2 Samuel 7:1-14
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
In the recent opinion piece from the NY Times entitled Can Silicon Valley Find God? by Linda Kinstler, the author dives into a budding conversation about the role of Artificial Intelligence in our lives. We may not realize how much we interact with A.I. on a daily basis, but it influences much of our lives in unseen ways, everything from the roads we drive on, the ads and articles we see, what we pay for car insurance, and the list goes on. Shanen Boettcher, a former Microsoft general manager who is pursuing a PH.D. in artificial intelligence and spirituality at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, has been studying how devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa answer the big questions of life like “how should I treat others?” “are humans special among other living things?” “how did all of this come about?” “Why is there evil and suffering the in the world?” “Is there a ‘god’ or something that is bigger than all of us?” These are questions that the religions of the world have been wrestling with since the dawn of time. While much of Silicon Valley avoids espousing any specific religious belief, Linda Kinstler found people around the world wrestling with the spiritual implications of these technologies and how they are influencing our daily lives. Some have left very tech jobs to attend seminary and some have stayed within these tech giants working for change within, leading nonsectarian theological discussions. It is for good reason, we are all aware of the harm that is being done by technology and specifically the harms of A.I.. “Over the last several years there has scholarly research that has exposed racist and discriminatory assumptions baked in machine-learning algorithms.” It has also deeply influenced our politics, our election cycle, the way we view the world, and even our response to the global pandemic. In 2017 Myanmar saw one of the world’s first genocides perpetuated on unfounded internet rumors. Senior members of the military employed a propaganda campaign that specifically sought to capitalize on the assumptions built into A.I., and this genocide caused the death of at least 24,000 people .  The entire world is being shaped by these conversations.
In our passage, the disciples have finally returned from their missionary journey. The apostles gather around Jesus to tell him all that they had done and taught. They decide to avoid the crowds and go to a deserted place. As they are traveling by boat to that place, someone recognizes them and a large crowd arrives ahead of them at their destination. The disciples are tired from their work. The gospel tells us that as Jesus saw the great crowd, he had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.
The lectionary then goes past the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, and ends at the healing of the sick in the village of Gennesaret. After crossing the sea, the disciple tie-up the boat and at once people recognize Jesus and they rush him, bringing the sick from surrounding villages, and they beg to even touch the fringe of his cloak.
The way the narrator describes Jesus is interesting. We note again the usage of the shepherd analogy. But what we hear from Jesus is really an overwhelming sense of care and love. Jesus sees the crowds and his heart moves toward compassion. You can picture in your mind all of his potential responses he could have to this crowd. He could have left the scene, climbed back into his boat and gone to another village. He could have told the crowd to move on and work toward a better life. He could have just ignored their needs and focused on himself. But instead what we see is Jesus responding with compassion, Jesus engaging their big questions and Jesus teaching them things.
Compassion seems like it is in short supply in our world today. The world seems to be filled with people who desire to be right, to argue and one-up one another with “what-aboutisms”, looking to find the upper hand. I think one of things to recognize is that this strife is somewhat built into the code. Jesus’ response to the crowd that day and to the crowd this day is one of compassion, one of abundant love.
Henri Nouwen understood this compassion and built his life around it. At the most public point of his career he was a well-known professor at Harvard and Yale; he taught to packed crowds. There is a story that once he was slated to give a lecture in an auditorium, and when he arrived it was so crowded people were sitting in the aisles and the floors. He promised the crowded that anyone who volunteered to leave would be able to return the following night where he would host an encore lecture. The following night the auditorium was over filled all over again. Henri Nouwen wrestled with the big questions, “who am I?” “Am I only what I accomplish?” “Am I only what others think of me?” “Am I only what I have?” He kept going back to the idea “that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God.” For him the compassion of Jesus lead to a journey of downward mobility. He left academic pursuits and moved to L’Arche, a French word for Ark. L’Arche is an intentional community were people living with intellectual disabilities and those who come to help them share life together as equal members. It is understood that each person brings unique and mysterious gifts to group. The group always centers itself on invitation from Jesus to be the center of everything. Henri took a job at L’Arche, not as the director of spirituality, but as a direct-care assistant to a young member named Adam, a young man who could not move by himself or even speak. A young man who not have cared about Henry’s academic credentials.
At our very core, Jesus challenges us to faithfully look at the big questions, to wrestle with our place in the world, and all the while Jesus is looking upon us with compassion. In one of the many books he wrote, Henri Nouwen offers the following; he says Jesus whispers to you and encourages you to make this your own prayer: ‘I am beloved. God is well pleased with me. Not because people say I’m great, but because God named me beloved even before I was born.” The world may reject me, praise me, laugh at me, but no matter what comes, I am the beloved of God. I can live on. Beloved. Beloved. That’s who I am. That’s who you are. 
 Marsh, Karen. Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians who transformed my faith, pg 37-41