June 2, 1991
The Law of the Sabbath: Mercy
This scriptural incident written by Mark begins innocently enough. Coming to a field of ripened grain, the men did what they probably had done for years. They saw the grain was ripe, picked it, rubbed it between their palms, blew the skins away, and ate the grain.
This one simple act violated important pharisaical laws dictating that righteous Jews should not work on the Sabbath. These broken laws included reaping, threshing, winnowing, and meal preparation on the Sabbath. This simple act brought about a verbal confrontation between Jesus and the doctors of the Law — the Pharisees.
What, on the surface, appears to be a skirmish between a small group versus Jesus is actually a battle between two philosophical, theological, moral and ethical systems. On the one hand is the system of the law, and on the other the system of mercy.
God never intended to make the Law a God to be worshipped; yet that is precisely what happened to the Pharisees. Jehovah’s intent was that the law would be a vehicle of mercy. This incident of Mark 2:23-28, along with a practical demonstration of human law versus human mercy (Mark 3:1-6) draws our attention to the barrier created by the Pharisees. Examining the incidents will guide us to three thoughts.
I. Mercy Under the Law
The ten commandments laid before mankind the “how-to’s” of life. Modern moral and ethical codes for living are based on this understanding of God’s commands.
These commandments are unchangeable; however, man undertakes the task of refining and defining these laws. The Pharisees became fanatical with their interpretation. Their lack of mercy for people made the laws become ends in themselves.
The law was established as the administrator of mercy. Somewhere in history the idea of law took a side road off of the main highway. Instead of being the “why” of life, it became the way of life. Mercy was buried under the law instead of being the foundational material of the law of justice.
II. Mercy Accompanies the Law
The Pharisees bent the law for their own good, not the good of others. The goal of the Pharisees became the perpetuation of the laws that they developed, not God’s laws. Legalism became an obsession as the rules became more important than the people they were prescribed to benefit.
The illustration of the disciples eating the shewbread on the Sabbath is important; however, the man with the shriveled hand produces a much greater dramatic picture of how the two standards of justice and mercy work together. The holy Sabbath day reaffirms our need of restoration, an appropriate day to be healed. Yet the legalistic Pharisees viewed it as work on the Sabbath and were enraged at Jesus. They went so far as to approach their archrivals, the Herodians, and plotted to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6). These men should have been rejoicing in the healing of a fellow human being. Mercy was a foreign concept to them; it must not be to Christ’s disciples.
III. Mercy Through the Law
Jesus repeated often, by His words and actions, that mercy comes through the law, and the law becomes mercy. His defense of the disciples eating the grain and His healing of the man reveal His mercy. William Barclay mentions that the best use of holy or sacred things is to use them to help people. The shewbread was never more sacred than when it was used to feed David’s starving men.
The final arbiter in the use of all things is love and mercy, not legalism. It is mercy through the law that Jesus demonstrated for mankind. (DGK)
June 9, 1991
The Picture of Jesus
Looking at old photographs of the civil war is a pleasure of mine. As I look at the image captured I wonder what the person was like, what his thoughts were at the moment, what kind of personality he possessed. My imagination can run wild.
Mark displays a picture of Jesus in this text.
I. Mark Pictures a Misunderstood Jesus (3:21, 31)
You could understand if enemies misunderstood you — they don’t care — and perhaps even brothers; however, one’s own mom misunderstanding is quite a let-down! That must be how Jesus felt on two separate occasions (v. 21, 31).
How she could misunderstand Him — considering all that she had experienced — is puzzling. She heard the angelic messenger and his announcement (Luke 1:45), plus the pondering and wondering after the shepherds’ departure (Luke 2:18-19). She heard the Magi talk about a new King of Israel (Matthew 3:1-12). She had been with Joseph as they fled to Egypt after the angel’s instructions (Matthew 2:13-18). She was well aware of Jesus’ healing ministry, including driving out an evil spirit (Mark 1:29-34), cleansing a leper (Mark 1:40-45), and the healing of a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12).
