Join us this Sunday as we focus on Mark 6:30-44. Rev. Scott will be speaking on the topic: “Surprised by Abundance.” Scripture will be read by Ian MacLeod and musical leadership is supplied by Betty Nobel, Sharon Prindle-Collins , and the Lyric Singers. We hope you will join in and worship via the website, YouTube Channel, or the 'Zoom Worship Gathering.'
“Surprised by Abundance”
Mark 6: 30-44 ~ August 15, 2021 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Surprises everywhere! Last week, we discovered Jesus’ compassionate surprise with the Canaanite woman approaching the Hebrew healer asking for relief over her afflicted daughter. To our surprise, we met a Jesus who, initially, rejected the mother’s request. And the text prompted us, over this past week, to consider the separations that exist…that cause us to reject one another…that cause us to be further separated from one another…that cause such deep divisions in our world. The dark parts of ourselves quietly muttered: ‘I have more in common with Jesus than I realized’. And as we found ourselves getting comfortable, getting more fully drawn into the heart of Jesus ~ both the parts of ourselves that exude light and the parts that prefer the darkness. And to both parts, Jesus gave the surprise of compassion. The Canaanite woman’s persistent faith caused Jesus to change his initial rejection and he offered compassionate healing…and we were surprised by compassion…and called live it in our days.
This summer has presented very differently than we first had hoped…surprises continue! What had we all hoped for? well…rest. Wasn’t that what you had hoped for? Rest? We have been on high alert for the past year and one-half, and frankly we are all…exhausted. Tired from pandemic uncertainty, from financial challenge, from the awaiting of a promised vaccine, from vigilant cleaning and diligent mask wearing. We are all tired and anticipated some summer rest. Vaccines were beginning to roll out in the spring and the light at the end of the tunnel seemed in sight. For Jesus’ disciples, they were overtired from being his missionaries. They had been sharing Jesus’ ministry with cities near and far; they had been supporting, healing, teaching and they, like us, were….exhausted. Jesus’ prescription was rest. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”. What wonderful words for those hard-working disciples to hear!
But…surprise…rest is not what arrived for them…or for us. Just when we thought we were on top of everything, Covid was busily mutating and adapting…we learned about the new threats posed by variants. Summer heat waves have come along testing the readiness of our emergency responders. Fires…fires have burned locally in our neighbourhoods devastating homes, and throughout our country forest fires have left a wake of destruction. For the disciples, there was no rest either. The crowds were growing in size and in appetite for what they offered. The massive crowds were following them; they were pressing in on them. For the disciples, there was no rest to be found. For us, there is no rest either…surprise!
Mother Teresa is, perhaps, one saint we think of for her tireless work of serving and caring. Over the generations, people of many different faiths have made a pilgrimage to “Mother House” in Calcutta. This is where she lived and served from the 50’s through until her death in 1997, and where she was laid to rest. We can only imagine the endless needs she saw and tended to. Ten years after her death, Mother Teresa’s private letters to her spiritual advisors were published in a volume entitled, Come Be My Light, and surprisingly those letters reveal the struggle of this famous 20th-century saint. Contrary to popular belief, she did not enjoy perpetual spiritual bliss as she went about doing the "Lord's work." Instead, her letters reveal her despair, doubt, loneliness, and the seeming abandonment of God. Teresa’s own "dark night of the soul" lasted for decades. Often in her letters, she berated herself for this "darkness," until finally, she comes to believe that God was allowing her to identify intimately with the suffering of those she had been called to serve. Mother Teresa needed rest.
And to all of us who NEED rest for the soul, to those of us who fear that we cannot offer what is required, to those of us who are reaching our daily limits…this text has a surprising teaching: God’s abundance will be found for those who have faith. In the text, nightfall was approaching and the disciples were wanting to send the crowds into the neighbouring towns to buy supplies. They reasoned…we don’t have enough to care for them, we don’t have enough to feed them, we don’t have enough. You can imagine what they wanted to say: ‘nightfall is coming friends…forge for yourselves and we will reconvene in the morning…go now while it is safe…go and fend for yourselves for we only have meagre supplies’.
