As we hear this week’s gospel lesson, we might be reminded of the phrase, “no rest for the weary.”
The disciples are back with Jesus after being sent out to teach and heal, and after hearing about their adventures, Jesus tries to lead them aside for some rest – you know, a little R&R by the beach, a little time in the hot tub, name your favorite way to relax, the disciples were getting to it!
Then folks see Jesus and the disciples heading out by boat; well, more to the point they see Jesus heading out and they follow on foot, a whole bunch of them, so that by the time Jesus and the disciples get to their hoped for rest and relaxation, there’s a crowd there already, and a line out the door.
Jesus looks at them, we hear, and has great compassion for them. In fact, they are like sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus does what Jesus always does: beginning without hesitation to care for them, teaching them many things.
This is the loving shepherd we hear about in Psalm 23, the one who seeks to meet our every need and support us all our life through, in the good times and in the times when we are deep in the valleys of trial and travail.
This is the shepherd who has spoken through prophets like Jeremiah, warning the unfaithful shepherds of the world that God desires justice and mercy for all people. Professor Elaine James of St. Catherine University reminds us that the prophet’s words were especially intended for the leaders and kings. Professor James writes that this is a consistent thread throughout the Hebrew Bible, also referred to as the Old Testament. “God requires that the community be ruled with righteousness and justice (Working Preacher, July 2018) In the fullness of time God will see those unfaithful shepherds dealt with, and gather the sheep to God’s self once again. And of course the prophet’s words are meant for us all – to live striving for righteousness, justice, and mercy.
And here is Jesus, by the boat, tending the sheep because Jesus was and is our true Shepherd.
It is Jesus, our true Shepherd, who is working throughout the world today, alive in everyone striving to bring goodness and mercy and justice to those in need.
It is Jesus, our true Shepherd, who is shepherding the Lutheran Church of Tanzania to bring justice through meeting people’s basic needs and helping all to have access to basic human dignity and respect. It is Jesus, the true Shepherd, at work in Cambodia and South America.
It is Jesus, our true Shepherd, who is leading the ELCA here in this country, too, and many other churches of many other denominations, thanks be to God. Our Shepherd is leading us to build churches that serve in traditional models and churches like the food truck ministry begun on the streets of Minneapolis, or the ecumenical street ministry in Boston, both of which provide pay as you can food in the context of building community across socioeconomic divisions.
It is Jesus, our true Shepherd, who is leading us here at Redeemer to grow God’s mission for us in sharing Christ’s Welcome. We are feed the hungry and provide other care for the needy through FAMILY of New Paltz and the ecumenically supported voucher program that gives people a place to stay for the night when they need it. We’re at work to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation so as to more boldly support our LGBTQ sisters and brothers and their families and allies. We’re building our Arts-based camp to reach out not only to church families but families who might never think to come to church, yet desire for their children to learn about the goodness in themselves and the joys of community.
What comfort we can take in looking around the globe and at this community of Christ that is called Redeemer, and see all that the Shepherd is doing to lead the people of God – for the sake of righteousness and love!
And when we look around the world and here in our own country of the United States, we should be asking ourselves where else the Shepherd is leading us. How else is God in Christ seeking to correct injustice by leading God’s people to stand with those in need?
In the Hebrew Scriptures righteousness and justice were known when the poor, the widow and the marginalized were cared for. In the New Testament Jesus and the disciples are constantly caring for the people through body, heart, soul, and mind. So, too, must we - as global citizens who are seeking to follow Jesus – look for how each of us can help to act with kindness, mercy, and justice, and support the building of a nation that interacts on a local as well as a global scale to do the same.
Scripture is clear about how God will deal with the unfaithful shepherds and all those who do not take care of those in need! And Scripture is clear that God desires by the work of Christ on the cross to make in us a new creation so that we can participate in Christ’s redeeming work for the world.
And we do need to build rest and sabbath into the mix of this serving! If we are always on the run we may very well miss where God is telling us to run. If we are always busy with the things we tell ourselves are important, we may miss God trying to reprioritize our lives according to God’s will. And if we never stop to rest we may miss God in Christ seeking to renew us so that we can bring joy and strength and full courage to all the places where we are called to serve. We hear in the gospel story how hard it is to take a Sabbath rest and we know it from our own lives! Yet the true Shepherd desires not only for us to care for others, but also that we care for ourselves, too.
When we look around the world and here in our own country of the United States, we may indeed grow weary and feel that there can be no time for rest. And when we long for a beach we may instead find that God is calling us to pick the grains of sand out of our eyes and each other’s eyes in order to see who needs serving and loving for God’s sake. Somehow, with God’s help, the hours of these days that belong to God; the time, talents, and finances that belong to God; these lives that we call our own but which truly belong to God, will be enough. These lives, with God’s help, will be enough for learning and serving and healing; teaching and preaching and loving – all to God’s glory, all to praise Christ who is our true Shepherd and guide.