Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember the loaves in the storm

What is the connection between Jesus calming the storm and feeding the 5000?
Mark's Gospel makes an insightful one. "The disciples were terrified, and amazed in the storm because they didn't understand about the loaves. Their hearts were hardened."

At this stage the feeding of the 5000 was just another spectacular display of Jesus power for them. Obviously, it must have been fantastic to be used in that way, and to see the fish and bread literally multiply in their hands.

It's only after the storm though, that Jesus gives significance to the miracle. "I am the Bread of Life. If anyone eats of me he shall have eternal life. If you do not eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you can have no part with me." The crowd that flocked to Jesus when he filled their stomachs fled from him when he offered to fill their souls. Only the 12 remained. But they understood about the loaves."Where else can we go, only you have the words of eternal life?" The miracle had become intensely personal for them.

The connection between the storm and the loaves is this. When we understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life broken for us, we are able to trust him to hold us together when the storms of life threaten to break us apart. Through the wind and the waves, we are able to hear him say, "Take courage. Do not be afraid. It is I."

Invading the Margins

The feeding of the 5000 is the flannel board story of stories: Jesus at a picnic, multiplying fish and bread from a little boy for the hungry crowds, in a field on the edge of a lake.

What's easy to miss is how costly this whole scene was, not just for the little boy, but for Jesus and his disciples.Mark's Gospel describes how the disciples are reporting back to Jesus about their first mission trip, but are interrupted by the crowd; so much so that they don;t even have time to eat. Jesus calls them away to a remote place to rest up and refuel. They are exhausted, hungry and mourning John's recent death at the hands of Herod.

The crowd sees them leave in the boat and runs to meet them on the other side. Jesus upon seeing them has compassion on them for they are 'like sheep without a shepherd,'and begins to teach them. His compassion causes him to surrender His margins. At the end of a day of teaching, the disciples, clearly frustrated at yet another meeting, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to get food. Their hope is for some peace and quiet and a good meal, at last. Jesus, completely unreasonably, tells the disciples to feed the crowds themselves.

In doing this Jesus completely invades the margins of their time, treasure and their talents. Everyone of us have margins in our lives. Areas that are invisibly, but definitely off limits to Jesus' demands.

The apostles who preached repentance, healed the sick and cast out demons were now asked to serve a crowd as waiters. Humbling? For sure. Are we willing for Jesus to invade the margins of our talents and ministries? The exhausted and starving disciples, were asked to serve others food. How are we with the margins of our time?
To feed the crowd would have cost 8 month's wages. How unreasonable of Jesus to expect the poor disciples to provide when they had gone without a meal for the whole day? How are we with the margins of our treasure?

Most of us want multiplication without the invasion of our margins. We want to see Jesus use us powerfully to help many multitudes. But before this miracle of multiplication, came division. The bread had to be placed in Jesus' hands and broken before the miracle took place. When the margins of our lives are surrendered and placed at His disposal we will see more of His power multiplied through us.
And that is no picnic.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary

Two Sundays ago I spoke about how Jesus began to send the twelve apostles out in 2's. They finally got to live up to their name as 'sent ones.'The list of pairs begins with the extrovert missional over achievers. Peter and Andrew, James and John, the front-footed fisherman brothers. Fishermen itching to fish for men.

Down near the bottom of the list are Thomas and Matthew. Probably not quite as eager. Thomas the cynical melancholic, still full of doubt about Jesus. Matthew the
tax collector, more than likely fearful of engaging a people who resent all he represents. I can't imagine that there was any real confidence or chemistry in this team. But Jesus sent them nonetheless with a clear mission. Preach repentance. Heal the sick. Cast out demons. It wasn't a complex mission. But it was mission impossible without Jesus' authority.

The simplicity of their mission informs ours. It is, "To Glorify the Father in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus."
It's simplicity is so that it can be owned and carried by a whole community.I am as concerned by the scope of the mission as I am it's simplicity. Every time the church allows the missional burden to be carried only by the experts; the Andrews and Peters, the James and Johns, the mission weakens and slows down.

But when the reluctant missionaries; the Thomas's and Matthews, begin to carry the missional burden, that's when something special begins to happen in a community. The introverts, the cynics and the doubters who go in reliance on Christ's authority and the Spirit's power, these are what make a community truly missional.

You know that doubting Thomas became the Apostle to India, don't you? He was martyred for his faith, but not before he saw many turn to Christ and the church established. Coincidentally, a man in our church has an Indian friend called George Thomas, who happens a Christian. In India there was a tradition among the first Christians, where a convert took on the name of the person who first preached the Gospel to him. This was the case with George's ancestors. It was Thomas, the reluctant apostle, whose message changed the course of this family by the power of the Gospel. And the seed of Thomas's faithful witness continues to bear fruit many centuries later. Doubting, reluctant, willing Thomas.