Friday, July 17, 2015

You Are God's Beloved

You Are My Beloved
Proper 11B- Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

When I got a listing of the lessons and hymns for today the Gospel was listed as Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (The Feeding of the Five Thousand). Then I went and read the selected verses and lo and behold, no feeding, no five thousand. What we are left with is the prologue and epilogue to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which story, by the way, is told and retold six times across the four gospels. Twice in Mark alone if you don’t mind it being a mere four thousand the second time.

This means, I am guessing, to focus us on the fact that the people need good shepherds. Had the feeding story been included we could contrast feasting with the good shepherd with the previous story of what it is like to feast with a notoriously bad shepherd, Herod. With Jesus everyone gets enough, no one gets too much, and there are leftovers for tomorrow, like the story of manna in the wilderness with Moses and his crowd of escapees. With Herod, a notoriously bad shepherd, if you are person of extraordinary faith, you lose your head – literally, as in John the Baptizer meeting a nasty end. I think we are meant to consider, the way Mark lays it out, just who would be the good and bad shepherds today.

Also left out is the moment when Jesus asks the disciples to feed this “great crowd” for whom he has compassion, we see the disciples pleading the gospel of scarcity and urging Jesus to instruct the crowd to go shopping and let the market forces do their magic. Jesus of course has none of this and says sit them down in green pastures like we read in the 23rd psalm, and feed them yourselves. That’s what my father’s kingdom is all about – compassionate interdependence, not rugged independence. My banquets, and the heavenly banquet, are not going to be at all like those with Herod and all the other bad shepherds. We are to be all about hospitality, not hostility, generosity, not the exercise of power and manipulation. We are to welcome people, all people, not tell them to go away and take care of themselves. We are here to care for one another.

Then he sends them ahead, because remember, he is looking to get some rest from it all. They’re in the boat, a storm comes up, while he is doing his centering prayer he sees they are afraid and walks by the boat. The text says, “He intended to pass them by.” That sounds strange to us until we recall that God instructs Moses to stand in a certain spot while “I pass you by,” and God tells Elijah to stand in a certain spot and “I will pass you by.” So “passing by” is God’s way of saying, “Hey fellas, it’s Me!” As usual the disciples don’t get it. They think he’s a ghost. Worse still, we are told, they do not understand about the loaves. You can just about see Jesus shaking his head, holding his head in his hands. When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn. The text says they are hard-hearted. (hard-heaerted in Biblical terms means hard-headed since the Bible understands the heart as the home of knowledge while the head is the home of feelings)

This is where the epilogue picks up. Just as the crowds got to where he was going to rest before he did in the prologue, so they do it again in the epilogue. If you have ever seen the Sea of Galilee you understand. You can see all around the lake and no matter where Jesus tries to go, people can see where he is going even if the disciples have no clue. Note also they are bringing the sick, the halt and the lame from all over and “laid them in the marketplace,” exactly where he refused to send them at dinner time. Seems he intends to transform the marketplace into a kind of health-care exchange.

It’s astonishing really. He does nothing. He says nothing. There are no requirements, no talk about “faith.” Note the absence of any mention of the disciples who are still befuddled about the bread. The people are pictured as merely touching the “hem of his cloak.” “And all who touched it were healed.” The Gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, Lord Christ! What are we to make of all of this?

For one thing, perhaps, we are meant to be those who understand about the bread. After all, he teaches us to pray for bread that is given daily, not storehouses filled to overflowing. But then, just what is this daily bread?

If I had to hazard a guess I would say it is love – not just love, but the love of God. For me one of the keys to Mark’s gospel is in the very beginning. There is no birth story. Rather, a full grown Jesus steps onto the scene and joins in the Baptism of John. When he comes up out of the water, a voice says, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Now as we all know, on page 298 in the Book of Common Prayer it says by water and the Holy Spirit those who are baptized are incorporated into the Body of Christ. Which I take to mean, when we are baptized there are tiny cherubim and seraphim flying around us whispering in our ears, “You are God’s Beloved! God is well pleased with you!” As we “grow up” we forget we ever heard that good news. Things happen. We lose faith in ourselves. We lose faith in others. We simply lose faith.

That’s when we need to be more like the people in the prologue and the epilogue to this story: we need to hurry and rush to those places to which Jesus goes to get rest before he even gets there, wait for him to arrive, and then touch the hem of his garment. The bread and the healing we need are to remember who we are and whose we are: We are God’s Beloved. God is well pleased with us! To internalize this good news I turn to Buddy Holly and the Grateful Dead and begin to play and sing:

I am well pleased with you

I am God’s Beloved
God is well pleased with me

I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
I’m gonna love God night and day
You know our love not fade away

Our Love’s bigger than a Cadillac
God ain’t never gonna take it back
God’s love’s bigger than an SUV
No one can take it away from me
You know our Love not fade away

If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
Then come on down to Jordan’s stream
Up in the Sky what do you see
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me

I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
A love to last more than one day
A love that's love - not fade away
A love that's love - not fade away
            -Buddy Holly, Norman Petty, adapted by Kirk Kubicek
              Copyright Sounds Divine

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