Mark 6: 30–44
November 15, 2015
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.”
I love this event in the life of Jesus for so many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is the difference in how the disciples and Jesus saw the situation. I mean think of it: The disciples saw a huge problem—five thousand hungry men and probably their women and children family members with them, in a deserted place, and the disciples had only 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed the folks. But Jesus, Jesus saw differently; Jesus saw all having enough to eat with more left over. The disciples viewed the situation as a problem of scarcity and Jesus saw God’s vision of enough and more. Where the disciples saw a problem, Jesus saw the possibility of a Kingdom blessing. And that vision of Jesus, of enough to meet people’s needs, informs our theme today. We are in the third sermon of our series on the stewarding of those material goods, which God has trusted us to use to His glory while we’re in this life. And here’s a unique feature of our time together in this sermon series this month: We’re using the same story as it appears in each gospel. We began with story of the loaves and fish as John tells it. John is the only one with the little boy giving his meal and that first week we focused on starting in our giving life somewhere. Then last week, we looked at the impact we’re blessed to make through our giving in our congregation, community, nation and world. Next week we’ll consider how God’s church would be if we all gave God’s minimum of 10 percent, a tithe. We’ll consider how such abundance would result in radically changing our ministry so that, instead of worrying about how we’ll get by, we’d be dreaming of innovation in ministry. Today, though, our focus is on God’s vision for Christ Church.
Have you ever looked at the vision statements of some of the better-known charities? They are big and bold. Big and bold are some of the qualities true vision has. Listen to a couple of them: Habitat’s is a world where EVERYONE has a decent place to live. Goodwill, an organization started by a Methodist minister has as their vision that EVERY person has to opportunity to achieve their fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life. Save the Children’s vision is a world in which EVERY child attains the right to survival, protection, development, and participation. The Multiple Sclerosis society is very typical of those focused on diseases or conditions, a WORLD free of MS.
Did you notice how large they are? I think a congregation’s vision should be large to the point of being audacious to a secular, outside viewer! I think a congregation’s vision needs to be rooted deeply in the Word. Toward that end, I’d like to begin conversation about Christ Church having as God’s vision for us as shaping our entire city after the Kingdom of God. You see, we can look with pessimism, hopelessness, and skepticism on the problems of our city: the divides between east and west Greensboro, racial challenges; inequality regarding educational opportunity; being the number one hunger insecure city in the nation; having our newspaper report this week that people who aren’t disabled and have no dependents, on the average making less than 3000 dollars a year, will get help for food for 3 months only; Greensboro Urban Ministries services demand up 20 to 50 percent; and on and on.
But here’s the critical choice: Will we look at such challenges in our city with the pessimism, hopelessness, cynicism, and skepticism of the world, rather like the disciples viewed the hungry crowd, or will we envision such challenges with Jesus’ eyes? Will we see what the world sees as problems or as the arena for potential blessings from God through us, the church of Jesus Christ?
And the Kingdom of God informs us of such! The Kingdom is the prevalent topic Jesus spoke about, many Biblical scholars maintain. The Kingdom has many different meanings and manifestations. But, at it’s most distilled definition; Jesus defined it best when he said in his prayer, “thy Kingdom come” by, “thy will being done on earth as it is in heaven.” Taking our cue from Jesus, this means that wherever God’s will is being done on earth is where the Kingdom is happening and wherever God’s will isn’t being done on earth is a place where God wants the church, cooperating with and led by the Spirit, to bring about and do God’s will. It’s not rocket science is it?
So, for Christ Church to shape our city after the Kingdom of God, we must first be personally committed to the Kingdom. This means taking seriously Jesus’ words in Luke 17:21 that the Kingdom is within us! Realistically, no vision of the Christ Church congregation, to shape our city after the Kingdom, can happen without the personal commitment of each member of the congregation to following Christ and having Christ’s will done in our personal lives, that is experiencing the Kingdom within. Earlier this week Louis and I had a conversation about the passage sharing some of the angles we were going to take in our preaching. He offered an insight from a book he studied some time ago. The book noted that the crowd in the story were fans of Jesus. They gladly received the bread and then moved on. The disciples on the other hand were more than fans; they were followers, committed to Christ’s vision. To have the Kingdom in us, to live the way Christ wants us to live, can’t help but lead to a commitment to provide the resources of talent, time, and treasure to the Body of Christ. When we are in need personally, when we’re hurting, we are to be in the congregation consuming its love, guidance, support, and teaching. But after we’re fed, supported, and made whole, we’re to move from being a consumer to being a contributor! To experience the Kingdom within our lives leads to God’s will being unleashed to overcome our wills and desires; it is a commitment to seek God’s higher desires for our lives, to love God and neighbor more than self. Doing so will move us from fan to follower, from consumer to contributor. Doing so, means taking seriously our financial commitment to the body of Christ. It all starts with the Kingdom within our lives.