The woman who had seen, pondered and believed now comes with her other children in doubt, confusion and misunderstanding of her son, Jesus. Before we begin pointing fingers and shaking heads in our own disbelief of her, let us ask ourselves if we act like that occasionally! How often have we seen people’s lives transformed, alcoholics and drug addicts healed, healings — only to question Jesus. We misunderstood His direction, His will, His guidance, His desire, His love. Today, examine your own understanding of Jesus.
II. Mark Pictures a Patiently Teaching Jesus (3:23-27)
These people were stubbornly blinded spiritually, yet Christ deals gently and graciously with them. A good rule of thumb in interpreting parables is to remember that they are designed for us to test ourselves.
Christ shows by parable how absurd their position was. Jesus patiently teaches the people that Satan will be defeated by a stronger force, His righteous power.
III. Mark Pictures a Forgiving Jesus (3:28-30)
There is forgiveness by God for every sin imaginable from adultery to murder, from prejudice to hatred. Yet one sin that evades forgiveness is the willful and persistent refusal to allow the illumination of God’s Spirit into your life. There needs to be a search of your heart to assure that you are not refusing God’s Holy Spirit entrance into life, because willful blindness destroys eternally! The sweet smell of forgiveness in your life is wonderful.
A little boy was asked to define forgiveness. He answered, “It is the scent that flowers give off when they are trampled on!”
Jesus was trampled on so that we could find forgiveness. Please don’t turn His Spirit away. (DGK)
June 16, 1991
The Contemporary Christian
(2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17)
A bright, little, eight-year-old girl was teaching her younger brother how to ride a bicycle. After several fruitless attempts, the little boy steadied himself as he wobbled from side to side and pompously shouted, “I’m moving, I’m moving.” His extremely older and much wiser sister coldly replied, “Yes, you’re moving, but you aren’t going anywhere!”
That illustrates many Christian lives. They move aimlessly about but never go anywhere for Jesus. Paul calls to the Corinthians — and people like them throughout the ages — to stop their aimlessness. Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians is also a challenge for contemporary Christians.
I. We Are Called to Continuous Renewal of Faith (v. 7)
The Christian’s complete confidence is based in Jesus. The challenge is to be up-to-date in our relationship with Jesus by constant soul searching, prayer, and Bible study.
A. B. Simpson said that true faith drops its letter in the post office box and lets it go. Distrust, on the other hand, holds on to a corner and wonders why the answer never comes.
II. We Are Called to a Positive, Practical Expression of Love (v. 14)
Anna Burnham told of someone who spoke disparagingly about a newcomer to the church. The person said to the pastor that the newcomer was just an “everyday sort of Christian.” The shrewd old minister caught up on the word “everyday” with real enthusiasm. He said:
“An everyday sort of Christian, is he? Is he that? I wish I had known it when I gave him the right hand of fellowship. I would have given him both hands.”
The trouble is that there aren’t enough everyday sort of Christians. There are too many every-other-day Christians. They haven’t really fallen in love with Christ or their fellow Christians.
Today, maybe in secret, we can show some kind act of love to someone in a positive, practical expression of love. Take some cookies and leave them at the doorstep — then run! Put a five dollar bill in a plain envelope and put the name of someone who needs it on the outside and send it anonymously. Send a letter of encouragement to someone who is discouraged. Call one of the church leaders and tell him or her what a great job they’re doing. Take a teenager out for a cola. Ask a child if you could play a game with him for a half hour. Just think of an idea and take the time to do it.
III. We Are Called to Biblical Principles of Conduct (v. 16-17)
As Christians we are to act like Christ. Our moral and ethical principles are no longer earth-centered but God-centered.
When I joined the Rotary Club, I was given a plaque with the “four way test” of Rotary. That “four way test” asks the following questions:
“Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and friendship? Will it benefit all concerned?” Those questions are appropriate for us to answer as we carry out our lifestyle of Christian conduct.
The contemporary Christian’s challenge is to go somewhere! Where is the challenge taking you today, tomorrow, next week, the rest of your life? (DGK)
June 23, 1991
The Other Side
It had been a long, hard day. The crowds had been increasing, and so had the criticism. Jesus had been caught working again on the Sabbath, and His enemies didn’t like that one little bit! He had been doing strange and wonderful things, and His friends and family had come to take Him home, thinking that He was “beside Himself.” But Jesus wouldn’t return home with them. Nor would He stop His teaching and preaching and healing simply because of Sabbath laws.
