Sermon for Sunday 19th July 2009
Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34,53-56
Sometimes there are events in life that bring home to us just what a small planet we live on. Last Wednesday night, I watched the Space Shuttle take off from
To me that is almost like getting an insight into how God sees us – we consider ourselves so different and distinct so isolated and in some cases so alone but God sees us all in one sweep of his vision – we are all part of the one picture, all part of the one story. For all our factions and divisions, all our wars and atrocities we are all simultaneously visible and simultaneously loved by God. That I believe is a truth that we cannot stress enough. It may be an obvious truth but we live in a world that displays very little recognition of that truth.
We live in a selfish world – a world where there is enough food and water for everyone and yet people still die of hunger and thirst! A world where there is enough shelter and housing for everyone but people still live in cardboard boxes and sewers. A world where there are enough resources for everyone but the greedy pile them up and store them away for their own security. We live in a world where religious faith of whatever type has lost its outward focus and become self-serving and destructive of others. And of course we live in a world where greed for money has plunged our economies into a state of catastrophe and heightened tensions and divisions in an already stressed society. We are, to borrow a phrase from today’s Gospel: “Like sheep without a shepherd” . We are scared and confused. People are loosing their jobs – there are already signs of antagonism and resentment towards foreign workers – industrial action is on the rise – economic partnership is falling apart and trust is in short supply. Everyone is looking out for themselves and very few people are able to see beyond the troubles that loom large in their own lives.
Simultaneous to all this has been the collapse of trust in Institutional Church, especially in this country in the light of recent scandals and most notably the Ryan report – That and the rise of militant secularism which seeks to purge God from the public sphere of life has left a lot of people without any point of reference in their lives. It is not so much that we live in an immoral society but increasingly an amoral society. We are like sheep without a shepherd.
And the Government response (and let us remember that the Government are not all that different from us – and we put them there), the response has been to commission a soulless report (An Bord Snip) which treats the most vulnerable people in our society as mere statistics and has only served to cause huge anxiety, not all of which may be warranted. Yes it is a financial report but our problems go far deeper than finance and demand a response that at least shows a hint of compassion. When Jesus saw the crowd in today’s Gospel, he must have felt besieged as does many a government minister today but did he give off – did he go and hide – No, we are told “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” And not only did he feel compassion but he demonstrated it in his actions in healing the sick who came to him looking for help.
There is a huge contrast between that response and our own minister for health who cynically released the Leas Cross Nursing Home report (containing the most sickening revelations of elder abuse and neglect) on the same day as the An Bord Snip report, obviously hoping it would get buried along with the victims of that shameful chapter in the life of the HSE! That to me is a completely amoral act! It is incomprehensible that anyone could do such a thing and the Minister doesn’t even seem to get it – That is a sign of a very sick society! A society which has lost a point of reference – a society of sheep without a shepherd.
This is a situation that demands a response from people of faith – and we as Christians have a message and a model in the life of Jesus which can transform the helpless situation in which people find themselves. This is a huge responsibility and something which we are called to do if we are truly followers of Jesus and not simply passive members of the church. But to be the people that God calls us to be means preparing ourselves – and the Gospel is very explicit – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile” Jesus tells the apostles. As the story relates that rest proves elusive but essential nonetheless. Jesus frequently retreats before a period of ministry – we need to do likewise, to be people who reflect as well as people who do. Otherwise our witness is ineffective and lacking in depth – We need to be able to give a good account of the faith that is in us and the God who we believe has created us and desires the best for us and who contrary to popular opinion is not an irrelevance!
But if that is to be the case Christianity needs better headlines than The Holy Stump in Rathkeale, the widely discredited Blasphemy legislation and the latest I heard this week where the newly formed ‘Atheist Ireland’ are calling people to read their Bibles so that they can then discredit and mock its contents.
There is another Story – It’s the Story as God sees it – It is One story and we are all a part of the story - the story of his people, created in Love – we may behave as sheep without a shepherd, we may think we are sheep without a shepherd but like the parable of the Lost Sheep the Shepherd wants only to find us and to bring us home. Just because we think we don’t need the shepherd, just because others tell us there is no shepherd doesn’t make him go away. He is far more more patient and far more forgiving than we can comprehend. It is in him that we find our place in that great story of Love and Forgiveness. It is in him that our lives find meaning and make sense. It is in him that we have Hope that will allow us to see beyond the length of our nose to our neighbour and recognise in that neighbour another creation of God made in God’s image and worthy of our Love and respect. When we can recognise that then we have recovered our true nature. We exist for God and for one another, not for ourselves.