Scripture: Mark 6:30-44
Sermon prepared by Pastor H.R. (Rick) Nanninga, Orillia, Ont.
We live in an age where the demands of life stress people to the point of being overwhelmed. Technology, which was supposed to make life easier, has only made it more demanding. We travel further and faster than ever before. We are overwhelmed with information and communication: television; e-mail; internet; telephones; and the print media. Our workplace demands more of us, and we often do two jobs for the price of one. Being stretched and pulled and hassled makes relationships more difficult. We seem always to be on the move, unable to stay in one place long enough to have a decent conversation.
With life this demanding, we often feel drained of our energies and wanting to just stay home with a good book. Who needs any more demands? Then the phone rings. You've been nominated for elder. Just last Sunday a member of the Education Committee challenged you to teach an adult class. Two months ago the Council challenged you to become a "Pastoral Care Worker", claiming you had the gifts to do the job.
You remember your last term as elder; your ward had three marriage break-ups and a number of people struggling with some major troubling issues. And all the meetings! You felt overwhelmed and guilty because you could not meet all the demands. The challenge of ministry is so complex. People seem to be forever in crisis.
I think we can identify with the disciples of Jesus. Verse 36a says, "Send the people away." The need of the people in our story was overwhelming and the disciples had done enough, and had seen enough. They were tired and all they wanted to do was go home to bed.
If you read back to Mark 6:7, you'll find that Jesus had just sent the disciples on an extended mission trip. He had said, "Take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in your belts". These men were definitely outside their comfort zones. With no personal possessions, they traveled from town to town sleeping in unfamiliar places, unsure if they were even going to find food or a place to sleep. The message of repentance they were to bring to the people made enemies of some people who did not want to change their ways. The driving out of demons, in addition to the crowds of people demanding healing, made for long and exhausting days.
In Mark 6:30-44, the disciples had returned, overwhelmed and over-tired. They just wanted to report to Jesus what happened as verse 30 indicates, and then go home!
Jesus understands their needs, he knew they were overwhelmed and needed space and rest. Mark 6:31, "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said, 'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'." Jesus doesn't condemn them for their feelings. He doesn't berate them for not being "spiritual" enough to carry on.
There is nothing wrong with pulling back and taking time off. The scriptures indicate that Jesus himself pulled away at times when he also felt tired and needed space. He spent time relaxing, praying to God and communing with His friends. He went up to the mountain and down to the lake; He went to the garden. These sound like places and things we would do if we needed some time away. Lakes, mountains and gardens are the prime vacation destinations of those wearied by the grind and demands of modern living.
But this day the "get away" wasn't going to happen. The people kept coming and the disciples couldn't get away. Verse 33 says the crowds "saw them leaving and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them." The demands of the people grew more intense while the disciples' capacity to meet their needs diminished.
What Mark's gospel picks up here is the stark contrast in the reactions of Jesus and His disciples to the situation. I think you'll agree that we in our "stressed. out" society would be like the disciples. When we become taxed and overwhelmed we become more distant and cool toward others. "Send the people away" becomes our refrain. "I've got enough on my plate, don't ask me to serve as an elder." "I only have so many resources and I've reached my limit." "Send the people away."
Jesus' response is totally different. Mark 6:34, "When Jesus landed and saw the crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd." Jesus sensed their needs and immediately Mark says, "He began to teach them many things."
It's amazing how, when you're tired and stressed, anxiety begins to grow and you become so much more selfish. You sense from the text that the disciples are watching the clock. "It's getting late in the day and what are we going to do with all these people?"
The crowd of people had no means to feed themselves. Mark tells us that they were in a "remote place". The disciples see problems and more and more headaches for themselves. Yet Jesus sees people that are hungry for more than just bread. Again, Jesus sees their need and the potential for ministry.
"You give them something to eat." Now any accountant would have known the impossibility of that command. The crowd is too large, the challenge is too great! What resources would they have in such a remote place?
"How many loaves do you have...go and see." The disciples came back with five loaves of bread and two fish. To put this scene in today's context, this represents five kaiser buns and two sardines. Not much!
