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Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, July 19, 2015

Gifts, Discomfort and Miracles

Text: Mark 6:30-44

We talk often about the power in the Word of God. We are amazed at how it gets through our defenses to tell us the truth about ourselves. We are startled every time we read a passage of scripture and it seems like we are reading it for the first time. We are humbled by the fact that often, a passage of scripture will be describing our exact situation. God speaks to us when we read His Word. He knows what we need to hear, and His Holy Spirit goes to work on our hearts and minds to accomplish that.

That is the way our reading from Mark hit me today. It is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible—the story of the feeding of the 5,000. We read it often. It is in all the Gospels. But as I read it this time, it seemed almost like a spy satellite, aiming its telescopic lens at the Northern Neck, zooming in on Light of Christ Anglican Church, and focusing on what was going on in my heart and the hearts of our people.

In this passage from Mark, the disciples had just returned from a mission trip to the towns and villages of Galilee. They were filled with news but were undoubtedly tired. Jesus saw their fatigue and invited them to come away to rest with Him in “a quiet place.” Can you blame me if I thought of the Northern Neck? Many of us came here from the bustling life of urban America. Part of the reason we chose this place is because it is remote, and it is quiet.

What happened to the disciples? They got to this quiet place, and a crowd gathered. People came from all over, eager to hear what Jesus had to say, eager to be blessed by this holy man. Jesus looked out over the crowd and had compassion on them. The Bible tells us they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)

What do we see here? No matter where you go, there are lots of people in need. They are hungry. And whether they know it or not, what they are hungering for is what Jesus has to offer. No matter how remote or quiet a place is, there are people who are lost, who are like sheep without a shepherd, and who need the Gospel. We find that here in the Northern Neck. We may have the impression that in this area, most people are church-going Christians. But if we scratch beneath the surface at all, we discover that,

• Many who belong to a church don’t really participate.

• Many who claim to be a Christian don’t really know what they believe.

• Many who were once Christians have been turned off by the Church.

• And many others are simply lost, with no connection with the Church and no relationship with God.

• And those who are active Christians also have needs. We, too, are hungering.

That day in Galilee, a huge crowd gathered. People wanted to hear Jesus, because something in them was longing to be filled. “So Jesus began teaching them many things.” (Mark 6:34) As the hour grew late, the disciples realized people were going to need food. They knew that the people had not planned ahead to feed themselves. Sounds like sheep without a shepherd. We find that many people today don’t plan ahead, don’t prepare to meet their needs. So the disciples asked Jesus to do something about it. What they suggested was that He send the people away to buy food. But what was His response? “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37)

And what is our modern-day equivalent? We see the lost people around us, we care, and so we pray,

• “Lord please bring these people to a saving knowledge of you.”

• “Lord, please bring a revival to the Northern Neck.”

• “Lord, give these people what they need.”

Jesus’s response has not changed. He says to us, “You give them something to eat.” This is why Jesus has gathered us here in this place, to feed His sheep. He has sent us here to minister to the sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has given us blessing after blessing to share with those around us on whom He has compassion.

When He told the disciples to give the people something to eat, their answer was understandable. “That would cost a ton of money. Where would we get that much? Surely that’s not what you’re suggesting.” And what is our answer when Jesus tells us to share the good news with our neighbors?

• I’m not good at evangelism.

• I’m not good at apologetics.

• I never know what to say to strangers.

• I don’t know the Bible well enough.

• I’m too old.

• I’m too busy.

• I’d rather just pray for them.

We know a lot more than the disciples did at the time this event took place. We know, partly from this story, that we don’t have to be the ones to supply everything we need to do what Jesus expects us to do. We know that He is Jehovah Jireh, He is the great provider. He takes our faithful and often meager response and makes it into abundant blessing. And yet, like the twelve disciples, we too find it difficult to put ourselves out there, fearing that we will not have what it takes.

It is hard for all of us. I felt that way yesterday as I stood before a group of six high school aged kids and talked to them about the false worldview that is trying to steal their hearts and minds away from Jesus. We have to admit that it is uncomfortable to put ourselves in Jesus’ hands, trusting in what He is going to do with our offering. And often we go away from those encounters feeling like we could have been a whole lot better. But Jesus promised to be with us always. And Jesus said that His power is made perfect in weakness. And Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and empower us. This is the same Jesus who took those five loaves and two fish and made them more than enough for 5,000 men and who knows how many more women and children. Jesus takes our faithful but meager offering and makes it into abundant blessing. And you can bet the disciples felt insecure as they were scouring the crowd to see what food there was among them. You can bet they felt uncomfortable as they brought these loaves and fish to Jesus and watched Him bless and break them. And you can bet they were uncomfortable as they began moving about the crowd passing out food. But Jesus made it into something unforgettable.