And more, if we are to shape our whole city, the Kingdom within us will lead us to new and different kinds of evangelism, evangelism beyond our comfort zones. Such fits our Wesleyan tradition. I mean, think a bit with me about Wesley. He was a kind of professor at Oxford, a fellow at the Lincoln College of the University of Oxford. I can’t imagine an institution more snooty! Yet, after a move of God’s Spirit he wound up preaching and ministering to the needs of coal miners and the very least and lost of his society. You see, we at Christ Church cannot function at our most effective level in following God’s vision that we shape our entire city after the Kingdom until we take seriously looking more like our city. I mean think about this, our city is about 48 percent European in heritage, 40 percent of African descent and 8 percent of Hispanic descent. How do we look? Does the Kingdom of God in your heart let you see a Kingdom that has all kinds of people in it? Do you see God’s desire that Christ Church look more like Greensboro? It all starts with our personal commitment to the Kingdom’s outpost for all of God’s children. It means a commitment of time, talent, and treasure! It means giving of self to God’s will and using God’s treasure, God has entrusted us with, in the ways God wants us to use it!
More, to shape our whole city after the Kingdom of God means doing God’s will in our city wherever it’s not happening! I have a pretty firm belief that wherever God’s heart breaks, wherever God weeps, because God’s greatest, loving desire for everybody isn’t happening—there, the Kingdom will soon blossom! You see, the Kingdom is breaking in “now” and will fully arrive someday! It can’t be thwarted or stopped. The question is, will we be on board as a congregation? Will we turn from being fans of Jesus to followers, from consumers to contributors, and do what it takes, give what it takes, to bring our city into alignment with God’s desire for everyone in our city?
If you go to our website you can view a video there that contains what many of you have already heard me talk about. You’ll hear me speak of God beginning the birthing of the Christ Church vision through a book written by Ken Follett I read long ago. If you know Follett’s writing you know it is great of volume; Follett is one of those people who write more by the pound than the page. But in 1989, he published the first of a two-volume story of a cathedral being built. His story began with Pillars of the Earth. It was a sweeping, multi-generation story of the building of the great fictional Kingsbridge cathedral. The story began though with a monk looking in an empty field and envisioning a great cathedral. Now, from God’s perspective all classical cathedrals are cross-shaped. In Follett’s story, a city grew up around the Kingsbridge cathedral and the city itself was shaped by the cross formed by the cathedral. From the cross of Jesus at its center—the church building—came sanctuary, feeding of body and soul, lifting of the human spirit by music and all the arts, and, most importantly, connecting people to Jesus for eternal life. Isn’t that us? Shouldn’t we be about such ministries as the largest UMC in GSO? But it takes commitment. Two people have accused me of esoteric information this week! Lauralee calls my factoids wasted brain cells. They’ve heard me wax about the lessons of a worship space like ours. The inside of a great cathedral church looks like the inside of a sailing ship; the church is vessel for journey from this life-to-life eternal. On sailboats today, there is chrome fencing on the front, called the pulpit. In days of old the pulpit had a person stationed inside to guide the direction away from danger toward the harbor, the haven, the heaven; that’s the role of the pulpit in the church. The floor of a cathedral is called the nave. It comes from navis. In days of old in the ships the navis was where those who powered the boat forward, sat and rowed. Such is the same in the nave, the floor of the sanctuary; you are the power of the church. The clergy may set the vision of a city where God’s will is to be done, but it can’t happen without your responding to the Kingdom within. Shaping a city after God’s Kingdom is so Biblical. I love the words of Jesus to the first congregation, his last words on earth prior to ascending into heaven. It’s found in Acts. Jesus said, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.” We’ll always be in mission in our region, nation and world. But like the early church let’s shape our Jerusalem, our city, Greensboro, where we can have the most impact.
Finally, shaping our whole city after the Kingdom of God is a hope-fueled, long-range process of trusting in God to make it happen! Trying to audaciously shape one of NC’s largest cities after God’s desire is scary and, in the eyes of the world, impossible. Such a task is, in the eyes of the world, a foolish stumbling block. And, realistically, such a task is one that many may disagree with and run from toward other congregations that validate what they want to hear and not challenge them with. So, what can we do? Simply this: Focus on the pictures of the Kingdom God gives us in God’s word. A Kingdom of peace where the lion and the lamb lay down together, where a little child leads us, where all have that which they need, where all the multitudes bow down and worship God. It will take much cooperation and collaboration with other churches and groups; it will take aligning resources and setting priorities. It will take dependence on the Lord. It will take being not just social entrepreneurs but missional, evangelistic entrepreneurs! It will take faith and hope that one day it will completely arrive, the Bible tells me so!
So, where do we begin? Here’s where: Before you in the envelope racks are Five&Two commitment cards. Pick one up now and let’s look at them together. Where and how will you trust the Lord in the year to come to provide through you, to shape this city the way Christ wants it to be? Will you pray and ask Christ this week? Will you pledge to give regularly? To figure what percentage of your income you’re currently giving and grow one percentage point? Will you give a tithe? Or even beyond the tithe? Will you leave a legacy gift, perhaps a tithe of your estate? Let’s begin that prayer even now.
- Share where and how you’ve seen God’s Kingdom will being done; in your life, in Christ Church and in our city.
- Share where you believe God’s heart is breaking because God’s desire for people isn’t being done, in the world and in our city.
- Share how your faith in God’s providing encourages you to seek God’s Kingdom, even if the world says such is impossible.
- Share how you will be committed to God’s Kingdom shaping our city.