This sermon was given on Sunday, October 17, 2021 by Rev. KJ Norris at Kerr Presbyterian Church as part of a sermon series on Mark. On this Sunday, Pastor KJ announced that she has received a new call and will be leaving Kerr at the end of the month.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
We have two Scripture readings for this morning. Two very familiar readings and perhaps two of your favorites as they are mine.
Many of us don’t think about the similarities between these two passages, but I had a professor in seminary who enabled me to see that they are sisters of one another. So as you listen today, see if you can find how these two passages echo one another. What do they have in common?
The first passage is the 23rd Psalm. May it speak to our souls anew today. (Read from NKJV)
The second Scripture this morning is again from Mark which we have been meditating on for a couple of weeks now. Today is Mark 6:30ff.
Read Mark 6:30-44 (NRSV).
What did you hear this morning? What do these two Bible passages have in common?
- Sitting down on the green grass
- Finding rest for your souls
- God/Jesus as the shepherd
- God preparing a table before us
- Gift of food where it seems there is no food
- Not an easy journey, but God is there, nevertheless
Yeah, there is so much here!
This theme of God bringing us in–pulling us close to God’s ownself, providing for our needs–is something that is given throughout the Bible. It’s here in these two passages and it is in a lot of other places as well from beginning to the end.
In one of the first stories we have in Scripture, God puts people in a garden. God sets them down in a place where it is green and lush and where rivers are flowing. In Genesis it talks about these rivers—the Pishon which divides into other rivers–the Havilah and the Gihon and the Tigris. Perhaps we could think of a great mighty river—the Ohio and the other rivers which flow into it, the Allegheny and the Monongahela.
And God places the people in this beautiful place near these rushing rivers. The Garden of Eden. The place of paradise. A place of perfection. This is the ideal. The place that existed before sin came into the world. The place before there was pollution and climate change. The place before sin and hatred. The place before Cain killed his brother Able—before murder and death and destruction. A place of beauty.
Green pastures. The place where God places us and calls us.
And not only in the beginning, but throughout Scripture God calls us into good places.
When God called to Moses from the burning bush, God promised to lead the people to a good place, a place of promise.
And yes, it takes a very long time to get to this good place, but God does keep the promise. The people are lead to a place of hope. And God gives them commandments—ways of living so that they might love each other and support one another. So that the place God has lead them to will truly be a place of promise.
And you know the story—after many generations the people are taken from that homeland and forced into exile.
But if you read the daily lectionary, then this morning you read the words of Jeremiah, the prophet. You know that even though the people were in a time of deep tragedy, forced from their homeland, still God was giving them a place of green pastures. “Build homes and live in them,” God told the people through Jeremiah, “plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Even in this strange land, God was going to provide for them. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
And then we see it again in the New Testament. Jesus leading the people. Inviting them to sit down in areas of green grass. Feeding them with both words of teaching and actual food.
This is who God is. God is a good God.
Sure there are mythical stories of gods who fight with one another over parts of the earth—sea gods and land gods and lightning gods. But God has revealed God’s true self. Our hope is in the one true God. The maker of heaven and earth. God who is Light and Love and the Way.
God who never gives up searching for the one. Who is the true Good Shepherd who watches over the sheep and longs for all to be drawn in to good pastures. We can trust God for God is good. Amen? Amen.
Sometimes, though, when we read these passages, we only read the part we like. I know I’m guilty of that. That’s one of the reasons I really try to preach from the lectionary. If I don’t let the Scriptures lead me—if instead I try to lead the Scriptures—then I will just end up picking my favorite parts and I’ll forget the rest.
But we are called to read the whole of Scripture. So when we read these passages, we want to think about everything in them and not just our favorite part. My favorite part of the 23rd Psalm is the part where we are reminded that God is the Good Shepherd who leads us to green pastures by still waters.
But that’s just the beginning.
The Psalm goes on to remind us that following the Good Shepherd is not always easy. In fact, where does this Good Shepherd lead? Well, into valleys of darkness. Places where we might be prone to be afraid. New areas which are unknown to us. Places we have never been before.
And when we arrive in this green pasture, what do we see? Yes, a banquet table. And that is amazing. But we look around the table and we are surprised by those who will be joining us. The table is set in the presence of who? Our enemies.
What? God, what are you doing?
And the New Testament story, too.
My favorite part is the part where Jesus lifts up the bread and he gives thanks to God for it and breaks it… something we are going to do together in just a moment to remember Jesus’ love for us. And Jesus does that here in Mark, he breaks the bread and suddenly instead of 5 loaves there is enough for every single person to eat—5000 men plus women and children.
And they eat until they are stuffed silly and then they collect the broken pieces and have 12 baskets left over—enough for each disciple to take one with them.
That’s the part of the story I am drawn to; the part I like to concentrate on.
But did you catch what comes before it? First, the disciples are tired and weary. And they really don’t want to deal with people anymore. “Send them away,” they suggest to Jesus. We can’t handle this hungry crowd, they think. But even in their exhaustion and hunger, Jesus gives them a task: Go and see how many loaves you have,” he tells them.
Tables with our enemies. Tasks to do even in our exhaustion. Is this paradise? What happened to the Garden of Eden?
Well, it’s funny. If we go back and read that story, too, we might be surprised. We find Adam and Even in the garden and God talking to them. And do you remember what God says to them?
Does God say to them: Adam and Eve, I want to invite you to sit around and eat bonbons? Or, does God say: here’s a lounge chair, how about we lay out in the sun for a bit?
No, God gives them a job to do. They are to work the land. They are to take care of the animals. A life in paradise is not a life without action.
We as a culture have somehow decided that the best thing we can do is to do nothing. That while we are on vacation, we should just lay around. That the ideal life is people bringing us tasty drinks while we stay stationary.
But the interesting thing is: In all of God’s visions for us of the good life—of a place of milk and honey—a place of green grass—in those places of beauty and wholeness, we are always called into action. We are called to participate in what God is doing.
We are called to tend the garden. We are called to follow the commandments. We are called to plant the vineyard. We are called to gather the bread.
Things are going to be changing shortly at Kerr.
I only have two more Sundays here with you. And I’m going to miss you all so much.
These five years plus have really been times of green pastures. I’m so thankful for you. I’m thankful for the love that you have shown me and shown one another. And yes, there have been times when we haven’t done that perfectly. I know that I haven’t always checked-in on everyone enough. I haven’t always said the right thing or listened enough. Or completed everything we set out to do. I hope that you will forgive me for the times when I didn’t love fully. For the mistakes that I have made. I know that I am not perfect and that we all need to stand in the grace of God.
But I’m so thankful for Kerr because this is a place where we practice loving God and loving our neighbor. We don’t always get it right, but we do practice. I love you all so much, and I am grateful for these years. And I have heard from many of you that you are, too.
So, thinking about change is hard. It’s easy to want to just stay the same. To say, God, this is a nice green pasture. How about we just rest awhile.
But I truly believe that God’s Holy Spirit is leading. That God is leading this next leg of my journey of faith, and that God is leading the next journey of faith here at Kerr, too.
God has good plans for you. “Plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Plans to continue leading you as you seek after God’s will.
And the good news of the gospel is: you are invited to participate in what God is doing. You are invited to be a part of the newness God is bringing right here at Kerr.
Times of pastoral transition can be so good for churches. Sometimes we as church members—and yes even as pastors—sometimes we get confused about this Good Shepherd metaphor. We who are Ministers of Word and Sacrament we are often called “Pastor” and that word comes from Latin meaning “shepherd.” But in reality, all through Scripture the one who is the Good Shepherd is God.
I have a good friend who is a pastor in Somerset and he says, “Yeah, when I started ministry, I thought I was called to be a shepherd but the longer I do this, the more I realize that God is the Shepherd and I’m just the sheep dog. We pastors are sheep dogs, herding along the best we can as we seek to follow God for God is the Good Shepherd.
In times of transition, churches have an opportunity to look again at the ways that God leading. To ask the big questions of faith. To trust even more fully in the God who loves you so much and has good plans for you.
It’s an opportunity to step up. To step up with your giving. With giving in every way—your time, your talent, and your treasure. When God is doing a new thing, God doesn’t just do it. God moves within the people. God invites Adam and Eve to till and Moses to speak and Jeremiah’s congregants to plant and Jesus’ disciples to seek out bread.
How is God calling you to step up in this new day? How can you support the fantastic leaders you have in the Kerr Session? How can you plant seeds during this time of transition which will produce an abundant harvest as the next pastor comes?
I don’t know what God will do next here at Kerr, but I faith and hope that it is going to be good and healthy and abundant. That God who gives green pastures throughout Scripture is doing it again. God is always at work, calling, leading, loving, strengthening. And God is at work here at Kerr. This is a moment to trust anew in God’s plan and purpose. For God is good, and God is forever making all things new.
So, let us stand together in this time. And let us affirm what we believe using the Apostles’ Creed. It’s found on page 14 of your hymnals and it’s coming up on the screen.