Sermon notes 07-18-21

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place 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 desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.  (ESV)

This passage of Scripture is one of many that makes me realize how un-Christlike I can be so very often.  This passage makes me think about times when I have not wanted to be bothered by someone looking for help, when I have avoided making eye contact with a person holding a sign on a street corner, when I have been too busy or tired, or so I convinced myself, to reach out to someone in need.  This passage makes me think of my attitude and actions at such times because they are a stark contrast to the attitude and actions of our Lord in the Gospel passage that Sandy just read for us.  It’s a passage that illustrates the compassion of our Lord toward those who come to him seeking help, and his willingness and eagerness to provide the help and the healing they need.  It shows us how our Lord views the needs of the world and causes us to ask ourselves how we view the needs of the world.

It is a passage that in the beginning seems to be making the case for the importance of taking Sabbath rest.  And I don’t want us to miss that part.  The disciples had just returned from a mission that Jesus had sent them on, and they were reporting to him all the things they had done.  But apparently there were so many people coming and going that the disciples did not have time even to eat.  So Jesus calls them away to a remote location, a place that Mark describes as desolate, a place where they expected to find no people.

Jesus knew, and he still knows, that his followers need rest; they need a place of refuge and solitude.  And we should not overlook this need for ourselves.  None of us can work without rest, and no one can live a Christian life without taking time apart to be with God.

But … our times alone with God are meant to prepare us for living as Christians in a world full of needs, not to avoid that world or those needs.  And the message of this passage seems to be that we may sometimes have to set aside even our time alone with God when others are in need.

On this particular occasion, the time away from the crowds that Jesus sought for the disciples and for himself was not to be.  The Bible says that the crowds saw Jesus and his followers in the boat and recognized them.  It seems that Jesus and the disciples got into the boat and set sail without being noticed at first, but then the crowds who were looking for them recognized them out on the water, and they could see where the boat was heading.

We know that the body of water on which Jesus and the disciples were sailing was the Sea of Galilee, and at this northern part of the sea (or the lake as it is called), it was about four miles across by boat and about ten miles around the lake on foot.  If there were no wind on the lake, or if the wind were against them, it could take longer to cross the lake by boat than it would take to get around the lake on foot.

And that is apparently what happens in this story.  When Jesus and the disciples arrive on shore, they are met by the same crowd from which they had sought to get away.

And here we learn something very important about how our Lord views the needs of the world.  Now let’s pause to think about this for a moment.  How would you respond to this situation?  The rest and the privacy that Jesus desired so much for himself and his disciples, and which they so much needed and deserved, was completely interrupted and taken from them.

I know how I would feel.  I would be annoyed, probably even resentful.  I think most ordinary people would feel that way.

But Jesus is no ordinary person.  Instead of being resentful, Mark tells us that when Jesus saw the crowd, which is described as being great in size, Jesus had compassion on them.  This is an important word: compassion.  If we break it down, we have ‘com,’ which means ‘with,’ and ‘passion.’  The word ‘passion’ has more than one definition, but in the biblical sense it means to suffer.  So, the word compassion literally means ‘to suffer with.’

Many of us are familiar with the movie “The Passion of the Christ” which graphically depicts Christ’s suffering on our behalf.  This story shows us the compassion of the Christ.  The original biblical word translated as compassion that is used to describe the reaction of Jesus to the crowds means to be moved in the inward parts.  Some translators describe Jesus as being moved to the depths of his being.  Jesus did not merely see the needs of the crowds; he felt their needs in his inward parts.

Compassion is a very appropriate word to describe the way Jesus views the needs of the people of the world.  We tend to think of compassion as a synonym for pity.  But pity does not fully capture the way Jesus responds to the needs of the world.  Pity is something that we can feel from a distance, so to speak.  We can have pity on persons without participating in their suffering.  But to have compassion means to actually feel and experience the suffering of others.

Jesus saw the crowds and he felt their needs in his inward parts; he had compassion on them.  Prior to seeing the crowds, Jesus had been showing compassion to his disciples.  He felt their need for rest and for a break from ministering to the needs of the world.  But Jesus’ concern for the needs of the crowds apparently took priority over the needs of the disciples.  Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Maybe this is something we should notice.  Even though they needed rest, the disciples had Jesus; he was their shepherd, guiding them and leading them and teaching them.  Maybe one thing we are supposed to learn from this is that when we have Jesus as our shepherd, our needs are never as great as the needs of those who do not have Jesus.

