Saturday, August 25, 2012

July 22nd Sermon

July 22, 2012 [Green]- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Outreach Service at Chenango Valley Home & Apartments, Norwich

Scripture Lesson: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a
God’s Promise to David
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,  he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”  Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”  But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:  “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.  Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar? ”’  “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning  and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. .

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 2:11-22
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) —  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:30-34, 54-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.  When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.  As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.  They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

“Called to Compassion”

Our gospel lesson today would be familiar to most of us, if we had read the “middle” of it which tells about Jesus feeding the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and the two fish. As we remember, he fed them all with twelve basketfuls left over! But, today we read the verses before and after that often-told story. Why? Maybe so we would concentrate more on the “ordinary” feats of Jesus, rather than just on his miracles. 

Mark chapter 6 is action packed with things that have been going on at this point in Jesus’ ministry. He had called his twelve disciples to him. He sent them out in pairs to minister. Jesus himself traveled extensively to spread the Word, and wherever he went large crowds gathered. He had returned to his hometown only to realize that those who knew him best were not willing to believe in him and receive him as God’s Son. This is also the time when his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded by King Herod.  

As our reading begins in verse 30, Jesus and his disciples reunite to discuss all that has transpired, probably including the death of John the Baptist. Jesus realizes that the disciples have been very busy, just as he has; so busy in fact that they had not had time to eat. So he urges them to join him in a quiet place to refresh themselves. Doing God’s work is very important, but Jesus recognized that to do that effectively we need periodic rest and renewal. Jesus and his disciples, however, did not always find it easy to get the rest they needed!

As they attempt to leave in a boat to find a restful place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Even though Jesus himself was probably exhausted and heartbroken, he has compassion for the multitudes and begins teaching them many things. He saw them as a pitiful flock of sheep without a shepherd. 

Sheep are easily scattered and without a shepherd they are in grave danger. Jesus was the Shepherd who could teach them what they needed to know and keep them from straying from God. He was compassionate enough to be available to everyone in need of guidance.

Compassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Jesus had compassion for everyone he met. Even though he was tired and perhaps overwhelmed with all the demands on his time wherever he went, he never showed it. We have seen instances where the disciples get flustered and frustrated with the crowds that gather around Him and demand his attention; sometimes even trying to “shoo” them away. But Christ was always welcoming, always patient, always compassionate to those in need. 

So, in his compassion, he not only teaches this great throng of people, he also performs one of his greatest miracles by feeding them all. He then again tries to retreat, sending his disciples ahead of to Bethesda so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat. When they arrive at the other side of the lake, once again they encounter crowds of people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does.

How great is our God, that no matter how many people approach him for healing and comfort, he never grows tired of their desires and demands. 

This passage clearly shows the depth of compassion that Jesus had. Even in his spiritual and physical exhaustion, and probably emotional anguish over the death of John the Baptist, he was still moved to help those he encountered. He could have just retreated, or told them to come back later, but he was so moved by their needs that he stayed and taught them and even fed them. He had valid reasons to refuse to help: he was exhausted and he was grieving. But instead of looking to his own needs, he reached out to others in their needs.

Even the most compassionate of us tend to reach out to others at our own convenience rather than at theirs. Sure, we volunteer for Food Pantry, or Habitat for Humanity, or Meals on Wheels, but we tend to set our own schedules for that, don’t we? We are not reacting to an immediate need most of the time as Jesus was.

Jesus’ compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing was not right. We need to be more like that with our compassion. Granted, we are not Jesus, and we must occasionally rest from our labors, but we must not use that excuse to turn away from an immediate need just because it is inconvenient or distasteful to us. If someone on the street has their hand out, that is the time to react. That is the time to make the decision whether to be compassionate or not.

When asked in Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What a blessing to know that Jesus still has compassion for us just as he did for those who lived when he was on earth. Just as he did with the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without responding. Whether we are going through a temporary struggle, or something more substantial, like an illness or a financial loss, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. He will always listen to our prayers and our petitions.

Just as we are called to listen to the needs of others. We are called to become Christ’s hands on earth.

As Dr. Charles F. Stanley, of In Touch Ministry, says it in the July In Touch magazine:

God has a bigger purpose for our lives. When Jesus ascded to the Father, He left His followers on earth to function as His body. We’re His ambassadors, representing Him to a lost world. He didn’t leave us here simply to take care of our own concerns. We are to be about His business.

Jesus summarized His role on earth in Luke 22:27, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Everything he did confirmed this mission – healing the sick, castin out demons, feeding the hungry, teaching the multitudes, training His disciples, and even raising the dead. But His ultimate act of service was giving His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28),

If we’re going to be followers of Jesus, we need His servant spirit. The Christian life was never meant to consist of just an hour or two spent in church on Sunday morning. It’s supposed to be a continual lifestyle of service – at home, work, school, or wherever you are.

Developiong a servant lifestyle is really just a matter of passing on to others the 
blessing the Lord gives us. This is not simply about giving money. The ways we serve are as varied as the gifts He gives.

Can we heal people just by allowing them to touch the hems of our garments?  Are we expected to feed 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish? No, of course not. Be we are expected to reach out to others, and to respond to others in need. To love our neighbors as ourselves. Does it have to be a grandiose gesture? No, it can be any loving gesture at all. Gestures like holding a door for someone, asking someone how their day is going, bringing food to a family in need or in mourning, driving someone to chemotherapy or other appointments, reading to someone who is losing their eyesight, holding someone’s hand in their grief.

Most people just want to be recognized and loved, and shown compassion. Don’t you want that too? Sometimes just listening and acknowledging someone else’s thoughts and hopes and dreams can be a very powerful way of showing compassion. Everyone wants to feel important to someone. That someone could be you. Show Christ’s love and compassion by being available, even when it doesn’t feel convenient at the time.

You may be very surprised how good it makes you feel to show love to someone else. Sharing love opens your heart to receive love as well. What you give out, you get back.

Here’s a very simple way to show compassion to one another: the next time you see someone without a smile – give them yours! 

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence here with us today. We thank You for this gathering of believers. We thank You for the story of the five thousand who came together so long ago to listen to the words of our Lord. Help us to always appreciate hearing Your word, no matter the size of the gathering. Because as You have told us, where two or more are gathered in Your name, You are there. Help us to remember to always be compassionate towards one another, and to everyone we meet throughout our day. You don’t demand big displays from us Lord, to show our love to others. You assure us that every little thing we do in Your name is enough. We strive to obey Your greatest command: to love each other as You have loved us. Lord, sometimes that seems like an overwhelming task, especially if we are confronted by those who are difficult, or different. Remind us that they may just be lonely, or tired, or hurt, or frightened. A kind word, a soft look, a loving touch may be just what they are longing for, Lord. Give us the courage and the compassion to reach out. In Your blessed name, Amen.

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