A sermon preached on July 22, 2018, Proper 11, at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY. You can read today’s scripture by clicking here.
We began today’s worship with the hymn – “In Christ there is no east or west… no south or north.” Instead, there is a fellowship of love that extends beyond any borders or definitions that the world puts in place.
This isn’t a hymn about the institution of the church, which does go beyond borders. This is a hymn about the fellowship of all of creation established in God’s unbounded love. It’s a hymn about how, regardless of our human need to define and divide, Christ – God incarnate – dissolves all boundaries, not by force or aggression, but through love and compassion, through joy and hope. Inviting all of us into abundant life. Because life follows where love leads.
Today’s Gospel from the 6th chapter of Mark is a split reading. If you’ll notice, we’re missing verses 35-52, which is quite a chunk. Verses 30-34 is an invitation for the disciples to “come away” after the hard work of their ministry – the teaching and work that they had been doing after Jesus sent them out.
It says, “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” And so they went away in a boat, crossing over the Sea of Galilee where Jesus finds a great crowd of people he didn’t know who seem to be desirous to learn.
Then, we skip over the story known as the Feeding of the Multitudes as well as the story where Jesus walks out to the disciples in their boat across raging waters at night.
And we jump to verse 53, when the disciples have finished their journey back from feeding the multitudes and they come to a place called Gennesaret. A place where Jesus is known, and he and the disciples continue the work of healing.
Now, next week, Sue will preach on the Feeding of the Multitudes from John’s Gospel. And, while it might make better sense for us to read the story in its entirety, I think the point the architects of the lectionary are trying to make is this: Jesus teaches through action. He takes his disciples (us) with him, as he crosses the boundary of the water over and over again throughout Mark. He’s trying to teach them where life can be found.
Because in each place they land, the healing presence of Christ disregards the rules set by ignorance and suspicion and power, and demonstrates that the love of God invites all into life. Even and especially, those of us who would erect walls and draw lines in the sand because we think these borders we create will save us. But, in the end, the walls actually destroy life.
The image on today’s cover, is a water color by an artist named Estelle Ishigo. Estelle was born in California in 1899. She married the son of Japanese immigrants, Arthur Ishigo in 1928. Thirteen years later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Estelle and Arthur lost their jobs after that and Arthur was forced into an internment camp in Wyoming. Estelle followed him there and she painted as a way of documenting their imprisonment. When they were finally released after the war, they lived in poverty for years.
The image, however, depicts something quite beyond the despair and hopelessness of their imprisonment due to Arthur’s Japanese heritage.
The title is appropriate: Boys with Kite. There are 2 little boys, both in blue overalls, white t-shirts, and black shoes. One is at the top of a barbed-wire fence, looking backward over his shoulder as he climbs the post. And the other seems to be smaller, arms outstretched above his head as he stands on tip-toes, almost in a position of praise, as he holds up a bright yellow kite.
You can see a green valley beyond the brown hill the fence sits upon and you know that’s where they want to go.
The boys are clearly very taken with the idea of flying this kite, caring more about this than what the fence might mean. Indeed, they only see the fence as something in the way of flying their kite because they’ve discovered that the wind, the breath that will carry their kite, has no care at all about the fence. So, quite naturally, they only want to follow the wind which will breathe life into their kite.
Like God, and like the wind, these boys don’t really care about the boundary. Why would politics and borders mean anything to a child who wants to fly a kite?
I read an article yesterday about a young person named Jaequan Faulkner. Jaequan is 13 and he’s been selling hot dogs in his Minneapolis neighborhood for 2 years as a way to help pay for school clothes. He has since decided that he just likes doing it because of the community it creates and how he is a positive part of creating that life in his neighborhood.
This summer, however, the city received a complaint about his makeshift hot dog stand, forcing the health department to investigate. Even though his hot dog stand is directly in front of his own house.
Now, this could have been a situation in which the fences and boundaries drawn by human society were more important than the life generated by this young person. They could have shut him down and shamed him.
Instead, the health department, not only helped step him through the process to get a license, but found a non-profit to cover the $87 and train him on some safe-food handling practices.
The people in authority could have used power to keep this young person in his place, binding him to the letter of the law. Instead, people used their power to lift someone else, to empower a young person, to encourage someone who was outside the system.
Someone reached across the border and said, I’ll walk with you. Life follows where love leads.
When Jesus invited the disciples on the trip across the water, he wasn’t planning another day of work. Remember, Jesus was trying to call his disciples into prayer – a retreat in which they could rest and be refreshed because they had no time even to eat.
I think this is key to the point of the Gospel today because it’s the moment of scarcity. The disciples are feeling depleted and it’s so easy in this moment to lose hope, to lose connection, to lose a sense of love and care for another. It’s so easy to pull back and become self-centered. This is the moment when it’s so much easier to keep fences in place and even erect new fences and walls and boundaries that weren’t there before.
But Jesus teaches us Christ’s compassion in this passage.
The compassion of Christ is one that is experiences as a response from the gut – like the phrase, “gut-response.” Our gut usually tells us when we need to protect ourselves. But Jesus helps us to understand that our gut also tells us when respond with action. Christ’s compassion responds from the deepest place inside of us. And life follows where love leads.
Do you remember what it was like to be a stranger or an outsider? Were you ever the one left out? Made-fun-of? The one on the receiving end of prejudice? Do you have a memory of being prevented from doing something simply because of who you are or what you look like or who you love?
Many of you have lived in Kingston for quite a long time so I wonder what your memories are of the experience of being an outsider.
I wonder because the compassion of Christ comes from that place, that deep place that remembers being the outcast. And instead of responding in fear, the Christ presence inside of us responds with an outstretched hand that reaches across the border and says, “C’mon… I’ll walk with you.”
Jesus leads us beyond the borders we create and the fences we build because the breath of God doesn’t stop for either one. Life follows where love leads.
Jesus asks us to get into the boat with him and cross over to the other side because he knows that life is always found on the other side. Jesus opens his arms to welcome all because God will simply have it no other way. All are welcome. All are invited.
So, where are the fences in your life? The places where you think you have to refuse someone else’s participation? And how can you allow Christ’s compassion to lead you across those boundaries?
Jesus stretches out his arms to all of God’s children. I’ve said this before, but every time we draw a line in the sand, Jesus is always on the other side. Not standing in judgment, but standing in invitation. To us.
Jesus is on the other side, not because he takes sides. But because he’s looking back at you with arms outstretched, asking you to tear down the wall you’ve built and let lose the compassion of Christ.
Jesus is on the other side, asking us to join him because that’s where love is, is where life is. Where the breath of life blows the kites of young boys and hot dogs are sold to anyone who wants one and life is truly abundant and unbounded.
May we all accept his invitation and join him there. Life follows where love leads.