Proper 11B 2012: “they were like sheep without a shepherd”

2 Samuel 7:1-14a     Psalm 89:20-37     Ephesians 2:11-22     Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

It is a parade, and everyone is pushing one another, jumping for beads and doubloons, screaming “throw me something, mister!”  Carnival music pounds through the crowds and people push ever closer to the floats, threatening to overturn safety barriers, to overcome crowd control.  From the float, the scene is eerie, scary, even.  Arms, faces, and shouts mingle as the crowd reaches ever closer, vying to be the one who gets the prize.  … The prize is a beaded necklace with fake pearls and maybe a purple plastic medallion; we push and jump and reach to touch a dime store necklace.

It is hot, and the sun beats down on the vacationers.  They are fortified with $3.00 drinks in plastic cups, themed hats and maybe some sunscreen.  Little ones are in strollers; still everyone pushes closer and closer, packing themselves in between the bars that herd everyone toward the ride.  We inch toward the end, packing ourselves into a tight human mass.  We vie for the prize. … The prize is a thriller ride, the newest and biggest roller coaster.  We push and crowd and sweat for 4 minutes of contact with the best carnival ride ever.

It is hot, and the noises are of caravans and mules, horses and little children, sheep, goats, … and wagons loaded with the stuff of our lives.  It is market day, and the sounds of the vendors vying for business mingles with the smells of their wares:  sweet fruits and too-hot carcasses, pungent spices and linen of purple.  The crowd is diverted by another commotion, another gathering, and when we hear what it is, we, too, push and shout and vie for the prize.  We are fortified with huge urns of water on our shoulders; children clutch our robes.  We are dusty, hot, and we push ever closer.

This time the prize is neither tawdry in quality nor brief in time.  The prize … is Jesus.  The prize is the healing power of Jesus, and we push and reach and stretch to touch even the fringe of his cloak.  The prize is healing, and it lasts forever.  In cities, villages, and farms, the crowds are the same.  Like Mardi Gras or a Disney theme park, people show up early, crowd together, and wait.  In lines, in mass crowds, hours and hours we wait.  We eat and drink, push and shove, passing time in many ways while we wait for a necklace, an amusement ride, a rock star.  Imagine waiting in this way for the healing power of Jesus.

Maybe today we are waiting in all of these ways for the healing power of Jesus.  We are in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in the history of our country…

It was early on a Friday morning; we were watching the opening of a Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third in the trilogy.  The theatre is crowded, and then it is filled with acrid smoke, gunfire, and chaos.  Twelve people are dead, another 59 wounded; the shooter is in custody, his apartment is full of explosives, the theatre is closed; this is madness.  There is no prize.  And somehow, we who are celebrating the return of a movie theatre in Columbia wonder how come it might not be safe to go to a movie.  We who sometimes think that the healing touch of Jesus is only an arm reach away – we rarely think that we really need Jesus, after all; well, we wonder why that healing cloak is ever so far away.  Where was Jesus?

Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We are part of the crowd: the Mardi Gras crowd, the theme park crowd, the theatre crowd, and, I pray, the Jesus-seeking crowd.  In these most difficult days, we are called to seek our Lord.  Jesus sees us and has compassion.  We are called to reach our arms toward him, to fall on our knees, call His name, to praise His holy name.  Even today.  Especially today.

I do not know what hardness of heart infested the shooter that he intended death and destruction for the crowd and for the first responders.  My brothers and sister, we are called to pray for this man.  If you cannot, I will.  When I cannot, the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven will pray in the ways that we cannot.  We are believers.  We are those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord and that we will love our neighbor as ourselves.  Lord, hear our prayer.

Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus was at the theatre in the hands and feet of theatre goers who helped one another.  Jesus was present in emergency responders, with caregivers at five hospitals.  Jesus is with those who even think to reach for his garment.  Jesus was present, He is present, filled with compassion.  He longs us, and he weeps and walks, is living prayer with us.

I do not have an answer for a man who can perpetrate such evil.  I know only to reach for Jesus … in my thoughts, on my knees, in my life.  I know to reach for a power infinitely greater than I can understand … for the only complete healing that exists.  Rather than asking “why?” right now, I am finding it comforting to say “be with us.”  I share this prayer:

Let our hearts break, Lord , at the sight of flags at half mast, and fill our brokenness with You.

When our prayers are silent, fill our silence with You.

Calm our fears, ease our anxieties; help us reach out to touch your garment.

Help us remember those who are hurting today.  Help us find a way not to make the world a better place, but to allow heaven itself to break through.

Convict us, transform us, and heal us, O Lord, in your perfection and in your love.  Have compassion on us, and teach us.

Amen.

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