... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Day of Pentecost 8 Year B,
Message July 22nd, 2012

A New Response to Murphy’s Law

Text: Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

For the past two weeks the gospel readings have been offering up some dire and somber warnings as to the commitments required of those who undertake the Christian way and to the real probabilities of failure and the evil which seduces each Christian in various ways. Today’s reading at first seems to continue with another example of Murphy’s Law. This time the victims of the law seem to be Jesus and his disciples. Having returned from their mission, eager to recount their successes, Jesus senses if not observes their need for a time of rest, debriefing and restoration of their energies. He therefore invites them to retreat to a deserted place. But Murphy’s Law kicks in – the crowds seeing the course of the boat ran to intercept them. The best laid plans! Now I don’t know about you, but things like this seem to happen to me with regular frequency. We are about to leave on vacation and an hour prior to departure, the ER calls saying they need me right away, or the funeral home calls saying a well-known friend has died and requested by services. And I must admit my angst at each and every such call. Sometimes I acquiesce but with * and sometimes I try very hard to beg off. Either response however usually fills me with guilt and remorse. Yet Jesus faces the same situation and brings a newness of response. As he goes ashore he sees the crowd and he has compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The victim of Murphy’s Law Jesus takes the turn of events and instead of irritation or angst or anger he displays compassion empathy and concern for others. He in effect takes the old and brings to it a newness.

In fact all the readings for today are about newness and what God offers to humanity to help us deal with the myriad of Murphy’s Law scenarios. Both Old Testament readings concern the radical newness that happened in Israel with the appearance of David. What we note is not so much of David’s own will but rather the works and deeds which God wrought through David. Thus we become keenly aware of the theological impetus of David as he embodies God’s unshakeable fidelity to Israel.

Thus established this divine claim embodied in David foreshadows the Christological claim Paul makes in his letter to the Ephesians. Thus we begin to glimpse the Davidic nature of Jesus without the Davidic foibles and failings. Jesus is a newness in which the old failings of David have been overcome and the law of Murphy circumvented. Where David often succumbed to the wiles of the flesh and the arrogance of position Jesus remains loyal, committed and in control.

Compare this to the old ways where control is often a fleeting illusion. Even David was never fully in control. And how about our society? If we think we have control the gospel reading begs us, “Look again!” For many were coming and going; and they hurried there; they were like sheep without a shepherd: Such are the descriptions; much use for the people of the Galilean countryside. Yet if we stop and think about it – isn’t it a commentary on our society? Is it not a fit description of the lives of many people today? We have become so busy we don’t eat properly – grab a coffee and bagel on the way to work or school, a fast food snack at lunch and a fat filled supper prior to meetings, homework or other engagements. Are we not a people coming and going without any true notion of where we are heading or what we truly need? Our busyness prevents us from some of the most important aspects of being human and of being true followers of Christ and children of God.

As families we have all experienced the disappointment of having to cancel engagements missed concerts or missed family time due to the pressing emergencies of work. The school Christmas pageant where the children are geared up to perform before Mom and Dad, to have either one or both parents called away for some pressing work commitment. Such are the realities of our lives and such are the pictures we are presented in Mark’s gospel. How can we find time apart for rest when the engagements of the world force us to do exactly the opposite?

As we read the gospel passage for today we are struck with two diametrically opposed scenarios – the divinely appointed Sabbath and the Christian ethos of self-giving. How can these two be reconciled in our lives? The ambiguity raised by today’s text highlights the missing section of text in which Jesus feeds the 5000 and then walks on water. While seeming to be just another of Mark’s sandwich stories, the feeding miracle and the walking on water provide the answer to the paradox of rest and busyness.

In the two miraculous events missed by our reading Jesus calms the fears and anxieties of his followers, provides rest in the midst of chaos and renewal in the face of exhaustion. The strength, the energies, the food for body and soul comes from God, and as Jesus embodies that Divine promise, so Jesus becomes the source of newness. In the breaking of the bread and its blessing and distribution new life is given to the people and to the disciples: not just new life, but abundant life! Enough is left over to fill all the baskets and yet each person has been filled with plenty. That is God’s gift and God’s grace. It is the newness which takes Murphy’s Law “if anything can go wrong it will” and turns it on its head so that the anything that goes wrong provides an avenue for God’s grace and mercy to be seen observed felt and experienced.

May we be so filled by God’s Spirit of grace that in all these times when things go wrong we might see and utilize the opportunity to be God’s emissaries of newness both to and in the world.