Nor would the crowds stop coming. They came from all around Galilee to hear this inspiring preacher. There were so many of them that Jesus eventually had to get into a boat and push off from the land to get room enough to continue speaking. And so, as evening came on, it is understandable that He was tired. He told the disciples to push off from land, and go over to “the other side” of the lake.
There are places in the New Testament where we skip over words and phrases without being aware of their deeper meaning. This is one of them. “The Other Side” is to be contrasted with “Our Side.” “The Other Side” was the pagan, Gentile “Decapolis” area, where an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth might find a few moments peace from the pressing crowds. But just as Jesus and the disciples cast off from shore to get a respite from the turmoil, a storm came up suddenly, and the boat was almost swamped. Jesus was awakened, stilled the storm, and they continued their journey to the “other side.”
I. The Stilling of the Storm, like the other miracles in Mark’s Gospel which are not healing miracles, affirms that Jesus Christ is, as the hymn says, the “ruler of all nature.” Theologian Kans Kung says: “… the miracle stories are not intended to be proofs of God but pointers to His action in the world” (Does God Exist, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980, p. 651). This was probably the story’s first function as it circulated among the miracle-seeking common folk who flocked to see, hear, and touch Jesus. The story was undoubtedly used by the earliest Christian missionaries to testify that Jesus Christ is Lord of all (See Lamar Williamson Jr., Mark, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983, p. 101).
But in its present setting in the Gospel of Mark, the story addresses a community of believers who are in need of a challenge to trust Jesus more. They are being challenged to “cross over” to the Gentile mission, despite the turmoil and storm of protest this stirred up in the early church (Ads 15).
When Mark wrote his Gospel, the church was making its first tentative forays into the pagan Gentile world. Paul had already begun his mission to the Gentiles. These events were causing no end of controversy among the earliest Christians, and Mark may well be addressing the situation of his day in his Gospel.
Our Scripture lesson begins with three words which were often on the lips of Jesus: “Let us go.” There appears to be a restiveness and restlessness about Jesus. He was always suspicious of settling down too much in any one place. As Halford Luccock says in The Interpreter’s Bible, “The lure of the horizon was always before Him.”
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter wanted to stay and build three altars. Jesus refused, and sent the disciples back into the city. One wonders whether we latter-day disciples of Jesus have kept the lure of the horizon which marked Jesus’ ministry? Do the three little words “let us go” still sound within our hearts and lives? Just as His church gets settled down in old ruts comfortably, Jesus says, “Let us go to the other side …” across new frontiers, where Christ’s message has not yet been heard or applied. “Let us go …” into every arena and area of life. “Let us go.”
There are not many nature miracles in the Gospels, and those few that appear seem to have had some deep significance beyond what appears on the surface. Can it be that Mark was writing when the church was undergoing stormy times, and he remembered this story to give courage and confidence to a persecuted, outnumbered church? Of course, the story affirms that Jesus Christ is, as the familiar hymn says, “ruler of all nature.”
But there is a deeper meaning here. In the first instance, perhaps the story was used to stir up faith among the common-folk, to remind them that Jesus Christ is lord of anything and everything, and that they ae not alone in the midst of the storms of life. Perhaps in the context of its present setting in Mark’s Gospel the story addresses a community of believers who were besieged by the storms of life and needed to be challenged to trust Jesus more.
II. It Is Surely a Puzzling Picture: the disciples about to perish, and Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat. One wonders: Does Christ have to be wakened in order to save us? Or is His nap in the stern of the boat a way of saying that He will not interfere with our free will? He will not force us into faith.
In Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, I heard an orthodox rabbi give the best interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis I’ve ever heard, especially that part which tells us that “God rested on the seventh day.” Does it mean that God had to take time out for a nap? Or that God took a coffee break? Or is there a deeper meaning?
Consider this: in ancient times, seven was the number for perfection. Just as we use 100% — for them, seven was the figure to reach. And the Hebrew says “periods of time” rather than days. What is the significance of God stopping after the sixth period of time? It means that God has left some of the work for us to do. In other words, God’s creation is not yet complete. There’s something left for us to do! As John F. Kennedy said in one of his speeches: “In this world, God’s work must truly be our own.”
