July 18: The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, July 18, 2021 was preached in response to Mark 6.30-34, 53-56 using the below manuscript.

“Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves
and rest a while.”
At the beginning of Chapter 6,
before we hear the remembrance,
the flashback
of John’s beheading,
the apostles
were sent out.
That’s what the twelve apostles are
those who have been sent out.
Their story,
entwined with Jesus’ story,
resumes today.

Those who have been sent out
come back together.
They tell Jesus
all that they’ve done and taught
So many people are coming and going,
not the apostles,
but those in the surrounding towns and region,
that the apostles
don’t have the time to eat.
Jesus invites the apostles to
go away for a while,
but the crowds see them
in the boat.
The crowds run ahead on foot,
and again the disciples
are back to their work
of proclaiming
the Good News.

Before they reach their destination,
Jesus has the boat stop
so that he can teach the crowds.
So much for
“Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves
and rest a while.”
He feeds 5,000 people
then he himself goes alone to pray
and sends the disciples
to try and do the same.
He walks on water,
and they don’t understand him.
The disciple don’t grasp who he is,
but by the time they reach their destination,
everyone is bringing their sick
or trying to touch Jesus’ clothes.
From Jesus to the disciples to the crowds,
everyone is tired.
They’ve been holding out for a hero,
and having compassion on them,
Jesus cares for them
fearing that they are like sheep
without a shepherd.

Church and society
are tired.
We’re maybe finishing
the marathon of COVID,
though the Delta variant
seems to be suggesting otherwise.
The Rev. Jenny Smith,
over at Edmonds UMC
has observed that the church:
closed our doors to in-person worship.
figured out online worship.
Maybe. Kind of.
received email after email
from frustrated congregants.
tried to continue as many ministries
as we could sustain.
dreamed up new ones.
ached with isolation.
spoke hope and grace and possibility.
agonized over the safest ways
to return to in-person gatherings.
received grace and stunning kindness
from people in our communities.

Over the last year plus,
as we’ve wondered how long
this all will last
there’s been lots of comparing
pandemic to marathon.
“It’s a marathon,
not a sprint.”
Has anyone else
run a marathon?
Two was one too many for me,
but when we compare anything to running marathons,
we forget or just don’t know
how much training
and preparation
is involved.

Marathoners easily run
over 350 miles
training for a 26.2 mile race.
My longest training run —
two or three weeks before the race —
was 20 miles.
We were all just dropped
into this marathon
of a global pandemic.
We didn’t practice
for how the last 17 months
would be.
With rising rates again,
though with much less impact
and just the return
to some of how things were,
Rev. Jenny invites us to wonder
about a second marathon.
Do we get our hypothermia blanket
and get to take our free subway ride?
Do we get to collapse
into an ice bath
and look forward with dread
to the necessary foam rolling
and ibuprofen
and best tasting meal
we’ve ever had?

“As Jesus 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.”
“Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves
and rest a while.”
Jesus the Good Shepherd,
not fleshed out in Mark
as he is in John
during Easter season,
knows what the people need.
Jesus knows what the disciples need.

As the Good Shepherd,
he doesn’t just give them
whatever they want.
Even as he cares for the disciples,
and invites them to rest,
his compassion for the crowds,
puts it off temporarily.
Caring for the crowds,
knowing that there is more to life than food,
Jesus the Good Shepherd
teaches them.
Knowing that the head and heart
can’t take more than the body can stand,
he then feeds them abundantly,
so much that they are completely filled.
As Lamar Williamson puts it,
“Led by compassion to teach them
(for man shall not live by bread alone),
Jesus in compassion
gives bread as well.”

Eventually, though
Jesus dismisses the crowd
and sends the disciples to rest.
He sends them across the lake
to rest together
and to find time for isolation.
Jesus himself goes off
to pray by himself.
Rested and renewed,
when Jesus and the apostles
get out of the boat
they get right back to work.
Jesus’ fame is spreading,
and people come to him
seeking to be healed.
People come to Jesus,
knowing that he
can give them rest.

In Eucharistic Prayer C we pray,
“Deliver us from the presumption
of coming to this Table for solace only,
and not for strength;
for pardon only,
and not for renewal.
Yet we do come to this Table
for solace and for renewal.
Augustine of Hippo wrote,
“You have made us for you, O Lord,
and our heart is restless
until it finds its rest in you.”
Jesus bids the apostles,
who have been off doing
the work that has been given them to do,
“Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves
and rest a while.”
Jesus offers us
the same bidding
whether this marathon is over
or we’re finding ourselves
starting another leg.

Rev. Jenny,
over at Edmonds UMC
invites us the church
to hear Jesus’ call.
Rather than trying to run
another race,
the race of before,
the race of how things were,
she asks us
to actively rethink
how we do business
as a church
and for the world.
She wonders,
“As the gears come to life in our faith communities,
we have the opportunity to tell the truth,
to slow the pace,
and question everything
as we enter the new normal…
“What if we looked at each other and gently nodded.
Slowed our forced jog.
And started walking.

We’re doing great ministry,
and we’ve got Bread for the journey.
How can we answer Jesus’ Good Shepherd call,
calling us to rest?
How can we walk together
proclaiming that God’s reign is at hand,
and break out of this run?

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