This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of the Morwell congregation gathered for worship on Sunday 22nd July 2018.
2 Samuel 7:1-14; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
In Mark 6:30-34 we return to the place where two weeks ago we watched the twelve go out in pairs to proclaim the Kingdom of God around Galilee. This week they have returned, and Jesus whisks them away for a bit of a rest and a debrief; just the thirteen of them, the twelve and him. But, as ever seems to be the case with ministries, the mobs in need of God’s care trail the team and when Jesus arrives at the place of retreat he finds the crowds ready to ask him for more of God and himself. Jesus’ practical response, which we did not read today, is provided in the miracle of superabundance of food and the feeding of five thousand families. Since the disciples had not even had time to eat, (hence Jesus’ attempt to take them away from the crowds in the first place), perhaps those twelve baskets of leftovers mean that they did get a basket each. I’ve told you before that it says in Second Leviticus 8:1 that the minister’s family gets the leftovers from all church meals; here is Jesus showing that to be true. Following this event, the disciples turn the boat around and head home, no doubt giving up on the idea of a rest, and Jesus later meets them on the lake by walking across the waves and out to the storm-tossed boat.
What strikes me about the readings we have today, more so there than in what we have skipped, is that Jesus was moved by the people’s desperation for ministry, and especially their need for leadership. Jesus is tired and the twelve are tired; they should have been recipients of ministry at this point, not providers, yet Jesus steps up because as Mark describes the people in 6:34 Jesus sees “a flock without a shepherd”. Maybe in Australian terms they are “a mob without a dog, let alone a roustabout”; and even though the twelve are exhausted they do at least have a leader. So, without apparent regard for his or the twelve’s tired and emotional state Jesus prepares to once again extend himself and them in ministry to the lost sheep of Israel. He brings food to the mob, and he brings shalom to his mates.
The story this morning is taken up again in Mark 6:53 as the thirteen men in the boat bump up to the dock at Gennesaret. We know it’s the dock because Mark tells us that they tied the boat up, they didn’t drop anchor and wade ashore. And, once again, Jesus isn’t even off the jetty before he is besieged by the sick and their intercessors. When he does finally get as far as the grass and then the open road he’s beset by caring friends and bouncing stretchers. Caring friends of those on the stretchers I mean, I’m not sure how many people were showing care toward Jesus at that point. (I hope his solo walk across the water was rejuvenating for him because that’s the only alone-time he’s had since the twelve returned.)
So, what do we say at this point, same old same old? Jesus awesome in majesty, disciples struggling to keep up, world pathetic and needy: c’mon it is the gospel every week. Well maybe not.
I’m thinking that, maybe, the twelve didn’t want a break at all. Maybe, as one of my commentators this week suggested, the “apostles” (in quoteys) were all hyped up from being out in pairs and they wanted to keep going with the flow. They were sent out by the Messiah himself as emissaries of the Kingdom of God, and they saw lives changed and miracles performed by their own selves, not by Jesus. Can you just imagine them all returned to Jesus and trying to top each other’s story? “Yeah, well, but where John and I went …” Indeed, this is the only place in Mark’s gospel that we can be sure that he used the word “apostle”; the only other place you’ll find it is Mark 3:14 and some scholars suggest that that might be a later addition to Mark’s completed book. Perhaps Mark is making a point, that twelve discipuli (students) went out whereas twelve apostoli (missionaries, emissaries) returned; at least in their own eyes. Maybe Jesus didn’t want them to rest up so much as to calm down. And, I wonder if this is where we also find David in today’s reading from Jewish history.
David’s story as we read it today in 2 Samuel 7 is taken up just as David is sitting down. Like the twelve he has found himself ready to rest after a time of heavy activity: David has conquered Jerusalem and he has seen the Ark of the Covenant brought to the place of meeting in the City of David, the site where the temple will be built. David looks out of his cedar-lined palace to the Tent of Meeting and wonders whether it is appropriate that God lives under canvas. This story is also where we first meet Nathan, a prophet who will have much to say to David in coming years and chapters. Nathan has discerned (or maybe he has just opined) that God is with David in all that David does, therefore whatever David does will have the blessing of God and a divine stamp of approval. Go, do all that you have in mind for the LORD is with you we read in 2 Samuel 7:3, so that’s pretty clear; however, God has other ideas when it comes to building a temple.