III. “Master, Don’t You Care?” the disciples asked Jesus. Some commentators suggest that that is a stupid question, but I think not. Have you never felt that God was absent, asleep, if not dead? That God didn’t care? Perhaps this story was remembered by Mark because that is precisely the situation the church found itself in at the time of his writing.
How often in history we have echoed that sad refrain. It surely must have echoed in the arenas of Nero’s Rome; it could be heard in the persecution of Protestants during the Reformation. It is heard today when we get nervous as people confidently make predictions of the imminent demise of the church. “Lord, don’t you care whether we perish?”
British Methodist Colin Morris once remarked that “had computers existed in 1872 when horse-drawn transportation was universal, they would certainly have predicted that by 1972 the whole world would be covered seven feet deep in horse manure” (Hammer of the Lord, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973, p. 24). But something happened to alter the course of history — the invention of the internal combustion engine. Something which no computer, no matter how intelligent, could have foreseen.
Just when things look bleakest and blackest, something happens. God steps in to calm the storm. We need to take dire predictions seriously, but not too seriously. God is still capable of pulling off a miracle or two.
“Don’t you care?” the disciples asked Jesus. Which of us has not asked it at one time or another? It is the same question that we ask a leaden sky, when our hopes and dreams come crashing down around us, when the storms of life overtake us.
“Where is God? Where is He?” asked a prisoner at Auschwitz as a young boy was hung on a scaffold to die before the other prisoners, in Elie Weisel’s book titled Night. “Where is God now?” “On that scaffold with the dying boy,” came the quiet reply.
“Don’t you care?” The entire story of Jesus shows that, more than anyone who ever lived among us, He cared. He cared enough to lay down His life for us.
I can’t help thinking (an idea suggested by a sermon by David H. C. Read) of that other time in the Garden of Gethsemane when it was the disciples who were asleep and their Master was agonizingly awake. For Jesus the danger of the storm on the lake was as nothing compared to the battle with the powers of evil against which He fought in the Garden, when even He cried out and wondered for a brief moment whether God had abandoned Him, too. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
In other words, Jesus Himself wondered whether God cared. But in spite of His wonder, He said, “Not my will but thine be done.” And He discovered that beyond the storm of Good Friday there was the stillness of Easter Day.
For God does care — and cares infinitely. That is what Jesus lived to teach, died to show, and rose to prove. That is what the empty cross is all about. (DBS)
June 30, 1991
Faith is daring when the soul is challenged beyond what it can see. The scripture text develops two independent, yet interrelated incidents of daring faith that challenged the participants.
The previous days had been busy for Jesus. The passages prior to the test reveal that Jesus and His crew had been accosted by nature. A wild storm arose on the lake where they were traveling. Jesus calmed the storm.
Shortly afterward they landed on the shores of Gadara. A man came from out of the tombs, filled with demons and attacked Jesus. A loving, yet powerful Christ healed this man’s mind and spirit by driving out his personal demons.
Coming back from the region of the Gadarenes, Christ was immediately thronged by a relentless, large crowd. These people wanted to see Him, touch Him, talk with Him, listen to Him. They wanted to be in His presence.
As Jesus spoke, a disturbance in the back of the crowd, moving forward, occurred. One of the synagogue rulers, Jarius, broke through the crowd to seek Christ’s help. The closer he got to Jesus, the greater was his vocal and emotional intensity. He fell at the feet of Jesus, probably with tears running down his cheeks, as he pleaded for the healing of his twelve-year-old daughter, who was on the brink of death.
Jewish clerical leaders looked at Jesus as a trouble-maker and heretic. They would avoid Jesus at any cost. Jarius had heard the warnings but they were insignificant to him at that moment. Important to him, after all, was his daughter’s life! At that moment he didn’t care about his religious position in the community, or the messages from Caiaphas. He swallowed his pride in a daring act of faith when he ran to the lake shore to find Jesus.
