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Sermon for Sunday 19 July 2015

First Reading                             Jeremiah 23:1–6

1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD. 5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”


Psalm                                                         Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.  2 The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  3 You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.  4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.  6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.


Second Reading                         Ephesians 2:11–22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.


Gospel                                                  Mark 6:30–44

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 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. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 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. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 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?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 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. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.




I came across an interesting story the other day about Albert Einstein.  It seems that he was going around the country, from university to university on the lecture circuit, in a chauffeur-driven limousine, giving talks on his theory of relativity.  One day, after they had been on the road for a while, Einstein’s chauffeur said to him, “Dr. Einstein, I’ve heard you deliver your lecture on relativity so many times that I bet I could deliver it myself.”  “Very well,” the good Doctor responded, “I’ll give you that opportunity tonight.”  The people at the university, where I am to lecture, have never seen me.  Before we get there, I’ll put on your cap and uniform and you will introduce me as your chauffeur, and yourself as me.  Then you can give the lecture.

For a while that evening, everything went according to plan.  The chauffeur delivered the lecture flawlessly.  But as the lecture concluded, a professor in the audience stood and asked a complex question involving mathematical equations and formulas.  The quick-thinking chauffeur replied, “Sir, the solution to that problem is so simple, I’m really surprised you’ve asked me to give it to you.  Indeed, to prove to you just how simple it is, I’m going to ask my chauffeur to step forward and answer your question.”

Now I’m not going to talk to you this morning about anything as simple as the theory of relativity.  And yes, you heard me correctly.  Truth be told, I only have a rudimentary knowledge about the theory of relativity, but I do know it’s something we can learn.  That is, if we put forth the effort.  Even complex theories like that of relativity or string theory can be learned if we’re determined enough.  However, I’m talking about something far more difficult, something we can’t learn with our minds.  It’s a matter of faith.  Faith is a gift of God that we come to know in the places of our heart.  For us rational thinkers, it’s something far more difficult than scientific theories.  I’m talking about being open to the impossible.

In today’s gospel reading we have a story that we all probably know well – the feeding of the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fishes.  Interesting, it’s the only miracle Jesus performed that’s recorded in all four gospels.  Apparently, each of the Gospel writers felt this particular story needed to be told.  Moreover, both Matthew and Mark record two miracles of feeding the multitude — this one from the 6th chapter where 5,000 were fed — those 5,000 ate and were satisfied, and then 12 baskets full of broken pieces of bread and fish were taken up.  And Jesus accomplished all this with a boy’s lunch.  Then in the 8th Chapter of Mark, it’s the miracle of feeding 4,000 with 7 loaves, and after all had been fed and were satisfied, 7 baskets full remained.  The interesting thing about the story in the 8th Chapter of Mark is that not long after He had fed the 4,000, Jesus and His disciples got into the boat and started to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  And then it happened:  Everyone became hungry again.

It had been several hours since they had eaten.  But, they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.  Considering the amount of leftovers collected, it’s hard to believe, but it’s right there in the story; right there in the 8th chapter of Mark.  The disciples began to talk about the fact that they had only one loaf of bread and that wasn’t enough for them all to lunch on.  Already they had forgotten, and Jesus confronted them with it.

“Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread?  Don’t you yet understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  What are you doing with your eyes? – can’t you see?  What are you doing with your ears? – can’t you hear?  And then He asked the question that must have caused their faces to grow red with embarrassment.  “And do you not remember when I broke the loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets of broken pieces did you take up?  They remembered – it had taken place not long past – 12 baskets full they said; and then, just a few hours ago, the 7 loaves that fed the 4,000 – and how many baskets full of broken pieces did we take up after that; and they said to Him – seven.  And His understated response was:  “Do you not yet understand?”

It’s a well-known story that we’re looking at today but it’s not so simple a truth to appropriate.  The question that Jesus is constantly asking us is the same — “Do you not yet understand?  After all you’ve experienced, after everything that’s gone on in your lives, after everything I’ve done for you — can’t you remember?  Don’t you see?  Don’t you hear?  So, we find ourselves here today talking about it — about being open to the impossible.  So maybe the best way to begin opening ourselves up to the impossible is to start by noting the obvious.

In so many of life’s situations, what we have isn’t enough.  I’m sure each of us can recall many times when we’ve come up short of what we need.  It might have been food, rent money or just trying to pay the bills.  It happens at every level of life.  I remember when Terry and I were first starting out our lives together.  As an E-4 Senior Airman, my salary in the Air Force was less than stellar.  I wasn’t yet authorized to live in base housing, so I needed to move into a small apartment off base.  But to do so, money was needed for the deposit, first month’s rent, a deposit for the electricity, furniture, food and the list goes on.  We planned and budgeted as best we could, but, as you can imagine, things were tight.

It’s amazing that no matter how much you budget and plan, stretching a dollar just doesn’t always get you there.  I remember that on several occasions I would have to go on what we call TDY, or temporary duty.  The Air Force would provide accommodations but since I was married and receiving separate rations I had to pay for my own food.  Many times that meant eating in restaurants and the TDY pay they gave us never seemed to cover all our expenses.  There were several times when I knew I only had $5.00 a day to eat on and trying to make that stretch was always a challenge.  Oftentimes it never did.  The reality is that in many of life’s situations, what we have simply isn’t enough.

As a pastor, I am, from time to time, called upon to work with persons or families going through difficult times.  At times I know the person or family I’m working with so they feel like they can share their deepest concerns and fears with me knowing that what they tell me will be held in the strictest confidence.  Recently an individual came to me with a personal problem that they were dealing with.  As a person I felt deeply for the situation and wanted desperately to help the person.  As a pastor I have an obligation to try and see the problem from all angles and that includes trying to be objective.  But a crisis of a personal nature isn’t something I can simply fix.  Sometimes the pain a person is experiencing can’t be fixed and must be experienced.  We have to accept that as family, friends or professionals there are many things that are out of our control.  We have to come to terms with the fact that the resources at our disposal simply aren’t enough to help or fix the situation.  Often times we find that we look into the face of someone else and ask, what have I to offer these yearning, hurting, weary, frustrated souls?  It’s difficult at times.

It’s not just that our cupboards are bare, and company has come in unexpectedly, but our resources are not enough to share with a friend who’s just dropped the bombshell on us – a relationship is broken; another friend has lost a job they’ve been at for 20 years.  A spouse has unexpectedly passed leaving the spouse with young children to raise by themselves.  We pray as we should and do what we can, but we don’t seem to have the resources to cope with a family going through a messy divorce or a family struggling with a member battling with the effects of a destructive addiction.  How can we adequately deal with the sudden death of a loved one, or a child’s turning from us?  All these situations can send us desperately looking for help.  We find that, as mature adults, the resources we have are simply not enough.  But mature adults aren’t the only ones faced with this problem; young people experience this problem too.

Peer pressure — breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend; not making the team, not getting the choice sorority or fraternity bid; a class that goes to pieces and you’d be happy to get a “D”, but you’re likely to end up with an “F”.  The catalogue is endless.  It’s true in so many of life’s situations – and what we have isn’t enough.  However, there’s a second truth from our scripture lesson.  Jesus multiplies our resources when we offer them to Him, believing that He can do the impossible.

Note the two responses to the people’s need in our story.  In verses 35-37 we read:  And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the hour is now late; send them away, to go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.”  But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.”  In effect, the disciples were saying:  “These people are tired and hungry.  Get rid of them, and let someone else worry about them.  But Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”

“There are always those people who are quite aware that others are in difficulty and trouble, but who wish to push off the responsibility for doing something about it onto someone else; and there are always those people who when they see someone up against it, feel compelled to do something about it themselves.  There are those who say, “What I have, I am willing to share.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, The Daily Bible Study, p. 160)  I want you to know my faith at this point has been confirmed over and over again.

Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization and program that helps people help themselves.  Before I retired from the military I was able to help with several “builds” in the Goldsboro area.  At the time, the two gun squadrons at Seymour Johnson AFB were constantly being tapped to support operations in the Middle East.  Because base personnel were a big resource for labor, each build was difficult due to the lack of available personnel.  This became painfully evident on one particular house.

The build was already behind due to bad weather and the fact that the base was in the middle of a deployment rotation.  During a rotation, you actually have twice as many people gone, because the relieving squadron has to be in place and operational before the returning squadron can come home.  We were struggling to get even the simplest tasks on the house done.  Add to the difficulty the fact that we didn’t get the porch railing on the last house completed and there were some electrical issues with another house.  Every person on the crew, that day, was running around trying their best to keep up, but at best we were failing.  We were out of resources and the siding on the house had to be completed so the required inspections could be accomplished.

At about noon we sat down quietly to eat the meal that had been provided for us, each of us looking like we’d already put in a 12 hour day.  One of the ladies noticed the lack of conversation and asked what was going on.  The supervisor that day explained the situation, at which the lady asked what he needed.  “More people.  We simply don’t have the resources we need to get the siding on before the inspector comes on Monday.  We’ve delayed this house so many times that the family that is getting the house can’t extend their lease anymore.  They have to move at the end of the month.  Obviously frustrated, he finished by saying, All we can do is pray.”  Those of us sitting there that day knew the desperation, the lack of resources; we shared his frustration.  The lady asked, “how many people do you need?”  At least a dozen people are needed to get everything done, was the reply and without another word the lady walked away.

A few minutes later we thanked the ladies who brought us lunch and started back to work.  A short time later, two cars pulled up and 7 guys got out.  One of them walked over to the supervisor and said his aunt had called telling him that we needed to help.  There are only 7 of us but we’re willing to help as much as we can.  And help they did!  We all went home at 5:00 that afternoon; the porch railing was complete, the electrical concerns were resolved and the house needing the siding was ready for the inspector to come on Monday morning.

It seems that there are many of life situations where what we have simply isn’t enough.  However, we can trust that Jesus can multiple our resources when we offer them to Him, believing He will do the impossible.  When Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?”  He knew the people didn’t bring any food with them.  They’d been anxious to get to the Prophet, the Teacher, the Healer – they didn’t know that the day was going on that long – they didn’t plan ahead.  Jesus was underscoring their inadequacies because He wanted them to get the lesson clearly — offer what they have to God and believe that He can do the impossible.  This leads to the last thing we need to see in our gospel lesson for today:  To be open to the impossible, we must stay in close communion with the Lord.  Look at verse 31:  “And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.”

Have you ever noticed how often this appears in the Gospels?  Jesus was always slipping away to some quiet place to stay in communion with the Father.  He even spent six weeks in the silence of the Judean desert before He launched His public ministry.  Daily quietness and constant prayer were at the heart of His ministry style.  If it was essential for Jesus, then how essential is it for us? — we too must stay in close communion with the Lord.

No one can work without rest; and no one can live the Christian life unless they give themselves time with God.  It may well be that the troubles we experience in our lives is that we give God no opportunity to speak to us, because we don’t know how to be still and to listen.  We give God no time to recharge us with spiritual energy and strength, because we don’t take the time needed to wait upon Him.  How can we shoulder life’s burdens if we have no contact with Him, the One who is the Lord of all good life?  How can we do God’s work unless we have God’s strength?  And how can we receive that strength unless we seek, in quietness and in loneliness, the presence of God?   Amen

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