Toorak Uniting Church

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Jesus knows no limits

Mark 6: 30 – 34, 53 – 56
Rev. Morag Thorne
19 July 2009

If we stay just within the few short verses of Mark’s gospel that are given as the reading today, we miss the full drama and excitement of what is happening in the lives of the disciples, as they are confronted by some of the tensions and contradictions that are part and parcel of being in Christian service.

Let’s expand our field of vision a little, so we can appreciate the full implications of seeing Jesus in ministry at that particular time and place.

We’re in chapter 6, and this opened with Jesus being rejected by the people of Nazareth, his home town, as a teacher or rabbi, and being unable to do very much in the way of ministry there, because of their lack of faith.

Shortly afterwards, Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs, taking nothing with them for the journey, for their first exposure to ministry. We’re told that they preached repentance, drove out many demons, and healed many who were sick.

We see them now as they return from that excursion, and report to Jesus. But it’s so busy around them that they haven’t got time even to grab a meal. Perhaps you’ve had days like that, when it seems there is too much to do, and not enough time to do it all.
Perhaps the business comes about because people are now seeking out the disciples for help, as well as Jesus himself.

Jesus does the sensible thing, and tries to get them away for some peace and rest. But even his good intentions seem to be thwarted on this occasion, and the crowds persist and clamour for attention. Jesus gives up his own opportunity for a rest, or time with his friends, and ‘began teaching them many things.’

So Jesus, whose teaching was rejected not so long ago in Nazareth, is accepted and acknowledged here as a rabbi and teacher. The description of the people as being "like sheep without a shepherd’ deliberately evokes the traditional imagery of the Jewish people, and the responsibility of kings and priests to be wise, godly and compassionate leaders. So we see Jesus in that role, a godly and compassionate shepherd – leader – among the Jewish people.

A little later, over on the other side of the lake, quite a different picture is painted. This is Genessaret – Gentile territory. Last time Jesus and the disciples were here – which is only back in chapter 5 – do you remember what happened?

Jesus released a demon-possessed man: the demons went into a herd of swine that rushed over a cliff and were killed. Do you remember how the people reacted? They begged Jesus to go away and leave them alone – they were frightened of his powers.

The man he healed, however, has been busy spreading the word about this Jewish healer all around the region and people believe him, rejoice with him, and on the basis of his testimony, come out in droves now to beg for his help.

Some of us might be inclined to be a bit miffed about that kind of reversal in the way people respond to us. We might even get up on our high horse and say "Why should I help you now? You didn’t want my help before!"

Not only does Jesus not do that, but he even allowed them to touch him – not the usual Jew-Gentile relationship at all! He accepted them and ministered to them just as if they were God’s own people, too!

No wonder we sometimes find that being in ministry and service is uncertain, bewildering, occasionally really irritating, and at other times, exhilarating and uplifting. I’m sure the disciples found it all of those things as well.

Just read even chapter 6 in full, and you get some sense of the variety of experience to be found.

Sometimes we try so hard to be good servants that we risk exhausting ourselves, and that becomes counter-productive. Not only do we need rest, just on a human level, but we also need to withdraw and be with God, sometimes in prayer, and sometimes just in silent communion. It was this that Jesus tried to model and provide for the disciples. It was this that sustained and powered his own obedience and commitment.

It is faithfulness to this model that has sustained countless disciples, missionaries, ministers of all kinds and servants, throughout the ages.

Our world today still hears the clamour of those who need help, healing, teaching and release from all manner of ills. We are still in so many ways like sheep without a shepherd, or like those who run in fear from the thrill of God’s truth. There is no end to the need for compassionate, forgiving reaching out to those who have not yet been touched by the Light and Word of God.

In a little while we will be sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion, one of the ways in which we join our lives with that of the risen Christ, and receive the blessing of God, and the healing, renewing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
We become part of the very life of Christ, equipped and appointed to God’s service.

The good news is that the risen Christ is in service with us, and with all who do his Father’s will. And we are in service with each other. So as we minister and serve, we look out for each other’s health and welfare, and spiritual sustenance. We encourage each other, pray for and with each other, and listen when our friends counsel us.

And we rejoice that Christ has no limits of compassion, and no limits of capacity to be present to all who are in need. When we dedicate our own service to Christ, it is enriched through his own ministry, and more is effected to bring the kingdom of God into being that we could ever do through our own efforts alone.

Let us praise our God, whose love and compassion know no bounds, and whose faithfulness is our inspiration. Our hope lies only and always in God’s goodness and grace.
Amen.

© Rev. Morag Thorne, 2009


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