the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Year B - Ordinary 16

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Begging for the Touch of the Master

The metaphor of shepherd and sheep is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the relationship between God and his agents and the people of Israel.

Israel was lost, without a shepherd, enslaved to the oppressive Egyptian kings. God raised up a shepherd, Moses, to lead the people, like a flock of sheep, out of Egypt and into the wilderness of Sinai.

For over four hundred years during the period of the judges, God did not raise up a permanent shepherd to guide his flock. Only in times of great calamity did he do so, preferring himself to be the shepherd of his flock. But the people cried out to God and to Samuel to give them a king, a visible shepherd, to bring order to their land and lead them against their enemies. Someone to raise up an army to defend the sheep against the wolves. The king was God's annointed, the Messiah, the Christos. And the quintessential king was the shepherd boy, David.

Like Joseph before him, David was God's favored one. And David loved his Lord. It was David who wrote of the many ways God had delivered him out of the hands of the enemy. It was David who penned the great words of comfort: "The Lord is my shepherd..." The bond between God and David was so strong that God promised David an endless line of kings to rule over the house of Israel.

Ah, but there was only one David. Except for Hezekiah and Josiah, his great grandson, there was no king in Judah who loved the Lord. The other kings made political marriages with the peoples of foreign lands. They brought the worship of foreign gods to Jerusalem and the Temple. Finally, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel began to prophesy Israel's destruction. And when they did so, they used the metaphor of shepherd and sheep.

In our scripture this morning we read Jeremiah's words: "Woe to the shepherds (the kings) who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" "It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings."

And the prophecy became a reality. At the hand of Nebechadnezar and the Babylonians, the kings of Jerusalem were dethroned and taken into captivity. Many of the people also were taken into exile in a foreign land.

But God did not leave the people without a promise. "The days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety."

However, since Zedekiah was taken into captivity in 587 BCE, there has been no king to take the throne over Israel. Instead the people remained scattered except for a few who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. They were ruled over by governors, whose allegiance was to some foreign king or emperor.

Even though no king appeared, the hope was kept alive in the hearts of the people. When Zechariah, the priest who was the father of John the Baptist, spoke for the first time at the birth of his son, he said: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David...And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way."

When God determined to act in history, it was through a young woman, not much more than a child, who was a descendant of David, God's first annointed. And Mary gave birth to a son who whould be the savior of the world.

When Jesus came on the scene, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, it was a message that the people were hungry for. Everywhere Jesus went, he was surrounded by people. He taught them, he fed them, he healed them. But most of all he gave them hope. Hope in the salvation of God.

The crowds were so intense that he had to go out onto a mountain at night to pray. All of his day was spent ministering to the crowds. He could not get any rest. He sent his disciples out in teams of two to carry his message and his hope to more people. When they returned, they too were exhausted. Jesus tried to get them off into a deserted place for rest and recuperation. But everywhere they went the crowds would get there before them. They got into the boat at the shore of the sea of Gallilee, but even then the people ran around the lake and met them on the other side.

As tired as Jesus was, when he stepped off the boat and went ashore, "he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." Later, they got into the boat and went in another direction but "When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak."

They begged for the touch of the Master. How many today still beg for the touch of the Master? How many people in the world are sick without a doctor or medicine. How many children go to bed hungry at night not knowing if the next day will bring anything to eat? How many? They are begging for someone to reach out and touch them, to provide for their needs both physical, mental and spiritual.

People in our land are like sheep without a shepherd. How many have gone after other gods like wealth, power, popularity only to be left abandoned by gods who had no real power to save. How many young people have given their lives to the service of some illicit drug. A drug that promises all the pleasure a person could want. And how many lives have been ruined because the drug is a fickle giver. It demands one's every attention and gives only brief pleasure in return. The pursuit of the high takes all the resources of a family and leaves nothing to show. Children grow up with parents in jail or absent because they stay high all the time. Children are born into the world already additcted to a drug their mother was taking during pregnancy.

They are begging for the touch of the Master. But the Master has sent us in his stead. If they are to be touched by the Master, it will have to be by people like you and me. It is so easy for us to sit back in our relative comfort and ease and say "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill." But it is not so easy to bring peace where there is no peace, to provide warmth where there is no shelter, or to provide food where there is only hunger. To do that we have to get up off our couches and turn off the TV or the video game, we have to leave the golf clubs at home and we have to go to places where there is dirt and filth and disease.

Not everyone has the stomach for it. Not everyone has the disposition or the constitution to do it. Not everyone has the calling from God to do it. But we all can help. We all have a calling from God to do all that we can to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and mercy to the broken hearted. We must do more than we are doing. We must be ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation. How will you answer the call of God in your life? How will you answer the people who are begging for the touch of the Master?

However you answer the call be sure that your blessings will be far greater than the cost to your pocket book.

Thanks be to God.

Let us Pray
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
Keep us from drifting about without aim.
Gather us together and make us
shepherds to one another,
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming in glory
of our Shepherd and Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
both now and for evermore.


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