The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Proper 11B-21, July 18, 2021
2 Samuel 7: 1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Many, and the One
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
At first glance, it could seem that this morning’s gospel passage is rather inconsequential, cut and paste as it is, and skipping over, as it does, two major and more exciting miracle stories—the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. And yet this minor account merits our apt attention, particularly as a study in contrasts between coming and going, rest and work, crowds and solitude, doing and being, land and sea, countryside and cities, sickness and health, hunger and satisfaction, need and fulfillment, the many and the One—the compassionate One—whose love spans the space between the two.
This small gospel and our readings today invite us into the breach, however large or small of dichotomy and difference, even disconnect; where, perhaps to our surprise, we find God at its center, standing between the separate and segregated parts of self and life, the old and the new, the Jew and the Gentile, between personhood and Christ Jesus; as we read in Ephesians, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
As I mentioned briefly last week, this peace that Christ makes is not the same as a worldly cessation of hostilities or a redistribution of power between two opposing factions, which can only be temporary and dependent upon negotiated or enforced strength. This peace, this love, this shalom of wholeness and completeness is Jesus himself. Christ is our peace, and our peace is not apart from Christ Jesus.
I pray often for peace, as the peace of Christ is also a place of rest, a resting place where Jesus invites us to dwell with him. Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while, he says to the hurried and harried disciples, and to all of us. Those of you who are introverts by nature, as I am, will understand the necessity of this withdrawal; as will the faithful understand the need of retreat to this lonely place where in our only-ness we are God's alone. Rest, retreat, and sabbath are essential, especially if we are overworked or overwhelmed—and who hasn’t been during these fraught times of pandemic, political, and climate crisis that is also personal. As the Zen master says to his students: You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day; unless you’re too busy and too stressed—then you should sit for an hour!
In our reading from 2 Samuel this morning, we also hear twice over of the imperative of rest, and that the Lord gave King David rest from his enemies. Both this passage and our Epistle also speak to this peaceful place as a dwelling place of God, as a house built by human hands, as a holy temple built spiritually, and as a prophesied kingdom that the Lord declares to David through the Nathan: When your days are fulfilled . . . I will raise up your offspring after you . . . He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.
And so the son of God came and proclaimed peace to you who are far off and peace to you who are near. When I read in Ephesians, I had to stop and ask myself: where am I? Am I far off from the center of Christ’s peace or near to it? Where are you today? There are so many temptations against having God’s love at the center of our lives. But as I have come to understand, conversion to Christ is a continual push and pull, coming and going, turning and returning to the gravity of God’s mercy and compassion.
In our gospel, the disciples have just returned from their first solo mission, sent out as they were by Jesus, two by two, his authority given to them along with a bare-bones set of instructions. And so they went to proclaim repentance, cast out unclean spirits, and anoint the sick. Upon coming back the disciples are changed—they are now “apostles,” as Mark notes—the ones who have been sent as apostle means. They gather around Jesus, excited and bursting with pride, clamoring for his attention, hurriedly talking all at once about their time away and telling stories of healings and exorcisms, no doubt tired but wired, and ready to go again; for as our text points out, so many were the demands, they hadn’t even time to eat.
Imagine, returning home to Jesus at the end of the day, and telling him everything that happened—what went right, what went wrong—and he listening, nodding, and likely asking a provocative question or two. For all the din of the day and clatter of internal chatter, imagine sitting with Jesus in the living room or at the kitchen table as he listens closely—the still point in the center of the fracas and fray.
I have had this thought: that when we feel God is silent and distant, even unresponsive, that God is listening to us in full attention of all our hearts’ complaints and desires. Listening is absolutely foundational to love, as is silence to hearing. Jesus listened to his disciples until they had emptied their fill. Jesus hears those whose hearts are hurried and harried, whose feet rushed about the whole region to see him.
As 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.
The compassion of Jesus is quite different from what we might think of as pity or sympathy; rather as the Greek word for compassion means (splagchnizomaithe), the compassion that moves Jesus is gut-felt, arising from the bowels of his humanity and the life-giving womb of God. Jesus teaches and heals, but not to impress or prove. The great mystery and truth is not the curative healing itself but the infinite compassion of “suffering with,” which is its source, and our own source of healing and life (paraphrase from Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life).
Yet Jesus the compassionate One is also a contrast unto himself; for he comes and goes, works and rests, laments and rejoices, is hungry and sated like we are. He is the human broken one upon the cross who suffers, dies, and is raised to new life. Jesus is the divine one upon the cross who traverses the gulf between life and death, and lays down a bridge between the beginning and the end, between infinite grace and the finitude of creation. Christ is the Bridge—we don’t have to build it—and the Way; we have only to walk it and hold in view the other and distant side.
Throughout our lives, a holy centrifugal “fleeing” force pulls us out to sea, from the shore of self, to the boundary of our personhood, God’s Self. Like a wave that must encounter something other than itself to release its momentum, so too we must encounter Christ to realize the fullness of our being. But in doing so, we break apart, like a wave breaking upon the shore; then by a holy centripetal “seeking” force, we are drawn back into the ocean of our source, reconfigured, transfigured, converted and changed. As the axis around which all life revolves and is evolving, God in Christ is both motive and source.
Wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
At the end of each Eucharist, we are sent out in into the world in Christ’s peace and healing power, to return the following Sunday and gather round the Incarnate Word, confessing all that we have done and left undone. As the church, if we are in essence the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, do we have a healing effect on all who reach out to us, as well as on those needs from within our own parish? If we are indeed the fringe of Jesus’s cloak, this means that we are “relevant” only inasmuch as we are created anew in one body through the cross, for Christ has made [the two] into one and has broken down the dividing wall.
May it be so, O Compassionate One, Fountain of all Wisdom, and Prince of Peace.