Pentecost 9B – July 22, 2018

The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. Mark 6: 30
Today’s Gospel is serendipitous – one of my favorite words which means a happy chance. In fact, the scripture texts for the past two weeks have also been serendipitous for by a happy chance they directly relate to the ministry of St. John’s. Know that this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the preacher needs to dig deep into the text to find connections and then add a little of her own imagination to help the listeners make the conceptual leap from the Biblical text to their lives, our lives. Note, I don’t begrudge this process because often God surprises me, indeed surprises us, and then we experience the depth and breathe of God’s love more than we ever imagined possible. Through the Word, God speaks and makes our lives new.
Two weeks ago, just as we were preparing to send out 21 disciples, we heard how Jesus was sending out 12 disciples. I suspect both our 21 and Jesus’ 12 were equally uncertain and nervous. What would they do and say? Where would they sleep? What about food? How would they get to where they needed to be? All 33 disciples were told to keep it simple and that they were all the equipment they needed. Then they hit the road. The first 12 traveled by sandals, while the second 21 climbed into three super-sized SUV’s. All were surprised by grace.
Then last week when the Gospel of Mark took us to King Herod’s banquet room where some dirty dancing resulted in the beheading of the John the Baptizer, leaving Herod awash is guilt and fear, we turned to the prophet Amos. His vision of a plumb line to focused upon what good and true which is something that all of us, but particularly those with power, are tempted to compromise leading to moral and ethical trouble. Yet, Jesus through the plumb line of his cross forgives, freeing us from fear and restoring us to faith.
Last Sunday we wondered if in all the tools our 21 disciples took with them, there was a plumb line. It was needed by a work crew when a deck repair turned into a complete re-build for they discovered that front of the original deck lacked footings. Now holes had to be dug, cement poured and footings set straight and true. If they didn’t have a plumb line with them, perhaps they made one out of string and a heavy bolt, while learning how important it is to be upright and true.
Then in today’s Gospel, we again experience serendipity– for just as our 21 disciples returned home yesterday, so has Jesus’ original 12 disciples returned from their mission trip. As they gather around him, telling him everything that happened, we can imagine their stories. How a family invited Peter and Andrew for dinner, served them delicious food and then afterwards talked for hours about Jesus and his love. But also, about the time James and John extended their hand in friendship but were rudely rebuffed. As strangers they were not welcomed in the village. Maybe Matthew and Simon met a tax collector, who could not fathom that Matthew, the tax collector, a hated agent of Roman, was one of Jesus’ disciples. And perhaps Thomas and Judas, two disciples who were often caught in uncertainty, discover their prayers for the healing of a sick child were miraculously answered. No matter what their stories, when they came back from their mission trip, they were different, changed inside and out and even though sometimes fear and doubt got the best of them, they experienced how invigorating it is to step out in faith, trusting that God is with you.
What was true for the 12, is also true for the 21 – they have stories, stories to tell and stories for us to hear. Each one is holy for in the telling and the hearing, the Gospel comes alive over and over again. Mission then is mission now. This is always the case when God’s love is shared through words and deeds. Jodi O’Neill texted me on Saturday morning as they were driving home, “An amazing week! You would have been amazed at the transformation of our crew of 21.” On Sunday, September 16th at 9:30 am they will make a presentation about their ASP mission trip that I hope you will attend. But in the meantime, especially if you live with one of the 21, listen attentively, be patient as they adjust to being home and make sure they get plenty of rest.
That’s what Jesus hoped to give his 12 by taking them on a retreat in a remote place. Only a crowd found them and instead of rest and renewal there were unexpected demands and expectations. This is often the case when one returns from a mission trip. While disciples are on an adventure, things at home keep happening. All too quickly it’s back to work and responsibilities, chores and routines of daily life. And Jesus, instead of putting people off and telling them to come back in a couple of days, has compassion – a word that means to suffer with — and begins to care for them. Then the exciting mission trip is all but forgotten while the immediate demands of being home come first.
I remember coming home after a week-long, youth ministry leadership event at Muhlenberg College the summer before my junior year of High School. It wasn’t a mission trip, but just as intense – full of learning and love, lots of growth and new relationships. Friends I made that week have become life-long companions in ministry. I was on a God-infused high. Walking into the house I discovered my parents were in the middle of a battle. This was not typical for them which, for me, made it all the worst. So, I wrote them a heart-felt letter telling them that God loved them and they were to love one another and put it on the bureau in their bedroom. A couple of days later, my mom asked to talk with me. She said, “Cindy, sometimes love is hard. It’s a lot of work. Your Dad and I will work this out.” And thank God they did – and in the process taught me that mission which is living in and sharing God’s love, is something we do every day – not just on special trips or at leadership events, but every single day.
Meanwhile the time of rest Jesus promised the 12 turns into a ministry marathon. Jesus has compassion on the crowd and begins to teach. But it wasn’t just him working. The disciples needed to manage the people so that everyone would be safe. Listen to what happens next from Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message:
When Jesus’ disciples thought this had gone on long enough – it was now quite late in the day – they interrupted: “We are a long way out in the country, and it’s very late. Pronounce a benediction and send these folks off so they can get some supper.” Jesus said, “You do it. Fix supper for them.” They replied, “Are you serious. You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?” But he was quite serious, “How many loaves of bread do you have? Take an inventory.” That didn’t take long, “Five,” they said, “plus two fish.” Jesus got them all to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred – they looked like a patchwork quilt of wildflowers spread out on the green grass! He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples, and the disciples in turn gave it to the people. He did the same with the fish. They all ate their fill. The disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. More than five thousand were at the supper. (The Message, Mark 6: 35-44)
You know what? We are still eating those leftovers, still being fed with the bread of life, still drinking from the cup of salvation, for Jesus looks upon us and has compassion. He feeds us his very self. And then he sends us out in mission to live, grow and share in his love each and every day. So, as we welcome the 21 home, let us learn from them and together feast at the table of the Lord. Amen.
Pastor Cynthia Krommes

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville