Sermon for Sunday 18 July 2021
Trinity 7 (Proper 11) Year B 202117th July 2021
He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
I’m going to preach this morning on the gospel you never heard.
What I mean is this. For some reason our lectionary removes an enormous chunk of the narrative from the middle of Mark chapter 6, and leaves us this morning with a gospel reading made up of two very odd sections. The first bit you heard, about the disciples being exhausted and needing to go to a deserted place, is rather infelicitously stitched together with the ending of the chapter, and the disciples returning to Gennesaret.
But the problem is this. There is absolutely no way in which they can have been crossing over the Sea of Galilee and arriving back in Gennesaret if they had never left it! Today’s gospel as laid out in the lectionary is geographically impossible. I don’t know what mind bending drugs the CofE’s lectionary compilers had been taking when this arrangement was thought up, but if it makes sense of this impossible passage, I wouldn’t mind trying them.
Today’s gospel makes no sense whatsoever without the two stories they left out – the Feeding of the 5000 and Jesus’ Walking on Water, which are set for next week. My frustration, however, comes from the fact that as we are keeping St James’ next Sunday, we won’t hear them.
We are basically left in today’s gospel with a beginning and an ending, with the best bit taken out. It’s like a ham sandwich without the ham, or a hot dog without the sausage, or a gin and tonic without the gin!
So after all that huffing and puffing on my part, what can we learn from the whole of this second half of Mark chapter 6?
Let’s begin at the start. The disciples return to Jesus exhausted and he tells them to take time to come away to a deserted place with him to recharge their batteries.
If ever there were an incident in the gospels we understand at the moment it is surely this. So many of us feel exhausted by COVID. Many are working from home or finding it difficult to get a break. Very few of us have been able to holiday or go abroad.
We all know this can be true in our spiritual lives as well. It is a good discipline to take time out for retreat, quiet time and pilgrimage, something which over the next few months, will become, I hope more and more possible.
And yet, I can’t help feeling there is something deeper being taught us. For those two stories of the Feeding of the 5000 and the Walking on Water tell us something about why it’s important to spend time with Jesus. For it is only when we spend time with him that he is able to feed us as he fed the 5000 on that hillside.
That I think is something we are all going to have to make time for more explicitly and more intentionally over the coming years. For it is only by making time Sunday by Sunday to gather to celebrate the Mass together that we can be sure to encounter Christ and to be fed by him.
We’ve experienced months of not being able to gather as often as we would have liked. Many of us may have got out of the habit of being able to attend the Eucharist each Sunday – especially if we have been shielding.
As we now see COVID restrictions substantially relaxed, and as most of us are now double vaccinated, we need to re-create again those habits which allow Jesus to feed us.
It is a crucial obligation of Christian discipleship to attend the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday. There will be some very specific groups of people who need to continue to be more careful, but if that genuinely does not include us, we need to start putting back the 11.00 am Sunday Mass in our diaries as a priority each and every week.
This second half of Mark chapter 6, with the Feeding of the 5000, is a wonderful invitation from Jesus to return to the Eucharist, and renew our love for him.
And the story of Walking on Water tells us why our Sunday Mass is so important. The point of that story is to present Jesus as the divine Son of God who controls the forces of chaos that seek to destroy our lives and rule us with fear.
The Jesus whom we receive in the Eucharist is God made man – he who through his death and resurrection shows us that we need not be afraid of the terrors, dangers, and worries that so often characterise human life. He is with us, guiding and strengthening us.
So, we need to seek out Christ, and make time and room for him, so that he can feed us. And if we do that, as he feeds us, we will hear the voice that spoke to the disciples in the boat on the lake as he walked towards them and calmed the wind, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”