Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: Feed Mark 6:30-44

Faith is the art of seeing the possible.  One of the better reasons to read the book of faith is to see and hear an alternative account of the way the world is organized.  We read the Bible to learn what is really possible.  Believing Bible stories like five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand men, not to mention uncounted women and children is a stretch of faith.  This is what we’re asked to believe.  Not that Jesus could do something so extraordinary like feed so many people with such an ordinary act, that’s not a stretch.  The hard part is believing this sort of thing happens all the time.

A miracle is not a once in a lifetime unrepeatable event that happens when God suspends the normal course of things and makes the sun turn its head or the moon wink at the stars while God tinkers with the fates in our favor.  A miracle is a curtain pulled back on the window of reality that allows us to see in a slice of time what God has been up to all the time.  A miracle is not to be believed because we think God chose to get involved in ways God usually doesn’t get involved.  A miracle is a miracle because we notice God doing something more possible than we would have ever guessed.  We notice miracles when we are paying attention to our lives and to what is happening with our resources as we offer them to others each day.

We press the fast forward button on our beloved remote control when our hero’s energy waning.  We buzz through the action to see whether something is possible or not.  Miracle believing people hold down the fast forward button of faith; trusting God is always up to something.  God doesn’t make an exception to the practice of medicine when a lame man walks without orthopedic surgery, physical therapy, and months of taking baby steps on crutches.  We call that miracle because we saw the healing process in fast motion; we get a peek into heaven here on earth.

This feeding story lets us see what is possible when God is on the job.  This story takes place as the disciples need rest after returning from their first mission trip.  It went so well, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching good news to people who hadn’t thought of the world as good place for such a long time, that people wouldn’t leave them alone.  The disciples were spent from helping people rediscover hope and health.  So, they take a boat on the Sea of Galilee and cross to a deserted spot for some R&R.  Jesus was always taking break from messiah business.  We need to exercise care when we exert ourselves beyond our means, thinking we have more stamina than Jesus.

The hungry people follow Jesus on his disciples.  Springsteen sings, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”  The people following Jesus and his disciples have hungry souls.  We don’t come to church each week out of mindless habit.  This is an intentional practice; there is a growling hunger in our souls that needs filling.  In the same way, our stomachs long for food, our hungry hearts yearn for spiritual nourishment.

They didn’t know what they need, but they felt compelled to hunt down Jesus; running along the shore to see where the boat will land; forgetting all their other needs and obligations.  They are like us in those times when we feel something so strongly we will go to great lengths because of that concern.  Sometimes our longings can be unhealthy; looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces because we want to be loved so badly.  Jesus shows the church’s role is to believe the extraordinary can intersect with the ordinary human experience, so hungry hearts might be satisfied.  We are to offer our ordinary selves; feeding hungry bodies and souls; trusting God can do something extraordinary with our ordinary acts.

Jesus feeds them by teaching them that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Then when the sermon is over and their souls are refreshed, their stomachs growl.  They are in the desert, a long way from a McDonald’s, unless you are in the Israeli desert where they sell Texas 2 Burger, really!

The disciples tell Jesus the people are hungry.  Jesus shows God is in the everyday business of feeding a hungry world.  He is about use ordinary things to reveal God’s glory.  The disciples tell the people to sit.  Jesus takes what they give him, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to back to them.  Sound familiar?  This is new math: five loaves of bread plus two fish equals enough to feed more than five thousand, with a remainder of twelve baskets.  The remainder is for you and me.

This story is about the art of faith, calling out what is possible with God.  Jesus is still at work; satisfying our hungers when we bring to God our meager five loaves and two fish.  It is never enough by itself, but more than enough when offered to Jesus, who blesses our limited resources with his unlimited love.  God can shine in simpler ways than we imagine.  This story is repeated over and over again when we’re not up to the task, and our resources are all but gone, yet our little bit offered is more than enough.  

Single parents or neglected spouses come to mind.  They have limited time, money, patience, and help.  They worry about their children maybe more than two-parent families; dealing with spouses or former spouses who never help enough.  Each day they rise; offering what they have, five loaves and two fish, in the face of a hunger too great to satisfy.  Somehow, they feed their family and are fed themselves.

Jesus is still at work; feeding our hungers.  You and I are the arms and legs that do the work; making the ordinary extraordinary.  This happens, though the needs are greater than the resources, for none of us are up to the task.  There will always be limited time, money, patience, and help.  It is easy to bog down; worrying about the size and scope of the needs, what we will do next, or how things will be affected.  All we can do is offer what we have, our five loaves and two fish, in the face of great hunger; pushing the fast forward button of hope that lives can be restored, stomachs fed, and souls satisfied by God who can provide more than enough.

