(Jeremiah 29:7; Matthew 6: 30-44)
Instead of our standard 20-minute sermon that goes in this slot of the worship service, today we’re doing things a bit differently. Today instead of a 20-minute sermon, I’ll preach a short sermon because after the worship service our whole community will preach a sermon – our congregation will preach the good news through the actions we take – by serving our community in our first Day of Discipleship. And these hours spent serving together will preach a sermon much more powerful than the words I can proclaim in this pulpit – they will tell the good news of Jesus Christ through love shared with new people, they will tell of the grace of God through bridges built across communities of difference, they will tell of the joy of the Spirit through friendships built and grown. So today in the pulpit I will preach briefly because you, the church, will preach prophetic words through your actions.
The few words I would like to share with you are based off Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 as the story is told in the gospel of Mark. You need not know much about this text other than Jesus and his disciples, or apostles, are returning from a long stretch of ministry when we begin reading from Mark 6: 30-44. Listen now for God’s word to us this morning.
Will you pray with me?
God of abundance, God of life, God of grace – move your Spirit among us – whisper and shout words of encouragement, words that inspire, wrap your arms around us and embrace us with joy and strength as we listen to your words. God, we ask that in this time that we share we may be moved and inspired by you and that through listening to your word and enjoying your presence we may know and love and serve you. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my hear be pleasing to you, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Three dune hikes with Uncle Marquis taught me to love adventure and taught me a few of life’s big lessons. My Uncle Marquis was a hitchhiker in the 70s a vagabond traveler and lover of life. He’s settled down more now but still takes his nieces and nephews on epic hikes across the three sand dunes in Northern Michigan we call home. I remember one hike in particular, as we stood at the top of the third sand dune, Baldie, looking down at the big gorgeous lake we were about to plunge into, he asks me “You know the secret to happiness don’t you?” I look up and he says, “Help. Other. People.” No other words are offered before he runs screaming down the dune batting his chest like Tarzan and I run following him.
He’s right of course, the secret to happiness, Help. Other. People. It need not be much more complicated than that. I could dissect why leaving your own desires behind and helping other people leads to happiness but you can do that too. Help. Other. People.
Today, we will do that, today we will help. Other. People. Remembering that it is not just this one day that we do this, not just a one day of discipleship but many more days to come. This one day is simply an igniter, a spark, of the wondrous things God will call us to do.
And today, we remember that it is not just our few hours of work and service that change lives, that make real difference in the world. We remember that with these small acts of offering we give, we trust that God will multiply and make extraordinary ordinary time spent, because to put it simply – that is the habit of Jesus.
Nadia Bolz Weber reminds us that – “Every parable about God’s kingdom, every teaching Jesus had about how God creates something glorious, starts with something small. Never once did Jesus say “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a Fortune 500 company with super happy shareholders.” It is always something small, insignificant, easily overlooked, that reveals the glory of God.”
It is always something small, something unexpected, something seemingly insignificant that God takes to reveal God’s kingdom, that God takes to make change in the world, that God takes to inspire love and grace in this world. In the story we just read from Mark 6, Jesus takes 5 loaves and 2 fishes, all that the disciples could find but a meager gift nonetheless, and he takes that to feed the people. Jesus is in the habit of working with what we have to give to make the most extraordinary things come true.
Dale Mullenix, Executive Director at Urban Ministry Center told a group from our church and several others a story about one the programs they have at Urban Ministry Center, their Art Works program. Dale tells the story of a bright-eyed woman who wanted to volunteer with Urban Ministry Center – she wasn’t interested in any of their options – laundry services, Room In the Inn, lunch team – she wanted to teach art. And Dale told her, well that’s just not something we need, homeless people don’t need art, they need homes. He let the woman do it anyways though, and gave her heed of a large retaining wall outside Urban Ministry Center. She stenciled outlines of a cityscape across the wall and then invited some of the people hanging out at Urban Ministry Center to fill in the painting.
Dale said he had mostly shrugged the whole thing off except he kept seeing the woman there and a crowd kept gathering to help her paint this retaining wall. It turns out homeless people wanted to be happy just as much as they wanted a home. And then Dale shares that he saw one guy who he had known for a long time coming to Urban Ministry Center, not the nicest of guys Dale said. He saw him painting and Dale decided to ask him what he was doing, and why he was doing it, the man replied, “I’m painting this wall cause it reminds me of my grandmother.” To which Dale had a crazy thought, “why don’t we go call grandma?” The man replied, “Oh I can’t do that, I haven’t talked to her in years, I’ve hurt her too much, she’s too mad at me.” Dale fought back and the man caved and said he’d try. They went inside to call grandma, Dale nervous of course that this whole thing will fall apart in his lap. The phone rings and to everyone’s surprise, grandma picks up. She tells her grandson she loves him she misses him, why doesn’t he come back home to Detroit where he can live with her until he gets back on his feet. So off that man went to Detroit to see Grandma and rebuild those bridges that had been torn down. They say every so often they still get cards from that man who has since got a job and place to call his own.
God works in the seemingly unexpected places we get to work in. Making the ordinary extraordinary.
In 1895 Booker T. Washington delivered a speech concerning the Atlanta Compromise, in it he tells this story:
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the feeding of the 5,000: “You give them something to eat”, Jesus says; “Not me, but you; not my bread, but yours; not sometime or somewhere else, but right here and now. Stop waiting for a miracle and participate in one instead.”
Let us cast down our buckets where we are, trusting that God will deliver fresh sparkling water. Let us give of our time, trusting that God will turn ordinary time into grace filled time, let us give of ourselves, trusting that God has much more in store than we ever dreamed possible.
Jesus is all about making the ordinary, extraordinary. Making regular bread and wine an experience with God’s overflowing grace, making 5 loaves and 2 fish a feast that filled the masses, making our few hours of serving moments that transform lives. Perhaps even our own.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen