Gathering the Scattered!

Pentecost 9B
July 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were
 like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” [Mark 6:34]

Do you know what happens to sheep when they don’t have a true shepherd?  That’s right, they scatter!   And once they scatter they can get into all kinds of trouble; trouble that usually ends in their death.  Why even sheep who have a shepherd can get themselves into a whole lot of trouble; that’s why the shepherd will leave the 99 to search for the one who has wandered off. 

An American, traveling in Syria, saw three native shepherds bring their flocks to the same brook, and the flocks drank there together. After a few minutes, one of the shepherds got up and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah! ,” the Arabic word for “follow me.” His sheep came out of the mixed herd and followed him up the hillside. The next shepherd did the same, and his sheep went away with him, and neither shepherd even stopped to count them. 

The American said to the remaining shepherd, “Give me your turban and staff, and let’s see if they’ll follow me like they follow you.” So he put on the shepherd’s dress and called out, “Men-ah! men-ah!” Not a single sheep moved.  “Will your flock never follow anybody but you?” inquired the American. The Syrian shepherd replied, “Never, unless their sick, then they will follow any one.”

This morning I want to talk about two distinct kinds of sheep; those with a shepherd and those without.  

You could also call them Christians and non-Christians, or the righteous and the unrighteous.  St. Paul, in our Epistle lesson (Ephesians 2:11-22) called them Jew and gentile.  But he also pointed out that that old classification no longer existed, because the True Shepherd had come and taken down the wall or fence that separated them.  That separation of course was the Law of God that shepherded the Jews, and condemned sinners like you and me.  In Paul’s time, many well-meaning Jewish Christians were insisting that gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, or in other words, they had to be Jewish sheep before they could be Jesus’ sheep.  Paul’s goal was to show them that this was not only incorrect thinking, but dangerous thinking; it would serve to scatter and divide God’s people of faith, rather than gathering them into one family, one body, one sanctuary, which is the body of Christ, His church.

So let’s look at the two groups of people that live all around us today, Christians and non-Christians.  But before we do, let me share another story with you. 

A newspaper in Camden, Maine, ran two photos on the front page; one showed the city council of Camden gathered together at a meeting, and the other picture was of a flock of sheep. The editor mistakenly reversed the captions of the two photos. Under the picture of the sheep, the caption identified them, left to right, as town officials; under the other photo of the city council, the caption read, “The Sheep Fold—naive and vulnerable, they huddle for security against the uncertainties of the outside world.”

Now as funny as that story is, I think that it describes both Christian and non-Christian alike; we are naïve and vulnerable.  And like the sick sheep in my other story, we Christians when we are tired, lonely, sick, or afraid might follow any old voice that seems sympathetic and able to help.  That is why we all need to learn, know, and follow our true Shepherd’s voice.  We all need the gift of faith to hear Jesus’ voice and to grow in that faith so that we will never follow another.

In our gospel reading (Mark 6:30-44), the contrast between the two groups of people is evident; the over-worked, under-appreciated, and tired disciples, who were ready for a break, and those who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  

We might also call them people with a mission and vision and the people without a vision who were wandering in life aimlessly.  This morning, in our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to them both.  This morning Jesus speaks to both of those classes of people who are gathered here at Trinity.

This morning there are some of you who are just plain tired. You have been active in your Lord’s church for most of your life, and some have in the last eight or so years given the best of your time, talent, and treasure, to help make Trinity a city on a hill, a bright light here in Southeast San Diego, Southwest Spring Valley, and Southeast Lemmon Grove.  You have done so much and gone so far, that now you are just plain tired.  Many of you along with me, have the feeling of always being “on-call,” with more demands on your time than you could ever hope to meet.  I know your heart, because it is centered in God’s love for the wandering sheep; you are afraid of letting people down, and so you push yourselves past the limits.  You dream of getting away from it all and you pray that there would be more people to help shoulder the burden.

