Meg Peery McLaughlin
Where the Green Grass Grows
World Communion Sunday
October 6, 2019
Mark 6: 30-44
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He 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. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As 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. 35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ 38And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
At the beginning of this story, Jesus and his disciples remind me
of parents who sometimes hide from their children.
Maybe they pour a glass of wine and sneak onto the porch without telling their beautiful cherubs, just for a few moments,
just to catch up on the day, check signals, connect,
just breathe for a minute,
and then as if they were wearing some kind of homing device,
before the second sip, a knock on the door, a little voice “Mommy?”
Jesus and his team were retreating for some porch time and the crowds crashed their calm—there was no escape.
And Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion for them.
Literally, in greek, the word is splagchnizomai-
Jesus felt in his gut, in his innards, for his people.
It’s a great word, splagchnizomai, doesn’t it sound so intense?
Like a feeling you would not be able to shake, a yearning you could never squash?
Jesus felt compassion for his children,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd,
like a team without a coach,
like a class without a teacher,
like a patient without a doctor,
like a middle schooler without a friend.
So, of course, Jesus sits with them until the shadows lengthen
talks to them until the sun starts to sink
teaches them until the cicadas begin their song.
And those crowds–their–hearts and minds are most surely full,
but their bellies are not.
And isn’t that just like us?
Our human needs are so multifaceted,
and never does Jesus care about only one part: our Spirit or our Body
our intellect or emotions,
our public self or our private one,
our stewardship of time or our treasure,
no, Jesus always cares about both. He is Lord and Savior of the totality of life.
And life needs food; however, there is none nearby,
and the disciples. . . aren’t much help.
I can’t tell if the disciples are unimaginative about their resources,
or just eager to have Jesus for themselves again
but either way they want to send the crowds on home.
And being who he is, Jesus won’t have it.
So we end up with a feast for 5,000—
not counting women and children, so do the math on that.
The people are not only abounding in food,
and abounding even in leftovers,
but I’d also say they are abounding in absolute awe —
for the they thought they had nothing – just the contents of a lunch box—
and they walk out into the night in abundance.
How often do we only see the scarcity around us?
How often do we say “I got nothing”?
No gifts to offer, no faith to float us,
no ideas to pilot us, no hope for tomorrow.
The disciples say, “We have nothing, nothing but a few loaves and a couple of fish,” and they said this as though it were a bad thing.
Nadia Bolz Weber, reflecting on this text, writes:
They forgot that they have a God who created the universe out of ‘nothing,’
that can put flesh on dry bones ‘nothing,’
that can put life in a dusty womb ‘nothing.’
I mean, let’s face it, ‘nothing’ is God’s favorite material to work with.
Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as nothing, insignificant, and worthless and says, ‘Ha! Now that I can do something with.
The feeding of the 5000 is one of the rare stories that shows up in all four gospels.
You can put Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s versions in those “Spot the Difference” worksheets, remember those puzzles where there are pictures of the same subject side by side and you have to circle all the things that do not match. Yeah, that’s fun to do with scripture too. If you did that you’d notice that only Mark has green grass.
And Mark, being the shortest Gospel, isn’t a man for details.
But oddly, he includes this one.
It’s so brief you might miss it, but Jesus invites the crowds to sit down on green grass.
Three times in five verses Mark says that they are in a deserted place,
and if you’ve visited the area around Galilee,
you’ve seen the typical rocky and dusty terrain,
and yet the invitation: have a seat with some friends on some green grass.
Grasses are in the poeaceae family,
which is one of the most abundant families of plants on earth.
Grasses make up the world’s most significant food source.
So maybe it just feels right to have an abundant feast on lush grass.
John James Ingalls, was a US Senator from Kansas at the turn of the century.
Jarrett and I spent 7 good years in Kansas,
even though the church boo-ed us when we first arrived,
as UNC had just “stolen” Roy Williams from them.
Anyway, Kansans are people who connect to grasslands on a deep level,
they even have a cheer about waving the wheat.
Ingalls, who yes, is the same family that produced The Little House on the Prairie books, focused some of his political work around agriculture.
This is what he said about grass:
“next in importance to the divine profusion of water, light, and air, those three great physical facts which render existence possible, next may be reckoned the universal beneficence of grass. Grass softens the rude outline of the world. Its tenacious fibers hold the earth in place.”
I don’t know how you’re feeling about this world right now,
how you are processing the news that we take in like an IV,
but I sure believe this world could use some softening,
and a very tenacious fiber is needed to hold things together.
Where are you finding green grass, I wonder.
Today is World Communion Sunday,
where we’ll share bread, blessed and broken.
Today we’ll serve each other in the pew
and hold the elements until we can all take them together, as one.
World Communion Sunday was started by Presbyterians near Pittsburgh,
in the early 1930s out of a desire for all churches to affirm their interconnectedness in Jesus Christ. We may look different, speak different languages, practice different church polity, argue over interpretation of scripture, but at our core is a trust in the one who breaks bread in deserted places and feeds us all until there are leftovers.
World Communion Sunday took another decade to catch hold across the globe. The son of the pastor who initiated the idea, Dr. Don Kerr, explained it this way. He said, “by then it was World War II and we were trying to hold the world together.” And this meal – shared across race and nation, across gender and tradition, across economy and ideology — did it. It does it still.
Green grass holding the earth in place.
This feast of Jesus holding the world together.
Yes, friends, I don’t know about you, but I need that today.
Now, of course,
Mark didn’t know anything about World Communion Sunday,
(or Presbyterians for that matter).
Oneness in Jesus Christ, sure, bread, blessed and broken, yes,
but these pews and these trays, ecumenical relationships and global partners,
world war two, climate change, and now impeachment inquiries, how could he have guessed?
And the poeaceae family of grasses
that span the globe and feed the masses, Mark didn’t have that science.
Mark didn’t know these things,
but he did know. . . . what it feels like to have the world coming apart,
eroding right out beneath us,
and he knew we are all like little children
who inevitably drive our parents to the back porch for a break,
we are needy and yearning for love.
Sheep without a shepherd in a deserted place.
So when it came time to for Mark to tell his version of this amazing story
my guess is he remembered some old lines from an old song,
a promise penned in a psalm long before him.
Mark remembered verdant, rich green pastures and still, smooth waters
and paths through dark and deserted valleys
and tables set in the most curious of company.
So let us now rise in body or spirit as we too, like him,
affirm our faith in this very good shepherd who comforts and feeds us still. . . . .
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.