Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Good Shepherd who takes no Sabbath

Painting by He Qi
I began my sermon today by asking for a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and for those caught up in the fighting in Syria.

The lessons for today are 2 Samuel 7:1-14aPsalm 23Ephesians 2:11-22 and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.

Here is my sermon:

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I believe I can speak for all of us by saying that we could use a day off from the violence, cruelty and tragedy of our world.

Allow me to invite you to find space for that here in this sacred place this morning. Allow me to invite you to find moments for that space in your week.

And allow me to invite you to have a bit of compassion for Jesus, the prince of compassion. It has been a tough week.

In Mark’s gospel today, he cannot catch a day off.

He tries to go on a short summer break to the lake, and takes his friends and family with him.

“Come away,” he says, “to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.”

So they get in a boat and go.

I wish the gospel lesson ended right there. If we were only to read the first part of the lesson, it would be a perfect permission-giving lesson for going on vacation.

But life intrudes. The crowds catch up to him, and before he knows it, sick people are begging for his compassionate touch.

We get both parts of this section of Mark’s gospel, and what is edited out of the middle, apparently in the interest of brevity for summer worship services, is the story of the feeding of the thousands.

Jesus and his disciples are doing a lot of heavy lifting when all they want to do is rest awhile at the lake.

You might say that this lesson represents a collision of the spiritual ideal and the reality of the world.

As your priest and pastor, I want you to pray, to make it a regular practice each day to set aside time for personal prayer and silence.

I would like you to read your Bible, read good books, think deep thoughts, enjoy a great meal, go on retreats, go to the lake, and, of course, come to church more often.

We do need rest – Sabbath time – to renew our bodies and soul. Slow down, take a break, keep life simple.

But I also know that life intrudes. There are kids to feed, the in-laws to visit, jobs that are demanding and require you to go in on your day off, even on a Sunday.

And the cruelty of the world does not take a day off. Not in the time of Jesus, and certainly not in our own time.

Life is complicated and it is often hard to find the time to feed our souls. Even Jesus, the prince of compassion, still had to work when all he wanted was a nap. He does what he must do.

Many come, and he is their shepherd, and not just the shepherd for his circle of disciples, but for the many. So he goes to those who are sick and hurting and in need.

He loves them all no matter who they are or where they come from. He does check their baptismal certificate or anything else. He goes.

Sometimes we, too, are confronted with moments when our compassion is tested, and sometimes we don’t get a chance to catch our breath. The call comes in the night and we go.

We do what we must do.

Summer is a time for a break and rest, and I earnestly hope you find that time. But I also know that real life intrudes – the terrible shootings in Colorado a few days ago, the fighting in Afghanistan and Syria, and people in our congregation who are in the hospital, or struggling with addiction, or who are out of work.

Real life takes no Sabbath, and the Sabbath does not always come when we need it most.

There are times when we need the Good Shepherd, and times when we are called to be the hands and feet of the Good Shepherd. We might be the one to give someone a meal, or a smile, or a sympathetic ear.

Sometimes all we can do is pray, and know that will be enough.

And I hope we will hold onto this:

The God of Grace, the good shepherd of all the sheep of this world, will be there to hold us, and love us, and carry us through.

That is the simple truth of this gospel, and the simple truth to hold close especially when life is most difficult or most perplexing.

My prayer and hope is that you will find those moments to pray, to recharge, to renew.

And when you find that moment, I pray you will have a renewed sense of the presence of the One who gives himself for us, and who will be there with us always.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 


By James Richardson, St. Paul's Memorial Church, Fiat Lux

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