Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sermon on Mark 6:30-44, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, "Lessons and Loaves"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we hear the well-known miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Today we are also installing a new principal and teacher, and rededicating our staff for the upcoming school year. It’s interesting to see in the story the pattern or cycle of teaching, followed by hunger and tiredness, and how that turns into more teaching, healings by Jesus, more hunger, and finally a meal. A miraculous meal, which provides yet another teaching lesson. I’m sure we won’t have to stretch for teachers to relate to teaching, hunger, and fatigue, both on their part, and on that of their students. Often hunger competes with learning.
It also reminds me of the fact that there are all types of learners. In the early verses of Mark 6, we heard the last two weeks, about those who resisted and defied Jesus’ and John’s teaching of God’s Word. Today we have crowds racing ahead of Jesus just to get more teaching, and experience more of His healing power. In the midst of it are Jesus’ disciples who need rest themselves, get stretched again, and are at a loss to figure out how Jesus is going to feed a multitude with their meager resources. With all the different learners that must have been there that day—the slow, the eager, the confused, and all the different learners that are gathered here today, and will soon be gathering in our school—there are many lessons and loaves in store for us in God’s Word. I pray for the Lord’s blessing on all of us—teachers, students, parents, children, pastors, and all hearers, that we daily receive our bread, both in our stomachs through a meal, and in our hearts through God’s Word.
Let’s begin where Jesus does in this reading, in urging His disciples to rest. This follows after their important mission of teaching and performing miracles in the surrounding villages. They come back with reports of all they had done, and are tired and hungry—not even having a chance to eat. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Jesus echoes God’s 3rd Commandment, which commanded both rest and worship. Throughout His ministry, Jesus sought this time alone for rest, rejuvenation, and prayer. Jesus’ and His disciples never fully get that rest at the beginning of our reading—but the vital lesson for us is that we need rest. Too often we drive and drive and push and work and worry, and never get rest. We end up stressed, depleted, cranky, and unable to perform our jobs efficiently or well. It spills over negatively on family, friends, co-workers, students, or the person who holds up the line in front of you at the store.
When we don’t have rest we are impatient and vulnerable. C.S. Lewis pointed out that when we are physically worn and frazzled like this, it’s a prime opportunity for the devil to work temptation and sin. So God actually has a rest commandment for our own good. And you’d think we’d all willingly commit to following it—but we so often give into the tyranny of the urgent, and don’t set aside time for rest. But not only rest, the commandment also concerns worship of God. This too is part of our rejuvenation and restoration—to be in a proper relation to God, and refreshed by Him. The Psalms are filled with rich images of hunger and thirst in the soul, finding satisfaction in Him. In worship, God pours out His rich gifts of grace to us, so that we can be fed and satisfied from His goodness.
The next big lesson in the reading is how Jesus responded to the massive crowd that raced ahead of Him and the disciples, and beat them to their intended peaceful retreat. “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.” Here were the eager, the desperate, and the hungry students, clamoring for Jesus’ help. The world never runs short on need, though at times we are not nearly as sensible or aware of our need as we should be. We should, like those crowds, be running to Jesus for His help and supply, but so often we are full, lazy, and complacent.
But look at Jesus’ response to the crowd—He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew’s Gospel adds that He saw they were harassed and helpless. All of us here today, whether we realize it or not, need Jesus as our shepherd. Those who are not with us—those who have gone astray from the church like lost sheep, or those who have never yet been brought into the fold, those children and families to whom we will teach and serve this school year—they need Jesus as their shepherd too. And there’s more than enough in life to leave us harassed and helpless too. Too many lives are broken and suffering through sin. You hardly need to cross your doorstep before seeing or hearing the need of your neighbor. Sin leaves us broken, deprived, bitter, and helpless. We cannot transform ourselves into God’s likeness and design, and instead we conform ourselves to the brokenness of the world.
But thanks be to God we have a Good Shepherd! Jesus sees our brokenness, our need and our sin, and He has compassion on us. He not only wants to help us, if we receive Him, but He is able to help us, and does! As our Good Shepherd He teaches us, He shows us that the harassed and helpless life does not have to be our portion. As the Psalmist sang, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Sheep, whom Jesus gathers into His fold, taught, fed, and nourished by His hand, have the Lord as their portion. Don’t you want that? And He gives it freely! Those crowds may not have had all the right motivations, but they were coming to the right person when they came to Jesus! And His compassion pours down on us in rich measure.
