Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
July 22nd 2018, Sermon by Pastor Galen Zook
In our society we have a love-hate relationship with crowds. We measure the success or popularity of a speaker, musician, and even preacher by the size of the crowd they draw. We assume that a book must be good if it’s a best-seller, and that a movie must be amazing because it’s a box office hit. On the other hand, we are told that while two is company, Three’s a Crowd. We’re told that we’re supposed to stand apart from the crowd, to be special and unique and not to blindly follow along with what everyone else is doing.
Personally I love being around a crowd of people. I get energy from being around a lot of people. But there are some times when I just want to be by myself, or at most in the company of a few close friends or family members.
In Mark’s Gospel account, the disciples have just finished a time of intensive ministry, and are looking forward to a little time by themselves. Jesus had sent them out to heal and deliver people and to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and they had incredible ministry success. It must have been both exhilarating and exhausting. They want to tell Jesus all about it, and have some time to just relax in the company of Jesus.
They have no idea, however, that their ministry had been so effective that throngs of people are now flocking to see Jesus.
One of my favorite images in all of Scripture is this picture of Jesus and his disciples going across the Sea of Galilee to a deserted place, and the crowds of people getting wind of it, and running around around the sea to meet him on the other side. The disciples think that they’re going to finally get some time to rest and relax, all the while completely oblivious to the fact that crowds of people are sprinting along the seashore trying to beat them to the other side.
What was it about Jesus that made the crowds rush to Jesus? Was it curiosity? Did they just want to be entertained, to see him do a miracle, to get some free bread? Or was it something deeper? Were they looking for meaning, and purpose, to be a part of something bigger than themselves?
Whatever the reason, Jesus did not turn them away. Although Jesus and the disciples had been looking forward to a little time to relax apart from the crowds, Jesus had compassion on the crowd, and saw that they were like sheep in need of a shepherd. He taught them, healed them, and fed them. He gave them what they wanted (healing, free food, and miracles) in order to give them what they needed (forgiveness, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God, and the truth of the Word of God). He spent his whole life loving and caring for the crowds, eventually giving his own life by dying on the cross because of his great love for each one of us.
Jesus had this amazing ability to see each and every person in the crowd as individuals, as people uniquely formed in the image of God. He saw that the crowd was made up of individuals in need of compassion, a healing touch, and a word from God. He saw each and every person in the crowd as a sheep in need of a shepherd.
The United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries’ website entitled today’s Gospel Lesson “Draw Crowds.” To be honest, I kind of chuckled a little bit when I saw the title. I mean, it’s not like the crowds are running from all over Hampden to listen to me speak, or standing in line to get into our church on Sunday mornings. And if I knew what it would take to draw crowds of people to come to our church, I would probably try to do that.
But I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. The assumption is not that throngs of people are flocking into our doors. Nor is the assumption that if we could just find the magic ticket then people would start beating down our doors to get in.
Instead, I think this is an invitation for us to get to know the crowds. To see the crowds, to have compassion on them, and begin (or continue) the slow, sometimes fun, but often laborious process of trying to draw people in and point them towards Jesus.
As you are probably aware, Hampden, and The Avenue in particular, has become a pretty popular destination point. The Live Baltimore website says that Hampden is “one of the most desirable of Baltimore’s neighborhoods…to live, work and play…[It’s] also a fun place to visit with scores of elegant to funky stores, eclectic restaurants and special events.” Hampden is known for being “quirky and fun.”
But the reality is that the crowds of adventure-seeking fun-loving people flocking to Hampden’s local eclectic restaurants and funky stores are not necessarily flocking to our perhaps equally quirky and eclectic churches.
Like the crowds in Jesus’s day, many of the crowds flocking to Hampden are in need of God’s love and compassion. Many of them have never experienced the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus offers. They are sheep without a shepherd, they just don’t realize it. Maybe they don’t realize that they are in need of Jesus. Maybe they don’t think that churches can meet their needs. But this is an invitation for us to do whatever we can, to draw them in. There are times when we need to give them what they want — to meet their surface-level desires — so that we can eventually point them to the One who can meet their deeper innermost needs.
This passage is an invitation for us to see the crowds. To really see them. To see them with God’s eyes of compassion. To see the crowds as sheep who are in need of a shepherd, to draw them in, and to point them to Jesus.
Lessons from the Global Bubble Parade
Two weeks ago our family saw a crowd gathering across the street at Roosevelt Park at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon. Families were streaming from all over the neighborhood. People of all ages were pulling up on bikes and skateboards, and getting out of cars and minivans. We were curious what was going on, so we went to find out. It turns out that it was the “4th Annual Baltimore Bubble Parade.” Apparently this is a global phenomenon where people get together and parade down the street blowing soap bubbles, with the express purpose of promoting happiness. (According to the Global Bubble Parade website, the “Global Bubble Parade is a movement of passionate individuals who share the belief that happiness is the journey, not the destination, by joining together in peaceful local parades of soap bubbles.”) Over 300 people participated in the 2018 Fourth Annual Baltimore Bubble Parade two weeks ago here in Hampden.
The Baltimore Bubble Parade showed me that the crowds today are not so different than in Jesus’s day. Although the crowds may not be streaming into churches and they may not be looking to Jesus, people are still looking for meaning, and purpose, for happiness, a place to belong. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Friends, we have something (or rather, Someone!) so much bigger than ourselves. We have a Savior, a Redeemer, whose heart of love and compassion is so big that God’s heart encompasses the whole world. We have been given purpose, we’ve been called to proclaim the kingdom of God through word and deed. We have found a place to belong. And we’ve been given so much more than happiness — we’ve been given everlasting joy in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And this is not just for us — this is meant to be shared with everyone we come into contact with — yes, even the crowd.
Let’s ask God for opportunities to demonstrate to God’s heart of compassion to those around us. Let’s ask God to break our hearts for crowds around us, particularly those who are sheep in need of a shepherd. Let’s ask God to reveal to us the hidden longings of people’s hearts, to show us how we can use our collective creativity and ingenuity to draw people in and to point them to the Good Shepherd who loves each and every lost sheep — the Good Shepherd who knows each person by name and was willing to lay down his life for each one of us lost sheep (see John 10:11). Let’s draw the crowds, one person at a time, one family at a time, and let’s point them to our Shepherd!