not able to continue her family bloodline. I think she gets a bad deal.
  • That aside, the heart of the text today is in David's full body, soul, and heart dance before the Lord. He literally puts his whole self into giving thanks to God, dancing "with all his might." We are rarely so free and uninhibited when it comes to putting ourselves before God. What's holding you back?
Psalm 24:
  • What belongs to God in this psalm isn't limited to humankind - we too often act like that's all that's meant by God's creation!
  • Check out Chris Haslam's notes for background on this psalm.
  • "clean hands and pure hearts" - A mix of motherly and godly advice?
  • This psalm ties directly to the Advent hymn, "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates." The psalmist prepares for a triumphant arrival of the deity.
Ephesians 1:3-14:
  • "adoption as his children through Jesus Christ" - The language of adoption in terms of our relationship to God stirs mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, it is such a loving image of God choosing to make us part of God's family - going out of the way to make us children of God's own. On the other hand, I hear a lot of the biblical witness saying that as creatures of God, created by God's hand, that fact alone makes us God's children. Are we or aren't we all God's children? I think we are…
  • "The Beloved" from the Greek agapema, meaning, an object of love. Here Christ is called the beloved, the same word God speaks to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. Elsewhere in the scriptures, we are called beloved. One of my former bishops, Bishop Violet Fisher, always opened her letters by addressing us as The Beloved. Amazing comfort in little words.
  • "having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will" - predestined, from the Greek prooristhentes, meaning "to determine beforehand". Are we predestined to be adopted or not adopted by God? To heaven or hell? If we believe that God has plans for our lives, which I do, how is that different than believing that God has determined already our final salvation/non-salvation, which I don't believe?
Mark 6:14-29:
  • This text is another one that has dancing in it - a strange connection for texts.
  • Foolishness - King Herod, walking the line with a chance of making a right or at least better decision, perhaps even somewhat intrigued by John, winds up, as the result of a drunken promise, beheading him. What is the most foolish thing you've ever done? How might things have been different in the long run if Herod had not been so foolish?
  • How do you think John's disciples felt? The gospels tell us that they interacted, of course, with Jesus' disciples - do you think they were disillusioned? Went to follow Jesus? What do you think they did?
  • Following news of these events, Jesus tries to withdraw from the crowds, but that's the text for another Sunday...

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 9, Ordinary 14)

Readings for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/5/15:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10:
  • "bone and flesh" - it must have given David great comfort to hear these words of commitment from the tribes, even after they had served under Saul. We don't always have such great success at transitioning leadership in the church, do we? Of course, with Saul's death, this transition wasn't exactly smooth either...
  • In verse 2, the people say it was David who "led out Israel and brought it in" - tasks of a shepherd. This imagery sticks with David throughout his life - it is how he views God (Psalm 23) and how God has called him to be.
  • "30 years old" - Wow. At 27 as I write this, I can't imagine being King of such a messed up country at 30. Impressive.
Psalm 48:
  • This psalm focuses mostly on the beauty of Jerusalem, the holy place, and Mount Zion, a holy and loved place in Jerusalem. Perhaps the biblical equivalent of "America the Beautiful," which happens to be my favorite patriotic song - focusing on what we love about our homeland and our thankfulness for it, as opposed to focusing on our superiority over others.
  • Still, perhaps this psalm is a little "Star-Spangled Banner" - we do get a bit of enemy talk in here (what is a psalm without it, right?)
  • What's your favorite holy place? What's your favorite convergence of home and God?
2 Corinthians 12:2-10:
  • "caught up to the third heaven" - Paul clearly has a different understanding of cosmology than do we today - check out Chris Haslam's notes on the topic.
  • "thorn in the flesh" - I think we can all relate to Paul here, even if we'll never know exactly what Paul considered his "thorn in the flesh." We all know our thorn or thorns. What's yours? How do you deal with it?
  • "boast" - Someday I have to count the number of times Paul uses the word 'boast' and the number of times he is writing about how he's really not boasting!
  • "whenever I am weak, then I am strong" - a very Jesus-like paradoxical statement
Mark 6:1-13:
  • Jesus' experience of going home and finding people less-than-welcoming is not unusual. Things are never the same when you leave and go back again, are they?
  • The disciples here make an initial transition to apostles - ones sent. Christopher Moore, in his hilarious and poignant Lamb, has this conversation between Joshua (Jesus) and his disciples: “Okay, who wants to be an apostle?” “I do, I do,” said Nathaniel. “What’s an apostle?” “That’s a guy who makes drugs,” I said. “Me, me,” said Nathaniel. “I want to make drugs.” “I’ll try that,” said John. “That’s an apothecary,” said Matthew . . . “Apostle means ‘to send off.’” . . . “That’s right,” said Joshua, “messengers. You’ll be sent off to spread the message that the kingdom has come.” “Isn’t that what we’re doing now?” asked Peter. “No, now you’re disciples, but I want to appoint apostles who will take the Word into the land . . . I will give you power to heal, and power over devils. You’ll be like me, only in a different outfit. You’ll take nothing with you except your clothes. You’ll live only off the charity of those you preach to. You’ll be on your own, like sheep among wolves. People will persecute you and spit on you, and maybe beat you, and if that happens, well, it happens. Shake of the dust and move on. Now, who’s with me?” And there was a roaring silence among the disciples . . . [so] Joshua stood up and just counted them off . . . You’re the apostles. Now get out there and apostilize.” And they all looked at each other. “Spread the good news, the son of man is here! The kingdom is coming. Go! Go! Go!” They got up and sort of milled around . . . Thus were the twelve appointed to their sacred mission.”
  • Think of how detailed our preparations for traveling are these days. Itineraries and packing and repacking and maps and GPS - could you go out as unprepared as Jesus sent the disciples? And yet, they do it, prepared in the ways that count, as much as they can be.
  • How prepared can you really be, anyway? Before actually starting my first day as a pastor, I still felt unprepared. Trained, equipped - but nothing can totally prepare you for the real thing. You just have to do it. So it is with being sent by Jesus. We just have to do it.