Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
by Pastor Sarah Stadler
One Sunday during my first call, I woke up crabby. I woke up grumpy. I woke up disillusioned. I had regularly worked 65 hours a week and led worship and visited people in the hospital and led and planned youth activities and worked and led Bible studies and volunteered in the community and gone to meeting after meeting and had difficult conversations with critical people and worked and worked. And on that particular Sunday morning, it all seemed for naught. We've probably all been there, at that place of deepest disillusionment—whether with our jobs or parenting or a relationship or while watching or reading the news. That place of not feeling like anything we do matters. That “blah” place. At least then though sometimes also now, I was almost obsessively positive, and rarely did I admit anything but joy—except busyness, of course. But that morning, I was in such a blah state that, when my colleague Victoria absent-mindedly greeted me and asked, “How are you this morning?” I was grumpy and disillusioned and crabby enough to say: I'm crabby. How are you? Victoria's response? A simple and almost flippant remark: “Well, you'll feel better after worship.” In that moment, I actually did not understand what she was saying to me. I saw the day ahead as simply work to be done, tasks to be accomplished, people to please. Why would I feel better after worship? She was right. I did feel better after worship. I can see now that I felt better because, in worship, I heard the voice of Jesus: in scripture read, in peace shared, in baptism remembered, in Word proclaimed, in the body and blood of Christ received in bread and wine. On that morning, during that week, in that season of my life, I was a sheep without a shepherd. Lost in the tasks of ministry, feeling ungrounded, unsettled, I had stopped listening for the voice of Jesus and had even allowed other voices to lead me.
It's so easy to be led by voices other than the voice of Jesus. Our family, friends, our media of choice, favorite authors, preferred politicians or scientists, musicians or athletes we admire. For me, it's the poets I love who sometimes drown out the voice of Jesus: Audre Lord, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Alberto Rios. Maybe the voices to which you listen are the voices of those most judgmental or harsh, maybe your boss or a critical family member, voices on social media or even yourself. All these voices, all these views, all these perspectives, both positive and negative fill our lives, fill our ears, fill our hearts. But honestly, nobody's voice matters as much as Jesus' voice does. Jesus' voice grounds us, offers us grace, guides us, gives us life. We are sheep without a shepherd when we fail to hear the voice of Jesus.
This aspect of my spirituality surprises me, honestly. I am fond of our theology that declares that God speaks through us, that God employs means of grace, that God works through human vessels. But I am also Lutheran enough that I concur with Martin Luther: that the Bible is a cradle for Christ. Yes, scripture in its entirety and especially in its major themes is authoritative. However, what Jesus said and did and what his life proclaims is the center of my spirituality, my hope, my everything. Jesus is my shepherd. Funny, I feel a bit abashed sharing that with you.
But this is why I deeply appreciate the lectionary, the series of Bible readings publicly proclaimed in worship among many mainline Christians, including Lutherans. The lectionary provides three years of readings, years A, B, and C. In year A, we mostly read Matthew, in year B, mostly Mark, in year C, mostly Luke, with John sneaking in here and there. A designated Old Testament lesson, a New Testament lesson in addition to the gospel, and a psalm, all of which supposedly thematically connect to the gospel pair up with each gospel reading. The gospel readings ground the lectionary, and the series of gospel readings move us from Jesus in the womb through his life and ministry, death, resurrection, and into the life of the church. During ordinary time, now, we read of Jesus' daily ministry: healings and miracles, meals and friends, confrontations with Pharisees and parables. What Jesus says and does, what his life proclaims, year after year, we read these same stories, and they ground us. Jesus' voice guides us. His voice leads us.
Maybe you're tuning me out right now because, blah blah blah, listen to Jesus. Of course, Pastor. But this is more nuanced than we may imagine! Even when I was preparing this sermon yesterday, I had read the gospel earlier but very quickly went to a trusted commentary without thoroughly reading the gospel and the passages that surround it. In my head, all day, as I went about doing the things I needed to do, I thought about what I would preach this morning. I came up with a game plan for a sermon in my head. And then, last night, when I finally sat down to write this sermon, I read the entirety of Mark chapter six, and I realized that I had not read very carefully. I had not seen what Jesus was actually doing, and I had not heard what Jesus was actually saying to his disciples. I wasn't listening...and then, I had to let go of the clever sermon I had gotten all excited to preach. How often we do this, hearing what we want to hear instead of listening to what Jesus says and paying attention to what his life proclaims.
In today's gospel, Jesus commands the disciples to go to a deserted place and rest for they had busily attended to the needs of the crowds. Jesus goes along with the disciples for he too needs rest. But the crowds follow, and no wonder. They are like sheep without a shepherd, Mark says, and that's why Jesus allows people to gather round and listen to his teaching, to come and touch his cloak, to come and seek healing. We, the crowd, have received the same invitation, to seek him, to get close enough to touch him, to gather round and listen to Jesus. Listen not to what others say about him, not straining to remember the stories as you heard them in Sunday school, not generalizing about Christian morality. Instead, we are invited to listen to Jesus, to actually read the gospels, to meditate on what we see in his life, to open our ears to what he said, to take in the hard and gracious messages of the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
What farmers tell me is that sheep listen to their shepherd, rely on their shepherd, trust in their shepherd. I invite us to trust in, rely on, and especially to listen to Jesus who is our good shepherd.
Thanks be to God! Amen.