Opening Prayer: Mighty God, you open wide your hand and sustain all living things. Open our lives that we might be fed by your Word; in Christ's name we pray. Amen.
Introduction: Earlier this week I attended an event for clergy passionate about social action. Anita Hill, an ELCA pastor in St. Paul, spoke about being a prophetic voice at the fringe of society. It's hard to be radical when we're steeped in the status quo. There's more to lose and it's harder to create change from the middle of our comfort zones. Jesus calls us to be a prophetic voice on the edges of society. Like a river, the fastest flow and the risky spots and the newest growth happens along the shoreline. It's harder out there. It's scrappier. But that's where Jesus is in these chapters of Mark and it's where we're called to be, too.
Setting the Scene: We begin in Mark 6:30 as the attention turns from John the Baptist's death to the public and foreign ministry of Jesus. There is already a pattern of retreat, rest and renewal happening in Mark and it's good to know that even Jesus needed to refuel every now and then. He first went to a deserted place in chapter one after his baptism. There he prayed and spent time with God apart from distractions. Now he invites the disciples to come with him for these same reasons. He shows them how to sabbath.
Loaves and Fishes: Read Mark 6:30-44.
While that retreat was well intentioned, it didn't last long! The crowds followed on foot and soon there are thousands in the desert with them. Jesus and the disciples react differently to the situation at hand. So many people in the middle of nowhere! It's getting late and Jesus should stop teaching so they can all head into town to buy food.
Their concern is compassionate, but consumed by logistics. Instead of taking a break and sending them all away, Jesus illustrates abundant life and God's blessing by showing the crowds that there is more than enough. He widens their lens and exceeds their expectations. Jesus compassion transcends logistics and he calls the disciples to participate in the miracle. You give them something to eat. Go and see how many loaves and fish there are. Get everyone to sit down in groups. Pass the food out. Collect the leftovers. People are renewed.
- What hunger initiatives do you support through your congregation, the wider church and other organizations?
- Why does food remain such an important part of the church's ministry today?
- Compare Mark 6:41 to Mark 14:22. What does this mean for your everyday bread? What does this mean for the Holy Communion we share?
Again, Jesus takes time to be alone and refueled by God in prayer. When life interrupts the time we mean for solitude, reflection and prayer, it's okay to try again once the crowds disperse! Again, we see Jesus' power to calm the seas and are reminded of his intimate connection with the God of Israel in Exodus 3:14. "It is I," sounds like God speaking to Moses from the burning bush, "I am who I am".
The disciples are puzzled and we are reminded once again that following Jesus doesn't mean we have it all figured out. Being a disciples doesn't mean having all the answers or being confident all the time. It means being scared and confused and hopeful...and caught up in the wonderment anyway!
The Tradition of the Elders: Read Mark 7:1-8
Ah, the sweet tension of old traditions and new ideas! The church in every age knows these conversations well. Note that verses 3-4 appear in parentheses. Mark wanted to make clear to all readers, even Gentiles unfamiliar with Jewish rituals, why ritual cleanliness before eating was important. Read Isaiah 29:13-16 to better understand the passage Jesus is quoting in order to remind his audience of the difference between God's word and the traditions we develop around our interpretation of God's word.
- Can you think of some tensions that arise between established traditions and fresh innovations today?
- How do both tradition and innovation contribute to the vitality of life at St. John's?
Mark's gospel is filled with interruptions that prove to be the best stories we have about Jesus' life. It seems he is often on his way from one place to another when someone gets in his way with a desperate plea. Here Jesus is far from home in a diverse land that is now part of Lebanon. Racial and religious tensions are high and Jesus meets her begging with what seems to be disinterest and disgust. But she persists with clever words. She preaches to him. She tells him about how wide God's mercy can be. And then her life is changed. In a moment, Jesus calls her into the abundant grace and life of God and her daughter is made well.
- How does position and privilege play out in the world today? Are there some in your own neighborhood with greater access to health care and education than others? How are you called to participate in that struggle and conversation?
- What connection do you see between this story and the reception of women's voices in the church today?
The Decapolis or "Ten Cities" is an urban setting rich with diversity, but far from home. How do they already know about Jesus? Word has gotten out. This is the place our friend in chains from Mark 5:1-21 went proclaiming the good news just a few chapters ago. While John the Baptist has been killed and Jesus is aware of the political implications of his ministry, keeping the gospel of Jesus Christ under wraps is becoming impossible. Jesus opens more than the man's ears and mouth - he opens a whole new world for those excluded and hurting. Each healing reminds readers that this gift of Christ transforms our whole beings in ways we cannot hide and ignore. The secret is out.
Looking Ahead: Next month we'll consider all we've learned about Jesus' identity in this first half of Mark's gospel. Some have sought out Jesus and believe fervently. Some are curious and skeptical. Others are fearful and insecure. What do you think of this one "who has done everything well" (7:37)?
Closing Prayer: Gracious God, in Jesus we learn to see the whole world in a new way. We thank you for those who have taught us to see strangers and foreigners, refugees and immigrants as your children, too. Amen.