Sermon from the Fringe – Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
By Donald McKenzie
July 23, 2018
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a sermon on the site. This is one I preached yesterday. I preached at Saint Philip’s in the morning, and Saint Margaret’s at night. The Sermon from the Fringe title, derives from the fact that it’s the middle of Winnipeg’s Fringe Festival. Plus the fact that the editors of the Lectionary, cut out the main body of the story when they chose the reading.
Next week begins five weeks delving into the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. I will be attempting to post my sermons for each week.
Sermon From the Fringe – July 22, 2018
Wednesday marked the beginning of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. Many of you will be familiar with the festival. For those who aren’t it generally features a variety of plays, monologues, musicals, and improv shows, all decided to stimulate an interest in theatre. In many case the shows will be outrageous, In many cases the shows will be controversial and-or thought provoking. Controversy guarantees provocation, although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee thought.
Sermon From the Fringe Inspiration
Another thing that happens in the Fringe Festival is that plays are heavily edited. A three hour played is distilled down to one hour. Or, as in the case of a really great show I went to earlier this week, the play Carmen is fused with the opera Carmen. The hope is that the editors will be able to distill the essence of the play while cutting out some of the dramatic flourishes and extra dialogue.
This seems to be what motivated the Lectionary compilers this week. Next week we’ll be starting what I like to call the rector’s revenge. We will be spending five weeks on the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it begins at a point where the rector would usually be on holiday. Back in the day, there would be a student minister given the task of preaching these sermons.
Now, John Chapter 6 begins with the feeding of the five thousand. Which is in the middle of our chapter in Mark today. So, I feel the editors got together, and said, much like people putting together a fringe play: “How can we make this week different?” Then, after a bunch of brainstorming, or workshopping, somebody said, I’ve got an idea: “Let’s just give the prologue and the epilogue and see if people can work things out from there,” and that is how today’s gospel lection came about.
It therefore helps if we know the bigger piece that these two sections are part of. The editors omitted the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus walking on water to calm the sea. Those two stories demonstrate Jesus’s power. First, two meet the physical needs of the people, and second, power over the elements. Now, do we have any indication of this in these two portions.
We start off with the apostles gathered around Jesus. The narrative of Jesus’s ministry had been interrupted by the story of the death of John the Baptist. Just before that though, Jesus had sent the disciples out with nothing more than a staff and the clothes that they had on their backs, and wherever they went the sick were healed and the unclean spirits were driven out. It’s this activity that makes Herod think that John has come back from the dead.
Mark, as usual gives a very brief description of this return. However, even that should get us thinking. Sent out on their own, the power that the disciples had seen exhibited in Jesus’s ministry had been exhibited in their own ministry. Now they have returned, and are recounting these details to Jesus.
After this, they get ready to go for a rest. Jesus wants to withdraw with them, to give everybody a chance to recharge. As I was reading the Gospel something stood out to me that I hadn’t really paid any attention to before. Mark says people were coming and going to the extent that the disciples couldn’t eat. If the crowd later on was hungry, how much more so the disciples who hadn’t eaten even before Jesus starts to teach. If the crowd was hungry, the disciples were most likely hangry.
Yet, when they try to get away, the crowd follows them. How does Jesus respond. There’s no out of office email or phone message. Jesus looks on them and is filled with compassion. They are like sheep without a shepherd. One could say the crowds deep hunger is obvious even before they feel the need for food.
The lectionary this week actually offers an alternate choice of readings for the Old Testament and the Psalm. The Old Testament reading is from Jeremiah and is particularly instructive for this Gospel. Jeremiah speaks about shepherds who have scattered the flock who have driven the people away. Leaders, who instead of drawing the people together have created dissension and splits and left the people to fend for themselves.
This may seem to go against our modern concern for self-care, but that would be to miss the point. The point here is not so much Jesus’s willingness to wear himself down to the bone for the sake of the crowd as it is another example of the abundance in God’s provision. So, Jesus stops what he’s doing, he alters his plans and starts teaching the crowd.
Now here is where we need to be familiar with the rest of the story. That part of the gospel that was omitted. The feeding of the 5,000 and the calming of the sea have something in common. That is the disbelief of the disciples. We said at the beginning today that the disciples had just come back from their mission where the power they had seen in Jesus was displayed in their ministry.
Yet, when there is a crowd to be fed, or a sea that is raging about them, the disciples seem to forget what they have previously observed. They say, “six months wages wouldn’t even give a bite to all these people,” or they cry out in terror because they believe they have seen a ghost approaching them on the water.
Now, let’s jump to the concluding part of our reading for today. Jesus and the disciples have landed on the shore, and are on their way to whatever the next day will bring them. However, the crowd, notices that they have gone and so goes to start looking for them. What’s really interesting is what they do when they have found Jesus. They don’t simply sit around waiting for him to begin teaching again.
Instead, were told, that everywhere that Jesus and his disciples go, the crowds go back to their homes and find all who are sick and bring them to Jesus. Whatever failure of long-term commitment the crowds have, at this moment they realize that in Jesus, healing and wholeness are occurring. Unlike the disciples, the crowds has latched on to whatever is happening through Jesus. Not only that, they aren’t keeping it to themselves. Any time Jesus is around, the crowd heads back home to make sure that those who can’t get to Jesus themselves are brought to him.
Then there is this closing bit of the reading. It says they brought the sick and laid them out in the marketplace. I can’t help but think that such activity would bring quite a disruption to the daily life of the marketplace. Imagine if you will, all the sick of Winnipeg, being brought down to The Forks. Imagine what upset would occur if people couldn’t make their way to their favourite stall or restaurant because there were sick people being brought in. I don’t think it would take too long before security and police were called in to remove them so the marketplace could get back to its proper purpose.
Yet, marketplaces have always also been gathering spots. Places where the community come together to share news. To renew friendships. I’m a big fan of the Bruno Chief of Police detective series, set in the Dordogne region of France. In this series the market plays a substantial role. Some of it is commercial, but a lot more of it social. It is one of the main areas of the town where Bruno builds relationships. Where he goes to get information, but also where he learns the character of the people and is thereby enabled to offer justice rather than simply fulfilling the letter of the law.
Marketplaces have always been places of connection. Yet, both in the time of Jesus and our world today there are those that are excluded who don’t have the opportunity to connect. Those who were unwell in body, mind, and/or spirit in our day are often no more welcome in the marketplace than they would have been in Jesus’s day.
Yet, when they come to the marketplace, they are transformed. God’s bounty that is displayed in the feeding of the 5,000 and God’s power displayed in the calming of the storm are on full display in the marketplace. Even those who touch just a bit of Jesus’s garment a healed. This isn’t simply a removal of whatever ails them, but a restoration. They can once again return to their families, to their jobs, they can once again find a place in the marketplace, to live, to love, and to laugh with their neighbours. All this comes out of God’s bounty as displayed in Jesus Christ.
How might our world and our lives look if we followed more the example of the crowd than of the disciples. I we lived our lives in the belief that God has provided enough for everybody? If we believed that our marketplaces were about more than what we buy and sell, but how we connect with each other? About how we share the bounty that God has given us in Jesus?