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Morning Communion

Morning Communion

Mark 6: 14-46


‘When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

I think we have all been affected by what has happened in Britain over the last few weeks. Two terrorists attacks in London, one in Manchester.

Many experts believe the reason for this cluster is that Islamic extremists believe they will get greater rewards in heaven if they become martyrs during the holy time of Ramadan.

In the fever pitch of a general election is was obvious that this was going to become a political football, with one side saying ‘Enough is enough’ and the other side saying that cut-backs have been the cause of these incidents not being stopped before they happened. Both sides saying that they would protect us better than the other side.

But that got me wondering what our response should be.

When we are attacked personally there is a natural fight or flight reaction. Adrenaline surges through our body, giving us a boost of instant energy as we decided what emergency action we should take, as we prepare to either protect ourselves or run.

And that surge often is reflected in how we want to deal with the fear.

Should we attack; bomb their training sites into oblivion, arrest everyone suspected of having the wrong views, force Muslim women to remove their headscarfs. Attack, attack, attack.

Should we withdraw, not get involved in places like Afghanistan, not get involved in Syria, not look at the human rights in places like Saudi Arabia, and leave them to themselves. Run, run, run.

I would suggest that we do neither.

That Christ himself gives us an example of what we should do.

And Christ’s example comes straight from scriptures.

In today’s passage we have two incidents that are put together because they are very much related but that we may never have connected; the death of John the Baptist and the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

I have chosen the passage in Mark to use but in Matthew and Luke the two passages are put together in exactly the same way for exactly the same reason; because together they deal with our response to sudden and horrific conflict.

The first person dealing with conflict was Herod. He was the political leader. The one in charge. The kings job was to lead the people in the best way possible.

Now when the Bible wants to describe what the kings leadership was supposed to be like, they often compared the kings job to that of a shepherd.

Keeping the flock safe, protecting them from danger, leading them to safe pasture where they could grow and mature.

A good shepherd would sacrifice himself for the sake of the sheep.

But unfortunately power often corrupts and most kings saw their role as to keep themselves in power, to make sure their life was as comfortable as it could be, and if push came to shove they would happily sacrifice all their flock if it meant they were kept safe.

Herod has arrested John the Baptist, but knows that John is a prophet of God.

Herod doesn't like what John has been saying, but he can’t kill him because John is the voice of God and you can’t kill the voice of God.

So instead he decides to silence him, put him in a jail and hope to wear him away.

Maybe with time John will be scared enough, frightened enough that he can be released and be an example for others to stay silent. If Herod can break John then everything will be fine.

But Herod has a banquet, a celebration of life, invites all the leaders, religious, political, economic, military. And this banquet will be extravagant because Herod is showing off all his power and influence.

He gets his wives daughter to dance for them, because no one is beyond his power. If he says dance then they dance, if he says jump then they jump.

And at the end of the dance asks for her to name her reward.

And she says, ‘I want you to give me, here and now, the head of John the Baptist on a dish.’

Herod is caught. He can’t say no to the girl without loosing face in front of all the military officials and leaders of Galilee. All the people he has called to this party to show him respect, will leave having lost respect for him.

And now everything is seen as it really is.

Herod is meant to be the leader but he is powerless against the wishes of a girl.

Herod is meant to be the king that protects his subjects and is letting them down.

Herod is meant to be the king bringing life, is at a banquet celebrating life, but this is really a banquet of death.

And as soon as it happened everyone knew.

This would be as horrific an incident to the people of Galilee as the suicide bombing in Manchester, than the killings in London, to us.

This is an outrage.

This is the death of an innocent man.

This is the death of man who spent his life doing good...and he is killed on a whim.

If a good man, a holy man like John the Baptist could be killed, then who is safe?

Everyone is looking to see how they should respond.

Should they fight back?

Should they flee and become refugees?

And who do they look to?

Jesus is the cousin; Jesus is the member of the family who has the right to vengeance. An eye for and eye, that’s what justice demands. And Jesus has the right to demand it.

And everyone knows it.

Everyone is curious as to what Jesus will do.

So when they find Jesus they hang around him, because this is a defining moment.

How will Jesus respond to this horrific incident?

Will he fight, or will he run?

And Jesus does neither.

‘When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

The people are a kingdom without a king.

And make no mistake; people are comparing the leadership of Herod to the leadership of Jesus.

Herod surrounds himself with people of power, he only invites the rich and famous and powerful to be near him.

Jesus surrounds himself with everyone; there is a place near him for the powerless and the vulnerable.

Herod is interested only using power for himself. The riches of the land are there to feed him and his cronies.

Jesus uses his power feed those who can’t feed themselves.

Herod in the palace has more than enough and the result is a banquet of death, Jesus in the fields has more than enough, 12 baskets of leftovers, and he has a banquet of life.

Herod had an army that he would send out to quell rebellion.

When Jesus put the people into groups of fifty and a hundred he was putting them into military groups. If you were setting up an army to be organised that is what it would look like. But Jesus is setting up an army to be different. Not to kill the opposition, but to distribute food, life.

And then Jesus sends them away.

As Herod’s army would be sent off to spread fear and death, so Jesus sends his army away to create life and hope.

At this moment in history Jesus had a choice.

He could fight fire with fire. He could become a king like Herod, use power to destroy his enemies.

Or he could run, hide somewhere and try to avoid Herod’s stare.

And Jesus refuses to take either of those choices

Instead he chooses to offer life and hope.

And I think that is what God is asking us to think about today as we wonder how we cope with the aftermath of Manchester and London and all the other terrorist events going on round the world.

Are we going to become like those we hate?

Are we going to fight violence with violence?

Are we going to seek to destroy them as they would destroy us?

Is that the inheritance and the example we give to our children...that we hate with a greater hate than our enemies have for us?

They kill one of us, we arrest all their families.

They attack one of our cities, we bomb their country.

Are we instead going to cower in fear?

Are we going to find a place where we can hide and hope that no one will find us?

Are we going to stay silent to oppressive acts in the hope that they won’t notice us and pass us by to attack someone else?

I believe Jesus rejects both those choices.

‘When Jesus got out of the boat, he saw this large crowd, and his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

I think the world isn’t all that different than what it was all those years ago in the shores of Galilee.

I think if we look at the world it still seems that most folk wander about like a sheep without a shepherd.

What they need is not words of rhetoric, nor actions of hate.

What they need are good shepherds who care for them and want to lead them to a place where they can feel protected and safe.

I believe that is what we as a church have been called to do.

Live lives that offer hope to others.

Live lives that offer care to others.

Live lives that offer love to others.

I’m sure at that last supper the disciples would have been laughing and reminiscing of all the things that had happened in the last three years with Jesus.

‘Remember when we were at that wedding and the wine ran out. What a disaster. But Jesus quietly sorted it out, so that everyone was looked after.’

‘Remember the time when all those lepers appeared. Their lives were over. But Jesus gave them hope and they left with life.’

‘Remember when that crowd of 5,000 wanted to make Jesus king. What a massacre that would have been if they had risen up against Herod and the Roman army. But Jesus used his power to offer peace.’

And then Jesus breaks bread. Then Jesus passes round the wine.

He will seem powerless in the next few hours.

His body will be broken, his blood will be spilt.

But through that he will show the true power of God to defeat hatred, to defeat anger, to defeat shame and guilt, to defeat death.

That is why we share bread and wine today.

Because we too need to be reminded that we may feel powerless, we may feel broken.

But God has given us the power and the spirit in our hearts

to offer love instead of hate,

to offer hope instead of fear,

to offer life instead of death.

We don’t need to fight, we don't need to run, we can instead offer life, offer hope, offer love.

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