What sustains you – even offensively

The Old Testament reading today (which we didn’t read)  is a reference back to the famous request of Solomon when he as becoming King. He wanted to be known for his wisdom.

A later story in Solomon’s life is of one of the ways that he displayed that wisdom it was the story of the two women who were both claiming that a baby was hers And Solomon offered the great compromise – give half to each.

It was a high point in Solomon’s life,  though unfortunately for much of the later parts of Solomon’s life and reign he was probably better known for the way that he tried to fit in with powers and become strong – modelled on the way of the world around him.

There is a pretty strong contrast with the gospel reading today  The way that Jesus was talking wasn’t aimed at fitting in at all.

Imagine how you would hear this if you didn’t have a history with communion. Imagine how you would hear this if you didn’t have a background with the church Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

It isn’t the way that you may encourage someone to speak to stay on the safe side of communication.

In fact in the reading we will be looking at next week John tells us that Jesus’s words were considered so hard to follow, to accept that some of his disciples left him.

Jesus knew that the way of God was a tough one and that it wasn’t about trying to please and stay popular. It’s one of the reasons why the attendance at congregational worship is never a satisfactory measure of the health of a church. It’s too easy to be popular and pitch for numbers

In Mississippi a month ago, a pastor in a local church tried to go the popular route He is in a church where there had never been black people get married And so when a black couple asked to be married there,  and there was some negative reaction from some people in his congregation he suggested to the couple that he could marry them in a different building. That way everybody  could be happy.

He has since acknowledged that it actually wasn’t keeping everyone happy and it wasn’t something that was in keeping with the way of Jesus. And it is very easy for us in Australia to look at those sorts of actions and consider that it would never happen here. But the sad reality is that it is likely to.  

It is too easy to fit into the mould of the later life of Solomon rather than the awkward mould of Jesus.

And it is also easy to become the perpetual “angry young man” (with his working class ties and his radical plans) who is grumpy and opposes whatever he can. 

Not so with Jesus.    What he gives us is grace and compassion and justice always woven together And sometimes that is the most pleasing thing and sometimes it is anything but a win-win all round.

Sometimes what is said and done brings warmth and smiles to people Something everyone can stand and cheer about.

But, there are those moments when the truth is hard.  And, to some, offensive.

It may be as simple as saying This is God’s church, not the church of the people who built it so all people are welcome here. Though we may not find that all that offensive.

The UCA hasn’t been doing its best this week to play it safe and to fit in with the compromise of the times    Let me quote from our President, Andrew Dutney: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  The reasons for the dismay of the Uniting Church  over the outcome of the Houston Panel report are not mysterious or complicated. Jesus said it.  We try to do it…

And we are deeply unhappy  when the governments who represent us  adopt policies that punish rather than welcome the stranger in need….

Australia remains the only country in the world  with the inhumane policy of reducing its offshore refugee intake  for every person accepted as a refugee onshore …

A nation that is so determined to turn strangers away –  to oppose the God whose mission begins with the stranger,  the disadvantaged and the unwanted – cannot prosper in any way that matters.

Now, speaking the truth might just mean that some won’t like us anymore,  they’ll stop coming on Sundays. They’ll reduce their offering contribution. And maybe we’ll get nailed to a cross and left to die.

But, the truth also has this remarkable quality: it sets you free. And, it brings us life in communion with God.

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Jesus asked, “How many loaves do you have?”

John Williams

Mark 6:30-44 then 53-56

The way Mark frames chapter 6 is quite important to seeing the context for today.

Last week Margaret Middleton did a great job helping us to see the frames that Mark was using to tell the story about Jesus teaching on how His mission might work with us as people of God.

SETTING

Let’s look at this again. Can I ask you to read chapter 6 at home and reflect of the context and the framing. See how Mark show Mission of God in its important forms.

Today we will look at just one in the feeding of the five thousand.

 A Prophet Without Honor

6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Some missions just don’t come together even for Jesus!

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. 12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

This mission did amazing things. Disciples were on a high

John the Baptist Beheaded

“I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

This mission of John the Baptist calling people to turn and follow God ended badly

 Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

This mission of compassion was a great success far beyond what disciples imagined

Jesus Walks on the Water

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

The disciples were afraid-Did the Mission include this sort of thing-walking on water

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

The mission was working again.

WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN?

Mark spends lots of time showing that the Disciples of Jesus just do not get His mission.

In the feeding story, Jesus tells the twelve, “You give them something to eat.” These folks, the disciples who just participated in the Reign of God with deeds of power and insight, respond with what appears to be a sarcastic question of whether they are supposed to go and buy enough bread for all these folk.

Jesus then asks them what they have on hand, which is what he multiplies and gives them to distribute to the crowd.