Jerry came to see me on Monday morning.  I was busy and asked him to come back at 4:00 p.m.  He did and he told me his story.  Jerry had a good life, his words, a wife three children and good job.  At age 68, they are all gone.  It may seem really sad, but Jerry told me not to be sad.

Jerry been in the hospital, as his health is failing, really he is dying of heart failure.  However, this time when he got out of another long hospital stay, his normal plan of renting a motel and until he could find an apartment would not work because his bank account was empty.  Jerry would learn that because of his long stay in a convalescence center, his Social Security checks were stopped.  He soon was able to clear up the misunderstanding, but he would not receive a check for two more weeks and he had only one night left at the motel.  Jerry told me did not come here for money.  In fact he was in Irving by mistake of getting on the wrong bus.  He had got on the  bus to walk neighborhood streets to see if he could do an odd job to make some money.  This is why he came to see me.

While Jerry was in my office, he asked if I wanted to hear his poems.  I said sure and he started to quote long sections of religious poetry he had written.  After about the fourth poem, he told me his laptop had been stolen (he added it was a no good laptop too).  He said the words were flooding his head and he needed to write them down.  So, for now he was writing these words with pen and paper.

Though Jerry was not asking for help. I knew I could at least try to help him find a place to go the next night.  I told him to come to the church in morning, I would do my best to figure where he could sleep the next night.  I learned, as Jerry had told me, that  many of homeless shelters have quarters upstairs and Jerry is so sick he cannot even walk a flight of stairs.  I reached out to my friend Captain Andy Miller at Salvation Army and he pointed me where we could go.

The next morning came and I never heard from Jerry.  In fact, I did not hear from him all week.  Finally on Saturday he called to tell me, he was in the hospital again.  I asked him what I could do to help.  He told me again the words will not stop, Jerry is a savant.   The medical staff have not let him sit up to write since he is such a high risk to stroke.  He repeated, if only I could have a laptop.  I said, Jerry we will get you a laptop.  This morning I need an ordinary laptop, not a fancy one with all that internet stuff, Jerry words.  But something he can write on.  I don’t know why but I think that ordinary gesture has extraordinary potential, that only God knows.

The film Saving Grace is about a reluctant pope who feels the need to get out of the prison of  the Vatican and in touch with the people.  A deaf-mute girl travels to see him in order to beg for a priest for her village.  He sneaks out to the mountain town in Italy, which he finds overrun by despair for a local thug has held the town hostage.  They feel God-forsaken.

He is the pope, but only the little girl knows; to the others, he is a stranger.  He sees a water tower in disrepair, which once carried water from an aqueduct to irrigate fields, grow green grass, and provide life to the community.  He sets out to rebuild it by himself.  At one point, he sits in a deserted place praying, “God, I feel so weak.  I need your help.”  He soon is overrun with help.  Finally, the trough to transport the water was rebuilt.
A local shepherd, who turns out to be an ex-priest, asks the pope how he will get the water wheel working. “I don’t know but you must have faith, you do what you can and God will provide”, says the pope.  God provides.  This time through the ex-priest himself who fixes he water wheel.  The community comes to life again and the priest is restored.  The pope turns to the little girl and says, “You know this is all because of you and our God!”  A wonderful story of limited resources offered to God amid massive need and an extraordinary thing happens through ordinary means.

The miracle story of what God did through Jesus in a deserted place with tired disciples, little food and enormous hunger is our story.  It’s a story of what is possible because we have a God with whom nothing is impossible.  It is repeated over and over again, if only we have the eyes of faith to see, and a willingness to offer our ordinary selves, trusting God can do something extraordinary here among us.  Soon Lord, we pray!  Amen!

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Anchors Aweigh, People Await!

I thank God and you for allowing me to serve First United Methodist Church, Irving.  I start my second year as your pastor and I look forward to leading us into a conversation about where we are going.  I want us to explore ways our church can deploy our existing ministries further to the edge; touching the lives of the under-served and under-reached.  Below are three guiding principles that will guide our conversation.

Our conversation must move from an “internal focus” to an “external focus”.  The church does not exist for itself.  When it thinks it does, we’ve created a church-centric world, a skewed view of reality.  By external focus of ministry I mean radically reorienting our understanding that we exist primarily to do ministry beyond ourselves.

Our conversation must move from a “program-driven agenda” to a “people-development agenda”.  Over time, the North American church has largely become a collection of programs run by staff or lay leaders.  While we will certainly continue to have these programs, I believe a people-development agenda will base its sense of accomplishment on how well its people are doing, not its programs.  If you start with people, the programs then serve the people, not the other way around.

