Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Healing Hands: Draw Crowds & Feed the World" - Sermon, July 22, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Healing Hands: Draw Crowds & Feed the World”
Rev. Andrew Davis
July 22, 2018
Mark 6: 53-56
John 6: 1-15

            If we were to play one of those little ’25 things you don’t know about me’ games like channel 3 in Sacramento does with their news personalities on their website, I think you would be surprised to learn that as outgoing as I am, I really do not like crowds that much!!  How many of you share the same sentiment?  Now don’t get me wrong, I love being in the presence of my church family and I love seeing the church full on Sundays, but I don’t like crowds where I cannot move or where I feel boxed in or where the crowds become a mob scene (since I’m somewhat claustrophobic, another surprising fact).  During my first semester at Wesley, all first year student classes were at our downtown campus, meaning we had to take the METRO and METRO would get crowded during rush hour…which is why I would avoid going downtown at any of those times, as it’s like being packed in like sardines.  Luckily, living in a small town allows plenty of space and we don’t see such crowds all of the time; well, maybe at the festival and maybe at Geritol Cove or Hamilton Branch at Lake Almanor, at Turkey Point at Frenchman Lake when the fishing is really good, or at the beach at Sandy Point at Bucks Lake during the summer, yet there’s still breathing room at both places.  The only drawback about fishing in crowded conditions is that I do get a little cranky when the fish bit other people’s lines than mine.    
            In our scripture texts that we just read, Jesus couldn’t really catch a break from the crowds either.  Once Jesus became known for his healing miracles that we talked about earlier this month, the news went viral around the Sea of Galilee and now people are flocking to Jesus wherever he goes, as he’s reached celebrity status in Galilee.  Amidst getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Genesaret), the crowds follow him wherever he goes.  They’re hungry for healing, for a word of hope, for wholeness, and for restoration that Jesus is able to provide.[i]  As we just heard in the conclusion of Mark 6, people are literally putting their sick out in the street for Jesus to come by and heal and similar to the woman who reached out to touch his robe and was healed earlier in the chapter, others are doing the same, reaching to touch his robe and be made whole again.  In our reading from the Gospel of John, the crowds follow Jesus around the region of the Sea of Galilee and while the disciples are tired and would just as soon send the people away, Jesus still heals, still teaches, then feeds the crowd.   
            How many of you have heard the story of stone soup?  The story is a fable that has been passed down over time and is about a person who comes to a town who is not received very well, similar to how Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and warned them they might not be received.  Well, this person isn’t too deterred by the townspeople’s lack of hospitality and says he is going to make some stone soup and heats a cauldron of water and throws a stone in out of a canvas bag, convincing people that it would make a good broth then gave out clues about what would go good in the soup.[ii] Before long, the entire town has something to put in the soup, which then feeds everyone in a joyful feast.  When the person leaves town and hands the stone to a child, the child is astounded at receiving the miraculous stone, although the person says that it wasn’t the stone, but the people in town who pulled off the miracle.[iii]
Like Jesus feeding the crowd with the loaves and fishes and the whole town contributing to the stone soup, feeding the world takes some effort from us in the church and from individuals.  Part of the effort is through our offerings and the conference tithe, and even our special offerings that we take at different times of the year.  Even here in town, we have the resources that help us feed people, along with the ministries that have been mentioned several times this month. 
            When we look through all of chapter 6 in Mark, Mark covers the loaves and fishes story in verses 30-44, and similarly in Mark 8: 1-10 (although the crowd is only 4000 in that chapter).  The feeding of the four or five thousand is a story that is in all four Gospels (see Matthew 14: 13-22 and 15: 32-39 and Luke 9: 10-17) which explains the importance of feeding the world, even with very little.  While reflecting on how Jesus drew crowds because of his ability to heal, could the crowds be hungry for something more?  We can read all these reports about the decline of the church (universal) and try to explain the why’s and how’s of church decline, yet I believe people want to see people acting like more like Jesus and being his hands and feet in the world today, not cheap talk.  When we think of what was happening during Jesus’s time and all of the healing miracles and message of hope that was taking place,
Word of mouth was the technology of the day, and Information sharing made the marketplace busier than normal. What was Jesus bringing to the people? Healing, wholeness, renewal, and restoration. The people in the crowds wanted to be changed. They wanted a touch from the one who gave them hope. That need still exists today. What are the unmet needs in the world that God is calling everyday disciples to provide hope today?[iv]

