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Thursday, July 15, 2021

God, in Jesus, Loves You This Much

 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56               God, in Jesus, Loves You This Much

            Years ago, I watched the Robert Duvall movie, The Apostle, about a Texas preacher who finds himself in Louisiana – taking on a new identity, but unable to escape his true self (sinner) and his calling (servant of the Lord).

As events unfold in the movie, Duvall’s character begins preaching on the radio in his new home-town, and ultimately finds people flocking to him for healing of all sorts in large revival-style prayer meetings. Large outdoor tents are filled with the masses of people desperate to be healed of all manner of disease and disability. Watching the movie, I found it amazing to see how many people came out to see him, seeking satisfaction of their hope for healing.

            Other movies about healing include The Secret Garden, Patch Adams, and Dead Man Walking, but really, there are so many you can probably name scores more.

Maybe you’ve seen one or more of these movies or read the books associated with them, or you have know other stories that illustrate for you the overwhelming need for healing that exists in our world. But you don’t need these stories to know the truth: in a world that is broken and struggling, in lives that are vulnerable to so many dangers, we know the truth. We are desperate. We seek to be healed and “fixed” from all that is broken.

In many of these stories, you will see people going to great lengths to be healed. The lure of possibly receiving healing of some sort attracts large numbers and varieties of people to someone who just might hold the power to change their lives for the better – or to give them their life back from the circumstances that threaten or diminish them. Advertising for everything from real estate to personal health and wellness to cosmetic assistance to relationship building banks on the vulnerability we experience to be healed from that which we perceive or experience as lacking or broken.

Often, when we watch these movies or see the stories unfold on the pages of a book, we identify in some way with people who need all sorts of healing – from illness, from grief, broken relationships, or from sin itself – individuals like us, who will go to great lengths to receive it.

            As we read through Mark’s gospel about the large crowds Jesus attracts, and the lengths they’ll go through to seek healing from Jesus, we can therefore identify with them. We might even wish that we could, with our own eyes and touch, see the Jesus in this story for ourselves.

            We are gratified by the many examples of healing that Jesus performs, because these stories and these examples give us the basis for hope – hope for our own healing; hope for our nation and for the world; hope for our children; hope for our friends.

So great are the needs for healing in the world in Jesus’ time, that what we see again and again in the scriptures are situations where Jesus and his disciples must steal away – literally “stealing” time – in order to obtain the all-important rest they need from all the demands on them from the desperate, hungry people who surround them – so that they can better serve them.

Equally hungry, desperate, hurting, ill, and isolated people continue to fill the world – and we can characterize the people in today’s gospel as “such as these”.

            What we see in many of the movies I mentioned earlier and from the stories about Jesus’ healing miracles, as well as the healing performed by the disciples sent far and wide by Jesus, is that the desperation people feel brings them flocking in vast numbers, from great distances, and from disparate backgrounds – for among the crowds are Jews, Gentiles, believers and the curious, rich and poor, powerful and powerless.

            And Jesus heals them all – if they are willing – and sometimes, even when they are not.

And when Jesus heals, he takes advantage of the wonder and gratitude elicited by the miracle or the healing, to point to the power of God. He points to the real healing, which is often not of the body, but the spirit; Jesus redefines the status of broken or marginalized people, and their relationship with God the Father.  

             Today’s gospel shows just how large Jesus’ following had become.  Not only was the mission of Jesus and his disciples expanding—as the work of the disciples had shown—but many people regularly attempted to track down Jesus.  In this passage, Mark describes them as running faster on foot than those traveling by boat. 

These hungry, desperate people were intent on locating Jesus.  And when Jesus saw them, he viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd.”  First, Jesus describes them in their vulnerability. Next, Jesus responds – as he always does – with compassion.

            Throughout the gospels, and this is especially true of the gospel of Mark, we see large gatherings of people following Jesus, seeking him out, keeping him from moving freely, and placing demands on his time, energy, and powers to heal.

The repetition in so many places of the large gatherings of people, of people seeking Jesus out, and of Jesus’ compassionate and responsive acknowledgement of them, are key features throughout the gospel. Like the stories of healing that come from literature, movies, and simple storytelling, we see that people have always needed to be saved from a myriad of ailments – physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. In our gospels we see that healing comes from one common source – Jesus, the embodiment of God’s love and mercy.

            Today we read the beautiful psalm that, for so many of us, gives us the primary picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the one who cares for and about us. In our gospel, Jesus’ care and compassion are piqued by the image of so many vulnerable, needful sheep – the people who are equally vulnerable, whether we know it or not.

This shepherding Jesus is the Jesus we adore. This is the Jesus depicted in so much Christian artwork – the who comes to heal us again and again, and through whose ultimate healing, we are saved.

            In the final verse of our gospel this morning, the desire to have close, personal contact with Jesus, even if only through the act of touching his garments, is lifted up. For those of us who are believers, isn’t this the shepherd the way we often view Jesus? Staff in hand, a savior who is ready in a moment’s time to reach out and pluck us from mortal and spiritual danger and death?

            We are gathered here today to worship, praise, and glorify this shepherd, this savior, this God who loves us so much that he will lay down his life for us. The God we worship and adore is the God who, through raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that nothing will ever strip us of the love and adoption that we have through Jesus.

            As we celebrate another “Thanksgiving at Zion” Sunday, and as we look forward to celebrating the coming of God with and among us in Jesus Christ our Savior, I invite you to think for a few moments about this Savior and what he has already done and is doing in your life and in our world.

Where do you see, feel, know his presence?

How has he saved, changed, restored, or graced your life?

Where have you seen his mercy pouring out on you or someone you know?

God is ever present, ever powerful, ever loving, ever caring, ever reaching, ever revealing, ever touching, ever strengthening, ever healing.

            Our hearts are full of gratitude and thanksgiving for all that Jesus has done for us, much of which, truth be told, we cannot see nor appreciate.

The healing we experience and witness we give testify to yet small bits of what God through Jesus is doing.

            I invite you on this Thanksgiving Sunday at Zion, to think about Jesus. Think about what you know of him. Think about what you have seen. How has Jesus revealed God’s love for you?

Think about where you have been amazed. What have you seen or experienced that has made you think, “Wow! Our God is great!”

Think about how Jesus has humbled you with his grace and mercy poured out for and experienced by you. When my kids were young, I would tell them that I love them “this much” and I would hold my hands as far from one another as I could, indicating the “vast” space between them. Can you even comprehend a smidgen of how much you are loved by the Holy One?

            Finally, let’s thank him. In your bulletin this morning, you should have found a thank you card that you can fill out to thank God for the love and mercy that has amazed, touched, and changed you. If you filled out a thank you card last week, I challenge you to write a different blessing this week and return it. Take a moment to explore your heart and ponder the words you will offer up to God.

 And may God, the giver of every good gift and healer of the aching soul, keep your heart and your mind focused on Jesus this day and forever, in deep awareness and unending gratitude for his love and blessing. Amen.

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