Mark 6 : Sermon

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1 Mark 6 : Sermon A friend recently described a certain kind of preacher who, usually inexperienced and uncertain, will always begin the sermon by recapping the bible passage which everyone has just heard. His parody of this style of preaching was rather amusing, but all the time I was silently wondering do I do that? Well this morning, quite deliberately, I am going to do that. I am going to recap the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. You will see why. We are told that Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a solitary place but still the people followed him. So he had gathered them together and he took the opportunity to teach them, for he could see that they were like sheep who needed a shepherd. As the time slipped past in that remote spot it became obvious that people would be getting hungry, so Jesus sent his disciples to find some food for them. They did not find this task easy and in the end all the could produce were five loaves of bread and two fish. Then Jesus asked them to go out and move among the crowd and to collect from them whatever food they might have. This was much more successful and soon they had a large assortment of all sorts of different foods. Jesus had them set it all out before him and it formed a feast fit for a king. Standing on the grass overlooking the food he looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God, after which he passed the food among his 12 disciples. Jesus and his friends ate all they wanted in full view of the hungry people, but what was amazing, what was miraculous about this event, was that when Jesus and the twelve had finally finished eating, there was not a single crumb left, nothing to put into a starving person s pleading hands. I hope that you noticed that my recapping of the story contained some differences from the original. And I hope that you found those changes a little discomforting, perhaps even shocking. For this second version is based on a retelling by the theologian Pete Rollins, and I hope that we will all prefer the original.

2 So what is the point of the second version? We might find it disturbing, even scandalous, because it imposes on Jesus actions and attitudes which we find selfish and greedy and unfair. It is not the idea that there might be selfishness, greed or unfairness in our world that is shocking. We would all agree on that. We might be ready to associate such actions and attitudes with corporations and institutions and governments and when we do we will rightly condemn them and hopefully challenge them. However to associate Christ with such actions seems altogether inappropriate. Everything we know about Christ tells us that he lived a life of simplicity, of compassion, of self-giving love. So why on earth might it ever be deemed appropriate to accuse Christ of selfishness and an uncaring attitude? How could such a connection ever be justified? Perhaps there is a good reason. Perhaps the reason is this. It might be appropriate to associate Jesus Christ with a lack of care because of something Jesus himself once said: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) Jesus quite openly identifies himself with those who claim his name, he states that whenever his followers gather is where he himself will be. It may seem like an unwise decision of Jesus to entrust his future reputation to people who would identify themselves with his name, who would claim to have faith in his teaching, but that he did. Where can we look in our world today to see what Jesus does? We can look at his followers, for he said where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I. This is backed up in the writings of Paul, who also understands that the purpose of the church is to represent Christ in the world and to the world. As he writes to the believers in Corinth, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor 12:27) We can t accuse Paul of being naive. He knew exactly what church people were like. Earlier in this same letter to the same people he has warned about the moral cancer which is eating away at them, referring as an example to the man in the church who was in a sexual relationship with his step mother. But it is

3 these very people who he calls the body of Christ, the embodiment of everything which Christ stands for. The simple consequence of that is people learn of Christ from those who claim to live out the way of Christ. People will judge Christ by what they see of his followers. And while we might want to deny such a responsibility and direct people instead to a careful study of the scriptures, we are confronted with the fact that Jesus himself linked his reputation to our lives. We are confronted with the fact that Paul understood the purpose of the church as being to make real the life of Christ so that people can see and understand what he was all about. With that background I can return to my scandalous retelling of the gospel story. If Christ is proclaimed in the body of believers, if he is revealed in the actions of his followers, I suggest that the story as I told it this morning, rather than the one as Mark told it, may in reality be what many people see and understand about Jesus. Of course you may well get where I am going with this and you may well disagree with me. Even if we are of one mind about the scandal of poverty and division and hunger in our world, there can surely be no reason to blame the church for such things. We may not be perfect. We may not be all that we would want to be. Nonetheless there is surely no reason to blame the church for hunger and need in the world. Perhaps there is a good reason. Perhaps the reason is this. Even if we agree that the painful division between rich and poor in the world is not the sole fault of those who belong to the Christian church, we might still wonder if the attitudes and actions of those who claim to follow Jesus are clearly and demonstratively different from those around us? Is there anything about the way we live, as individuals, as families as a church community which comes anywhere close to being as radically different from the culture around us than the Jesus of the gospels was from culture around him?

4 If there is nothing distinctive or different about the way followers of Jesus live their lives, if they make no noticeable difference for those who are hungry, for those who are in need, what is the point of the church? Why should anyone in our world believe that Jesus is the person in the gospel story, when what they see of Jesus representatives is more like the person in my story? This is one of three sermons which I have set aside to remind us of the call to good stewardship, to use the resources which we have control over in the right and proper way in our world. What I really want to get across is that this is a big subject, that this is a key subject. I could make it a message about how we ought to do more and give more and be more committed to the on-going life of our congregation, and I would want to say that. What I am even more concerned to make clear however, is why the life of a church congregation matters so much, and why it is worth investing more of ourselves in it. For we should and we do meet together in a fine building and offer worship to God in a way which is well prepared and thoughtful. We should and we do have many people who use their gifts and their skills and their time to make that happen. But if we take seriously the call to be the presence of Christ in our local community and in our global community, our call to be the presence of Christ for people who are facing all kinds of needs, we are required to do and to be more than that. The good news, the exciting news, the hope-filled news, is that we can do that. The gospel message includes the promise that together we can embody all that Christ is, that together we have the variety of gifts to make it possible, that united by the Holy Spirit we have all the resources we need. We could focus on what we lack as the disciples did when they complained about his request to go and buy food. We could focus on how little we have as they surely did when they brought forward the five loaves and two small fish. Or we can focus on all that Christ calls us to be and all that possible because of him.

5 Jesus calls us to follow him, to demonstrate the kind of open generosity which makes a difference, to give and give and give without counting the cost, to go the extra mile to offer what people need whether or not they will reward us or thank us. We can be the people who feed the hungry. Not only physically but in terms of all the things which people hunger for. We can be the people who find purpose and fulfilment in our lives, not by worrying about ourselves but by committing our lives more and more to the greatest calling we will ever receive. We can be that people when we stop worrying if we will have enough and start looking at what we can do, what we can share; when we stop worrying if we are capable and start trusting the God who makes all things possible. That is our purpose. That is the reason why we have been drawn together to be this church. That is what makes it worth doing all the things we do: to make the real Jesus known, to be good news for the world.

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