Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

“Living a Life of Kindness” Psalm 89:1-2, 11-16 Mark 6:30-34

We are made to journey, to get up & go, to head out on our mission to love & serve the Lord in all we say & do.  Walter Brueggemann used to teach us at Columbia Seminary that God is all about the verbs, more than any nouns – the doing, the caring, the loving – and this sacred living is the image of God in which we are created, the light of God we are called to reflect – as we move with the Spirit who shapes us and dwells in us and journeys with us wherever life goes.  No wonder then that God didn’t want King David to build a temple for God’s house.  It must have sounded like a cage or a tomb, when a camping tent tabernacle out under the stars had always been just fine.  And no wonder Jesus was forever on the road or the lake, climbing a mountain or under the trees.  For that’s where the people are, where we work & play – not in ivory towers but on the front porch, in the fields, sharing our lives, sharing our stories – finding God on every street corner as we bump into each other, as we meet strangers who will become friends, and as we open our eyes & ears to what the world needs that we can offer.  It takes a village, to flesh out the fullness of life with God, and that’s what Jesus was all about.

Mark’s Gospel gives us a snapshot in the text for today.  If a drone overhead made a time-lapsed video of this story, we would quickly see all the comings & goings of this one day in the life of Christ.  Like a magnet, he’d be in this spot, and all the others would gather here.  He’d move to another spot, and all the others would follow him there.  Even when he gets out in the boat to head across the lake, those with boats follow, and those without simply run around the shore, like ants after crumbs at a picnic.  It feels a bit chaotic and desperate, as the wounded wander about, trying to catch a glimpse, or touch his garment, or hear a new word of healing.  They’re like sheep without a shepherd, Jesus says, and his heart goes out to them.  So in this lonely & empty place, he plays out Psalm 23 – gathering them together, leading them to green pastures and the calm of still waters, to tend to their needs, to restore their souls.  And through the afternoon, we hear 5000 men have come, in addition to their wives & children & pets, yet by the power of the Spirit in their midst, they are moved to share what they have with each other, strangers & friends, until all are fed, until all have enough, in this bit of heaven on earth.  Have you ever been in a crowd that large?  The orderliness & the gentleness were surely part of the miracle, the sense of belonging to God and to one another, the gift that Jesus gave that day.

There on the shoreline, the text says Jesus taught the people many things.  Well, I don’t see how it could have been hours & hours of a monologue.  Surely as the Great Educator, Jesus must have spent time with the children, time with the adults, broke them into small groups, made object lessons from the plants & animals around, spoke in metaphors using parables & stories they could understand, and best of all teaching methods – I know he must have had them on their feet singing Psalms and catchy pub tunes that any culture there would have known.  After all, his uncle Zechariah was a priest from the tribe of Levi, Israel’s worship leaders – so a little bit of music was surely in his bones.

Imagine the 5000 singing from the Psalm 89 we heard today, a powerful sound, a great testimony to the faithfulness of God’s covenant through the generations.  Nothing can shake it, nor our promise to sing praises as long as we live.  Maybe this crowd did energizers in this seaside meadow, as kids do at Montreat today, acting out the words we sing?  “How strong God is!  How great is the Lord!  With a community founded on right relationships & justice, we see love & loyalty in all God does.”  I bet the joy & happiness was infectious that day with time for celebrations shared, to the tune of a pipe or drum someone brought along for the journey.  Surely Jesus used the spiritual power of music to teach the people many things, to turn their hearts kindly toward one another.  For no one seemed to be tired anymore, transformed by the songs & prayers to their faithful God – as they lay in the grass looking at the clouds in the blue sky, as they witnessed the miracles of healing Jesus offered, and as they ended the day face-to-face with each other, strangers & friends, breaking bread & sharing God’s grace.  The Psalmist knew well what she was talking about, long centuries ago, in writing these words, “O Lord, how happy are the people who worship you with songs, who live in the light of your kindness.  For because of you, they rejoice all day long, and they praise you for your goodness always (89).”

Many passages in the Old Testament attribute these familiar words to God = The Lord is merciful & gracious, slow to anger & abounding in steadfast love & faithfulness (86, 103).  The words seem to overlap (mercy, grace, patience, loving-kindness, faithfulness, constancy), as we feebly try to describe the One who is indescribable, and yet is the One who comes to us & calls to us, in the garden, in the cool of the evening.  But we’re describing the God of love we know, from the faithful goodness shown to us in every generation, never giving up on us, delivering us, correcting us, ever saving us from ourselves – all those wonderful verbs of a steadfast covenant, a lasting relationship, a God of loving-kindness who will always be our Shepherd, just as Jesus dearly showed us, giving his all so we may follow a new way of life together.

And so we give thanks, filled to overflowing by this God of abundance, so much that we cannot keep from sharing the same, with those we meet along life’s journey, just as Jesus did, together being restored & renewed by the giving, the singing, the blessings, the healing.  It happens all the time – when a thunderstorm pours down on those gathered for the FEAST, yet all are fed – when a new sense of belonging comes to those playing in the dirt together – when a colorful blanket enfolds one recovering from surgery – or when our spirits are lifted by giving others a listening ear, a ride to work, a welcoming smile.  May the peace of Christ we share, in all we say & do, be our song of praise to the Lord for his loving-kindness, and may we sense God’s endless joy at the symphony of sound that rises to greet each new day.  Amen.

Beecher Mathes