Christ responded to Jarius’ need by walking toward his house. On the way there, yet another hurting person reached out to Jesus. There was no showmanship, no antics; just a quiet reaching out to touch the hem of His garment in an act of daring faith. Twelve years of bleeding had left this woman weak. Searching for the right cure from doctors had left her poor. In one last act of desperation — but in faith — she touched Jesus and was healed.
As this was happening, someone slipped behind Jarius and whispered in his ear that his child had died. Jesus turned his attention from the woman, and assured Jarius that through faith his daughter would be healed. Jarius was not disappointed.
Jesus’ response to these two events is significant to us.
I. Jesus Responds in Tenderness and Compassion
Do you sense the tender, compassionate feeling radiating from Jesus? Christ modeled the concept that human need must always be met.
Our task is to aid in the relief of people’s pain and suffering. Compassion must never cease. Let our church be known as the Church of the Open Heart! Compassion must drive us to action.
II. Jesus Responds in Authority
Authority means power, strength, or ability over anything. Jesus demonstrated His authority and power over disease and death. Christ’s authority, blended with God’s raw power and combined with a woman’s daring faith, produced healing. His omnipotence, coupled with a father’s daring faith and love, produced life from death.
God will respond in authority in all aspects of our lives from the physical to the spiritual.
A first-time traveler to the west came to the banks of the Mississippi River with no way to cross from one side to the other. He, however, had to get to the other side.
It was winter and ice covered the great river. The traveler didn’t know how thick the ice was but night was coming so he hesitantly started across. He crept out on hands and knees. When he had gone about halfway over, he heard the sound of singing behind him. There, in the dusk of evening, he could see a man driving a four-horse load of coal across the ice, and singing as he went.
Many Christians creep tremblingly out upon God’s promises when they should be crossing with daring faith. (DGK)
July 7, 1991
Who Is in Charge Here?
(2 Samuel 7:1-17)
David shifted from his task as a shepherd, caring for his father’s sheep, to being the King of Judah. It had been a long and arduous effort.
David was far from perfect. He was sometimes rash. His enemies were ruthless and his efforts were dangerous. Yet every development in his live moved him closer to the final victory. Whatever he did was divinely blessed. There were days when David may never have thought about God. Yet God was with him just the same.
The two kingdoms are united. The land is temporarily at peace. The new capital of Jerusalem is secure. The ark of the covenant is in the capital city. For the first time in years, David had time to reflect and to contemplate.
The idea is clear. Why should David live in such a fine palace, made of cedar, while the divine presence is in a box in a flimsy tent? David verbalizes his desire to build a proper house of God. Nathan the prophet agrees. Don’t we all want a sanctuary that is the finest?
The drama is not yet finished. During the night, Nathan has a dream and vision. It is revealed to this mediator between God and the king that David will not build the temple. God’s word seems to be almost peevish: “You want to build me a house?”
Throughout this simple story is woven two themes. There is an interplay between “the house of Yahweh” and “the house of David.” The central issue seems to be which is primary, and how each understands the other.
The first impulse of David to honor God seems to be rooted in the understanding that David as king can do just such a thing. But God removed any doubt, at least in Nathan’s mind, who is primary. God is the one who sways the future. God will establish the “house of David.” It is not David who will establish the “house of God.”
That is just what happens in the history of the people of God. A temple is built, destroyed, rebuilt, decays, is rebuilt, and finally is destroyed again. Yet the house of David continues. It culminates in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the final heir of David the king, the ultimate King of the people of God. The dynasty God established extends through the followers of Jesus Christ. There are some truths for us.
There is a truth of the primacy of divine authority over all human authority. The concern of many in Israel was whether or not a human king would usurp the role of God. Some kings attempted that. God was in control and the kings faded from history.
There is the truth of prophetic mediation. Nathan is the communicator between David and God. Without the presence of the prophet to listen for and to speak about the will of God, the will of God would not have been understood.
There is the lesson of human self-understanding. David at his worst was insensitive, selfish, arrogant, petty, defiant, immoral. David at his best was the obedient servant of God.
William James put it this way: “We and God have business with each other; and in opening ourselves to His influence, our deepest destiny is fulfilled. The universe, as those parts of it which our personal being constitutes, takes a turn genuinely for the worse or the better in proportion as each one of us fulfills or evades God’s demands.”
Each of us may seek goals for the best of reasons which are not in keeping with the will of God. Each of us can become obedient servants of God, blessed by Him because we are doing the will of God. (HCP)
July 14, 1991
Disciples Then and Now
The people in the synagogue, according to the Gospel of Mark, rejected Jesus when he preached at Nazareth. Jesus did not cease His ministry. He called disciples. He preached and taught in other towns. Jesus continued His journeys. Although rejected in Nazareth, people responded positively elsewhere.
Our Lord then commissions His twelve disciples to go also. The disciples would multiply the numbers who could hear the message concerning the reality of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus gives the twelve specific instructions. There are accounts in each of the three gospels, and each of the narratives emphasize particular details. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus instructs His disciples that it is appropriate for them to take shoes and a staff. But there are some possessions they are not to take — bread, bag, money, or extra clothes.
The Gospel of Mark portrays the twelve going forth with dignity but without the power of possessions. To be shoeless was an indication of being dispossessed. Jesus’ disciples are to appear responsible persons capable of self support.
People used staffs for protection. The disciples were not to appear as defenseless wanderers. None were overburdened — no food, no money, no extra clothes, no baggage.
The disciples accepted the mission and went out. They proclaimed the need for repentance, drove out demons, anointed the sick with oil, and cured them. They went out, not in their own power but with the authority of their teacher. They went with the reality of and power of God Himself. All their acts evidenced that their power was from God Himself.
There is a mission for disciples today. It is a mission to which disciples are still called and commissioned. There are easily discovered similarities between the mission of disciples then and now.
I. Disciples on a Mission are Sent
Our United Methodist denomination is continuing a thirty-year study of the character and structure of the ordained ministry. A recent draft report being prepared for presentation at the 1992 General Conference was studied by a group of clergy.
One reaction was evident among several in the group. The report does not emphasize a divine call. The study appears (perhaps unintentionally) to equate ordination by the church with the divine impulse. One pastor observed that pastors are called by God, gifted by God, supported by God.
Ordination for divinely commissioned clergy is the recognition by the church of what was already a reality in the mind, heart, and life. Ordination is the recognition by the church of the reality of God’s call.
II. Disciples Travel Light
Both individually and as congregations we can be burdened down with material objects. Many Christians are questioning the ownership of so many possessions by individuals and congregations. The question of how much and how many will be debated more frequently among disciples.
Churches do hope for worshipful sanctuaries, well furnished classrooms, groomed lawns. Those possessions can be evidence of the commitment of the people to their church. These objects can also be evidence of idolatry.
Disciples can minister no matter the poverty of the circumstances. Clarence Jordan, of Koinonia Farms, once remarked that he had to question the commitment of any Christian who owned two suits of clothes in a world where most persons did not own one.
III. Disciples are Effective
Disciples do the work of representing their God. They proclaim the words of God. They expel the powers of darkness. They bring solace for the sick of body and spirit. Lives are changed.
The mission of the twelve was to represent Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God. The mission of every disciple is to bring the coming Kingdom of God into focus for others. (HCP)
July 21, 1991
Who is Important Here?
The message about God’s Son, Jesus of Nazareth, spread across the Roman Empire. People of all circumstances and background heard of Him. Some did not believe. Some did believe in Him.
Some were Jews from Jerusalem who continued going to the Temple. They observed all the obligations of their Jewish heritage. Some were Gentiles from Corinth who in their new faith still struggled with the immorality around them and among them. Persons in many categories had faith in Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles believed in our Lord.
As often happens in diverse groups, Jews looked upon the Gentiles as second class citizens. Gentiles thought of the Jews as traditionalists who didn’t understand the new world. The Acts of the Apostles refers to the conflicts. Paul’s letters focus on the barriers between groups in the church.
In Ephesians 2:11-22 is a clear statement about the equality of all in Christ Jesus. F. F. Bruce wrote in a commentary on these verses that in the new order which the gospel had inaugurated there was no room for mutual disparagement.
Once there were Jews and Gentiles. Now God has created a third category. There is now the new humanity found in the church gathered because of their common faith in Christ. Those in that church are no longer Jews or Gentiles, they are Christians.
