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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 16, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
July 22, 2018

2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34,53-56


‘Closed minds and hard hearts’

Today’s lectionary gives us two excerpts from Mark 6. The first focuses on Jesus, his excited missionary students and their desire for rest. A large crowd desires wisdom, and Jesus, we read, feels “compassion for them”. The second shows Jesus healing – many people “begging him to let them touch just the fringe of his cloak”. Between these desires for rest and wisdom and a desire for healing, Mark presents the stories of the feeding of the 5,000 (with five loaves and two fish) and Jesus walking on the water (as depicted on the stained-glass window from St Botolph’s, London).

To sea-faring disciples “worn out with rowing” – at “about three in the morning” – Jesus, “about to pass them by” but seeing their terror, says: “Calm yourselves! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus, we read, gets into the boat with them, and the wind dies down. Verse 51 concludes: “They were completely amazed by what had happened, for they hadn’t understood about the loaves. Their minds were closed.” Other translations read: “Their hearts were hardened.” God be with you …

When I have preached on this passage in the past, I’ve focused on doing what we love to do (as the disciples expressed their love of missionary work). The wisdom of doing what we love to do as a means of caring for heart and mind. A means of restoring energy levels. A means of keeping close to God. I’m still exploring this theme.

Exhaustion, hunger and terror are met by compassion, collaboration (bread blessed, broken and shared) and wellness (the peace or shalom of God – remembering that references to the fringe of Jesus’ cloak are references to the tassles [tzit-tzit] which symbolise the goodness of Torah).

This can help to clarify what we mean when we speak of doing what we love to do (lest we entertain selfish, compulsive or addictive loves – closed or hard in some way or other). There is clarity in this: compassion, collaboration and wellness/peace/shalom.

And so … Sometimes I forget to do what I love. Maybe because I’m anxious about the opinions of other people. I forget to cultivate my own sense of the world, to trust my own instincts, confused as to what others might regard my love and my task. Maybe I balk at the hard work of doing what I love (the demanding and infinite nature of it), afraid of failure, folly, imperfection? Maybe I get tired and lazy due to poor time management? Maybe I get distracted by spectacles and consumer desires, caught up in fascination with what other people do or say?

What do you love to do or make?

It’s worth attending to that most enigmatic verse. “They were completely amazed by what had happened, for they hadn’t understood about the loaves. Their minds were closed.”

What do the disciples not understand about the feeding miracle (about collaboration) that closes their minds (and hardens their hearts)? Their amazement at sea is noted, alongside what might be described as their refusal to believe at sufficient depth. They miss the divine presence in the miracle of the loaves and fish. Or better, they miss the connection between the miracle of collaboration and Jesus walking on the water (which recalls the Spirit on the waters of Creation, the Red Sea crossing of Moses and the Israelites, as well as various biblical images of God riding or surfing the waves, bringing order from chaos [Job 9:8; Isaiah 43:16; 51:10]).

The good news is this: the assurance of divine presence in compassion, collaboration and peace-making – the call to rediscover our true selves in and through doing what we most love to do.

For compassion, collaboration and wellness entail working together. “You are included in God’s holy people,” Paul writes, “and are members of the household of God, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus as the capstone. In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple …”

Solomon built a temple for the true God of compassion, collaboration and peace, but was distracted by many loves (he also built “amazing” temples to other gods, enslaving and killing his own people in the process). The founder of the wisdom tradition (truly blessed by Wisdom) died a despondent and lonely ruler. A tragic king of no kindom.

The assurance of divine presence in compassion, collaboration and wellness/peace – the call to rediscover our true selves in and through doing what we most love to do – is good news because it sets us free. In compassion, collaboration and peace-making we are free to love with Jesus, in love for the world. Doing what we love releases restorative powers for new hope and action, new life.

In small groups/boats, let’s complete the homily. What do you most love to do or make? … Amen.

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