It is significant that what was left over was 12 basketfuls. There was one for each disciple, as if Jesus was saying, “Now each of you go and do likewise.” Unfortunately, they didn’t get that. Mark tells us later in the chapter that “they had not understood about the bread.” (Mark 6:52)

So let’s zero in on us again. We have a congregational vision for how to take God’s blessing to our community. It involves being a resource that Jesus can use with other churches—“to equip the saints of the Northern Neck for ministry.” Where did this vision come from? It came from a lot of discerning prayer about what Jesus has given us. We discerned that He has given us:

• People who care about learning.

• People who are gifted as teachers.

• People who have time they can spend on ministry.

• People who can interact successfully with Christians of other denominations.

• People who love children.

• People who know the Bible.

• People who have traveled the world in missionary service.

• People who are committed to God’s moral laws.

And we discerned that we have a lot to offer other churches in the Northern Neck in equipping them for ministry. And so our vision calls for us to work with other Christians on Christian education, family values and a global awareness of God’s mission. All this so that, together, we can minister to the sheep without a shepherd. And God has blessed that vision. In the past three years,

• we have started up the Christian Worldview Institute;

• we have taught two courses on defending the faith;

• we have served at the school in the Good News Club;

• we have taught a course on what every Christian knows about Islam, and the second is coming up;

• and we are ministering to the Senior High kids this summer with Truth Talk and the Teen Brigade.

• We will be hosting a seminar on the sanctity of life on September 12.

• And God has sent us new people who are gifted teachers.

Another thing He gave us was this temporary home at First Baptist Church. Out of this experience has come our vision of being an agent for racial harmony in our community. God has blessed this vision as well. People are paying attention. People know who we are and what our relationship with First Baptist Church is like. They see Christians of different races and different denominations loving each other and doing things together.

And God is in the process of giving us a new home where we can pursue these and other ministries. He gave us a very visible location on the main US highway in Northumberland. He placed us just 1/4 mile from the schools. He gave us financial resources and generous hearts to enable us to build.

And again, this has required us to trust in Him. It has been uncomfortable. It seemed like too big a task for this small congregation. It seemed like individuals were being asked to give more than they were able to give. But God has taken what we have offered, and He is making it into abundant blessing. I can remember the anonymous letter that caused us to take another look at whether we were doing the right thing. There was a sentence in there that said, “Yes, God will provide, but we’re going to have to pay for it.” I have never heard a clearer expression of the discomfort of trusting in Jesus. I can testify, as one who pledged an uncomfortable amount: Jesus made a way for me to meet that pledge and then some—there were twelve basketfuls left over for the second pledge campaign. I’ve heard stories like that from a dozen of you as well. And it’s not too late to jump in. In just a few weeks, we will be making the first draw on our construction loan, which will become a mortgage when the building is done.

Everything that has happened to this congregation is a gift from God.

• For some of it, we thank God profusely, because we can see that it is a gift, like the bread those people ate on the green grass in Galilee that day.

• Some of what God has done for us we take for granted, because we think, well, of course God provides—isn’t that what He does for those He loves?

• Some of God’s gifts are downright uncomfortable, because we know Jesus expects us to do something with them for the Kingdom of God.

When God gives us a gift like telling us to build Him a house, which category does it fall into? Do we thank God? Do we take it for granted? Or do we find it uncomfortable?

Over the past 2 ½ years that we have been designing and building, we have kept our focus on our mission, to know Christ and to make Him known to others. We have tried hard to emphasize that the building is not what a church is all about. We have striven to rise above our human flesh, which wants to take God’s blessing for granted. Our flesh wants to say, “Well, of course we need a building, and God’s going to give it to us.”

But I want to emphasize that the real gift was God’s trusting us to take this project on. He is giving us the honor of creating something beautiful and functional to be the base of operations for all of our ministry—something we can pass along to coming generations of Christians whom He will call to serve Him. This project and the call to undertake it are a part of God’s abundant blessing. And it ought to make us feel uncomfortable, because we cannot do this without God’s miraculous hand working in our midst.

But, as Jesus demonstrated that day with the loaves and fishes, we are not on our own. He is simply asking us to make our faithful, if meager, contribution, and He will turn it into abundant blessing.

As the building takes shape, and we get closer to moving into it, I can feel the excitement mounting. And that is as it should be. It is okay to be excited about it. This building represents all that God is doing in and through us to bring blessing to the people of the Northern Neck. It is a part of His gift to the sheep without a shepherd.

• And so are we a part of His gift.

• So is our ministry.

• So is our teaching.

• So is our hospitality.

• So is our love.

• So is our witness.

• So are the things that will take place in our parish hall,

• and our library

• and our classrooms

• and our sanctuary

• and out on our lawn.

The twelve disciples were just like us. They followed Jesus, and they loved Him. And yet, they were perplexed by Him, and they were often running to keep up with what He was doing. They were uncomfortable sometimes, especially when He said things like, “You give them something to eat.” But they were also amazed and elated to see what Jesus was able to do with the little that they had to offer. All it took was their faithful response and their trust in Him.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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