Jesus had compassion for the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And what do we know about sheep without a shepherd?  First of all, we know they are lost.  They do not know which way to go.  They are bewildered by the circumstances of life, not knowing which way to turn.  They need Jesus to shepherd them and teach them and show them the way.

The second thing we know about sheep without a shepherd is that they are unable to find pasture to nourish and sustain them.  When people do not know Jesus as their Shepherd and Savior, they are spiritually starved; they are unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unfed.  They need the One who is the living bread to shepherd them, to lead them to green pastures and still waters so that their hunger and thirst can be satisfied.

A third thing we know about sheep without a shepherd is that they are defenseless against the dangers of the world.  Those without Jesus as their shepherd are vulnerable to all kinds of temptations and the attacks of the evil one.  They need Jesus to protect them and to guide them to safety and security.  Only Jesus can meet the needs of the lost sheep of our world.

Mark tells us that Jesus stays with the crowd teaching them many things, and then the passage skips forward to another occasion of Jesus and his disciples landing on the shore.  They land at Gennesaret, and this time their arrival seems to have been unanticipated.  The crowds had not run ahead to meet them this time.  But whereas on the previous occasion the crowds recognized Jesus and the disciples as they were sailing away, this time the people recognize them as soon as they get out of the boat.

And the result is very much the same.  The people go running around the whole region to bring to Jesus those who are sick on their beds.  Mark tells us that wherever [Jesus] came, in villages, cities or countryside, they laid the sick before him and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.  And as many as touched it were made well. 

Mark says that the people implored him—they begged him—that they might touch even the fringe of his garment, but I do not get any sense that Jesus was reluctant to provide the healing that the people needed.  It seems clear that Jesus was just as eager to provide healing as the sick were to be made well.  And I think this is essential for us to understand about the way Jesus views the needs of the world and about how we as the church are to represent Jesus to a world filled with the needs of sheep without a shepherd.

You may remember another passage of Scripture we considered just a few weeks ago that spoke of touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.  It was about the woman who had been suffering from a discharge of blood for twelve years.  She had the faith to sneak up from behind to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, and when she did, she was immediately healed.

But it is what happened next that I want us to especially remember.  Jesus was immediately aware of what had happened and he whirled about in the crowd, asking, “Who touched my clothes?”  If we read this the wrong way, we might think that Jesus was indignant because something had been taken from him without his permission.  But as we read further, we see that Jesus’ intent was not to accuse the woman as a thief.  Jesus would not continue on until he demonstrated compassion for this woman, identifying her as his daughter and restoring her to complete wholeness.

Friends, the Scriptures are very clear in portraying how Jesus sees the needs of the world, but what about us?  Are we moved to the depths of our being when we see the pain and brokenness right here in Surf City and all around us?

Do we have true compassion for sheep without a shepherd, or are we annoyed or resentful when they inconvenience us?  Are we as eager to meet the needs of the world as Jesus is, do we have the compassion of the Christ, or are we ‘put out’ when people come to us for help?

We often hear the church described as the body of Christ, and that we are to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world of great need.  The Scriptures we have been considering might lead us also to think of the church as the hem or the fringe of Jesus’ cloak.  People need the Lord, and only Jesus can meet the needs of the lost sheep of our world, but the church is God’s chosen instrument to help repair the brokenness in the world caused by sin.  The lost sheep of the world are reaching out to the church with the desire to be made whole.  Share the Table, Mercy Abounds, backpack, school supplies and food ministries: these are just a few of the ways our church is the fringe of Jesus’ garment that people can reach out to and receive the love and compassion of Christ.

May we never forget that when we have Jesus as our shepherd, our needs are never as great as the needs of those who do not have Jesus.  May we never be stingy with what Christ has given us but rather may we always be eager to share what he has given us with those in need.  And may we embrace our role to be the fringe of Christ’s garment, called to extend hope, help, healing and wholeness to the lost sheep of our world.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.