Summary: A Sermon for Proper 11, series B

7th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 11) July 23, 2006 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to reveal your will and grace, and to restore us to a meaningful relationship with you. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive his word, to focus our lives around his redeeming grace, and empower us for witness. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning begins with the twelve returning from their missionary journey on which Jesus had sent them, in which, Mark tells us, they told Jesus all that they had done and taught. Jesus then invites the twelve to come away with him to a deserted place so that they might enjoy some well-deserved rest.

So they got into a boat and headed to a place where they might be alone. But when they neared the shore, they discovered that a great crowd had anticipated where they were headed, and had arrived at their destination before they did. But instead of turning the boat around and heading off to another place of retreat, Mark tells us that when Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

The image of Jesus as a shepherd is one that has been captured by artists and poets throughout the years. The picture of Jesus sitting in the midst of a flock of sheep with a lamb on his shoulder, captured in stained glass, has adorned many a church building. But what does that image of Jesus mean?

One of the commentaries that I read made an interesting point. “In the Candid Camera series [several years ago], some boys were chosen to receive what they were told was a big prize. They were paraded before their classmates and the master of ceremonies went through an elaborate buildup about their selection for the award. At the climax came the words: ‘You have been chosen…shepherds of the month!’

The looks of disappointment on the boy’s faces filled the screen. Being a shepherd of the month is not very exciting to the contemporary imagination. However, if we think of the shepherd as the person who cares for a bunch of noisy, straggling creatures, then we realize how essential that task is.”

The commentary continued, “John Updike has a story called ‘Lifeguard’ in which he describes the attentions which the guard on the beach gives to those struggling in the waters. That image of the lifeguard may be more appropriate for our time and culture than that of shepherd.” End quote. [Proclamation: Aids for Interpreting the Lessons of the Church Year; Fortress Press, 1975]

This morning I would like to pursue this image of Jesus as our lifeguard.

Several years ago, when Josie and I had taken a vacation to Myrtle Beach, she had this routine of getting up earlier than I would, grab a cup of coffee, and head to the beach. In order to facilitate me joining her, she would always stake out her spot close to this particular lifeguard stand. An hour or so later, I would join her, with my inflatable raft. After soaking up some rays, I would then head into the ocean just deep enough to bob up and down in a weightless-like state, drifting with the current.

But while I enjoyed this experience, I also kept my eye on the shore, and in particular, on that particular lifeguard stand, which reminded me of where my spot on the beach was located. For the current of the ocean is such that it tends to carry one along the shoreline, away from your point of entry.

During that week, I not only paid a lot of attention to the lifeguard stand, but also to the person who sat on it. I noticed that he was not what the beach movies pictured the lifeguard to be. He did not spend his time fighting off the best-looking, least clad girls on the beach. He was not in his late teens or early twenties. He was at least in his mid-thirties, and was intent in his watchfulness of the beach and especially those in the water.

Several times a day, I saw him stand, heard him blow his whistle, and motion with his arm for someone who was a little too venturous, to come closer to shore. Several times I saw him blow his whistle, jump off of his stand with a special buoy in hand, motioning to a person with an illegal, unsafe raft to exit the water. On other occasions, he would politely remind a beacher of the rules against having certain beverages or certain types of containers on the beach.

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