Our conversation must move from an “institutional model” of leadership to a “movement model” of leadership.  Leading a movement is very different from leading an organization.  Christianity was largely a street movement in its early days, when it turned the world on its head.  Once we institutionalized it and put it into the hands of the clergy, we lost the virility of that movement-it became about institutional management.  We have to return to the kind of lay leadership that’s required in leading a street movement, if we’re going to recapture that energy.

In the coming year, I will give my heart and soul to creating a culture where people are developed and deployed as missional followers of Jesus.  I am not exempt from also being developed and deployed, with my primary concern being “Am I creating a culture where that is occurring?”  The scorecard I will use to measure my work in the coming year is, how many people can I help be deployed to touch and serve others.  Truthfully, our church already is deployed; I just plan to pay closer attention to how that is happening in the lives of our lay people.

That is what is happening in the Pastor’s office, anchors aweigh, people are awaiting!

Russell

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: Touch Mark 5: 21-43

Our text tells of tactile experiences, touching stories of grace.  Touch is the only one of our five senses that doesn’t lose potency with age.  Each year, our sense of smell is less acute; our sense of taste is less discriminating; our hearing diminishes; our eyesight needs enhanced, but our need for touch doesn’t diminish.  Our need for touch grows the older we grow. 

Jesus crosses back over the Sea of Galilee after casting demons from a man in Gentile territory.  The demons leap into a herd of swine; plunging into the sea.  Jesus sorts out the clean and unclean; destroying the unclean and restoring those touched by it.  He comes back to Jewish territory to do the same; no place or person is off-limits to Jesus’ presence or power.

Jesus’ ministry is always public; employing ordinary measures to do extraordinary work.  He isn’t like other teachers; passing out secrets to a few.  He offers the ordinary in extraordinary ways.  Simply said, he enables ordinary life with an ordinary touch and words to those who assumed the ordinary life was impossible.  These are extraordinary tales.

Jesus comes ashore on the western bank with his disciples and a crowd that includes Jarius meets him at the dock.  Jairus desperately runs up to him, falls on his face and begs Jesus to heal his daughter, who is at the point of death.  This frantic father asks Jesus, “Come and touch her.”  He is convinced if Jesus will touch his daughter, she will be made well and live.

Jesus is touched and goes with Jairus, a leader in the synagogue; who keeps the law perfectly and trusts God entirely.  Jarius oversees the worship life of the people and insures adherence to the Law of Moses.  Jairus is to keep the temple in his heart, so that synagogue will reflect the true worship of the temple in Jerusalem, though they were far from the holy site.  Jarius is a leader in the community who garners great respect.

Jarius is also a father of a dying little girl.  So, he falls a Jesus feet and begs him for his daughter’s life.  Jarius is humbled by his dying daughter, not humiliated (there is a difference).  He begs Jesus to apply his healing touch for the sake of his little girl.  This story shows again that a person’s reputation cannot buy divine favor.  All are equally in need; a world full of people like Jarius, who can do nothing, but fall on their face and hope.

Jesus is interrupted on his way to Jairus’ house.  An equally desperate, yet unnamed woman reaches out and touches him.  This is not a person asking to be touched, but a person who touches; hoping to be made well.  This woman is an outcast from the normal course of life, the polar opposite to Jairus.  Jarius freely went to the synagogue; she dares not because the required ritual cleansing baths could not sufficiently deal with her malady.  No physician has been able to resolve her disorder, for the ancient remedies may have aggravated it, as they can do in modern medicine too.

The woman stealthily touches Jesus, and feels she is well.  After twelve years of humiliation and hopelessness, instantly she is physically healed.  She is also healed spiritually and socially.  She can reconnect with people in the worship of God and can relate anew to family and friend.

Part of the work of the Body of Christ is to not only offer physical healing to those who reach to us.  We are to also offer spiritual healing; reconnecting them to God who has not strayed.  Spiritual healing comes through social healing by literally touching those who reach out to touch us.  Touching breaks down barriers, which may have prevented people from experiencing the fullness of Christ’s healing ways.  The power of the touch can break down anything they may keep people from drawing to Christ’s Body.

We have a new practice when people come to church requesting help.  It is based on the principle of offering relationship first.  The principle simply stated is we both gain when we know each other.  I met this last week with a person who had been reluctant to tell anyone her story.  When she learned I really wanted to know her and what was going on something happened that could not have happened if we had not taken the time to visit.  She received monetary assistance, counsel and contacts how she might be better able to sustain herself in the days ahead.  We both received the blessing of continuing a relationship that began at the train station on Ash Wednesday and continued when we passed out water.  This is the work of the ordinary touch; enabling extraordinary things to happen.

