Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
Who is the God whom you worship? What is He like? William Barclay, the Scottish New Testament scholar, sometimes took controversial positions on interpretations of the Scriptures. Once, when he was interviewed following a series of talks for the British Broadcasting Company, he related the experience of knowing God`s sustaining strength during and after the time his twenty one year old daughter drowned in a yachting accident. A listener in Northern Ireland, angry over something Barclay had said in his radio Bible study, wrote an anonymous letter. The letter stated, "Dear Dr. Barclay, I know now why God killed your daughter; it was to save her from being corrupted by your heresies." But Barclay knew that God did not go around drowning people`s daughters in order to punish them. Had he known the writer`s address, he said that he would have written back, in pity not in anger, in words which John Wesley said to someone: "Your God is my devil."
My heart is sad for the events in progress in the Middle East. Anyone who has watched the images on the television gets a sad picture of religious fanatics who have manipulated God for their own political goals. One gets an impression that God is a vengeful being who is as far removed from His creature. C.S. Lewis said that he grew up believing that God was an "Old meany looking around to see if someone is having a good time, to put a stop to it." In the mad theatre of war in the Middle East one is forced to ask a question: Is religion like a loaded gun? "War of Religions" was the term I heard on the first day Israel attacked the headquarters of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. This mutual hatred between Judaism, Christianity and Islam has been perpetuated for centuries in this region. One wonders if there is anything in common among the three religions in the Middle East. Is this the same God whom I come to know through the person of Jesus Christ?
Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behavior toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbors, one can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed. When religion becomes evil, these corruptions are always present. When religion becomes evil, even God is held hostage.
In the reading for today from the Gospel of Mark chapter 6:30-34, 53-56 we get the overwhelming image that Jesus gives us of God is that of compassion. Jesus has been teaching and healing and now he is tired. He suggests to the disciples that they come apart for some rest. Jesus knew that this is a need in everyone`s life. They departed to a desert place. But the crowds found them. People came by the thousands to see and hear this man who had such an impact on their community. When Jesus saw them, the Scriptures say, "He was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd..."
That is God`s view of us, we are sheep having no shepherd. I see in the evening news hundreds of thousands of displaced people in Southern Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Kashmir and Afghanistan. Have you never been saddened by the human condition? This is a wonderful world and each of us is happy to be alive, but have you never been touched by what the writers call the "pathos" of humanity. There is something sad and almost pathetic about us. For all of our pride, all of our knowledge, all of our sophistication, there are areas of our life in which we are so vulnerable, so uncertain, so insecure.
I like the story of a man who came home drunk after a night of carousing in a number of neighborhood bars. His wife helped him up to the bedroom, helped him to undress and tucked him into bed. Then she kneeled at his bedside and whispered, "John, do you want me to pray for you?" He nodded a yes and she began to pray, "Dear Lord, I pray for my husband who lies here before you drunk..." Before she could finish, he interrupts. "Don`t tell him I`m drunk," he pleads, "Just tell Him I`m sick."
God sees our condition and He has compassion, for we remind Him so much of sheep without a shepherd. The word compassion in Hebrew is Raham, meaning "womb." To have compassion or mercy is to feel the life of another person similarly to a motherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s feeling for a child in the womb It saddens Him to see us flounder about with no sense of direction, no sense of purpose, no sense of hope. So God sent Christ to be our shepherd. "I am the good shepherd," Christ says in John 10:14. "I know my sheep and they know me." There is the Good News for the day. The Creator God not only looks upon His children with compassion but he has moved into the world to redeem His children to become the shepherd of the sheep.
Looking at the conditions of people living in dire poverty, displaced human beings in refugee camps, epidemic of HIV Aids and war-torn situation in the Middle East, Darfur-Sudan, Afghanistan, Kashmir, one can easily throw in the towel in despair. Nevertheless, as a Christian I was reminded last Sunday in the words of our baptismal service that I am called to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. The lack of respect for the dignity our fellow human beings has deeply wounded humanity and GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s children wanders around in a desperate search for peace and love. Jesus through our eyes looks at each one them and has compassion because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
I invite you my brothers and sisters to become eyes of compassion of God to become the instrument of peace through our prayers and action. As followers of Jesus Christ, peacemaking is our obligation. It requires total dedication to work as an instrument for peace. Where there is hatred, I must sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union. Can I do it alone? No. As they say, no man is an island. We need each other. Jews, Christians and Muslims as children of Abraham need to come together.
I call on Jews and Muslims to join us to work for peace. The challenge today is to seek a unity that celebrates and respects diversity. We must marshal positive energy as religious people with faith in our God of compassion, peace and mercy; not a god of war. The dysfunctional family of Abraham needs to be reconciled and healed. When we surrender our wills under the will of God, there can be many options for those who take seriously the call to be peacemakers. Let God be God and not to be kept hostage by zealotry and hatred. May His blessings-- not missiles-- rain upon all GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s children.