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The Lion And The Sheep

Mark 6:30-56

The Rev. Jon Roberts

18 July

2021

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

30 The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; 36 send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii[a] worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down by companies upon the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Beth-sa′ida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 51 And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. 53 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennes′aret, and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized him, 55 and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well.

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Jesus Teaches People by the Sea, James Tissot 1886-1896

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.- Alexander the Great [1]

Alexander the Great wanted to be the lion, that would take over the world, but he knew all too well the power of the sheep; those lowly, poor and meek who found great courage in their faith in God. Given courage by God above, they were not only healed, they were made free. In those middle eastern lands of long ago, those who spoke farsi (Iran/Persia) had a story to tell as it related to the lion and the sheep. It went like this.[2]

Once upon a time, there lived a lion who was always bragging about his bravery, his strength, and his cunning. ‘There is no animal in the jungle who is braver than I,’ boasted the lion to all that would listen. ‘I am the biggest and the best, and I am afraid of no animal!’ he proclaimed. But the lion was not being entirely truthful. He was very afraid of rats, and he did not want any of the other animals to know this in case they made fun of him. There was also a little sheep who was very meek and quiet. The sheep did not boast or brag because the sheep did not consider himself to be brave or strong or cunning. Because the sheep was so quiet, the lion often picked on him and called him names. ‘You are a frightened little animal,’ said the lion. ‘You are too quiet and too timid. You should be more like me.’ The gentle sheep never answered this name-calling. He simply went about his business in his usual manner. ‘I may be quiet,’ thought the sheep, ‘but at least I have friends and do not spend my time boasting about myself or judging others.’
One day, when the sheep was walking through the jungle, he heard the lion screaming at the top of his voice. ‘Help me! Help me!’ The little sheep ran in the direction of the lion’s desperate cries for help, until he found the mighty beast clinging to the lowest branch of a tree in a small clearing. ‘Help me, little sheep!’ pleaded the lion. ‘What is wrong?’ asked the sheep as he looked about on the ground to see what had frightened the lion in such a way. ‘Rats!’ exclaimed the lion, and with his tail he pointed towards the ground where there was a family of rats searching for food at the base of the tree. The little sheep trotted up to the rats and gently pushed them away from the base of the tree. ‘Run along now,’ said the sheep, 'You are scaring the lion.' And with that, all the rats scurried off into the jungle in search of more food.

When the lion was sure that the rats had gone, he dropped to the ground and tried his best to puff out his chest as if he had not been frightened at all. But the little sheep was not convinced by the lion’s bravado. ‘Why is it that you are so scared of rats?’ asked the little sheep. ‘They are slithery and slimy and dirty,’ said the lion. ‘That is not true,’ protested the sheep. ‘How can you know what they are like if you have never spoken to them?' The lion thought about this for a while and eventually admitted that he had never spoken to the rats at all but had always been afraid of them. ‘You are right, little sheep,’ said the lion, ‘I decided that the rats were slithery and slimy and dirty, just as I had decided that you were timid and frightened, but it is not true. You are brave and strong, perhaps the bravest and strongest animal in the jungle!’

We need to ask ourselves, who are we following? What army of sheep will be necessary in our present day? We must pause and wonder during these uncertain times in our nation, are we being led by a lion or a sheep?

Power and authority are privileges earned, not taken. More and more leaders in our day seem to believe the more that is taken from the poor and the lowly, gives them more power. They are “pseudo-lions” who beat their chest and declare how mighty and brave they are. They are actually sheep that hide behind their powerful offices, enforcing rules and mandates through their minions who do their bidding. They almost seem to enjoy human suffering. This is not a knock on government. Our very democracy is freedom within boundaries but does the law serve people or do people serve the law? They use tactics that divide and control every aspect of your life through fear and intimidation. It all begins with manipulating the masses. As it is written in the preface of George Orwell’s book, “War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.”[3]

Back in the day of David, the mighty lion of Israel was an instrument to restore the nation and its relationship with God. His predecessor though, King Saul, thought he was a lion, but actually was a sheep. He lied, deceived, misappropriated and humiliated any who opposed or were simply outside of his circle of elect. Back in the day of Jesus, the mighty savior of the world became the target of the High priests, politicians and emperor, yet a vessel of salvation to restore the whole of humanity and its relationship with God. On that shore of Genessaret Jesus retreated for a time of rest from the spiritual battles he faced, the level of need and the healing of the poor but a mighty army met him there.[4] Five thousand men (not including women and children) met him and the twelve “apostles.” They came on stretchers, crutches and carts. They were the rats that scared the rulers because they had no answer to their problem. There were too many and there were only so many resources to distribute. They were poor sheep who had nowhere else to turn but Jesus. They desperately needed hope and he provided. They were taxed heavily. They prayed fervently and they died early. Jesus had compassion on them.

From our earlier story, the pseudo-lion looked at the sheep as weak and inferior. He looked at the rats as slimy and slithering. When a leader looks down on their people, tells them to be stronger and smarter, but does not practice what they proclaim, they are no lion. They are imposters who are scared of their own corrupt and selfish lives. They spend all their time trying to disguise and conceal it, but the sheep see through it. Like Saul and Herod, they can only have power by taking it from others. The servant and the slave’s voice must find a way to survive under this tyranny. In our collect today the words seem to fit the illustration of one who cowers below a lion, begging not to be eaten. “Almighty [One], fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking. Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness cannot ask.” What type of relationship is this between a ruler and his people, unless the ruler is one who takes them by the hand and brings them up.

Jesus had compassion on them and he gave them power, by his love he gave them. This love restores their faith and faith is something that has the risk of being broken, but it is the one thing that can never be taken from us. These people had faith and that’s about all they had. What they saw, what they learned that day would last a lifetime, passed along perhaps to future generations as the ones who were touched by the holy One, the Son of God, the lion and the lamb. They could relate.

The lion must have compassion, first. Second, the lion must place God in the middle of all things. King Saul moved the word of God, the ark of the covenant away to a remote village, far from the government capital.[5] King David restored its presence and elevated the prophet Nathan.[6] He listened to him as God’s ambassador. King Saul admonished and sent away his prophet Samuel. Jesus saw the temple in the middle but the word of God being corrupted within. He used the cross to restore the component of sacrificial love and compassion. Every one of us must follow the command to love God and neighbor and to do so we must put God’s word in the midst of us, in the front of our nation as the One we do trust and obey. And finally we are to show compassion towards those in need. It is more important to create a strong relationship of promoting those who are weak into service rather than to promoting the service (programs) to which we dole out and form a welfare state. We are strong through being weak. We are smart through being ignorant and we are worthy through accepting our unworthiness. The Lion is God and God does not intend to surround himself with an army of lions. God intends to raise up something more feared than anything that threatens to destroy us. He intends to raise up a mighty army of sheep.

[1] Alexander the Great, 356-323BC
[2] Mareia Abed, “The Lion and the Sheep”, World Stories, c.2020 (Farsi story)
[3] George Orwell, 1984
[4] Mark 6:30-56
[5] David Godwin, The Daily Eagle, https://mountaineagle.com/stories/davids-deep-affection-for-the-ark,29085
[6] 2 Samuel 7:1-14

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