A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After
Pentecost, 18 July, 2021. Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese
of Toronto.  Readings for Proper 16 (B):

2 Sam 7.1-14a; Ps. 89:20-37; Eph
2.11-22; Mk 6.30-34,53-56.

he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because
they were like sheep without a shepherd; (Mk 6.34).

I’ve mentioned before that I am
profoundly grateful for the prayer time we hold every Friday morning, and how I
attend because of my own needs and not because I’m a priest.  This last Friday during our prayer time I was
struck by the extent of the needs that we brought before God.  There seemed to be more than the usual people
undergoing medical procedures and with a whole raft of personal issues, as well
as a seemingly unending torrent of disasters in Canada and around the world to
pray for – tornadoes, wildfires, floods, refugees, wars, whole governments and
countries in collapse, and of course the ongoing ravages of Covid in various
places.  That’s a lot of human need
happening all at once.   As Leah wisely
said, in the storms of life, what can we do but face them and trust in God?

Likewise there is an overwhelming amount
of human need in today’s gospel story.   
By this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has become so well known for his
teaching and miracles that it is impossible for him to find a deserted place to
pray and rest.  By the time that their
boat gets to their intended refuge, the spot is overrun with crowds.  Presumably these people have come for the
same reason that Mark describes a few verses later, to bring their sickened
loved ones in the hopes that Jesus will heal them.  Jesus isn’t fazed or petulant that the
spiritual retreat he has planned has been ruined by all these needy people.  Instead, Mark tells us in an absolutely
lovely line,  “he had compassion for
them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6.34).

This verse says a lot.   It underscores Jesus’ role as the good shepherd,
and which evokes a long tradition in Hebrew scripture of depicting the leader
of God’s people as a shepherd.  In
Numbers, for example, Joshua is appointed as a leader after Moses asks God to “appoint
someone … so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a
shepherd” (Nu 27:15-17).   King David,
who began his career as a shepherd­­_, came the closest to this ideal of
Israel’s ruler.  Marks touching on this theme
of the royal shepherd is all the more interesting in light of where we see
kings in this part of Mark’s gospel, because we don’t see them here, where the
people have need of one.

We did see a king just a bit earlier,
Herod Antipas, the Roman puppet ruler of Galilee.  We met him earlier in Mark chapter 6, and
were told of how he had arrested John the Baptist.   Herod was feasting in his palace, giving a banquet
for his “courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee”, at the
birthday where John’s head became a party favour.   Jesus’ comment about “sheep without a
shepherd” tells us a lot about the difference between earthly kingdoms and the
kingdom of heaven. 

While Herod is feasting with his henchmen
and murdering God’s prophet John, Jesus goes to meet and serve God’s leaderless
people in the wilderness.   Jesus’
feeding of the crowds (Mk 6.35-44), which is skipped over in the lectionary’s
arrangement of our gospel reading today, also reminds us of the many references
in the Exodus story of how God sustains his people in the wilderness (Ex
16.13-35, Nu 11.1-35).  Jesus is thus
exactly where a proper king and shepherd of God’s people should be, caring for
the many and not in a palace with an elite few.

In fact, everywhere Jesus goes in
this gospel reading, he is met, even besieged, by human need.  You might recall that three Sundays ago we
heard of how one sick woman dared to touch Jesus’ cloak in the hope of healing
(Mk 5.27-34).   Now it seems that everywhere
Jesus goes, everyone wants to touch his cloak, and Mark tells us that “all
who touched it were healed” (Mk 6.56). 
Once again, I think, Mark is telling us something vital about the
kingdom of God, that it is seen wherever the needs of God’s people meet the
love and care of God and of God’s representatives, because it is not just Jesus
that shows this love and care.  Remember
that at the beginning of our gospel reading, we heard of how “the apostles
gathered around Jesus” (Mk 6.30).   Just
a little earlier we heard about how Jesus sent his disciples out into the
world, and how they preached “and annointed with oil many who were sick and
cured them” (Mk 6.13).

Thus, we shouldn’t be dismayed or
lose heart at the enormity of the needs we are faced when our prayer group
meets, or during our Sunday prayers of the people.   Until the kingdom of heaven is fully
restored in this world, as we say in our creeds, there will always be an enormity
of human need for the church as God’s modern apostles to pray for and to
serve.   We should not be discouraged by
the vast needs we see around us.  Rather,
we should be encouraged in our prayers, in our ministries, and in our
outreach, that where the need is greatest, there we already find Jesus, present
in the hungry and desperate places, waiting for us to join our love and our
prayers and our service to his.

Let’s pray:

Gracious and loving God, the
headlines, the many stories of sickness and need that we hear of even in our
own congregation and families, threaten at times to overwhelm us.  Give us the grace to remember that you,
Jesus, are there already, as you always have been.   Give us the hope and strength to remember
that where human need is greatest, there your kingdom, and our vocations, can
be seen most clearly.  Amen.