Proper 11, B
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
We’re fond of Winnie the Pooh as bedtime stories in my house. We just read the chapter in which Christopher Robin leads an expotition to the North Pole. Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit and Kanga and Roo and Eeyore and all of Rabbit’s friends and relations embark on a journey of adventure and discovery one fine day, a day much like this one I would think, an expotition to discover the North Pole. Pooh Bear finds the North Pole by the end of the chapter, but the real excitement in the chapter centers on Kanga’s son, young Mr. Roo. Roo, who has not previously been allowed to swim in anything larger than his bath falls into a creek and is washed along, over a sequence of falls from pool to pool. Each time he comes bouncing back up to the surface he squeals to his anxious friends, “Look at me, look at me. I’m swimming, I’m swi…, until he is again swept over the falls. So as not to make anybody tense or worried, I will reveal, at the risk of spoiling the story for you, that the friends rescue Roo, and Kanga takes him home for a hot bath and a long sleep in a warm bed.
The apostles have not fallen into a creek, but rather have been thrust 2 by 2 into the swift moving, rock studded, steep walled torrent of living and sharing the gospel. As we join them today, they have bobbed back to the surface into the pastoral pool surrounding Jesus to catch their breath and tell their stories to their teacher: “Look, look; we’re healing; we’re teaching; we’re casting out demons. Look!”
Jesus knows, likely shares, not only their excitement, but also their fatigue, their physical and spiritual hunger, their need for communion and connection. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” We are, in our day and age, unskilled at seeking calm, quiet, un-busy situations – the business of the world usurps our time and our attention. We would do well to remember to lie down in green pastures and walk by the peaceful still waters, trusting in the eternal goodness and mercy of God now and again.
One pastor tells of an old seminary story of a county fair which conducted a contest looking for the best picture of peace. There were three finalists, three pictures of peace.
The first picture of peace portrayed a farm in Wisconsin. Can you see that farm in your mind, with its roadside fences all painted freshly white? Bright red fresh paint with white trim on the farmhouse mirrors the bright red barn. Well-fed Holstein cows graze in a luscious green pasture. Birds chirp delightful songs as they fly above the peaceful grazing cows. This picture did not win.
Sunrise over Puget Sound served as the setting for the second picture of peace. It showed the slowly rising sun, rose hues reflected on the sparkling clear blue water, no wind, and no airplanes and no boats, only seagulls lazily gliding on the air, effortless. This serene picture…did not win.
The third picture showed an immense waterfall, a magnificent cascade splashing its waters down on the rocks at least two hundred feet below. At the base of that waterfall stood yellow arches from McDonald’s with all their trash spilling over from the garbage can. On the other side of the magnificent waterfall ran a freeway. Thousands of cars endlessly, heedlessly roared by. On top of that high cliff where the waterfall originated stood a campground. People blasted music and drank beer in a cacophony of mindless noise and chaos. Hundreds of empty beer cans came floating over that waterfall and into the pool below. Meanwhile, a jackhammer blasted away concrete at its base and electric power saws whined with new construction. A tree which had grown very tall through the years, stood near that waterfall. At the top of the tree, a branch reached out towards the water. In that branch sat a bird’s nest. In that bird’s nest nestled three blue eggs. A mother robin sat on those eggs in that nest in the tree limb near the waterfall, with all the chaos around it. That picture won the prize. (paraphrased from Rev. Edward F. Markquart)
“And that is our understanding of God’s peace. God’s peace is not to run away from the chaos and the conflict all around us and inside of us. God’s peace is living in a chaotic situation called life, and there [in] this chaotic situation, to find God’s peace within and God’s peace between.” (Rev. Edward F. Markquart)
We need time to rest, to re-create ourselves in God’s image, as Jesus did when he prayed alone, as the disciples did after their first trial of ministry, but Jesus bids us to rest, not to escape. Just as the people went before Jesus and waited for him, the dichotomies that build up walls of hostility in our world wait for us. Those with fresh water, and those without. Those with healthcare, and those without. Those with purpose, and those seeing none. Those who wage war, and those who suffer from it. Those who flee persecution, and those who would push them back into it. Those who would reach out a hand and those who would smack it away. Those who are invisible, and those who will not see. Those who take, and those who have nothing left to give.
A student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. He expected the answer to be a clay pot or perhaps a fishing hook or grinding stone.
Her answer was “A healed femur”
Mead explained that no mended bones are found where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cared. Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization.
(Rowell, Edward K., 1001 Quotes, Illustrations and Humorous Stories for Preachers, Teachers and Writers, p. 171)
“And he had compassion on them…” If we are to “serve spiritually as a dwelling place for God”, for Christ who “created in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” then we must see the dichotomies, heal the rifts and live the compassion of Christ.