Sermon 19 July 2015 Mark 6. 30-34, 53-56
I wonder how you are today? What kind of week have you had? As always there’s been a lot going on internationally – Greece, a possible nuclear deal with Iran, closer to home concerns about the future of the BBC. Then our own circumstances – what’s been happening at work or home. Decisions we need to take. Health concerns. All these surround us as we come to our readings from scripture this morning. This is our context. How might our faith address it?
If you were here last week you may remember hearing about king Herod, a particularly unpleasant ruler. Both our readings today look at how people with power and authority exercise it – the rulers of Israel in our OT reading from Jeremiah and Jesus and his disciples in our gospel passage. So, the focus I want us to have as we consider these extracts from scripture this morning is leadership; what insights might we gain about leadership from scripture and how might these help us in our particular context?
Today we’re hearing about a group of our members going to Taize. They have leaders! I’d like to ask those of you in the group what qualities you most want to see in your leaders. Wait for response. Take microphone round. Repeat some of the qualities.
It sounds as though you will all flourish under good leadership whilst at Taize.
Let’s look at how the prophet Jeremiah describes bad leaders:
They don’t take care of their people
They scatter them and drive them away
They make them afraid and terrified.
I was very struck by this reference to bad leaders scattering people and terrifying them; I guess that’s partly what lies behind the great movement of refugees from different parts of the world at present. Like the Israelites thousands of these people are being scattered. Jeremiah looks forward to a time when his people will live in their land in peace, feeling safe, with a ruler who cares for them. He dreams of God gathering his people and leading them himself.
Hold up an empty picture frame. Our gospel today is a bit odd. It’s like this empty picture frame. The missing picture is the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 which we will hear next week. Our reading from Mark is just the frame around this miracle – some verses before and some verses after it. Perhaps our lectionary is being influenced by post modern art, showing more interest in the space around something than in the thing itself? I don’t know! What I do know is that the frame helps us see the kind of leadership exercised by Jesus and the disciples – a leadership that makes possible the picture in the frame – the feeding of the 5,000. The frame holds that picture and enables us to see it better. So let’s look at the frame and see what it tells us about Jesus’ leadership.
Jesus is someone who gathers people rather than scatters them. We see him here gathering his 12 closest followers after they have been out on the road doing the same things as him. This also reminds us that he’s the kind of leader who trusts colleagues with whatever is his central task. He’s now gathering them for a debrief and a rest. Next we see him gathering the crowd that has followed them – he begins to teach them many things. Further round the frame Mark gives us a glimpse of the gathering that would happen wherever he went. Rather than wanting to run away people wanted to draw as close to him as possible. He regularly welcomes this (people bringing children to him, Zacchaeus, Bartimaeus, the woman with the issue of blood….)
He cares for people – he sees his disciples need a rest and tries to arrange this, he can see that the crowd are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ and, crucially, he has pity on them. (‘When Jesus saw the crowd he was filled with pity because they were like sheep without a shepherd’). A better word might be ‘compassion’ because ‘pity’ more conveys feeling sorry for someone. The Greek word means to experience deep feeling that spills over into action – in Jesus’ case, beginning to teach the crowd. This word is only used of Jesus in the NT and in 3 parables with close reference to himself. Matthew and Luke also refer to Jesus having compassion on a crowd. Compassion is a key ingredient in Jesus’ leadership. He seriously loves these people. Mark’s picture frame demonstrates how attractive this is – people are drawn to him.
So, on our leadership checklist –
Drawing others to you
Trusting them with your mission
Caring for them
Caring for those to whom your mission is directed and with whom you have no ties at all (‘the crowd’)
It’s this kind of compassion that I imagine motivated Brother Roger to found Taize; seeing the brokenness in Europe after the 2nd world war he wanted to offer a place where bridges might be built, relationships mended; or Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche deeply moved by the loneliness of men with learning difficulties, or Mother Theresa being drawn out of her peaceful convent with its beautiful garden towards the poor of Calcutta. Or whoever started Reading food bank or RE Inspired or Communicare or Mission to Nepal.
Each of these individuals was rooted in a church. The church is like the frame around the picture of Taize or Communicare etc. It’s what holds it. We are all that frame. We are all called to draw others rather than scatter them, to generate trust rather than fear, to care for each other and for those in the different places where we are during week. More than anything, as Christ’s body, we are bearers of compassion, that deeply felt emotion that results in loving action. This compassion is a characteristic of God himself; Jeremiah imagines God viewing his scattered people with compassion, and preparing to appoint a ruler who will gather them to himself. Our gospel writer Mark sees in Jesus just that kind of leader. After his resurrection Jesus entrusted that leadership to his church – that’s us. We are his Body here in this place today. We’re that compassionate frame. We have a special calling to lead in the field of compassion.
As individuals we are unlikely to found a community like Taize or set up an organisation like Communicare, but as you’ll see if you read on and look at the picture in this frame (feeding 5,000) that’s not what’s asked of us. Jesus asks each of us to offer the little drop of compassion we have and that’s hard because we don’t think it will make any difference. What’s even harder is that we are asked to do this on a daily basis. How hard is that?! As we all do this we build a frame that enables miracles to happen.
Richard and I lived in Peckham for a number of years. You may have heard of Kids Company, a charity in Peckham that helps seriously troubled children. They’ve been in the news recently following accusations of mismanagement. Whether or not these are founded it remains to be seen. It’s clear that Kids Company does remarkable therapeutic work with children and young people. Their stated aim is to demonstrate to the children that they love and care for them. It’s that compassion/pity word associated with Jesus. They do this in a very particular way, offering one to one support that continues for months and, if necessary, years. A young woman who has been supported by Kids Company for some years (seeing a counsellor, having a mentor) says this of her key worker, ‘When I saw her at the beginning she said, there’s nothing you can say to me, nothing you can do, you can swear at me, you can tell me to go away, but nothing will make me like you less or care about you any less’. Within that frame of active compassion the young woman had received the healing necessary for her to move forward.
The church too can be that frame of active compassion. If we return to the context we considered at the beginning – Greece, Iran, decisions facing you, issues at work or home, health concerns – how do these look when viewed with the eyes of compassion? How do we see Greece when we set it in that frame of compassion? How do we see ourselves? Our children? That issue at work?
I’ve been trying this out myself this week – don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk, I said to myself as I prepared this sermon!
Following the custom of silence at Taize there will now be 2 minutes silence. In that time I invite you to consider something or someone that has been on your radar this week and then try putting that situation/person within the frame of compassion that Mark offers us in his gospel. What do you see?