Well this morning Jesus, who is your Sabbath rest, knows your fatigue; He sees it and He speaks to you as He spoke to His disciples in our gospel reading.  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” [v. 31]  

Many of you know the need for rest and you have been intentional on setting aside vacation time; you have had your rest already, and some of you have scheduled your vacation for a future date.  But the truth is, even when we are on vacation, we are never really away from it all.  It seems that the troubles of this world follow us every-where we go.  Even the best planned vacations don’t work out as planned.  There are always more demands for our time, and more needs to meet.  Sometimes we don’t even have time to eat!

So where do we go for true rest; for real peace?  It isn’t found in our vacations; it doesn’t happen when we try to get away from it all; no it’s only found when we get back to Jesus; back to the true Shepherd of our souls.  Our refreshment and new energy will not be found simply by going to a certain place, but instead it is found in Him who takes us to that place.  The disciples weren’t able to get away from it all because the crowds found them; but they were able to be close to Jesus and His miraculous presence; a presence which still stands ready in all situations to help us today.

For the non-Christians, those who are counted among the sheep without a shepherd, their days are spent in endless hours of useless activity meant to fill each day with meaning.  Whether its sports, politics, careers, partying, or just staring out a window they find little fulfillment and joy in the gift of life.  They feel like “aliens and strangers” [Ephesians 2:12] separated from the joy of really knowing God and His will for them.

Like sheep without a shepherd, their wandering sinful nature looks for meaning through self-pleasing activities, but eventually all of their attempts to find happiness end in failure.  So they set out on an endless search looking for meaning.  Some end up in cults and false religions.  Others find themselves in a church, which speaks the Word of the true Shepherd, but clouds that Word in philosophy, legalism, or liberalism.  Undoubtedly, these were some of the things that Jesus also saw as He looked out on that great crowd of people who were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

And Jesus had compassion on them.  He didn’t look at them as “no good” sinners, but as part of His scattered flock.  He claimed them as His own, and He taught them.  They were always His own, His purpose for coming; He came to bring them into His flock.  He came so that the scattered and the gathered might come together and know peace; peace with God, and peace with each other.  He came to give us all rest!

This morning, Jesus speaks to both groups and calls us together as one.  

He shows us that each of us have a common reconciliation… Himself!  Through His work alone upon the cross He makes all men and women right; He makes us righteous with His Father.  You who were at one time separated from God because of your sins are now gathered into His forgiving heart through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  By His blood He has purchased you, redeemed you from a commonwealth of judgment and eternal punishment, and transferred you into His Kingdom of grace and forgiving love. 

You who were once separated from God are now part of His body, the church.  You are one of many countless living stones set upon the Rock of Ages, the Cornerstone of God’s Eternal Sanctuary.  You are set upon Jesus Christ along with many other saints and together you are a living and ever-growing sanctuary.  How does the sanctuary, the body of Christ grow?  By the very same means that you were converted into a living stone; through the Word of Jesus Christ, the message of His gospel.

And this is the message that God would have you hear today.  You are forgiven through Jesus Christ.  In that message alone, God really gives you rest, fulfillment and joy.  But in that message, God also wants your life to have meaning and purpose.  You are here to live under and work out the will of God in your life.  And what is His will?  That you would rest in His Kingdom of grace and see it grow, one forgiven sinner at a time.  (Talk about inviting others.)

Jesus’ disciples and the scattered hungry were all fed by the very same Word.  Christ’s own personal preaching was full of peace for both Gentiles and Jews.  But what about now; do we still have that same care and concern?  Yes!  What we must always remember is that when Christ sent his message out into the world, he told His messengers: “I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” (Matt. 28:20). He assured them and He assures us that “He who hears you also hears me,” Luke 10:16; “Truly, truly, I say to you,” He said, “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:20. 

So congratulations to all of you here today; you who are tired may find rest in the same Jesus who invigorated the apostles.  He is here with you now!  You who were once scattered and lost, are now gathered and found, by Jesus Himself.  He has gathered you into the kingdom of God through the message of His cross; He has washed you clean in the waters of baptism and recreated you to live a life of peace. He himself is your peace and rest, now go and share that same peace, share that same rest with those who are still counted as scattered!  I pray you would do this very thing, and I ask it in Jesus name…Amen.

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