Compassion Kingdom

Mark 6:34a

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I considered – quite seriously – for some time – I considered leaving it at that.  Let that be your sermon for the day:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

You don’t need anything else.  The Father who created you, your brother whose resurrection has re-created you and makes you his own for eternity – that they give you grace and peace … that is sufficient.  That is all you need to take away today.  That is all you need to deal with the week ahead.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The fact that I can say that to you – the fact that most of the letters in the New Testament begin with that greeting – the fact of that greeting and that blessing -- Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ – that is the reality, the consequence of what Paul writes to the Philippians that Jesus “gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant” or, as Luke puts it “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”; it is the consequence – it’s almost a synonymous repetition! – of John’s prologue to his Gospel where he writes that “The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. … Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.”
The Word who is grace, is full of grace, and brings us grace.  That is the reality of God-with-us in Christ Jesus.  That is the Shepherd-King – here – real presence – ruling in our lives.

That is the Shepherd-King.  This is an unusual biblical concept; in a sense it is a paradox because we associate the shepherd with a certain simplicity, humility, gentleness, nurturing nature – and the king with power and authority.  And, the truth is, whenever we think ‘king’ we first go to power and authority, though we learned well in David, that God chose the simple, humble, gentle, nurturing shepherd to be king – ah, but he defeated Goliath! we object – only to be corrected that actually David, himself, confidently strode out not to defeat Goliath – God would do that – but to serve God.  It is a paradox.
The paradox of the Shepherd-King doesn’t get simpler when we think of the kingdom.  Or does it?
In today’s Gospel – and in this 6th chapter of Mark – Jesus has basically been pushed out of his home town, Nazareth,  but he stays – teaching and caring for people, he sends out his followers to do the same thing, he receives the horrific news that his cousin John has been killed, he is hounded by crowds of people in trouble and each time he tries to get away for a bit someone else needs him, he rescues his disciples from a storm to get to the other side of the lake and there he is immediately surrounded by more who are suffering – the ‘King’ is rejected, threatened, hounded – yet the Shepherd remains and, in the middle of all that:  “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” or, as stated in the actual Gospel reading, “When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  He had compassion on them.

Compassion effects grace into the lives of others; or grace effects compassion into the lives of others – I’m not sure which is the real construction; but the relationship is clear.  What is real, what is truth, what has been created, won, established by the love of God, the will of God, the very nature of God, the rule of God the King – compassion connects it to the world; the Shepherd brings it into the everyday realities of people’s lives.

God so loved the world…  God so loved you!  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the Word of the Lord to you, because the King is on his throne, and the Shepherd has his arms wrapped around you.  You can go out today and rest in that; you can go and base your whole life on that, on that foundation.  The fact that you can do that is because of the will of God and the act of God.  You are the Shepherd’s loved sheep; you are the King’s loved subject… so that, as Luther put it, “I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king.  I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he was raised to life, and lives and rules forever.”  This is the complete story when it comes to God’s kingdom:  he establishes his gracious rule; we live in that grace.

The kingdom of the Shepherd-King is not (as has crept into the language of the church with great popularity) something that we help to build.  You will hear the phrase ‘build God’s kingdom’ quite a bit and there is always the danger that it starts to shape your thinking about the nature of God’s kingdom.

This is not a biblical concept.  The New Testament is full of references to God’s kingdom, but there is never anything remotely like a suggestion that you and I have anything to do with building that kingdom, or establishing that kingdom, or preserving that kingdom, or protecting that kingdom.  We ‘inherit’ it – as a gift; we ‘receive’ it – as a gift; we are ‘brought into’ it – as the work of God; we ‘enter’ it through the gift of baptism; we ‘serve’ when we are already in it, because we’ve been brought into it; we ‘see’ it because we are in it.  But nowhere does the New Testament suggest we build it, grow it, maintain it, prosper it…
In fact, as Luther so beautifully reminds us in his Small Catechism, while discussing the Lord’s Prayer:
“God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us.”
Read either side of that a little bit and we are reminded that
God’s name certainly  is holy in itself…
            The good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer
God gives daily bread, even without our prayer…

God’s kingdom comes, God’s will is done because God is God.  The creator made us and claims us and rules over us; in the gracious life, death and resurrection of Jesus that claim, that kingdom, that reality is reiterated, emphasized!
But we pray, that this might also be done among us – that the reality might also be evident in our lives, seen by us, recognized by us, lived by us, as the miracle of God for us, as the work of the Spirit who, when “I cannot by my own reason or strength”, doesn’t rely on my reason or my strength(!) but asserts the will of God, the grace of God into my life and in my life. God graciously joins me to what he is already determined to carry out.

