July 22, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22
This week, at Vacation Bible School, I made a little boy cry. It will probably take me longer to get over it than him. In fact he was back the next day and feeling fine and we had a positive interaction, although I was sure not to mention the previous day’s incident. I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. Sometimes I forget that some people see me like the principal of the school. I am in authority. These kids don’t know me, even if I know them, even if I baptized them and pray for them. Of course the last thing we want from Bible School is for a kid or volunteer to have a bad experience of church or the pastor. It is all about having a good experience. But any time people come together, whether it is for VBS or anything else, the potential for division is automatically created.
I hurt this boy’s feelings and now I hear from Jesus’ own lips, “Woe to the shepherds that scatter the flock.” I just know he’s talking about me. This boy will be fine and hopefully have not lasting effects from this shepherd, but what about all the other people I’ve offended or driven off or failed in one way or another?
This isn’t just about pastors either. You might not consider yourselves shepherds, but you are Christians, held to a high standard. It says in the Gospel of Luke, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” There are people who don’t like you, who have hurt you or been hurt by you, people with whom you feel a wedge in your life, where the hope of reconciliation is pretty much nonexistent and that a conversation about a toy boat can’t fix. Yet much is expected of us, who have been given everything that means anything, from God, our father.
We’re separate and broken from each other. That’s part of being in a state of sin. And woe to us! Yes it does feel pretty woeful. I hate conflict. I want everyone to like me. But to be in relationship is to take a risk—a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. We can’t all agree. We don’t all communicate the same way. We all have different levels of sensitivity. We’re all going to experience woe, and the regret of scattering the flock, of breaking something that was beautiful, of driving away reasonable people.
The Old Testament reading speaks of a scattered remnant. If you do any sewing, this brings to mind of course the scraps, the fabric left over at the end of a bolt of material. If you don’t sew, maybe you can relate to using scraps of wood or what is left of a can of paint to complete a project, or using the leftovers in your kitchen to make something delicious for dinner.
I love remnants. My grandma made me a quilt out of remnants. Looking at it with my mom, we point out together which blocks were made from scraps from my mother’s childhood dresses, or aprons grandma made. The scraps bring back memories of more than what we wore, but of what we did as we wore those handmade treasures. The quilt brings back memories of twirling skirts, or cooking with mom, or rolling down the hills, or getting ready for bed.
It is so much fun to search for exactly the right piece of fabric to complete a project. Often at the fabric store, I stop by the shelf of remnants to see what’s there. It is all half-price and I can’t resist a bargain. You never know what you might find, that you wouldn’t have thought of, that will work for a project in progress.
My favorite place to get scraps is at the Goodwill, and more than that at the Goodwill outlet store, or “The Bins” as it is commonly known. There I dig through mounds of clothes, broken toys, bits of paper, and every other kind of trash you could think of to find treasures. Once I spent a half an hour gathering beautiful glass beads at the bottom of one of these bins. I spent about 25 cents for what I would have paid more than ten dollars for at the regular store, but I had to dig and pick every last one of those little beads out of the bottom of that bin. At the bins I’ve found maternity clothes, books for children and adults, a plastic storage bin that I use as a tub to bathe my giant baby. The thing I like to find most is fabric remnants. I especially love it when I find some quilt squares already assembled. I made a quilt for my cousin’s wedding from 10 large quilt squares I found at the bins. Sometimes you find some already assembled squares plus some pieces cut out ready to be sewn and often fat quarters of the same fabric waiting to be cut to fill in the gaps. I don’t often have the time and patience to make a whole quilt myself, but if I can complete someone else’s project, it can be very satisfying. I try to imagine the person that started this quilt. Did they give up? Did they die? Who was this project intended for? I like picking up where they left off.
Jesus loved the remnants, too. He loved everybody, but the remnants were crying out to be used in a project of God’s design. They were just begging to be gathered. The sick were following him from place to place in the Gospel, just hoping to touch the remnant of his cloak, to feel connected to him, to find hope, to believe wholeness was possible for them. He needed some rest, but he also had compassion for them and he was trying to balance the two.
We have a tendency to scatter the flock. We tend to break apart what God has brought together. Of course we try not to do it and we try to learn from our mistakes not to repeat them. I know that with small children, I should consider asking their grandparent to explain things to them, instead of doing it myself. I need to carefully choose my words and actions. I want to be someone who gathers rather than scatters. And yet I am aware, that I, too, am a remnant, a scrap that experiences separation from others. I need Jesus to sew me together with other scraps to make something beautiful and useful. In some ways all I can do is to be available to be sewn together. I can be aware of my incompleteness. I can look forward to making connections with others. Maybe I can smooth out some of my rough edges so I can fit with others around me.
We rip apart the fabric, saw the wood, and cut the vegetables. It is usually with the intention of making something from it. We aren’t trying to be hurtful. Sometimes someone else has started the project and we get to be Jesus’ sewing machine or hammer helping to put things together in a new way, to make something useful out of what was just a scrap, a remnant, a nothing. Sometimes we start a project and someone else gets to finish it. But always it is God working through us to gather the flock, to heal, to feed, to soothe, to bless.
Jesus is digging through the trash heap, but he doesn’t see trash. He sees something ready to be gathered, healed, adopted, brought into relationship, sewn, glued, or attached. Jesus sees the potential there in the remnant, rather than the deficiency. Jesus looks with eyes of hope, with creativity to bring together unlikely combinations to make stunning designs. We tend to scatter. When we do, let us look to God to put us back together again in unexpected ways. Let us be ready to be healed, to be brought back into relationship with those we might have written off. We are all reaching for the fringe of his cloak to be joined with him, to have new life. And we find him reaching out to us and we find ourselves joined then to everyone else, no longer a scrap, but part of something bigger, a web of compassion and love, a quilt of new life, a house of warmth and shelter, a meal of healing, the body of Christ.
This week, I made a boy cry at VBS. But God gives us second chances and often so do little boys. Maybe that’s part of what Jesus was saying when he told us to be like little children. He wanted us to forgive. So God took the scraps, the scattered remnant and sewed us back together again. God is restoring us to health and wholeness and making us part of God’s beautiful quilt, a creative combination of colors and shapes, to bring warmth and life into our lives and the lives of those around us.