Then Jesus does something remarkable. He gives thanks for what He has been given. Then He does this miracle of multiplication. Using what was given to Him, He multiplies the fish and loaves to meet the need of the crowd. And the scripture says, "All ate and were satisfied." And they even had enough for leftovers! Remarkable!
Is there any doubt that it was Jesus who took what little these tired and overwhelmed disciples had and multiplied it to meet a need that, humanly speaking, His disciples could never have met? What faith lesson is He trying to teach His disciples? What faith lesson is He trying to teach us in this society of overwhelmed people?
How often do we say in our hearts, and sometimes with our voices, "Send the people away." "There's not enough money or there aren't enough teachers for Vacation Bible School; send the kids away." "Our Christian School enrollment is capped; send the children away." "We can't afford a bigger Christian School." "I’m already over committed at work, how am I supposed to serve the diaconate?"
Yet if we, like Jesus, give thanks for what we have been given and give into the hands of Jesus, He can multiply it. How often don't we witness in the scriptures God taking the small and insignificant things and causing them to grow. Jesus' church was built on the foundation of a handful of ordinary people. He took one son of Abraham and made a nation out of him.
Most ministries are built on a dream and not much else, and on the fact that God wants it done and can make it happen. Our Christian Schools were built by immigrants who literally had only "five loaves and two fish." They had very little money, yet they put what they had into the hands of the One who could put their resources to work and create the many Christian day schools, high schools and colleges that we enjoy today.
Jesus is teaching His disciples to not measure the need against your resources. Look to me as the One who has access to all the resources of heaven and earth. Don't get sidetracked by how you feel. Put the need and what resources you have before the Lord and let Him work with it.
We forget that when we do the mission of the church, it's God's mission. He's reaching the people and we are privileged to be co-missionaries with Him in His desire to feed the masses with His Word. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go out and make disciples of all nations... I am with you always to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18, 20)
The Apostle Paul said in Colossians 1:28-29, "We proclaim Him in admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me." The authority to do ministry comes from God. The Apostle Paul experienced that the energy to do ministry comes from God as well.
Our eyesight needs to change, no longer seeing the overwhelming challenges and needs, but seeing the power of Jesus to meet these needs. The challenge, "you feed them," should not overwhelm us if we know whom we are working with. So when we see hungry and needy people, we will no longer see them through the eyes of our own stresses and limitations. We need to ask the Spirit to give us the compassionate eyes of Christ to see the ministry opportunities that God lays before us. The result will be our responding with love, and trusting that God will give us what we need to feed the hungry that we encounter.
The disciples were prepared to "send the people away." In so doing they would have missed the opportunity that Jesus saw in these hungry people's eyes. Jesus lays these opportunities before us on a daily basis.
So, your friend from college comes to see you after many years and you've only got one evening with him. You know he has not given his life to the Lord. He has many problems. He and his wife are separated and he's currently looking for work. Instead of being overwhelmed by this daunting task, put the evening into the hands of Jesus. Give Jesus what you have. Pray, and give Him the hours you do have with your friend. Ask God to give you a listening heart and the words to speak. Ask Him to lead the conversation so that you will be given an opportunity to share your faith with your friend. Then leave this appointment with God to multiply the seeds that have been sown and make it effective for your friend's life.
You've been asked to serve as a deacon in your church. The task is overwhelming to you. The needs within your church community and the broader community in which you live are great: unemployed people; single mothers; and seniors living on little income to name a few. The ministry needs overwhelm you. Not to mention that your workplace already demands too much and you've got family obligations to consider. You look at yourself and you wonder what you could possibly give to this ministry.
Again, put the time you have and the gifts that the Spirit has given you into the hands of the One who multiplied the five loaves and two fish. Trust that He can multiply your efforts in much greater ways than you can possibly imagine. If Jesus can feed five thousand men with five kaiser buns and two sardines, He can take what you give Him as a deacon and make it grow for His glory. It's a start by making yourself available and, by faith, giving Him what you have.
