Organ Specifications

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - Psalm 23 - Ephesians 2:11-22 - Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Mind the gap

 In London on the Underground, the subway system, there are some stations where you have to be especially careful getting on and off the trains. This is because the platform and the floor of the car opening don’t meet, and there is a large space between them that one could easily step into if one is not careful. At the stations where this is the case, one can rely on hearing, as the train opens its doors, the deep authoritarian tones of the public address system: “Mind the gap.” One fails to heed such direction at the risk of plunging at least one leg into the abyss and delaying the train, at best. “Mind the gap.” It is good advice, indeed.

This is good advice as well when reading or listening to a passage from Scripture. Gaps that are unheeded can derail our interpretation and send us into an abyss if we’re not careful. Just a minute ago, when Pat was proclaiming the gospel lesson from Mark, we should have stopped at a certain point for a public service announcement: “Mind the gap,” because there are eighteen verses missing between Jesus teaching the shepherdless crowd and the disciples crossing over the lake and landing at Gennesaret. Eighteen verses. That’s a lot.

The reasons for omitting those eighteen verses aren’t nefarious, as far as I can see. What we’re missing is two stories – first, Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, and second, Jesus walking on the water while the disciples struggle in the boat, rowing against the wind and waves. We got those same stories from Matthew last year, so it probably won’t hurt to skip them this time around. And next Sunday we hear John’s version of the feeding of the multitudes, followed by four more weeks of Jesus talking about how he is the Bread of Life – do we really want one more Sunday of loaves multiplying all over the place? Maybe not.

So from one perspective, the gap in our gospel reading is reasonable – perhaps even merciful. And it certainly won’t jeopardize our salvation. But the phrase continues to resound in my head: “Mind the gap.” Pay attention to what is missing. Watch where you step – your life could be at stake. At the very least, you could lose a spiritual leg.

What we’ve missed in this gospel reading is important – otherwise Mark wouldn’t have put it there. But to understand just what its importance is, we have to go back a few weeks and take a broader view of what Mark is about in chapter 6. On Sunday mornings we always hear small snippets of readings – the Bible cut up into easily digestible morsels that we can chew. Even when we are hearing a basically continuous story from week to week, it’s extremely difficult to keep hold of the narrative. What did we hear last week, and the week before? How does today’s episode fit in with the big picture? With no recap, it’s easy to lose the author’s train of thought.

So let’s go back – bear with me, because it’s worth it. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus preach unsuccessfully in his hometown, and then send his disciples off two by two into the surrounding villages to proclaim the good news. He gave them power over the unclean spirits, and the disciples took that to heart. They were super-disciples, casting out demons and curing the sick. It was awesome.

Last week we took a bit of a detour, hearing the story of how John the Baptist was imprisoned and finally beheaded by King Herod. Strong, confident, brave John the Baptist suffered the consequences of speaking truth to power. Proclaiming the good news of God’s justice is not all triumph and high-fives – it can get you killed.

This week brings us back to the disciples, eager to tell Jesus how well they did out on their own. They are excited, and proud, and pumped up for more super-discipleship. Jesus offers them a well-deserved vacation – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile,” he says. But it doesn’t quite work out that way – the people keep coming, keep asking for help, keep needing things. They are, as Mark tells us, like sheep without a shepherd. The need in the world has always been, and always will be, forever and ever, Amen. It just keeps going.

Jesus, being Jesus, has compassion for them, and begins to teach them. And here’s where the part that has been cut comes in. This is where we hear that the disciples have another opportunity to step up, to be those super-disciples they were when Jesus sent them out two by two. People are hungry, and Jesus says to them, “you give them something to eat.” Who, us? the disciples ask. Uh, yeah, you, Jesus responds – didn’t you just come back all pumped up from casting out demons and curing the sick? You got this.

No, they don’t. Jesus has to take care of it himself, collecting the paltry few loaves and fishes to be blessed and broken and given to the crowd, with twelve baskets left over, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Okay, that’s understandable – the disciples needed a rest from all that super-discipling. They’re just getting started.

But then they get in the boat to cross the lake to Bethsaida – Jesus stays behind, and goes up the mountain to pray by himself. As the disciples are struggling mightily against wind and waves, Jesus comes walking on the water, intending to pass them by. But they are terrified when they see him, thinking it is a ghost. Jesus reassures them, gets in the boat, and the wind ceases. As if they had never experienced any of those past months with Jesus, as if their super-disciple phase had never happened, they sink into confusion and astonishment, because, Mark tells us, “their hearts were hardened.” When they reach land, it is Jesus who carries out the work of the good news, and many are healed just by touching the fringe of his cloak.

What happened? Did they get tired? Are they still learning? Or maybe news reached them about John the Baptist’s gruesome death, and they lost their nerve. Maybe all of those things.

Mind the gap. The gap between what we bravely tackled yesterday and what we allow to ride roughshod over us today. The gap between super-discipleship one moment and abject terror the next. The gap between genuine trust last week and utter confusion this week. This gap is where we live. But take heart – because Jesus’ disciples lived there, too. That’s one of the messages of the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel. One day you might be given a charge from Jesus to go forth and do amazing things – and you will do them. The next day you may not only need a rest, but may screw things up royally. Your heart may be hardened. But Jesus has not given up on you – on any of us.

One of the old desert monks of the early church was asked to describe the life of the monastic Christian, and he said, every day I get up, and I fall. I get up again, and I fall again. I know what this is like, and I imagine you do, too. In between the getting up and the falling, and between the falling and the getting up – this is where the rich stuff of life with Jesus happens – it’s where we learn what we can do when Jesus calls us, and how helpless we are without him. It’s where we learn to confess our sins and rejoice in God’s forgiveness. It’s where demons are cast out and the sick are healed, but it’s also where we cry out for Jesus to come into the boat and still the storm.

Mind the gap. It’s where Jesus slips in and changes everything.

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