Sermon for Proper 11, Year B
July 18, 2021
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34
Today’s scriptures are full of things to talk about beginning with Jeremiah’s warning to the leaders of Israel who have led the people astray followed by the promise of the Lord will send a new king (whom we now know to be the Jesus, the Messiah) to execute justice and righteousness in the land. And we have Psalm 23 which speaks of God as our shepherd who will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death to a banquet where our cups will be filled to overflowing – we will experience peace and life in abundance.
Paul writes of Jesus, saying, “he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.” And finally, Jesus says to his apostles, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” But as soon as their boat goes ashore, they are bombarded by a crowd of people. Jesus has compassion for them because, we are told, “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” So, he begins “to teach them many things.”
There is so much here, it’s hard to know where to begin. Yet, here we are, once again in the midst of a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. Our hospitals are filling up, if not full, and our parish is once again implementing some of the precautions we thought we had put behind us. So, the first four verses of Psalm 23 is a good place to begin.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
When you look at the map of the states where the risk is greatest, we are in the valley of the shadow of death. You can draw a line from Missouri to Florida – these are the states with the highest percent of infections. There have been over 125 deaths in our county and nearly 6,000 in our state. Yet, the number of people now getting the vaccine is on the rise. I’m a firm believer that we are instruments of God’s love when we use our talents and abilities to make a positive difference in the world – and the development of the vaccines is an example of how God is guiding “us along right pathways for his Name’s sake.”
I heard a news report yesterday in which a health care leader say that the pandemic has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Certainly, the data is clear that the vaccine is effective in preventing those who have been vaccinated from getting the virus. Yet, it is possible to get a very mild case of it and spread it to those who have not been vaccinated. And, there is a very small percent of those vaccinated being admitted to hospitals.
With this in mind, I am again wearing a mask when I serve communion, and when I go into a store. I want to protect others. I want to support those working in our health care system by doing my part to eliminate the threat of the Corona Virus. The vaccine is the reason we are not returning to on-line services only.
I admit to feeling discourage by our men’s group postponing the Shrimp Dinner and by returning to wearing my mask – but I do feel God’s comfort and trust that God’s love will see us through. The people of Israel wandered through the wilderness for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land – but God continued to guide them and God will continue to guide us through the pandemic.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he not only says that Jesus grants us access in one Spirit to the Father, he also says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” This letter is written to unite the Gentiles and Jews so they may become one in Christ. We can apply this to the need in our world to unite conservatives and liberals. We need to unite to form, as Paul says to the people is Ephesus, “a holy temple in the Lord,” where we, “are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
Now is the time to have compassion, as Jesus does in the gospel, for the people who rushed to him “to bring the sick on mats wherever they heard he was.” We may not have the power to heal the sick of their disease, as Jesus did by touch, but we can touch their lives in meaningful ways. We can provide them with the comfort of knowing that they are not alone and that we care.
I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, before the vaccines were available, I had the Corona Virus, and I lost my son. I am still walking down the path of grief, but I know I am not alone – and that makes a difference. The fear and mistrust that has enveloped our country is hurting us all. Now is the time to put aside our differences and focus on what we can do to help others.
Let us pray.
Lead us Lord, through the wilderness of this pandemic to a better place and time. Help us to find ways to live and love one another without fear. Be with all who are suffering or sheltering from the Corona Virus and with all who care for them. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.