Sermon preached July 19, 2015
Texts: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-44, 53-56
“I Got Rhythm” Ethel Waters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n85lS6l7adg
Awhile ago someone told me they overheard a someone telling a visitor that I play old songs. Most of those “old songs” are from my youth, but I guess I am not as young as I once was, but this is really an older song, Ethel Waters recorded in 1931. Apologies to George and Ira for getting the name of their song wrong.
Rhythm. The reading from the Gospel of Mark for this morning is, in part, about rhythm. Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus had sent the disciples out to teach and heal. They now are gathering back together, sharing the stories of their adventures and work, and Jesus invites them: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” They had all been busy. People were coming and going and they were all finding it difficult, sometime, even to eat. So they get on a boat together to find a quiet place.
However, they could not get away from the crowds. They were met on the shore by many, and Jesus had compassion on them. Jesus and the disciples are called into action – teaching, healing, feeding.
Life with Jesus, life in the Spirit is a rhythmic life. I love the words Eugene Peterson uses to translate part of Matthew 11. Jesus, he write, invites us to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Life with Jesus, life in the Spirit is about learning the rhythms of grace.
There are a number of rhythms that are part of the rhythm of grace. There is a rhythm between the inner and the outer. Ephesians chapter 2 talks about how God in Jesus is about the creation of a new humanity, a human community of peace where dividing walls have been broken down and where we become the dwelling place of God. There are inner and outer dimensions to this. I appreciate the words of therapist Michael Eigen, whose works continue to help me think and grow. You can’t just work on institutional injustices without the actual people who are involved working on themselves, and you can’t just work on yourself without working on the injustices in society…. Without work in the trenches of our nature, we may wreck what we try to create. (Michael Eigen, Faith, 96, 7). Inner/outer – inner peace/outer peace.
A related rhythm is a rhythm between action and contemplation. Another writer who continues to help me along my journey with Jesus, Parker Palmer, describes this rhythm well. Rightly understood, contemplation and action are standard features of ordinary, everyday life…. Whatever our action, it can express and help shape our souls and our world. Whatever our contemplation, it can help us see the reality behind the veils. Contemplation and action are not high skills or specialties for the virtuoso few. They are the warp and weft of human life, the interwoven threads that form the fabric of who we are and who we are becoming. (Parker Palmer, The Active Life, 18-19). Breaking down divisions requires inner work of contemplation and outer activity of creating change. In Mark, the disciples and Jesus seek places of quiet and calm for contemplation, but feeding people requires action. These are rhythms of grace, and we don’t all dance to exactly the same rhythm. Some of us are more energized by action, some by contemplation and inner work. All of us need some measure of both.
But for the remainder of this morning I want to focus on another rhythm of the Christian spiritual life, the adventure with Jesus, life in the Spirit and that is attending to the rhythms of nature. There are multiple connections to the Gospel reading, and connections to the recent encyclical from Pope Francis. There will be more of the Pope here than we tend to hear in a Protestant Church, but his recent social teaching deserves a hearing in the broad Christian community. The Pope rightly reminds us that Christian spirituality includes care for “our common home” – the subtitle of his letter. The Pope argues that the creation stories in Genesis suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. (#66). He goes on to write: Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. (#222).
Attending to the rhythms of nature in our journey with Jesus involves developing a three step rhythm which includes celebration of and appreciation for the created world, wise use of the resources of the earth, and tender care for our common home.
Part of the rhythm of Christian spirituality, of our journey with Jesus in relation to creation is a simply joyous celebration of and appreciation for the created world, for the beauty and wonder of nature and its creatures. In the Gospel of Mark’s story of the feeding of the five thousand there is the small note about how folks sat down in groups “on green grass” (v. 39). Eugene Peterson expands the image. “They looked like a patchwork quilt of wildflowers spread out on the green grass!” Jesus paid attention to the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. The Psalmist wondered at the expanse of sky. In the very earliest part of the Bible, God sees all that has been created and calls it good.
Take time to appreciate, wonder at, celebrate the beauty, mystery, embrace of the created world and its creatures. I think here of the wonderful poem of Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171140)
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
We also need to acknowledge that as humans we depend upon nature, its gifts, its creatures, its resources. From the natural world comes food, materials for clothing, materials from which we make our shelters, the materials which keep us connected, informed, entertained. Our appreciation for the goodness of creation should not lead us to denigrate the human and human use of nature. Rather, we should be more thoughtful in our use of the resources of the world. Here, again, Pope Francis offers some helpful words. Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour…. According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created (cf. Gen 2:15) not only to preserve it (“keep”) but also to make it fruitful (“till”). Labourers and craftsmen thus “maintain the fabric of the world” (Sir 38:34). Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things: “The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them” (Sir 38:4). (#124) In the feeding story in the Gospel, the people are fed with food that is the joint effort of the natural world and of human persons. Bread has been baked. Fish have been caught. Hungry people are fed.
Wise use of the natural world must include tender care for the earth, its creatures, and its resources. This is a vitally important part of the rhythm of a spirituality as an adventure with Jesus. The compassion Jesus feels and displays to the hungry is a compassion that extends to the whole world. We need to think about what tender care for the earth might mean, what compassion for the earth might entail. Pope Francis invites conversation. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. (#14). He also invites an acknowledgement of the importance of the earth as a common good, climate as a common good. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all…. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat… warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. (#18)
Developing this part of our life with Jesus, developing a rhythm of our relationship with nature that includes deep appreciate and celebration, wise use and tender care does not provide us easy answers for some of the difficult environmental challenges of our day. We must grapple with the meaning of celebration, wise use and tender care for climate change, oil pipelines, mining and a host of other issues. Pope Francis: On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. (#61) We face hard questions, and we are not, if we take our faith seriously, allowed to simply turn away.
Yet we are not people without hope. The very story we read that invited us to think about rhythms of faith is a story of hope. Faced with the daunting task of feeding such a large crowd, the disciples were flummoxed. “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” Jesus asks what they have – five loaves and two fish. Jesus blesses, breaks and shares, and there is enough. There is more than enough.
When we get in rhythm with the God of Jesus Christ, when we are more attuned to the rhythms of grace, the rhythms of the Spirit, and in that bless and break and share, healing can happen. There will be enough. There will be more than enough. Praise be! Amen.