The readings for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost are:
Old Testament Jeremiah 23:1–6
Psalm Psalm 23
New Testament Ephesians 2:11–22
Gospel Mark 6:30–34, 53–56
Well, the latest, is that Tucker Carlson has told his loyal followers that the Biden administration’s plan to have health care workers go door to door to encourage people to be vaccinated is the “greatest scandal in my lifetime by far.” “Be afraid of vaccines, and of government, and not of Covid-19,” says Mr. Tucker.
Wow, can you imagine a greater scandal than trying to unite a people in fighting a virus? Can you imagine a greater threat than from a government that works to save lives? Don’t you just hate people who do that sort of thing?
I know, my prose is dripping with sarcasm; but Tucker Carlson is surely what we would call an influencer, and what the prophet Jeremiah’s divine oracle described as the kind of shepherd who scatters. In my book the very definition of evil is the work of scattering, dividing, and sowing false fear.
Jeremiah’s good news is that while the powers of evil heighten fear and scatter, God gathers. God’s love drives out fear. God raises up faithful, caring influencers. And, for the healing of the world God will raise up for Israel a Righteous Branch—someone who’s very name will say, “The Lord is our Righteousness.”
Psalm 23 then gives us the picture of how that righteousness is to be given to us. The dividers of this world may lead us into dark valleys where we are surrounded by enemies; but the Great Good Shepherd fills our cup to overflowing, and sets a table that has the power to make friends of our enemies.
Ephesians proclaims the work of the Gathering God in the most soaring terms. Christ, the Righteous Branch has come. His death on the cross, and resurrection from that death, breaks down the walls the evil influencers have erected, and puts hostility itself to death. We who were so divided are made one in the living body of Christ.
Finally we have the feeding of five thousand men by Jesus. Of course the Good Shepherd fed the women and boys as well, but Mark and his sources had much to learn. But we have this Sunday’s same over-arching lesson here: the Gathering God. Jesus’ tool of gathering is the feast of life. Jesus does not discriminate. As the Good Influencer, Jesus doesn’t check credentials, question worthiness, or cast aspersions. He gathers them all. Here in chapter six it is all about five loaves, five thousand fed by 12 disciples and 12 baskets of leftovers. We are meant to think of the five books of Torah that bind together the 12 tribes of a restored Israel. But then, in Mark’s second feeding in chapter eight, it’s seven loaves and seven baskets of leftovers and four thousand people. We might remember that seven is the universal number; and that four points us to the four cardinal directions or corners of the globe. Jesus is that Righteous Branch making the whole vine whole—the Good Shepherd restoring the wholeness. It’s not either Israel or the world, but both/and.
Of course, here on Heatherhope Farm, we see this lesson of the beauty of gathering played out every day. Just today I thought of how we have so many animals looking to us to see if we will gather or scatter. The mother robin tending her nest. The Border Collies looking to me to calm things down now that the boys are so stirred up over a bitch in heat. And especially, the sheep. The cardinal virtue of any shepherd is the ability to gather. The sheep are prey animals without claws or fangs to protect them. Their eyes can be full of anxiety. My wife, and everyone who has seen me work the dogs and the sheep, know how much of a mess I used to make by losing my cool, and yelling, and just adding to the confusion and fear in every sheep handling or herding situation. Sorting, vaccinating, trimming feet, and all the rest, took ten times as long as it should have. I still have much to learn, but I’m much quieter now. My own calm patience, and the priceless help of dogs who move quietly around the sheep, have helped in the task of gathering.
Gathering is good. Scattering is evil. And the world, like the animals on Heatherhope, is watching to see if the church has learned that lesson. What will the gathering God’s people say to the Tucker Carlsons of this world?
And one thing we must surely be saying today is, “Come together! Fight the virus and not each other! Get vaccinated!”
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