Vicar's Sermon - Sheep without a Shepherd

Mark 6: Looking through different eyes.

He had trusted them. They had been sent out in pairs to preach and to heal and now the disciples had met up with Jesus, bursting with stories of what they had seen, who they had met and what God had done through them. His message of ‘the Kingdom’ had been received by people with open hearts: it spoke of an openness in the heart of God, a welcome, an embrace of all people in a new way. God had come near to the disciples as they had played their part in spreading the good news. And now Jesus invited them to join Him for some R&R. Come away to a deserted place to get some rest. They could kick back for a while with Jesus as company: what could be better? They had him to themselves.

They were lost. Confused. Life had dealt them a raw hand. The Roman occupation bore down upon them: everywhere, men in uniform. Taxes: money for ever going out…none coming in. Taxes for Herod, enforced labour for the new temple he was building…and then taxes for the Romans. They paid the bill so others could humiliate them. ‘Sheep without a shepherd’: no one to turn to, no help, no defence, no one pointing to Life. Ever since David the shepherd boy had become King Israel had used shepherding language of her monarchy: but the current lot…Herod, a nasty piece of work, hidden away in his fortress palaces surrounded by luxury…and corruption. They needed more. They deserved better.

Quick. Pack some bags. He’s in the next village. People say he can heal. We’ve tried everything. Where’s the harm in asking if he can help. Borrow old Levi’s cart. The boy can lie on that. Careful. He’s in pain I know but just one word, just one touch and all that might be forgotten. The streets are busy. Somehow we’ve got to get near Him. Who cares about theology: anything is better than living with this agony. Load up. We’re on our way.

Tired. Excited. Glad to see His friends. Spirit soaring. Before his eyes miracles were taking place. His Father was at work: he was like a feather on the breeze, caught up by the Spirit. It would be good to have some time with friends. But look. Everywhere, people. So much confusion. So much pain. How could he not respond?

Whose eyes are you looking through? Who do you identify with most?The disciples? Holidays are coming. We’re to love our neighbours as ourselves – it’s hard to keep giving, to care for others if you don’t care for yourself. But did Jesus have a day off? He frequently broke the Sabbath! And here, though he sets time aside for rest with his friends he doesn’t get it. Believe me, come next Tuesday I’m gone: France calls. But sometimes discipleship for us all can be demanding, hard slog. How does it feel to be in the boat with Jesus, having some ‘me time’ for the phone to ring, someone needs help. Did they resent those who saw them leave…and ran to meet them around the other side of the lake. We can’t keep Him to ourselves. It’s not an option…but it is a temptation.

Struggling to make ends meet. Struggling to make sense of where life has brought you. Knocked off course…by a divorce or a bereavement. Not got the promotion you deserved. No longer as fit as you once were. Years clicking by…and what do you have to show for it? What’s the point? Family at a distance. Politics a disaster zone. Old certainties gone. Once we were all in this together: not now – safety nets going or gone. You’re on your own. Great if you’ve got money. Great if you’ve got your health, education. Great if you’ve got contacts, a leg up in the world. He said it to the camera the other day: a man with cholera in Yemen, everything gone or going from him as the war rumbles on’ If you have money you can get by...but what am I to do? I have nothing.’ You don’t have to live in Yemen to feel that way. …to feel there is nothing left for you, no-one on your side. But then Jesus speaks. He teaches. Nothing changes but everything changes for he tells me that I am a child of God: there is a love that will hold me, a good shepherd who will be with me ‘come what may’.

Running. Hurrying. If only we could…? If there are some who are paralysed by their confusion. Wanting to hear the ‘shepherd’s voice’ above the many other voices that have filled their lives there are others who know exactly what they want and will strain every sinew to get it. Forget the teaching, forget the call to discipleship, forget the invitation to ‘take up your cross and follow me’. No. Here’s the need. Now meet it. If the can only touch the fringes of his cloak that will be enough. This is faith. Raw faith: nothing fancy about it. Practical in the extreme. He won’t have time to talk to you. Just get to the front of the queue, make sure you are in the right place at the right time and who knows – a miracle might happen. It’s tempting to knock this sort of faith: it seems more like a belief in magic than a desire to become a disciple, a follower. But it’s a start certainly…and Jesus seems to take it as it is. The healings happen: not for everyone…but for enough for people to see him essentially as a healer. Maybe you have that ‘openness’ within you: there’s something within that says ‘why not give Jesus a chance?’ Why not indeed? What’s to be lost….isn’t there everything to be gained?

And lastly, Jesus Himself. He’s on the shore. He’s in the boat. He’s seeking peace…he finds none. He sees the people. He has compassion. The mention of the fringes of His cloak conjured up in me a memory of the logo for the Church of St. Martins in the Fields which illustrate Jesus’ ministry here for us. Perhaps you might only ever see it in the Church Press so let me describe it.

St. Martins is in Trafalgar Square. The Logo is Square with the name of the church on it but two sides of the square are ragged whilst two have a straight edge. St. Martins has a well-established ministry to the poor of London. St. Martin of Tour is remembered for tearing his cloak in two in order to offer some warmth to a stranger. Jesus, in this passage has a strength that people recognised He can only have got from His relationship with God: this was solid (like those two straight edges of the square) – but He also has an openness to the world (and to people) that cannot be organised or planned. He responds, He offers teaching and healing to those in front of Him. It’s untidy. It’s exhausting but it is marked supremely by ‘compassion’. ‘Compassion’ – which means ‘suffering with’. He must be with His people.

There will be times when he can get away with his disciples – but they cannot keep Him to themselves, nor should we. There are people who need purpose and direction and encouragement and support…and love. He will give it.  So can we. There are crowds rushing, always rushing about, seeking something new, never finding what they are looking for. He must be for them. ‘Come to me’ he says. ‘Come to me all those who carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Dare we come. For He will give Himself. He will pour out every last drop of God’s love for the world and He will die doing it: no running away, no holding back. Everything freely given….For you. For me.