Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Sometimes in our lives, we are asked to "prove" things, to verify our words and actions. In other words, we are asked to be truthful in what we say and, sometimes, to present concrete proof. As children, if we were to make a statement that seemed just a little hard to believe, our playmates would immediately demand that we "prove" it. We would be asked to verify the statements we made or the stories we told. At a certain age, children demand to know the hard, literal, concrete facts. And they are satisfied with nothing less.

 

Lawyers and judges are also concerned with proof. They, too, want to know what happened. People are asked to prove – or disprove – certain facts. Probabilities are considered and one frequently wonders whether in will "hold up" in court. In other words, will it appear truthful.

 

Today's gospel message is taken from the eighth chapter of St. Mark. The writings of St. Mark, I must confess, have grown on me over the years. While I was first drawn to John's gospel, the fourth gospel, I have come to appreciate the great clarity of St. Mark. What at first seemed fairly simplistic and, to a diligent seminarian, kind of an outline, has become much more. Although John's gospel appeals to the Anglican DNA in all of us, the mystical dimensions of that gospel are very different from the plain, simple language of St. Mark. It is curious, too, because Greek is often regarded as an intellectual language. And it is. But here it is used to present a very "down to earth" story. Mark tells it like it is; he is clear and precise in his reporting; he is very certain about the actions that Jesus and His followers take. It is that precision, that straightforward approach to the good news that I have come to treasure. There is no ambiguity in Mark. He writes the truth of what has been witnessed in concrete terms. And there is never any doubt that the truth of what he writes is the truth indeed.

 

If anyone were to demand of St. Mark: "prove it!" He would likely say: "here it is; right in front of you."

 

"From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?" It was a simple, clear question for Jesus. His disciples asked him this question. Their understanding was clear; there is no food in the wilderness. And Jesus was hungry; He, too, needed food there in the wilderness.

 

Last week-end, I found myself in the wilderness. It was not by accident; I had driven there. North of Bangor, Maine, there is plenty of wilderness; pine forests and blueberry barrens. Yes, there is the occasional "rest" stop where one may buy yet more gasoline and that other life-sustaining liquid, the one that is sold at Starbucks. But, aside from that, there is not much there. I shuddered to think of what might not exist up there in Aroostook County. I confess that I have no desire to find out. It is wilderness; let it be.

 

Jesus, though, often went into the wilderness for times of prayer and fasting. It was necessary to retreat from civilization for awhile. But in this particular instance, he was on his way to somewhere else. And there were many people who had followed him.

 

There were few resources in the place where they stopped on that particular day. The nearest rest stop was 2,000 years away. And travel would be on foot or, if one was lucky, by donkey power. But here were all these people. On a nameless piece of land on a path between places of civilization. A place where there was no food or, indeed, any place to buy food. Faced with such a situation today, if we found ourselves tired and hungry on a lonely stretch of road, we would use all our strength to get away from there.

 

But the people who followed Jesus needed food. They needed the strength that food would provide, so that they could return to their homes. And so, Jesus asked them to sit down. He took the small amount of food that he was given, blessed it, broke it and distributed it. All were fed. And there was food left over. It was only then that Jesus sent the people away.

 

There are many wilderness places in this world. They don't only exist in the pine forests and blueberry barrens of Maine. They don't always exist in those places where few people choose to live; places like remote islands or deserts. The wilderness is anywhere that people are in need of food to sustain them.

 

I am often struck by the precision with which places are named in the Holy Land. There is a marker for everything. Guidebooks tell us where certain events in the life of Jesus happened. But I don't believe there is a marker for the place where the feeding of the four thousand took place. At least, not a specific marker. But in some ways, that place is marked. It is marked wherever God's people, within the embrace of His holy church; whenever God's people come together to receive the food of God on their passage through this life.

 

Can we prove that all this is true? Certainly, the four thousand knew it was true. St. Mark knew the truth of what he wrote. And we know the truth of this as well. As we gather to receive the bread of eternal life that is given to us from God; bread that will sustain us for all time.

 

The proof of this is in our lives; in our hearts and in our minds. All four thousand of us.

 

 

Let us pray: O Lord, who never failest to help and govern those whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love; Keep us, we beseech thee, under the protection of thy good providence, and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.