And then Jesus surprises them by teaching that they have more than enough. Jesus teaches them of their abundance. ‘How can we possibly feed this crowd of 5,000? We only have 5 loaves of bread and two fish!’ And that is the surprising moment when Jesus’ followers actually become followers and receive faith! You might recall that it was only three chapters back that Jesus had appointed the 12 apostles. This passage is the surprising section where they learned how to be the 12! To their concern for the well-being of the crowds, Jesus first says to them: “you give them something to eat.” Don’t send them away…you give them something to eat. But they protest…we only have a few hundred denarii…we don’t have enough resources at our disposal to take care of them. And then Jesus shows the true nature of God’s abundance: that whenever two or three are gathered together ~ God’s presence is there…that the last shall be first…that in our weakness we are made strong…that together we are more than enough, because together we are God’s people.
The surprise, of course, would have been diminished if the disciples paid attention to the look on Jesus’ face (or for us: if we paid attention to the editorial comments in verse 34). When Jesus saw his disciples: “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. This is the surprising moment when Jesus becomes their shepherd! And when you break it down, we all follow something/someone; we all have a shepherd. In the timeless words of Bob Dylan… “You gotta serve somebody”. Dylan sang: You may be a construction worker working on a home. You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome. You might own guns and you might even own tanks. You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks. But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes, You're gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you're gonna have to serve somebody.” We LIKE to think that we are an island, independent, self-made, go-it-on-our-own…but the truth is that has never been the case. We might be a slave to money or addictions, we might be a slave to nobler things: family, friends, social causes…but we all serve something…when you boil it down, there are a few things that we serve…that cause us to get ourselves out of bed in the morning….that we would walk over cut glass for…that we would give up our last breath…that we serve. When Jesus looked at them, he realized that they were like sheep without a shepherd. He had claimed them, yet they had not claimed Jesus as the one they give their lives and follow…just yet. This is the surprising moment that Jesus becomes their shepherd!
And there is a surprising power that occurs when we let God’s light guide us forward. We find that when we let God’s grace claim us; when we let the Lord of Lords be ours, we realize the abundance that is truly around and within us. The disciples could not feed the crowds of thousands with their meagre resources ~ a few hundred denarii, 5 loaves and 2 fish. Yet when they gathered around those same resources that Jesus had held up to the heavens, that he had blessed and broken…they realized that there was enough…there was more than enough…with Jesus as their shepherd!
I wonder if we might consider taking the next step…the surprising step in faith. Take the next step and truly live as if there is ‘enough’ in what we have within and around us. I wonder if ~ into our troubles, we might begin to see God’s light shining. I wonder if ~ into our fears of scarcity, we might sense God’s abundant presence overflowing. I wonder ~ into the depths of our fear, if we might live as people who truly follow the one brings life after death, bread to our hunger, and light into despair. I wonder if we might truly follow Jesus as our Shepherd?
I would like to close with a story about God and the Devil. God delighted in all Creation, and especially in the creation of humankind saying “it is good” for He had breathed life into their bodies. It won’t be a surprise, then, that the Devil was very jealous over God’s creation. So, one day when God was enjoying watching the humans, the Devil casually happened to walk by. He asked God what He liked so much about these human creatures. And when God opened his mouth to speak, the Devil placed a bond on God’s tongue. God could not speak! The Devil laughed at God and proceeded to have his way humanity. As time went by, the devil came back to mock God. He scoffed at the silent God and taunted this seemingly helpless God. God responded to all this by holding up one finger. "One!" asked the Devil. "Are you trying to tell me you want to speak just one word?" Yes, God nodded. The confident devil thought to himself, "I don't suppose that even God could do much harm with just one word." So, the devil removed the bond from God's tongue. And God spoke his one word, in a whisper. He spoke it to all the people and it brought them great joy. It was a word that gathered up all the love, forgiveness, and creativity that God had in His heart. The word God spoke was “JESUS”.