Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 16B)
Sunday, July 18, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 07/18/2021)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I would like to start this morning with a two-question, multiple choice, quiz on today’s gospel reading.

Question 1:  What was the reason Mark says Jesus was moved to compassion?

Question 2:  What did Jesus do about it?

A) Jesus was moved to compassion for the crowds because it was yet another summer weekend with rain and clouds … and so he commanded the clouds and rain to go away and the sun to come out.

B) Jesus was moved to compassion for the crowds because there were so many sick people … and so he healed them of their diseases.

C) Jesus was moved to compassion because there were so many people possessed by demons … and so he drove the demons out.

D) Jesus was moved to compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so he taught them many things.

Who thinks A?  While Jesus commanded the wind and waves to stop when the disciples were in the boat, I don’t know of any place in scripture where Jesus commanded the weather in response to people’s preference.  A is wrong. 

Who thinks B?  Indeed, Jesus did heal many sick people, and we can assume the people’s illness and pain moved Jesus to compassion.  But in Mark 6:30-34, it wasn’t the people’s physical illnesses that moved Jesus to compassion.  B is wrong.

Who thinks C? Again, Jesus and his disciples did cast out demons, and we can trust that Jesus had compassion for those who were possessed.  But, in today’s gospel reading, it wasn’t demon possession that moved Jesus to compassion.  C is wrong.

That leaves us with D.  “When 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.” (Mark 6:34) Jesus had compassion for the crowds because they were without a shepherd.

Human experience teaches us what happens when crowds are left without a shepherd. Shepherd-less crowds are easily scattered and divided. With no unifying shepherd, people go their own way to satisfy their needs for safety, shelter, and food.

Is that what Jesus saw when he looked at that crowd? A community broken down and divided? A crowd of individuals who feared the people around them, and labeled neighbors as enemies, opponents, rivals, in the game of life? Whatever Jesus saw it moved him to compassion – Jesus had compassion for the shepherd-less crowd. And so what did Jesus do in response?  Jesus taught them.

Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus taught the crowds. Mark’s gospel rushes along quickly to hit on the main themes and often skips the details. And in this case the general detail is important: to solve the problem, Jesus taught them.

It’s been said that the true mark of leadership, is not how many followers a leader has. But rather, the true mark of leadership, is how many leaders a leader creates. A good leader never does what the people can do for themselves, but rather, a good leader creates a community of leadership.

Theologian William Countryman points out that Jesus’s response to the people:  “Is not to impose order on them in monarchical fashion (as the shepherd metaphor might suggest), but to “teach them many things.” He does not simply take over the rulership, but begins to equip them to rule themselves.” Jesus began to teach them, so that they could begin to shepherd themselves.

Note how today’s gospel reading doesn’t starts: it doesn’t start with Jesus offering a Pastor’s Report to the Council, Jesus reporting to the disciples all that Jesus had done for them. Rather, today’s gospel reading starts with Mark 6:30: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.”

Maybe that should be part of our Church Council meetings – each Council member reporting all they had done and taught in the previous month? Former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson often said we should start our Sunday liturgy with:  “Well, how did it go?” He said this because of the way we end our liturgy.  We end our liturgy with: “Go in peace. Share the Good News.” So we should start with a report about how it went as we shared the good news.

Jesus had taught the disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. Jesus nurtured a group of disciples who were shepherds and leaders ministering in Jesus’ name. And then Jesus sent them out. And today’s reading starts with the disciples reporting back to Jesus. 

Even apart from their report, we know the disciples were effective. We know they were effective because of the crowds that followed Jesus and the disciples, not only recognized Jesus, but also the disciples. Note what is written in verses 30-34: “Now many saw them going and recognized them, and the crowd hurried on foot from all the towns and arrive ahead of them.Jesus taught the disciples, and taught the crowds, to be shepherds for one another.

Moved to compassion for us today, Jesus teaches us.

As we’re being honest with one another, we know that the crowd Jesus saw on the lakeshore was the same crowd Jesus sees in our human family today. Though sometimes I wonder if it’s not an absence of a shepherd, but too many shepherds, and the wrong the shepherds, that divide and scatter the flock.

In response, the living Jesus does today what Jesus did back then. Jesus teaches us to be shepherds for one another. And in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, Jesus teaches us in numerous and abundant ways. 

Here, in this assembly, there are multiple ways in which the shepherd teaches us to love and shepherd one another:

  • Here every Sunday, in scripture, in prayer, in hymns and liturgy, in preaching, here the living Word of God offers instruction; here the great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ, calls us into community with one another to live as people of faith.
  • Here twice a week, on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Jesus teaches the faithful in Bible Studies that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.
  • Here every Tuesday, between a dozen and two dozen preschool-age children gather with either me, Cantor Mark, or Jena for preschool chapel where we read from the Bible, and sing, and pray together.
  • Here on Wednesday nights, between 15 and 20 children read and discuss a bible study, and sing, do crafts, and play games related to the Bible Story.
  • Here on Wednesday nights this fall, I will be offering a beginner Bible Study for six weeks, intentionally designed for those who have never attended a bible study. 
  • Here on Thursdays at Noon – members of Trinity gather for lunch on the green under the shade trees.  Just a simple time of lunch and fellowship, and in that, we shepherd one another.
  • Here on Sunday mornings in the fall, our Adult Forum will study Martin Luther’s Small Catechism with reflections offered on these texts from Lutheran pastors and theologians of African Descent.

In these ways, the shepherd teaches us. In these ways, like the disciples, we are trained and taught to heal our sicknesses, to cast out our demons, and to live out our faith with one another. Here, in these ways, we are instructed to be shepherds for one another in our homes and workplaces, in our families and among our friendship circles, in our neighborhoods and in our communities. 

It is in this way, that I believe we are called to find our rest in Christ.

Central to this gospel story is Jesus’s invitation to the disciples to join him in a deserted place for rest. If the rest Jesus meant was the rest we find separated from others on a beach, or in a cabin on a lake, or an international vacation, then the rest Jesus offered would be fleeting and momentary.

Certainly, I’m a big believer in that kind of rest. But I think the rest Jesus offered her was deeper, and more available, and more durable than those few vacation days we spend away from home. What if the true rest Jesus offers, is the rest we find when we place our lives in faith, into the merciful hands of Christ?

And what if the rest we find in faith, is the rest we receive when Jesus invites us into deeper relationship with the church and with God’s children. What if the true rest Jesus offers, is the rest that comes from participation in a community of shepherds who love and care for one another? What if the deeper spiritual rest Christ promises, is not in some deserted places by ourselves, but in community with loving shepherds offering each other a helping hand, an encouraging word in times of sorrow, a word of correction in times of danger, a sincere prayer in a time of need?

In a gospel story that features rest, what if we imagine Jesus teaching the crowds to be shepherds for one another, so that their shepherding would lead them out of places of anxiety, stress, and pain, and into places of healing, wholeness, and joy?

Friends in Christ, today we are called to be shepherds for one another. Each of us in our baptisms is called as a shepherd. In faith, we are called to recognize the gifts, talents, and passions we have been given, and to trust the Holy Spirit to use them to help shepherd the flock.

The Good News today is that the living Jesus Christ, our true shepherd, is alive in shepherds in our midst – teaching, instructing, guiding, mentoring, and loving one another. Thanks be to God for the good shepherd alive in these shepherds in our midst. Alive in Christ, may we shepherd one another into faith, justice, and love, and in so doing, become a community of rest, health, and joy.

Thanks be to God!