I think today that people are hungering for many of the same things those crowds were hungering for at that time:  hope, healing, wholeness, and renewal, ways that we can feed the world with our message as a church when we make it clear about sharing the story, the old, old story of Jesus’s love and God’s grace with everyone we encounter.  Feeding our souls and the souls of others is just as important as feeding our stomachs.  Given that there are many choices out there, I know that we occasionally come up short in what people are hungering for, and some people will even leave a church with the reason being that they weren’t being fed.  People hunger for different things when they come to a church and each church feeds people in different ways.  Nevertheless, we as a church can help feed the world and help meet the needs people have, although how do we meet those needs by being Christ centered and not preference-driven? 
            From a sense of spiritual hunger, that’s where things can get very interesting, even giving us as followers of Christ some serious food for thought to chew on.  In our reading from John 6, Phillip wasn’t sure how they were going to feed all five thousand, although Jesus knows, but puts Philip to the test.  Feeding the world requires faith, trust, and 
having a heart to give all that you have for the sake of others... That’s a part that could be missed in this passage of Scripture. The demand was high. Time was tight. The crowds were growing. The unmet needs were greater than the resources that were seen at the surface. The disciples worried about the limited amount of food and how it could reach a growing crowd. Jesus called the believers to trust that their physical and spiritual needs would be fulfilled beyond their greatest expectations.[v]

            Ministry and being a follower of Christ is sacrificial work and can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when the needs are greater than what we can provide for.  Except this is where we need to trust God, even when we have to admit to someone that we may not be equipped or able to meet their need.   Even in some cases,
it may take a crisis to determine where our real priorities lie.  We face the challenge of overcoming our hard heartedness and disbelief.  Our disbelief has less to do with the anticipation that God will do miracles than with the suspicion that perhaps life would not be just the same even if we did not put out the effort to be active members of the Christian community.[vi]

            I admit, I can be a little hard hearted and jaded at times which is a feeling I don’t like; especially when I see stories or experience firsthand when someone is clearly fabricating a story or trying to exploit someone’s generosity, as it takes away from someone who is legitimately in need.  Yet as we talked about last week and continually reflect on, the challenge is to see each person as a beloved child of God too, and perhaps let God do the rest.  As far as we see in both our scripture lessons, Jesus did not turn anyone away or say that he couldn’t help them.  That’s one of the challenges of feeding the world that we all face, except the church still has a responsibility in feeding the world, both physically and spiritually. 
            By taking part in feeding the world with good food and a message of hope, healing, and wholeness, we can transform the world and fulfill our mission.  In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, Diana Butler Bass shares a story about leading a workshop in Baltimore with a group of clergy and shares stories about some of the congregations she visited as she conducted her research.  Like our church (able to put aside individual differences in order to serve the greater body of Christ in the world and BE the body of Christ) Diana Butler Bass has seen similar things happen in many of the churches she visited, churches that put the mission ahead of anything else.  As one Lutheran pastor explained to her,
we feed the hungry and provide for the homeless.  We bear witness to the sort of people God calls us to be in our jobs and at school…we invite our neighbors and friends to come see the community that shapes who we are with the message of Jesus.  We have been transformed by the message of Jesus and we hope to, in many small and great ways, transform the world around us by the message of Jesus we bear.[vii]

            Sounds a lot like what we are called to do in the church, as it says on the mission statements at the front of your bulletin (why I put that in front!).  We feed the world not just with food, but spiritually through our witness, which is subsequently part of the vows we take for membership in the church.  We feed the world by offering hope and while we may not see the vast crowds that we saw in our scripture lessons, the more we feed the world with food, whether spiritually or physically, and with a message of hope, healing, and wholeness, people will want to find out more and learn more.  Because we can always be transformed by the same message that Jesus offered then and even today!! 
            As we begin a new week and go out into the crowds of people and feed the world, especially with Vacation Bible School happening all week and an opportunity to plant seeds and provide some spiritual food, how does God call us to feed the world and at what cost (as discipleship is costly)?  How are you feeling God’s presence, even when you are tested just as Jesus tested Phillip?  How is our congregation a place of peace and security in our community?  And how does your faith in God anchor you?  Who does God call you to be in the world, particularly in the community and in your vocation?  As we move out into the community by being the healing hands of Jesus, let us continue using our hands to bring life as we are sent forth, as our work becomes known and draws crowds, and as we feed the world with good food and a message of hope, healing and wholeness.  And most importantly, let us do all of this in love, as we will be talking about building the God’s kingdom in love when we return August 5. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN! 

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed July 19 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/July2018_Healing-Hands-worship-series.pdf.

[ii] "Stone Soup". 2018. Dltk-Teach.Com. Accessed July 19 2018. http://www.dltk-teach.com/fables/stonesoup/mtale.htm.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed July 19 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/July2018_Healing-Hands-worship-series.pdf.

[v] Ibid. 
[vi] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 604
[vii] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 260. 

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