Bible: Exodus 3:1-12
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
Bible: Mark 6:30-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ 38And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men....
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
A Sermon for Baptism and Confirmation
You will find these themes expanded in the First Impressions for this week)
There is a long tradition in the synagogue and the church that when Moses saw the burning bush, there were other people with him who did not see anything! In fact, the bush was always burning; (eg Jeremiah Whitaker C16th) it is a symbol of God who simply Is, without beginning or end. The only question— always— is whether people will see, whether we will perceive that which is before us and around us, or whether we will walk, un-noticing, past the holiness that always burns, and which gives the universe warmth, and light, and being.
God is. God loves. But what we will see will depend upon our perspective.
In the Gospel of Mark, the author has shown us two feasts; two stories of life. Last week the Lectionary directed us to The Feast of Herod the King, a luxury feast in a palace. This week, we have arrived at the other feast, The Feast of Jesus, out in a desert place.
A desert place is an important description; it's not a deserted place like an empty carpark, it is a desert place. The Greek word is exactly the same word that the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) uses to describe the place where Moses saw the burning bush. In that text, the wilderness is the desert, the place where we meet God.
Jesus calls the disciples out to this desert place, the place where God appears to Moses and where God has spoken to Israel ever since then. And they can barely relax at all before Jesus is teaching the lost crowd; that is, the crowd who are looking for the fire of life, but who cannot see it. He is trying to teach them a new perspective, trying to help them see that God loves them.
The disciples don't perceive what is going on. In the Greek they say, "Desert the place is..." send the people away to get food. But Jesus will never send people away; he always feeds us. And he has provided us, the church... the means to feed those around us. For he says to the disciples, "You give them food to eat!"
And, of course, because of their limited perspective, the disciples say they can't afford it. How can they buy what, in today's money, would amount to thirty thousand dollars worth of bread?
And here is where we need to go beyond the literal— where we need to go beyond reading the story like children who correctly hear that something marvellous happens— and begin, also, to read the symbols: He asks them to start feeding with what they have— What have they got? Five loaves. Five... is the number of the books of the Law. They have the words of God to feed the crowd.
And they have two fish. There was a tradition that when the Messiah had come, the great and terrible monsters of the deep would be reduced and humbled and simply become food for people; they would be eaten like mere fish. Indeed, Psalm 74 says, "You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the people of the wilderness."
What the disciples have is the words of the law, and the words and the authority of Jesus. (6:7) These are the words and authority which we also possess. In accepting, loving, forgiving, and in being compassionate and generous, we can feed the lost crowds of the world.
And at the end, from this small amount of food, there is more left over than they had in the beginning! There are twelve Jewish baskets full of pieces. Twelve is the number of tribes of Israel— except that by the time of Jesus, only two tribes were left! The twelve baskets are a symbol of a renewed, and restored, and re-nourished, Israel; a people of God made whole.
Mark is asking us two things. One is: do you want to be a part of Herod's feast, or Jesus' feast? Herod's feast is about scarcity, about status— only the very rich and powerful get to go; it is full of intrigue and power-play, a place of winners and losers; and Herod's feast ends in murder, in death.
Do you want that, Mark is saying, or do you want a feast for all people, a feast where there is plenty, a feast which is about the fulfilling of all the promises of God— where God brings people out of suffering into, as Exodus 3 puts it, "a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey"; a land where there is food left over? This is a feast which ends in life.
Do you see that both feasts are happening, still, every day? We can eat of Communion here, and come to the BBQ lunch, or we can try to shop for sustenance through a new big screen TV at Harvey Norman's or through the status of eating at the Hilton— or wherever the moneyed classes eat to be seen at the moment.
What we see, and what we choose, will all depend upon our perspective. And to see clearly, to see with Jesus' eyes, there is only one way. It is to make time to be in the desert place by ourselves. It is to step out of the rush and hustle; it is to be quiet and to listen to the five loaves; that is, the words of God to us.
That is Mark's second question: Will you come away with Jesus to the desert place where your seeing and your life will be transformed?
Shirly, the bush has always been burning. God has always loved you. God knew you before you were born, and knew you while you were being knit together in your mother's womb, as the Psalm (139) puts it.
And so it is for all of us who are here today. God is calling us into the desert place, the place of listening and seeing with a new eye, the place of healing.
Shirly is being baptised and confirmed. But all of us face the question from Mark, and are offered the gift from God. The gift of seeing that life is much more than the dog eat dog of Herod's feast; the gift of seeing it is rich and blessed, and that we are loved.
Give God your time. Step out of the hurry. Walk away from the TV or Facebook; turn off the radio; sit and be still...
... begin to live what you hear in the stories of Jesus, and you will find something burning, a love which has always been there— here!... and which has never left us alone. Amen.
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