A Sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, TX.
The Lectionary readings for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost can be found here.
Hear this in my best TV series narrator voice:
Previously on the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus had warned the disciples that going out to spread the good news would be challenging especially with those who knew them best and sent them out to spread the message, and then we saw a flashback of Herod’s murder of John the Baptizer.
Two Kingdoms each highlighted in comparison to the other: Herod’s earthly kingdom built on the love of power and God’s kingdom built on the power of love.
Today, we join up with the disciples as they return to Jesus and share with him all that they had done and taught – a post-mission trip debrief of sorts.
And because Jesus understands the importance of self-care, he invites them on retreat, to get away by themselves to rest a while and they get in their boat and head out to a deserted place.
But their plans are interrupted by the crowds of people who beat them to the deserted place.
Mark doesn’t tell us the disciples’ initial reaction to the crowds but if this had happened to us, when this happens to us and our plans are interrupted by other’s needs, how do we respond?
I haven’t always done this well, how about you?
Once upon a time in my ‘before ordination’ life, I was a supervisor in a bank and on one particularly challenging day, as I locked the door behind the last customer well beyond our scheduled closing time and made my way to my desk to take care of several hours worth of paperwork, I caught myself saying to no one in particular, “if it weren’t for all these customers, I’d be able to get my job done.” And as I said it, I realized how ridiculous I sounded. The customers were my job.
Several years later, when I was newly ordained, the priest who was mentoring me said, “whatever you may be working on in your office, always remember that the interruptions are your day. When the phone rings or someone walks in the doors, always make them the most important part of your day.” I chuckled and told him the previous story. It’s a message God keeps repeating to me.
How often in our regular days, do we see others as an interruption rather than our purpose?
Jesus saw the people who surrounded him as children of God who were hurting and who needed to know that life could be radically different. Jesus knew these people were the most important part of his day, that they needed their life interrupted by God’s love.
Our reading today, skips over Jesus’ the details of what happens with this first interrupting crowd and another event that gets us to the second crowd they encounter at the end of our reading.
We will read and talk about these events next week as we step into a spin-off from our current show to hear the good news of Jesus and bread as told by the Apostle John (not to be confused with John the Baptizer from last week’s episode).
But I want to fill in the blanks because, one it will help us see all of this as a continuous flow of events, and two it will give us insight into the challenges that the disciples, and I’d venture to say most of us have, in shifting our vision to life in God’s kingdom.
As you know, Jesus and the disciples, in an attempt to get away for some rest and recreation cross the Sea of Galilee to a deserted place, but the people find them and their retreat is interrupted. So, they invite this group of interruptors to a grand picnic and at the end of the day, Jesus again sends the disciples across the lake without him while he dismisses the crowds and to spend some time chatting with God.
But before he departs the deserted place that had been full of people (?), he watches the disciples struggling with the wind in their boat for several hours. Mark tells us Jesus arrived on the beach at evening and then sometime between 3 and 6am, he heads out, on foot, across the lake, on the water, intending to just pass them by, not to stop and join them in the boat.
But they see him and begin screaming in fright because they think he’s a ghost. To reassure them, Jesus attempts to interrupt their fear, as he does so often with “don’t be afraid, it’s me!” And he steps in the boat and the wind stops.
Now, don’t forget, these disciples had seen Jesus heal every form of disease and affliction, including casting out a legion of demons, raising a young girl from the edge of death, and curing a woman who’d been ill for over a decade.
They had gone out on their own with the God given ability to heal others and to teach others about the good news of Jesus.
And, they’d just witnessed Jesus feed thousands of people with a single sack lunch.
But they see someone walking on water, something that would interrupt anyone’s reality, and the first thing they can come up with is “it’s a ghost!” Like Herod, their thinking is shaped by the constant shadow of death of their earthly kingdom, even though they’d been shown the abundance of life in God’s Kingdom.
One translation says, “Their minds were closed so they resisted God’s ways (CEB).” And another, “None of the things they had witnessed had penetrated their hearts (MSG).”
Jesus and the disciples make it safely to the shore at Gennesaret and again they are swarmed, interrupted by people who believed that even just a touch of Jesus clothes was all they needed to live this extraordinary life they’d heard about. These people didn’t worry if he was someone raised from the dead nor did they accuse him of being a ghost.
They want to be whole, to be restored to health and community, and they seem to know beyond doubt that Jesus can help them, that even just a small touch would interrupt their current course and change their life completely.
The men who knew him best couldn’t see beyond their own way of thinking.
The one man who’s power Jesus’ teachings threatened the most couldn’t just accept that God had come among us to change lives for the good.
They didn’t allow their way of seeing the world to be interrupted.
What about us?
Do we resist God’s ways or let the good news about Jesus change our hearts?
Do we stick stubbornly to our own way? Or do we let the reality of God interrupt ours?
Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is at hand, right here and right now. God’s Kingdom isn’t someplace else or for some future time. It is right here among us, every moment of every day, an available interruption to the worldly ways that keep us blind to who we really are.
As our world was interrupted by a pandemic, did we look for all the ways God reveals himself to us or did we fight continuously to get back to where we were?
In conversations we’ve had, I’ve seen y’all looking for God at work in each other and the ministry of Grace church in this sabbatical time. You know that God is in this interruption that is enabling y’all to grow into who God is calling you to be.
God is always with us whether we see God at work in this world or we choose not to. When we choose to see God in everyone at all times and in all places, we learn to see through the eyes of compassion as Jesus sees and our worldview is interrupted.
We come to see God’s Kingdom as it really is – built by relationships, made up of all of us, bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit in each of us, strengthened and fed by the sacrament in which we receive Jesus into ourselves so that our hearts and minds are changed.
Jesus see us with the same compassion he saw the crowds. We are not some interruption of Jesus’ plans, we are his plan and his purpose: to show us that life in God’s kingdom is radically different and radically better than any kingdom we might try to build ourselves. Amen.