Jesus stops to ask who touched him as he feels power slip from him as the woman is healed.  The disciples are confused why Jesus stops on his way to an important man’s house, but he knows something equally important happened.  The woman confesses to her touching, falls on her face, like Jairus.  Jesus elevates her; saying her faith has made her well.  He also calls her daughter as he is on his way to heal a daughter of a respected man.  This woman is a daughter of God, beloved by God as much as Jairus’ little girl.  A Jesus’ touch is no respecter of persons when it comes to offering a spiritual healing through a social touch of grace.

Jesus is a hands-on messiah, and he wants a hands-on church that should worry less about separating the unclean from the clean; allowing God to make those distinctions.  We are all sinners equally in need of healing in a various places of our lives.  The concern of the church should be to find ways to touch those some might call unclean, so we may be in relationship.  “Being a hands-on church means acknowledging all are equally in need of a healing touch, we stand on level ground. Thus, we are to offer healing touch to all, despite other’s opinions of anyone’s condition. Distinctions are the mark of a club; hospitality marks the house of prayer.

Jesus learns after tending to the needs to the woman who touched him, the girl Jesus was asked to touch has died.  He’s not dissuaded and heads to Jarius’ house.  Upon arriving he sends the mourners away, who play a role when we grieve, but can be too good at their job; crying to loud at any sign of death.  Anyone can be tempted to declare something prematurely dead, because vital signs seem flat.  Jesus says, “She is sleeping”; meaning she can be awakened, like so many people and problems.  Only God gets to declare the status of a person’s condition.  We are to be careful in interjecting our assumed outcomes over a person’s condition.

Once inside, Jesus touches the little dead girl’s hand and speaks, “Talitha cum.”  These are not magic words, but ordinary ones; meaning, “Little girl, it’s time to get up”, the same words she has heard many mornings when the sun rose.  Jesus touches her hand, uses ordinary words, and she wakes to new life.  For the ordinary can pack extraordinary power.

We are not to be distracted by wondering what brings about healing-the woman’s faith, the power of touch or both.  Faith does place us in a better position to grasp the full dimensions of healing; subjecting us to the current of God’s love, which heals in sundry ways.  Yet, healing remains a mystery, not every person who has faith is healed every time.  Our faith doesn’t obligate God to do what we want.  In fact, there are cases, like in Luke 7 when Jesus healed people who did not ask or necessarily trust.

What we learn from the stories that isn’t mysterious is an ordinary gesture, like touch, can bring about and extraordinary act.  Whether we are reaching out to those who suffer or they are reaching out to us, we cannot discount the possibilities of what might happen if we linger long enough in the touch.  Your pastor will ask you to take a hand of another when we come to you in times of crisis because we know the power of the touch can activate the power of a healing.  Yet, we often isolate ourselves; wallowing in real pain.  So, we hug you, pat your back, hold your hand, and ask others to do the same when your heart aches; applying the salve of touch.

Members of the Body of Christ allow themselves to be touched by the gracious hands of others so they may offer healing touches to those in need.  When we leave today, do not let friend or stranger leave without a hug, handshake, or a high-five.  If you are inadvertently overlooked come see me at the door for your hug, handshake or high-five.  Allow the touch of others make you mindful of those who need your touch beyond these walls where you serve Christ this week.  Reach out and touch someone this week, in the name of Father, whose hand created heaven and earth, following the example of Christ, whose hands were open to others, even unto death, and with the help of the Holy Spirit that transforms your touch into the healing hands of God.

Who is in Control?

I like to be in control!  This silent mantra plays in my head, particularly when life feels out of control.  So, I fight for control; futilely trying to get things to return back to my normal. Recently, I have been examining my control issues as we walk among too many losses of good people in our family of faith, as Terri and I deal with family matters out of control, and as I watch events in the church I so dearly love.

I have been reminded control is the enemy of trust.  It causes us to have illusions. We really are not in control as much we think.  Consider, from the moment of conception we are carried along in a watery womb of warmth, nourished by a cord of love, all out of our control.  Even after coming into the light of day, we discover the same Cord of Love that formed us into being, holds us in throughout all the days of our lives in way that reminds we are not as much in control as we thought.

Life is more than what we make of it; because we are made in the image of our God who gives us life abundant.  Life is more than who we think we are; because we are defined by the gracious one who is the “I am”.  Life is more than what we act on; because we are lifted up by the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit who energizes our every action.

Learning “to be” and to “let go” are spiritual virtues.  I am re-learning these lessons by actively practicing trust in “Something” beyond me.  This means requires me to not be in control.

So, on this day when I and others feel out of control, I recall that every time in the Bible where it says, “Fear not”, we usually hear these words, “Peace be unto you.”  I can’t hear that enough in these out of control days.

Published in: on June 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment