8th Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2015
Mark 6: 30-34, 53 -56
When was the last time you felt like a sheep without a shepherd? Things have been hectic around here the last few weeks; it has felt to me as if anything of consequence that was going to happen this summer was happening in July, but that is not my lost story. When I look for the times when I have most felt that lost, I have to look at the early days of my time in Santa Barbara. I had moved there to take a job that would allow me to go school to finish my undergrad degree on the path to a seminary education. It seemed like such a huge project that it made me anxious just to think about how long it might take. All the anxiety of a new job, even working for an old friend, of making a home, of getting the requirements of a new university taken care of 30 years out of college, of making new friends just overwhelmed me. I thought I should be rejoicing to be finally on my way to having all my dreams come true, and instead I felt constantly as if I were under siege. I was all just too much. I remember confessing that I felt as if I were crawling on my belly with live bullets whizzing overhead, and my only comfort was the certainty that the path I was on, however hysterical it seemed, was the one I was supposed to be on. I needed to know that God was leading me, and on many days, I wanted Jesus to be carrying me, just like those sentimental pictures you see of Jesus carrying a lamb.
How about you? What’s your story of Jesus leading you through the dark times or the crazy times? There’s a reason that this Psalm is the touchstone of comfort for so many people, and has been for ages before us. The very central word of these 55 exquisite words is “You.” “You are with me.” The Lord who is named in the beginning and end of this poem is here, now. Not only is this elegant poetry, not only is it simple and easy to remember, it is an image that has deep roots. The image of God or King as shepherd is a very old one in the Middle East. There are inscriptions on Assyrian buildings of Hammurabi – the ancient law-giver – claiming to be the shepherd who will guarantee the safety of his people to eat and sleep in peace. But in this Psalm, we hear the claim that the Lord of Hosts, the God of all gods is the true shepherd, not only of the individual who walks alone, but of the people God has chosen to be a light to the nations.
In the imagery of this psalm is the story of God leading God’s people out of Egypt – the land of their slavery – through the wilderness, leading them by night in a pillar of fire and by day in a pillar of cloud, preparing food for them – manna in the morning and quail at night, meeting them in the tabernacle in song and word, and giving them the Law that brings peace and safety to their lives.
And so in the story from Mark that we have before us here today, we hear Jesus responding with compassion to the needs of those who have clamored after him, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Just as he wanted to spend special time nurturing his disciples after their incredible mission trip, just as they longed for refreshment in Jesus’ presence and a chance to tell of their victories and defeats, they are besieged by the crowd that has seen them set sail. Jesus has fed a crowd before and healed all their sickness, but that doesn’t seem to be only what these people crave. They sit for teaching. They want to hear the stories Jesus tells of what it’s like in the Kingdom of God.
We too, when it comes right down to it, need to hear those stories. We need to hear again that our failures and lack of concern for anything but our own comfort will not keep us from God’s love. We need to hear again that we have been blessed and welcomed into God’s life because of God’s love for us, not because we have earned it. You can always lose what you have earned, but you cannot lose God’s love because it is a gift, not dependent on you or your actions. We can be bold in the world because we are loved and blessed, and freed to be a blessing to others. When we sit down at that banquet the psalmist imagines, we can invite anyone to join us in that place that God has created to bless us.
This morning, we will welcome Zoey Groves into God’s family among us. We will listen to her parents and sponsors promise to raise her to know God’s love for her, and to bring her often to grow into her special place in the Body of Christ that we are when we are gathered here. And we will promise to support Amanda and Brad in that work they have promised to do for Zoey. They will be her shepherds, and we will be their shepherds in the work of teaching about Jesus and God’s love. And over us all will be Jesus, the true Shepherd, leading us, comforting us, giving us the strength of plenty of water and nourishment for our bodies and souls. No matter how far apart we are from each other, we will have this moment to remember that we will never be lost, for our Shepherd is always with us.
Pray with me:
Dear Shepherd, you promise goodness and mercy to us all the days of our lives. May we ever trust your promises, and live them with such delight that all will see your hand leading us and your love supporting us, no matter where we go. Amen.