For the bulk of the first decade of this century I lived in the south of England. One of the churches with whom I belonged to God during that time made quite a point out of 2 Samuel 7:5b in its call to mission. “Are you the one to build me a house?” asked the paraphernalia, calling attendees to connect and connected people to sow into the work of that local church with this rousing question from God. I could ask the same of you today, are you the one to build a house for God in your local context. Well, are you? Interesting to me, and I knew this all along which is why the church publicity puzzled me somewhat, the answer to the original question is “no”. David was not the one to build a house for God, and maybe you aren’t either. God’s plan was for Solomon to build the permanent temple; a fresh man with a fresh start, and God would honour the moment of the new thing in the fullness of time.
If David the conqueror had built the temple maybe it would have looked like a monument to victory, the shining house of worship as the ultimate prize of the warrior. Less of a House of God, more of a Colosseum, built by slaves and paid for with war booty. Perhaps God chose the unnamed-at-that-point Solomon because Solomon could not have been seen to earn the prize: the glory for the temple would be God’s alone, not the triumphant king.
The church in London that I speak of has been grown, and I am sure that God has found women and men to build a house. I am not sure that all of the glory belongs to God, but God is glorified in that place. I’m sure David’s temple would have been a blessing to Israel, but God’s temple built by Solomon was undoubtedly a greater thing for the People of God.
So, what am I saying. Should we do nothing for God? Of course, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that we do for God must be done for God, and not for ourselves. God must have all the credit, and all the glory. We can work in expectation of God’s reward, God’s “well done good and faithful servant” when we finish, but we must listen for God and move only where God is moving. In other words, we must not get ahead of ourselves lest we get ahead of God.
When the twelve returned from their preaching tour of Galilee they were justifiably excited. God had moved amongst the people and God had been demonstrably at work through their ministering hands. Maybe Mark is genuine in his ascription and these men had moved from disciples to apostles, from apprentices of the master to artisans in their own right, even if they were not masters. But Jesus was wise as a leader, and a teacher, wise as a master to say, “well done fellas, brilliant first effort but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, let’s take some time after the reporting for quiet reflection and solid debrief”. God, through Nathan, said the same thing to David who was genuine in heart but was about to get ahead of himself in his inertia. The kingdom is united once again, there is a capital at Jerusalem, and God’s chosen man sits on the throne. That’s enough for now, that’s enough.
Maybe that’s why the people on the other side of the lake, and at Gennesaret, were frantic at Jesus’ departure and then at his appearance elsewhere. Unlike David and the twelve they did not have a leader, someone ahead of them, to direct them to the still waters for a time of what the Psalms call “Selah”: pause and consider. The sheep without a shepherd were overexcited and there was no one to lead them to the still and quiet waters of Spiritual Retreat, or Sabbath, or Selah. The mob had no one to remind them that they were cared for by someone capable of healing, restoring, and safeguarding them. The team had no coach to remind them to “warm down” and to know when to take five for water and an orange quarter.
David was wise, and God was able to use David for more than David ever imagined because David heard God say, “that’s not for you, leave that with me”. The twelve discipuli were wise in the same way, they saw their continued need for Jesus when the lake rose, and the boat fell, and he walked across the waves to them. Eleven of these men became apostoli, and ten died as martyrs for the truth about God that they heard from Jesus over the years between Gennesaret and Golgotha.
Listen for God. If God directs you to build the house then build it with all your might, except on Sabbath days when even God took a break from creative, constructive work. If God directs you to leave house-building for the next generation wait for what God has set aside for you to do, and then do that, with the same Sabbath proviso. As church we are the flock of Jesus, but we are never to be an unruly mob, listen for the shepherd’s invitation to green fields and still waters. And if God chooses to live in a tent in the midst of our homes of brick and tiles, so as to be free to commune with us as we grow, rather than imprisoned behind three layers of massive stone edifice where we are celebrated by the world for erecting such a fine piece of architecture, well that’s God’s call to make.
Listen for God. Look for the shepherd who walks among the people. Lay down when the time for selah and shalom is given to you.