July 22, 2018

Music:  “More Time” by Needtobreathe, sung by Matt Thompson-Aue and Krista Tebo

Cover: “Landscape with Shepherd and Sheep”
Divinity Library – Vanderbilt University
Art in the Christian Tradition

You are a dwelling place
for the source of all life.
–Macrina Wiederkehr

Enough      Nancy Jane Earnest
In the silence of a shower
something has shifted in my
guarded heart, God of
this magnificent season.

I lower hands from
astonished eyes, shamed
no longer by perceived
disappointment from an
absent taskmaster.

I am whole, alone and
strong, blessed
beyond measure
in a life of my own making.
I am enough.

Numbers 27:16-18
And Moses said to the Lord, saying, “Let the lord, God of the spirits for all flesh, appoint a [person] over the community, who will go out before them and who will lead them in and out on the march so that the Lord’s community will not be like a flock that has no shepherd.”
And the Lord said to Moses, “Take you Joshua son of Nun, a man who has spirit within him, and lay your hand upon him.”

Numbers 15:38-39
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the Israelites, and you shall say to them that they should make them a fringe on the skirts of their garments for their generations and place on the fringe of the skirt an indigo twist. And it shall be a fringe for you, and you shall see it and be mindful of all the Lord’s commandments and you shall do them.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Scholars’ Version
Then the apostles regroup around Jesus and they reported to him everything that they had done and taught. And he says to them:

“You come by yourselves to an isolated place and rest a little.”

(You see many were coming and going and they didn’t even have a chance to eat.)

So they went away in the boat privately to an isolated place. But many noticed them leaving and figured it out and raced there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he came ashore, he saw a huge crowd and was moved by them, because they resembled sheep without a shepherd, and he started teaching them at length….

One they had crossed over to land, they landed at Gennesaret and moored. As soon as they had gotten out of the boat, people immediately recognized him, and they ran around over the whole area and started bringing those who were ill on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. And wherever he would go, into villages, or towns, or onto farms, they would lay out the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who managed to touch it were cured.

Qur’an, Al-Nahl “The Bee” (16:65-69)
It is God who sends water down from the sky and with it revives the earth when it is dead. There truly is a sign in this for people who listen. In livestock, too, you have a lesson—We give you a drink from the contents of their bellies, between waste matter and blood, pure milk, sweet to the drinker. From the fruits of date palms and grapes you take sweet juice and wholesome provisions. There truly is a sign in this for people who use their reason. And your Lord inspired the bee, saying,

‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct. Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’

From their bellies comes a drink of different colours in which there is healing for people. There truly is a sign in this for those who think.

Sometimes it all seems overwhelming.

“What is overwhelming” you might ask, “What specifically?”

All of it. Life. The world.

Politics and yelling,
Sickness and worry,
Children and parents,
Bills and old age,
Toothaches and stiff joints,
A scary future,
And a sorry past.

Breathe.

“You come by yourselves to an isolated place and rest a little.”

Says Jesus to his disciples. They had just witnessed the violent death of John the Baptist and are reporting back. Jesus had sent them out to say wise things and do good deeds and it has been a long day.

“You come by yourselves to an isolated place and rest a little.”

So they try to sneak off and find a nice spot maybe with some shade and a cool drink, a nice little quiet spot, out of the way. They tiptoe to the boat and off they go.

Too late. They have been spotted.
People have needs.
Sheep without a shepherd.
These sheep know about that nice isolated place and beat Jesus and the disciples to it.
The sheep are waiting.
Needs in hand.

Minds needing wisdom.
Bodies needing healing.
Spirits needing renewal.
Rest will have to wait.

When he came ashore, he saw a huge crowd and was moved by them, because they resembled sheep without a shepherd, and he started teaching them at length….

The lectionary reading stops there and picks up later. The story not covered in today’s reading is the feeding of the crowd in the green grass with fives loaves and two fish and Jesus walking on the water in the storm while the disciples are rowing and rowing and getting nowhere. Jesus hops in the boat with them, the storm stills, and Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I.” To paraphrase, “Take a breath, friends, it is all good.”

Then we come back to the reading.

They get out of the boat after a long night.
They moor the boat.

Guess what?

Waiting to greet them are…

Sheep without a shepherd.
Minds needing wisdom.
Spirits needing renewal.
Bodies needing healing.

Because as we know, life can be overwhelming:

Politics and yelling,
Sickness and worry,
Children and parents,
Bills and old age,
Toothaches and stiff joints,
A scary future,
And a sorry past.

And the text reads:

As soon as they had gotten out of the boat, people immediately recognized him, and they ran around over the whole area and started bringing those who were ill on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. And wherever he would go, into villages, or towns, or onto farms, they would lay out the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who managed to touch it were cured.

Back in the day with Moses and the sheep without a shepherd running around the wilderness this command came down:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the Israelites, and you shall say to them that they should make them a fringe on the skirts of their garments for their generations and place on the fringe of the skirt an indigo twist. And it shall be a fringe for you, and you shall see it and be mindful of all the Lord’s commandments and you shall do them.

Which seems a bit detailed for a command. A tad random. Amidst all of life’s overwhelming problems…

Politics and yelling,
Sickness and worry,
Children and parents,
Bills and old age,
Toothaches and stiff joints,
A scary future,
And a sorry past.

