On August 15th, I preached on the event recorded in Mark 6:30-34: “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he 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.”
Just prior to our Gospel lesson, the disciples and Jesus were spending their days preaching to the people. News came that John the Baptist had been executed. It hurt everyone, deeply, especially Jesus. So, Jesus take the disciples and they get into their boat, to sail across the lake and be by themselves for a while.
But when they get there, they are met by an even larger crowd of people. This had to have been frustrating, maybe even aggravating; none of us would criticize Jesus if he would have said, “Come on, people. We need to be by ourselves for a while!” But that isn’t the response that Jesus gives. Scripture reads: “And he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
“Like sheep without a shepherd.” The actions of the people suggest a scattered, leaderless humanity without direction and purpose, driven by a deep hunger for something or someone to give them meaning to life, and provide a center to help them hold their lives together.
This phrase “Like sheep without a shepherd,” is an apt title for our society today. So many people are wandering around looking for a purpose. We all know that worship attendance is going down, across the country and across all denominations. I hear some respond to this reality by saying, “There just isn’t any commitment anymore.” But that isn’t true. There is still a great deal of commitment, just commitment to many of the wrong things!
We all know people who are trying to fill their time, and find their purpose, in many things: we know people committed to a motorcycle, gun, or four-wheeler club. We see people who suddenly become obsessed with weight lifting, running or yoga. We have people that are “die-hard” fans to certain sporting teams, and we have parents that if the coach says have your child at the ball diamond at 4 a.m., that wouldn’t be a problem. We’ve seen an obsession with politics and political ideology.
All these obsessions only bolster Jesus’ assessment of humanity, then and now. We are “like sheep without a shepherd.” We are looking for meaning and purpose and someone to follow. So, we fill our days with “things” and “clubs.” We follow a political figure or party “religiously.” The problem is that all these things will always disappoint us. They can’t fill the hole we are trying to fill in our hearts.
In Genesis we are told that we are made “in the image of God.” That means we are spiritual beings, and this “spiritual” side of us isn’t only a part of us, it is who we are at our very core. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was spot on when he said this: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The issue in our lives today isn’t one of commitment, it is being committed to the right thing. And the only thing that can truly fill that whole within us is God.
I ask all of you to spend some time pondering this, and I pray that it draws you to call on me and our church to help you encounter Jesus in new and wholesome – hole-filling – ways.
~ God bless, Dan