A Sermon for 22 July 2018
A reading from the gospel of Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56. Earlier in the story, Jesus had sent out his disciples, charging them to carry out his healing ministry wherever they went. Upon their return, we hear this. Listen for God’s word to us.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he 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. . . . 53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
We have one more reading today. It is from Revelation 3:14-18, 20, 22. Listen.
“’And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: 15 I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. . . . 20Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. . . . 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’”
This too is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Human need dominates the stories presented today in the gospel of Mark. Everywhere Jesus goes; the sick, the lame, the chronically incurable are placed upon his path. The verses from the gospel of Mark that we heard today aren’t as exciting as the ones skipped over by the assigned lectionary text. Between the disciples of Jesus returning to him and those in need pressing round him no matter where he goes; we miss the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry men plus women and children, and Jesus amazingly walking over the water of the Sea of Galilee to catch back up with his disciples after he sent them on ahead, dismissed the fed-crowd, then went up the mountain alone to pray. Those might have made better stories for today – awing us with five thousand plus fed from five little loaves and two little fish. Boggling our minds at the sight of Jesus striding across tumultuous water until finally getting into his disciple’s boat. Instead we’re left to ponder what seems like transitional verses. Hastily put before us. Reeking of human need.
He should have known he was walking into a hornet’s nest of need. One biblical commentator reminds that “the town of Gennesaret was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Magdala and Capernaum, where numerous hot mineral springs had attracted the sick and injured for centuries” (Robert A. Bryant, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 265). As one who has been about the land healing in word and deed, Jesus should have known he’d be swarmed by human need the moment he set foot out of the boat. He just had landed in a town of last resort. Like emergency rooms today, those whose bodies would not get well on their own flocked to the magical mineral springs. When all else fails, we’ll try just about anything. The misery of human pain, the weariness of chronic illness, the hopeless out-of-control feelings of our bodies not working the way we want them to can open us to whatever healing we might be able to find. . . . People from all over Galilee are brought near Jesus – everywhere he goes. The gospel records that they “begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6:56). Which reminds us that no matter how bad the news is today; human need is nothing new. With the goodness of a committed shepherd, God in Christ still looks upon our need with compassion.
All our needs – at least according to the gospel of Mark. Though it may be the most recognizable, physical illness is not the only human need addressed by Jesus. The gospel of Mark records that when Jesus’ disciples return from their ministry adventures, Jesus whisks them away to a deserted place. He wants them to rest; for, as the gospel records, “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:30). A wise leader, the disciple’s Lord can see the need in them – the ones who had been sent out to heal human needs. They only can be out there at it so long until they must take a break. Rest. Re-fill. Refresh so they might journey on. Which hopefully is exactly what we experience when we gather here. To worship. To be re-filled by God in order to go back out to serve a world full of immense human need. . . . In the 20th Century, the American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that all humans have needs which, in fact, are hierarchical. We’d do well to remember – especially as we seek to serve God by serving others faithfully each day. Maslow explained that if our physiological needs for food, drink, and sleep are not met; it is not possible for our basic needs for safety, shelter, and stability to be met. Our social needs for being loved, for belonging, and for feeling included somewhere; must be met before our ego needs of self-esteem and personal power ever will feel complete. And all four of these – what Maslow called deficiency needs because we will feel deficient in some way if these are not met – our deficiency physical, security, social, and ego needs must be attended before we ever are able to reach for our own self-actualization – our fullest potential as human beings who can grow and create and develop. Even the great philosopher Aristotle believed that “no one can philosophize on an empty stomach!” (see https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/our-hierarchy-needs%3famp). Jesus’ disciples were filled with their own human needs. Beautifully, Jesus ensures those needs also are addressed.
Which makes it a little confusing why so often as God’s people, the church, we fail to admit our needs. All of our needs, not just the obvious ones everyone with two eyes easily can see! . . . I once knew a family – a beautiful, picture perfect church family with whom I closely worked in a whole variety of church ministries for about a decade. I’d been to their home on a number of occasions. Was present at the birth of all four of their children. Watched them grow for almost ten years. One night, several years after I no longer was their pastor, I bumped into the mom unexpectedly. The next night, I received a late-night frantic call from her. She bashfully explained that after years of watching her beloved husband drink himself into a messy, depressed stupor each night; the man suddenly had gone missing that very night. She didn’t know where else to turn; so, in desperation, she called to see if I might be able to help. Perhaps that family routinely brought their households needs to God. But never once in their ten years of perfect-looking membership in the church where I met them, never had they EVER brought their broken, chaotic family needs to me or any other person of that church. Had the crisis of that night never happened, I’m certain they never would have. The words of one biblical commentator bellow what seems to be true. She writes: “Most people in Western Christianity see the story of their life as a self-sufficient text. This text may intersect with others, but for the most part it reveals a narrative that is self-contained, self-grounded, and self-made” (Cheryl Bridges Johns, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, p. 261). A picture-perfect public face behind which we all try to hide.
Like it or not, we all have human needs. The true knowledge of who we are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually beneath the surface of the public images we seek to continue. . . . I am NOT suggesting we have a big cry-fest to let it all come tumbling out before each other. I’m not proposing a pass-the-mic-around-the-room tell-all that reveals every last need in each of us. That likely would do more individual harm than good. We do each need at least one person on earth with whom we safely can tell our truth so that we can continue to function well. And we need to know that with God, we never need to hide behind our public face. In fact, with a whole host of older and wiser spiritual teachers; I would argue that if we try to approach God behind our public face, all of our striving will be empty. For, in the words of that same commentator just quoted: “the meeting of human hunger and the outstretched hands of Jesus create the possibilities for miracles of grace” (Ibid., p. 265). He will provide the bread we need; for he IS the Bread of Life. The true food that can satisfy all our need. For our part, in our life with one another: at least we might bring to mind our own needs, so that we can remember that everyone else too is carrying a load. Needs we never may know of one another. But needs among which we might gently walk. Extending grace. Showing compassion. Trusting Christ to provide all we each need for the journey home. For, as the words of Revelation remind – the words of Christ to us: “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev. 3:20). Mysteriously. Miraculously Christ will meet our needs. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church” (Rev. 3:22).
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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