Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wilderness Rest

Wilderness Rest from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Mark 4:30-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while." For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he 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.

35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." 37But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to hem, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" 38And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39Then he ordered the people to sit down on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid." 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rush about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might tough even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

We were sent out. Nothing but a walking staff and a message. We were sent out to tell the good news of God, that the kingdom of God is at hand. Beginning with the twelve, sent out in pairs, we spread throughout Galilee, and God did amazing things through us.

Now we who have been sent gather in one place around our teacher. We're excited almost beyond words because we have seen the kingdom of God blossoming around us. "The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught." In praise, joy, and excitement, we can't contain ourselves, our amazement is more than we can process!

We were sent out. We were sent into a hurting world and we have seen the healing that is at hand. The name of Jesus is becoming known, the secret is starting to leak out. This man Jesus is someone special, and we have seen and done great things in his name.

So we gather together, filled with a special knowledge that God is intervening in our lives. In our comings and goings we have seen that this man Jesus is someone special. Jesus speaks: "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."

Wait, I thought we were supposed to be out in the world? I thought we were supposed to do God's work? You know, be the hands and feet of Christ and all that. Let's go out and do some mission work!

But they listen to Jesus nevertheless, "And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them."

We talked about this at length at Lunch Bunch on Tuesday. One person pointed out that these are the towns from which the apostles have just returned, they've been talking about Jesus and doing amazing things, and now they're on the move again, and this time Jesus is with them. They're following the disciples because they knew they were following Jesus, and the crowds wanted to see this Jesus whose name had become known.

Then, one of our lunch bunch pointed out that a crowd of five thousand people is probably visible from a boat on a lake. If your goal, Jesus, was to sail over to a deserted place where the disciples could rest, perhaps you could have changed course when you saw the deserted place suddenly filled with a multitude of people?

But seeing that crowd, I think Jesus's compassion changed his mind. "...he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." Looking at his weary, but excited, disciples, and at the expectant crowd, Jesus knows that "throughout Israel's life the wilderness is a place...where God often encounters the faithful and provides sustenance, protection, renewal, and direction." So he parks the boat, and begins teaching, knowing that as he teaches, the disciples will find rest as well.

If this were Matthew's gospel, we'd have a record of the teaching, and it would be full of references to the law and the prophets. If this were Luke, we've have a portrait of Jesus as teacher, and we'd see all his references to women and the poor, and reaching beyond social boundaries.

But this is Mark. So the report we have is that "he began to teach them many things." Then we move on to what Jesus does. Because the identity of this Jesus will not be revealed through essays or wisdom, but by his whole story. Jesus is the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is at hand in the person and work of Jesus Christ, about whom the disciples have testified, from whom the apostles were sent, by whom the church is still fed. Our scripture passage this morning is a series of miracle stories that keep the question of Jesus’s Identity firmly in our faces. His name has become known, and throngs of people gather because they heard the disciples’ testimony. They had seen the miracle from far off, and now they wanted to experience him up close. The crowds, and the disciples too, try and figure this man Jesus out.

He’s obviously a miracle worker. He goes out into a deserted place and feeds five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, and then they have more leftovers than they started with. Maybe this Jesus is a prophet, like Moses who led the people through the wilderness and gave them bread from heaven, manna.

Not quite. He speaks on God’s behalf, sure. But he’s also something more. After all, it wasn’t Moses who provided manna in the wilderness. Jesus sends the disciples back onto the boat, they’ve been fed, and now they’ll have the boat ride to be by themselves and share stories and process all they’ve seen. Jesus sends the crowd away and takes some time to himself to pray.

Then comes another miracle. In the midst of a storm, and seeing all their striving, Jesus walks out into the sea. “He intended to pass them by.” Now that seems strange to us, wouldn’t Jesus go and help them? Shouldn’t he save the disciples from their “straining at the oars against an adverse wind?”

When Jesus intends to pass them by, it was to show them that the same God who passed by Moses and led him up to Mt. Sinai was with them. The same God who passed by Elijah as he hid from Jezebel also protected them.

The identity of Jesus Christ is revealed across these transitions as more than can be shown in any one excerpt. Jesus sends us out, he gathers us in, he brings us into the wilderness to rest, and feeds us. He passes by us in our storms to give us faith and courage, moving us from terrified to utterly astounded with the words “Take heart, it is I; do no be afraid.” The question is left unasked, but it is firmly in front of us: Who is this man who carries us to a wilderness rest and back, who feeds thousands and walks on water in the midst of a storm.?

The storm has ended, and they have made it to their destination. “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat.” I’d imagine they did not feel much more rested than when they left for their wilderness rest. But as the calm settled over the sea of Galilee and their oars no longer had to compete with storm-tossed currents, the disciples knew that their teacher, their prophet, their shepherd, their God was up to something special in their midst.

The people of Gennesaret have seen Jesus do amazing things from far off. They’ve heard of multiplying loaves, maybe some of them were even there when it happened. They have begun to grasp who Jesus is, and that he brings them healing and hope in a world full of fear. So they bring out their sick, hope he will bless them, touch them, heal them.

The disciples don’t quite know how to respond as the identity of Jesus Christ is revealed to them. They have fluttered around him, they have advised him, they have feared him and been utterly astounded by him. “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” They’re still living the story.

So are we.

We’re still living the story that sets the identity of Jesus Christ in front of us, and asks us how we will respond to who this man is. We’ll find him in the welcoming handshakes of visitors and in the traditional forms of worship we observe. We’ll find him on mission trip in Petersburg Virginia and in Chicken-Pot-Pie Production nights. This man Jesus on Nazareth meets us in our homes, in our communities, in our jobs and in our daily activities.

Who he is defines and shapes who we are. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He’s the crucified Messiah and the Risen Lord. He’s the one who heals in Gennesaret. He’s the one who walks on the water of the sea of Galilee and calms the storms. He’s the one who prays by himself and still knows when we are struggling. Jesus is the one who feeds multitudes and challenges us to give them something to eat as well. He’s the one who takes us to a deserted place to rest by ourselves, and then shows us that “by ourselves” includes more people than we may have guessed.

We know the story that reveals who Jesus is. We are still telling the story of who we are as a result. But know this, as we step out into the world together, our story is built on the firm foundation of the identity of Jesus Christ. No matter how we tell our own story, we tell it gathered around Jesus, just as the apostles did, so the church does still.

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