You and I, and all Christians, and the whole Christian church, do not build the kingdom or establish the kingdom or strengthen the kingdom or whatever the popular culture might like to suggest [when it actually has in mind not God’s kingdom but something else].  What is biblical language – what is said of our participation in the life of God’s kingdom – is that we ‘serve’ in it – [we don’t serve into it or serve it] – and we ‘proclaim’ it.

And with this in mind I draw your attention back to Jesus in our Gospel reading:  “When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  Jesus, the Shepherd-King, is there in the midst of his kingdom; the kingdom is there because Jesus, the Shepherd-King, is there.  What happens is that Jesus – filled with compassion – lives out what that kingdom is; the Shepherd-King lives out God’s grace for his kingdom.

When I realize this about the nature of how the kingdom comes and how the kingdom is in the world around me – not as something I have to define and put in place, but as something that exists because of what the Creator and Saviour has declared and shown as Shepherd-King, then this immediately places me not outside, apart from, separated from people all around me in my community, but in their midst – I live in the middle of God’s kingdom of grace established in his world, by his love for the world.
Think about this by sitting yourself on a bench in a shopping centre.  Consider what it’s like when, during school holidays, shopping centres are full of teenagers! I realize, after a number of years, how much I actually like seeing them, wandering about awkwardly trying to impress each other; trying to work out what they ‘want’ and what they ‘need’; trying to hang on to fragile friendships and not to be alone; constantly wrestling with questions of meaning and purpose in a period of rapid growth and change and volatility.  I have pity on them; I have compassion for them. 

In the same shopping centre I see parents with toddlers – mum with several, on her own – always one acting up – mum loaded with all the anxiety of ‘getting it right’.  I pity her!  I love her for having that love for her children!

I see migrants –my community has changed in recent years! – each with stories – reasons why they have come – maybe some like my own – trying to fit in, trying to establish themselves, trying to ‘do the right thing’ for their children, trying to learn a new language, a new environment, a new history.  And as I see them I know that, as a nation, politicians who represent me and who act on my behalf, are anxious about what to do, are angry about what to do, are distressed about what to do, are uncertain about what to do, are determined about what to do, are unbending about what to do.  I feel pity for all of them!

Teenagers, parents, toddlers, migrants, politicians – and all the rest! – these are all people who sit within and live within the very same sovereignty of God, of Jesus, of grace – the same as me!  These are all people in God’s world, in God’s kingdom, where God is and where God rules.  We have been brought together into the will and plan and purposes of God’s grace.  Jesus, by his death and resurrection, removes the barrier – we call it various forms of ‘sin’ – the barrier that separates and divides and classifies and qualifies and gives us the idea that somehow we determine the shape of things, who’s in and who’s out, and all that – grace creates compassion and compassion creates grace – and when you know that you start to see the presence of the kingdom of the Shepherd-King.


“When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  When the Shepherd-King, the long awaited son of David, ushers in the kingdom of God by being in the world, he makes it visibly effective through his compassion for people.  Any people.  Every people.  All people. 

And if, within that kingdom-flock of the shepherd-king we dwell for a moment somewhat narrowly on those sheep of whom we are conscious that they know the shepherd’s voice and follow him – Jesus straight away reminds us that he has other sheep, too; and he’s just off to go get them, too.

For us the issue of importance is not who is ‘in’, ‘within’ the realm of God’s grace; but who is able to recognize the reality of God’s grace for all – and live in the peace that goes with it.  (If it’s any encouragement to you:  in all my years of ministry I have never brought anyone into God’s love; but I have told many of the reality that perhaps they didn’t yet know that they are loved by God; and I have sometimes been used by God to help them see, acknowledge, and celebrate what was there all along, but they hadn’t realized….

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.