…Yahweh wants what? A fringe with an indigo twist? Really? Now?

All right.
But it’s not for Yahweh.

“It shall be a fringe for you,
And you shall see it and be mindful…”

It is the fringe with the indigo twist that will remind them to observe Yahweh’s commands.

The fringe with the indigo twist is a sign.

Sign in Arabic is ayah. Signs plural is ayat.

Ayah is evidence, sign, miracle, proof, guidance. Each verse of the Qur’an is called an ayah.

In the Qur’an John the Baptist’s father Zechariah is told he will have a son. The text says,

“This will be a sign, (an ayah) “You won’t speak for three days.”

When Jesus was born, the Qur’an says:

“And We made the son of Mary and his mother a sign (miracle) and sheltered them within a high ground having level [areas] and flowing water.”

This is from the Qur’an: Surah al-Nahl “the Bee”

Qur’an, Al-Nahl “The Bee” (16:65-69)
It is God who sends water down from the sky and with it revives the earth when it is dead. There truly is a sign in this for people who listen. In livestock, too, you have a lesson—We give you a drink from the contents of their bellies, between waste matter and blood, pure milk, sweet to the drinker. From the fruits of date palms and grapes you take sweet juice and wholesome provisions. There truly is a sign in this for people who use their reason. And your Lord inspired the bee, saying,

‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct. Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’

From their bellies comes a drink of different colours in which there is healing for people. There truly is a sign in this for those who think.

Jesus would say a similar kind of thing when ending his teachings:

“Those who have ears, let them hear.”

Or the Qur’an’s version:

“There truly is a sign in this for those who think.”

So the people come from all over.
Wherever Jesus goes they bring to him the sick.
They ask if they could just touch the fringe of his cloak.

The fringe with the indigo twist.

A sign of God’s presence.

A sign for those overwhelmed by life.
These sheep without a shepherd.
Amidst all of it:

Politics and yelling,
Sickness and worry,
Children and parents,
Bills and old age,
Toothaches and stiff joints,
A scary future,
And a sorry past.

Amidst all of it, a sign, an ayah, a fringe with an indigo twist.

Grab it. Touch it. Notice it. Be mindful.

There are signs in this world.

Signs of healing. Signs of love. Signs of hope. Signs of wisdom.

What is your fringe with an indigo twist?
When you feel like a sheep without a shepherd.
When life is overwhelming…
Is there a sign? For you?

The Beaverton Resource Guide asked me to write something for the August issue. 200 words or so. Something uplifting was the assignment.

What came to mind was an ayah. A sign.

This is what I wrote. I first quoted from these verses, these ayat from the Qur’an:

And your Lord inspired the bee, saying, ‘Build yourselves houses in the mountains and trees and what people construct. Then feed on all kinds of fruit and follow the ways made easy for you by your Lord.’ From their bellies come a drink of different colors in which there is healing for people. There truly is a sign in this for those who think. Qur’an 16:68-69.

Then I wrote:

My one and only granddaughter, Pippa, not quite yet two, is learning about the birds and the bees. In their home in Tennessee, her moms have on their porch a nest in a grocery bag. Quite unexpectedly, a mother bird built the nest and just this week, two little baby birds, “Buhh-dees” as Pippa called them, have hatched.

Not a story to make the news. But I share it as one who needs a sign (“ayah” in Arabic) upon which to reflect. The schemers of the world demand their attention and if we are not careful we can spiral down a dark path of fear and cynicism, ultimately despair, when we put our energy and life-force reflecting on them.

But the signs as Pippa is observing them are the bigger signs, the deeper signs in creation that existed long before the news makers of this world and will be present long after they have breathed their last.

This world is beauty. Our lives are short. Let us not miss the signs revealed in the birds and the bees and find hope, healing and joy therein.

That is what I wrote for the Beaverton Resource Guide.

In the midst of…

Politics and yelling,
Sickness and worry,
Children and parents,
Bills and old age,
Toothaches and stiff joints,
A scary future,
And a sorry past.

In the midst of that I think of Pippa and her “Buhh-dees.”

Sue Monk Kidd over twenty years ago wrote The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. The final paragraph to this popular book that has been a source of wisdom, courage, and confidence for countless women and men concludes with a passage about the importance of signs. She didn’t use the word, sign, but you will hear it.

I look back now and I am grateful.
I recall that whenever I struggled, doubted, wondered
if I could pull my thread into this fabric,
someone or something would always appear—
a friend, a stranger, a figure in a dream, a book, an experience, some shining part of nature—and remind me that this thing I was undertaking was holy to the core.
I would learn again that it is all right for women
to follow the wisdom in their souls,
to name their truth,
to embrace the Sacred Feminine,
that there is undreamed voice, strength, and power in us.

And that is what I have come to tell you.
I have come over the wise distances to tell you:
She is in us.

Sue Monk Kidd, Dance of the Dissident Daughter.

It is all about the signs.

When you need one.

When you don’t even know you need one.

All around us.

A fringe with an indigo twist.
Baby birds in a grocery bag.
A healing drink from the belly of bees.

May you notice a sign
Or many…
To lighten your load.

Amen.