The immediate need of the crowds was for food. And Jesus’ disciples, seeing no way to feed such a massive crowd, wanted to send them away for food. Jesus seems to give the disciples the impossible challenge of feeding the crowd themselves! He turns down their suggestion of buying 200 denarii worth of bread, which was 200 day’s wages. He asks them to inventory their resources. 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Hmm. That’s doesn’t seem like it’s going to cut it. Not enough for everyone to even get a crumb and a fish bone. Who could blame them for feeling woefully undersupplied for the task! No one but Jesus! He was about to teach another lesson, that He could use what they had, and multiply it to meet and fully satisfy the hunger of the whole crowd.
When we look at our resources, when we “inventory” our time, talents, and treasure, or our material possessions and resources, and try to imagine how we can use them to meet the overwhelming needs of a world filled with brokenness and sin, don’t we get just as discouraged and doubtful as the disciples? Aren’t we subject to the same mentality of disbelief or even sarcasm, that there’s no way it can be done? What might we be doing with our 5 loaves and 2 fish? Keep them to ourselves?
Jesus explodes our small thinking, and takes 5 loaves and 2 fish, and turns it into a meal to feed a multitude. Not a person was left hungry, everyone ate and was satisfied. He looked up to heaven before He blessed and broke the food. Why? Who gave it? God provided. And God would provide more until the need was met. Pastor R once said about this passage, something that jarred my thinking in such an awesome way: “What is on hand is enough.” Jesus used what was available, and by God’s supernatural intervention, blessed and multiplied it so that it was enough. Instead of being depressed by the seeming poverty of our circumstances and what we have on hand, we should open our eyes to see that if God is providing us with this, it will be enough.
Jesus makes no promise here of riches and wealth, or whatever we might wrongly crave for, but the simple lesson of trusting in God’s provision, and that He can bless and multiply what we have to our good.  Give us this day our daily bread”, Jesus taught us to pray. The same simple lesson. Look up to heaven, to God who provides these loaves. His daily provision is enough for us. We want to see five years or maybe even just five meals into the future, but He’s got us taken care of right now. Daily bread is His supply. He knows your needs, and will provide them. It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
A crowd with almost nothing saw Jesus multiply loaves and pour out His gifts in overflowing abundance, so that there were 12 heaping baskets left over—more than they had to begin with. We too must work with what we have been given, rather than what we don’t have. And trust in God that what is on hand is enough, that if we are faithful with the little He has given us, and put our thanks and trust in Him, that He can bless and multiply it and entrust us with more. We’re all a little slow when it comes to learning, but thanks be to God we have a compassionate and amazingly patient Shepherd and Teacher. When we don’t get it or deserve it, or our attitude is sour or our faith is dim, He doesn’t crush us or extinguish us, but He nurtures the faith and flame to full brightness again. Jesus is our compassionate Shepherd and Teacher. He knows our needs and well provides us, and loves us every day the same, even calls us by our name. His compassion means He knows and understands our needs. And by His mercy He calls us to Himself and He fills and supplies them as He knows best.
And greatest of all, our Good Shepherd lays down His life for the harassed and helpless sheep. His compassion opened His heart to our deepest sin, brokenness, and need. So He laid down His life on the cross, swallowing up our sin, healing our brokenness, and supplying our need. Our same Lord who multiplied the loaves, also rose from His grave, proving He is the Living Son of God. So come running, come running to the hands and feet of Jesus to receive lessons and loaves. For He will provide all that you need in body and soul, your daily bread and His mercy and forgiveness for all your sin. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Do you find it difficult to get the rest and restoration you need, amidst the demands of life? Why did Jesus insist on this for His disciples? Why has God given us a commandment (the 3rd) concerning weekly rest for our bodies, and worship of Him? How is it detrimental to us if we do not rest or worship?
  2. What need drove the people to Jesus? Are we also driven by our need? What makes us feel that need more deeply so that we hunger and thirst for Him?
  3. What moved Jesus to compassion for the people, even though He was worn out? Mark 6:34; Matthew 9:36. How does Jeremiah 23:1-6 contrast the neglect and harm of Israel’s “shepherds” to the future care and righteous leading of their new shepherds, and the One Good Shepherd? Compare John 10.
  4. When it came to feeding the 5,000, how did the disciples view the situation? John 6:5-9. How did Jesus view the available resources?
  5. How do we often measure our resources? Do we think they are sufficient for the ministry and tasks we have been given? Are we looking and trusting in God’s supply and providence, or our own? How do you think God views our available resources?
  6. How do we know this was a miracle, and not just an act of sharing meager rations of bread and fish? How was the appetite of the people when they were finished? Mark 6:42. What was left? 6:43.
  7. Do we know the ways and the amounts of what God will bless us with? What are we instead responsible to do? What does the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” remind us to do?

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