Remember the Apostle Paul's words concerning our fallibility and weaknesses. He said, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (II Corinthians 4:7) Feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and tired by the challenges of ministry should never prevent us from doing that ministry. Rather, it is in these situations of weakness which God shows us His awesome power.
Search the scriptures and see how God used people of limited resources and energy for effective ministry. For example, recall Moses who told God that he did not have the gift to speak, so God sent Aaron instead. And the Apostle Paul, who by his own admission, was plagued by a "thorn in his flesh".
Even the great men of the world today all have limitations. They may have fortunes but these fortunes have a limit and are subject to anything from a stock market crash to any of the other perils that befall the weak and sinful human condition. But Jesus is the One who conquered sin and death. Jesus is the One who sits at God's right hand and rules until all His enemies submit to Him.
When the Lord Jesus challenges you to ministry, then you have His authority and power to help and strengthen you for that ministry.
One of the difficulties of ministry is that the needs of the people are so great and their hunger never seems satisfied. I'm sure the disciples felt the need of feeding this mass of people to be such a daunting task that they felt as if they were being swallowed by it. We've all been in a situation where we look at the need of a family and wonder, "where do we begin?" We stop seeing them as people and just see them as "unemployed", "single mother", "manic depressive", or "cancer patient". We stop seeing them as subjects and start seeing them as objects, thus keeping them at arms length.
In this faith lesson, Jesus taught His disciples that satisfying the needs of the masses belonged to Him. He says in Mark 6:42, "They all ate and were satisfied". Jesus not only filled their bellies, He satisfied their souls. They hungered after Him because "he began to teach them many things." Only Jesus could speak to them at the very depth of their souls in a way that made them want more. That’s why they wouldn’t leave.
When we do ministry, as we share the gospel with people, they may be "unemployed" or a "single mother" or what have you, but in giving them the gospel we are giving them the true satisfaction of their souls.
Let God multiply what you give Him as you hold out the Word of Life. In these day to day encounters with people, let Him build on the seeds that you plant in those encounters throughout the week. As a deacon or elder, let Him take your gifts and multiply ministry in your district. As a Coffee Break leader, let Him take that hour of bible study and multiply the Word in these women's lives.
Be assured that being overwhelmed and afraid of all the needs that these ministries present to you is normal. Look past these needs, look past your inhibitions and weaknesses and look to the limitless resources of the One who multiplied the five loaves and two fish. Trust Him to multiply your ministry for His glory. In the midst of your weaknesses and fears, He will make you a blessing.
The Gospel of Mark doesn't say that these tired and overwhelmed disciples were encouraged and energized because of what they did. One can imagine, however, that being part of Jesus' miracle of multiplication gave the disciples fresh faith to carry on.
Much of ministry is tiring and overwhelming, but when we prayerfully place ourselves and our time and gifts in the hands of the One who multiplied the loaves and fish, we too may experience the power of God at work.
Perhaps a new believer is born into our church and we feel our spirits lifted. Perhaps our youth group is revitalized with young people professing their faith in Christ and giving themselves into vital acts of service. Perhaps a new diaconal ministry is started that reaches the felt needs of your church neighborhood and causes life changes in the people ministered to. These blessings have a way of energizing and refreshing us. They give us real examples of Jesus’ authority and power in the world today.
Yes, Jesus understands that the demands of ministry leave us tired and overwhelmed. Give Him what little you have in energy, time commitment and resources. Let Him multiply these into the lives of those you encounter to be glory to Himself. In our limitations and weaknesses, the evidence of His power shines through. God gets the glory!
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship: Isaiah 55:1-3a
Silent Prayer: concluded with Hymn #421:1
God's Greeting: Rev 1:4b-5
Hymn of Praise: Hymn #428
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 5:6-9
Hymn #489 vs. 2, 3
Will of God: Romans 13:8-14
Prayer for Understanding
Scripture Reading: Mark 6:30-44
Sermon: "Feeding the Masses"
Hymn of Response: #286
Benediction: Hebrews 13:20 and 3 fold Amen