The twelve still do not quite grasp that the Reign of God is truly at hand and that they are both able and called to participate in it. In the feeding story, we’re back to Jesus doing the amazing stuff and the twelve participating on a much more limited scale.

The story of Jesus walking on the water is a continuation of the feeding story and is even starker in describing the disciples as being “terrified,” “astounded” and still not getting it…getting what Jesus was about.

Then verse 52 of this chapter 6 has this heartbreaking verdict:

 “…for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

How quickly “the Apostles” fell from so much teaching and doing to urgently needing restoration, from crossing the sea to escape the crowds, to failing to understand, to being terrified at the sight of Jesus, to ridiculing Jesus’ proposition that they feed the masses, to having callused hearts.

There are moments when they do get the story that they are part of…then the next moment they fail to see what Jesus does to demonstrate how God works with his people.

I just wonder what Mark would write about us. Missing the vision Jesus has for us!

That is the common theme in Mark Chapter 6 about the Mission of Jesus.

Mark is showing what Jesus did to teach us about mission as people of God.

You may remember the poem by CS Lewis that I read about a month ago here.

Transformed

And this is how theology started

People already knew about God in a vague way

Then came a man who claimed to be God;

And yet he was not the sort of man you could dismiss as a lunatic

He made them believe him.

They met Him again, after they saw him killed.

And then after they had been formed

into a little s society or community,

they found God somehow inside them as well:

directing them,

making them able to do things

they could never do before.

Today I want to give attention to one of the lessons that Jesus gives us in this series from Mark.

The lesson picks up this theme from Lewis….

they found God somehow inside them as well:

directing them,

making them able to do things

they could never do before.

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages[e]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

Jesus then asked:   “How many loaves do you have?”  then Jesus said “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

Jesus asked them what have you got yourselves to contribute to the task

When told “Five loaves and two fish”

Jesus said then USE what you have… as Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied…

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?

Is it true that Jesus was teaching us that if we look to ourselves and what we have to give when confronted with human need that God can actually bless it and turn it into something we never imagined?

We can have sympathy for the disciples who after an exciting time being directed and used to meet need were exhausted and missed the vision that Jesus presented with his request to look what do you have and God can bless that and make it come alive in ways beyond our dreams.

I am convinced this is the story that has been our story.

Consider what we each have, and see how in our life in ways you don’t quite understand, God has transformed you into meeting need in ways you at the time never imagined.

I am sure each of you on reflection can see how God has worked miracles …

I want to leave with you the notion that this story is our story I want to encourage you to see in your life how Jesus is calling us to see, listen to, and draw upon the resources within ourselves which, when we are empowered by his presence,  enable us to reach out and serve Gods people, be the Shepherd in ways we had never imagined were possible.

When Jesus landed on that Galilee shore and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

I am wondering how Ruth and I might hear that in our time in Braidwood and encourage the little congregation there perhaps to see what they have in themselves and in the spirit of His presence to catch the vision to reach out in the way that Jesus presented in the feeding of the people.

Tell of UCK possibilities…

So it’s about empowerment and reaching out to care, trusting in presence of God within us.

Ask yourself the question:

Is it true that Jesus was teaching us that if we look to ourselves and what we have to give when confronted with human need that God can actually bless it and turn it into something we never imagined?

I believe firmly that it is true. I can see evidence in my life and as I know many of you well enough to say I can see it in your lives

BUT let’s learn from Webster the Preacher Duck.

After hearing what is possible, let not after church, go back to our duck pond, and stay the same.

Can we leave the church ready to look at what we might have to draw on, to give, when need confronts us, to take it, use it, begin with it

and find God somehow inside us as well:

directing us,

making us  able to do things

we could never do before.

 

Amen

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The theology of the pineapple

8 July 2012

In 1493, Christopher Columbus was one a bit of a jaunt around the world And as one part of that, he ended up on an island we now call Guadaloupe It’s in the Caribbean, between Antigua and Dominica.

When he was there, they came across a new fruit (well berries actually) that was weird looking, and very sweet.

The indigenous people of the area – the Carib – considered it a very special fruit And in fact you knew if you were going to be welcome in a Carib village if they had planted a pineapple plant at the village entrance

These exquisite fruit were taken back to Europe, and to England and to Nth America But it was extremely difficult to cultivate them in the colder climes They were seen as very special.    Special enough for Spain’s King Charles to pose with one in an official portrait And they ended up being very expensive

When captains returned from sea voyages, they would bring back pineapples and impale one on their porch railings,  to let people know they were back home and ready to entertain visitors with stories of their trips to the strange countries across the world    Carrying the tradition on, in early northern American settlement,  a fresh pineapple set in the centre of the dining table was the demonstration of the highest level of welcome and hospitality.

It even got to the stage that people would rent a pineapple for a visitor –  not to be eaten, but to be on display as a sign that the visitor was very welcome

In some places, wood carvings were made into the bedhead or the bed posts and that bed would be given to visitors for the night – even if it was the main bed.

In some parts of the US and Europe, even now,  there will be a carving or some embroidery, or a model of a pineapple near the front door of homes as a sign which indicates that visitors will be welcome in this house.

What is the size of the pineapple at your door? Is there a metaphorical pineapple on your table?

Jesus send out his disciples with a big task ahead of them into places they may or may not know people And they are going to have to survive on the welcome and hospitality of strangers.

Sometimes – often – we would look at this passage and place ourselves in the position of those who are traveling lightly on the pilgrim road of ministry And thinking about what we are carrying,  what is our excess baggage and are we relying on others, or would we really like to be self sufficient We did that in the 945 service today    But for every hospitality-ee there must be a hospitality-er For every visitor traveling lightly, there must be a host with a pineapple

Last Wednesday we had one of the great Kippax experiences here. Beattie Hatfield is part of a really important ministry here – simple English classes We are the hosts for a small group of women trying to develop some extra skills for life

And in a conversation a week or so ago, as conversation got to ‘food’ Hosts and guests swapped around

This week, Chinese and Syrian joined forces to provide us with  corn soup and savoury dumplings. What is the size of the pineapple at your door? Is there a metaphorical pineapple on your table?

Can I encourage you to develop your theology of the pineapple Because in offering simple acts of welcome, and value and sharing yourself you make it possible for people to live out who they are called to be by God.

You may not know that the people you are welcoming are on a mission from God They may not even know that they are on a mission from God But your pineapple welcome might make just the difference that they need

And then, by the wonderful quirk of fate we call grace you might find yourself on a mission from God.

 

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That pesky uncleanness

Mark’s gospel is a stunning piece of writing.    It’s the first of its kind.   Not only the first gospel but the first of the genre of “gospel” And it is written so that we read it at least at two levels all the time. It’s a gospel that is written for a community of believers. It is not so much trying to convince people that they should be followers of Jesus but how to live now that they are

As we looked at, at Easter time, the gospel ends in a weird way and sends the reader or listener back to Galilee  there you will see him And that takes us back to the beginning of the gospel, set in galilee  and asks us to head through it again (and again, and again) to see where it is that we will discover the Jesus that has risen from death.

3 times in Mark’s gospel, we are told that if we are going to be a follower of Jesus, we have to “pick up our cross and follow him”, or “go to Jerusalem with him” or “drink the cup that he is baptised with”

If we are followers of Jesus,  Mark’s gospel makes it clear that we are to be right in the very same footsteps as him.

That’s a pity in many ways, because some parts of Mark’s gospel take Jesus to places where I don’t particularly want to go all that often. Like chapter 5

In the first part of chapter 5 Jesus heads off to a country outside the promised land and heals someone who is described as being possessed by a legion of demons When he gets back, he is grabbed by a church leader whose daughter is dying And then on the way to doing something about that,  he is accosted by a woman who has been unwell and unclean for 12 years.

Mark sets up this part of the reading as a sandwich.   We’ve seen them before. The two parts of the story on the outside are pointing to the story on the inside. The two parts of the story about Jairus daughter point to the story about the woman She is the centre.   Her life is the key one in this.

Jairus is the right person for Jesus to be helping.   A church leader.  A man of faith Jairus’ daughter has all the emotional elements to top it off:  young, frail, sick. If ever there was someone who was deserving of being healed, it was her.

And on the way to doing the right thing, on the way to restoring a life Jesus is accosted by a nuisance.    And not just a nuisance, but a nuisance who threatens who Jesus is    This is a weird and desperate faith by a wacky unhelpful and threatening person. Her actions, her desperation has left Jesus in a pretty invidious position. He has now been touched by an unclean person And that makes him – unclean.  

Now, he cant eat with people, he cant be with people, he cant go into their houses It’s the pinnacle of what you see in primary school yard – “girl germs”

But there is something that is absolutely desperate that is happening in her life. We miss it a bit in the tidy English version of the bible that we have.

But it goes something like this:

And a woman-having been bleeding for twelve years,  and having suffered greatly from many physicians,  and having spent all she had,  and having benefited not one bit  but rather having gone from bad to worse,  having heard about Jesus, having come in the crowd from behind-touched his cloak.

Desperation leads people to unusual actions

This week I heard from 2 friends my age who are the children of refugees and who both talked about the way their parents desperately sought a better life here One of them via a boat and a dangerous voyage.    In Parliament this week we heard emotional, passionate speeches about what to do and a great many speeches were about how do we stop those boats coming how do we discourage the people from making that trip, because they might die.    How many speeches did you hear about ways to bring a wholeness of life to the people who are in Indonesia? I wonder how much we would feel better if we could stop the deaths at sea even if it meant that the deaths just happened in Indonesia instead?

I wonder what it means for us  to be wandering in to the middle of those pesky people who make us unclean  those people who are desperate and who have exhausted their options.

You may not have heard quite as much this week about the “Stronger Futures” legn That’s because it snuck through Parliament around 3am on the last sitting day. We didn’t manage bipartisan support during the politicking with asylum seekers but we quickly managed bipartisan support with the Stronger Futures legislation

It’s the legislation that has set up the continuation  of the Northern Territory Intervention for 10 years.

This is the Intervention that is based on no evidence of success yet. This is the Intervention that is based on a punitive top-down approach  This is the Intervention that has simply done little           to improve people’s lives in the Indigenous communities In fact during the Intervention over the past 5 years,  Indigenous suicide rates have increased dramatically. and rates of incarceration have increased 41%

We are creating a new group of people who by the end of this legislation will have been suffering for 15 years,  and will have been suffering greatly from many experts will have spent all they had and will have not benefited from the experts, but instead will have gone from bad to worse.

Mark 5 tells us that the way that Jesus lived put him right in the middle of these sorts of situations and Mark’s gospel sets us up that as followers of Jesus we will do the same. Right in the middle

What does it mean for us to be right in the midst of situations? What does it mean for you to wander into the middle of pesky uncleanness?    Rather than leave you with a heaviness and a question, I want to leave you with an story of something that can happen when a group of people delivering services because of their faith  get into the messy middle of situations of people who are desparate.

Listen to the story of someone  who has been assisted here at UnitingCare Kippax

 

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Mr Fixit

What do you do if something goes wrong?     Or if things aren’t going the way you hoped Are you one of the “fixit” brigade?

The fixit brigade are the great many people  whose first inclination is to DO something If things aren’t quite right – then we need to act.

In the right circumstances that can be really good. If you have a hole in the roof and the water is pouring in,  then doing something is a good idea But it isn’t always good to be part of the fixit brigade. Sometimes the situation isn’t a problem to be fixed,  but it is just something that isn’t quite right.

A friend of mine was going through  a really difficult health time some years back and the hard time was – as is often the case with health issues –  as emotional as it was physical. She was part of an active church, with an active pastoral care team. And for the entire time she was unwell, a casserole would appear on her doorstep every day.

She came to hate casseroles. And to this day, the taste of certain casseroles  brings back memories of a really hard time. And as well meaning as the pastoral care team was its response was of trying to fix a problem.

This person is unwell.  She cannot cook for herself or her household.  We’ll fix that.

Jesus’ disciples had a sense of frustration  about the way things were going. Jesus heals people – and gets into trouble for doing it on the wrong day His disciples tell him that he is the son of God -and he tells them angrily not to say that His own family comes down and tries to remove him from his ministry because they think he is crazy

Things aren’t going as well or as quickly  or as effectively as they should be.

The movement of God is just like someone scattering seed and then going off to bed And the seed sprouts, and the farmer doesn’t know how it happened. Or it is like a tiny little seed that gets put in the ground and then it becomes a pretty big shrub, so even birds can nest in it.

It’s OK guys.   Chill.    The world isn’t really just problems to be fixed.

I have 3 pots of bulbs at home. On the same day, I put soil from the same bag into each I put bulbs of the same type of flower from the same purchased bag into each I put the pots next to each other in the same part of the garden When I water one, I water them all  Two of the pots have strong stems shooting through the soil.    One does not That third one just might not ever sprout.   Or maybe it will – later.

Now as an aside,  I wonder how many of you have planned what advice you can give me to fix the problem of that third pot?    Are you part of the fixit brigade? If you have ears to hear, then hear  

In other parts of my garden,  I have passion fruit vines growing where we never planted them and every year we end up with tomato vines growing and God only knows how they got where they are sprouting!

How frustrating for those of us in the fixit brigade to think that the best thing we could do sometimes to advance the movement of God is to take a nap.    Actually I quite like that idea

How strange would it have seemed to that pastoral group in my friend’s congregation from all those years ago to think that the comfort of God  may have been made more real in that situation by sitting quietly with my friend, even without a casserole in hand.

We are an action oriented people, aren’t we. The heritage of the Uniting Church – which has very much set its culture  –  is of 3 denominations who were all extremely socially activist The ethos of this congregation is to make a difference.    To do stuff that changes lives. Fantastic!

But with what shall we compare the movement of God? It is like someone who got some unused tomatoes  left over from their cooking plans            

And then threw them randomly out the kitchen window and who ended up having tomatoes for years after that

Or it is like someone who carefully planted mint in their herb garden and then left it alone.   And now the mint is everywhere they look.

Or maybe it is like someone who took a snare drum  along to a train station just to see what would happen if they started playing a familiar rhythm

If you have ears to hear, then hear…  

 

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