The Law had been a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. For one group, the Law was vital. For the other it was unnecessary. The Temple was a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. For one, the Temple was the central symbol of community with God. For the other, it was just another building. There was the barrier between life and death. The gospels tell of the destruction of the curtain before the Holy of Holies. There is no barrier between man and God. Other barriers also are destroyed in the new humanity created through Christ.
Two thousand years later, you and I find it difficult to be excited about the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. That was long ago. Those barriers do not personally affect us. There are divisions in our world that do affect us. There are barriers that cause each of us concern.
The divisions between cultured and uncultured, rich and poor, educated and ill-trained, male and female, black and white, east and west, old and young, this nation and that nation are still here. Such divisions are not the will of God or the design of Christ. There is no privilege for any of the people of God which is not also a privilege for every member of the household of faith, of the children of the Creator.
A man asked for a room at an exclusive hotel. The man was so unimpressive that the clerk told him there was no room available.
The hotel manager passed and recognized the man. The manager whispered to the clerk that the man was Pierre Monteux, for many years the distinguished conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. The clerk apologized, “Of course, we will take care of you, Mr. Monteux! Why didn’t you tell me you were somebody?”
The maestro turned to leave, replying, “Madame, everyone is somebody.”
Every person is a miracle. Every person as a child of God is to be respected and affirmed. There are no ordinary people. There are no ranks of importance before God or in His church. Everyone benefits from the privileges and gifts of God. (HCP)
July 28, 1991
Seeking the Bread of Life
Jesus spoke to and taught the many people who came to Him. They were among the hills, far from a village. The people were not prepared to stay all day, but they do, and when they become hungry Jesus feeds five thousand. Jesus senses that something is about to happen.
The crowd is nearing riot condition. They are ready to capture Him, start a revolution, and proclaim Him king. Jesus slips away to find a boat so He can cross the lake. The next day the crowd is again present, eager to hear Jesus. Discovering that Jesus has gone, the disciples commandeer all the boats they can and go after Him. The disciples want to know why Jesus slipped away. They realized that great things could have happened.
Jesus confronts them with the truth. The crowd has not followed Him because of His teaching but because they can be fed. They have been seeking only that food which is temporary and which is required again the next day.
Jesus is prepared to offer a different lifegiving bread. The bread of which Jesus speaks is a bread which is never stale. The bread Jesus gives provides eternal life. The episode in the Gospel of John concludes with those familiar words of Jesus, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger ….”
Here are some significant truths.
I. There is a bread we earn and there is a bread we are given.
In the Old Testament, bread was given in the wilderness. That manna came down for them, and it sustained them in their journey. The pilgrim people could pick up enough for one day. If they became greedy and attempted to get enough for tomorrow also, the bread spoiled.
The people in the wilderness thought they had earned that bread. Those four hundred years in bondage in Egypt gave them some claim on the support of God, didn’t it?
The bread which Jesus brings cannot be earned. It is a free and gracious gift. In the wilderness, the manna was their bread. On the hillside, the bread was God’s bread. There is a difference between what we earn and what we are given.
Near the end of his life Napoleon wrote, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires, but upon what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire on love, and at this hour millions of persons would die for Him…. The religion of Christ is a mystery which subsists by its own force.”
II. There is a bread we have and a bread we desire.
The folks on the hillside had bread at home. They could have gone home to eat their daily bread. They stayed to let someone provide for them. They desired another bread.
In writing some adult curriculum, I focused on the parable of the man who found the treasure in the field and the merchant who found the valuable pearl. Both sell everything to possess the new-found treasures. The good news of Jesus Christ is wrapped up in that desire we have to possess His gifts. We will have only what we long for deeply.
III. There is a bread we produce and a bread which produces us.
Turning daily to the Scriptures is essential for us all. The discipline of daily study and meditation upon the word of God provides a life-giving and life-sustaining power within us. God works through us and in us when we shelter ourselves with His word of power.
Without gratitude, love does not exist. Without gratitude, life is lost and God is nothing more than an oblong blur for us. Thanks be to God who gives us bread. (HCP)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Derl G. Keefer, Pastor, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, Ml; Donald B. Strobe, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI; and Harold C. Perdue, Development Officer, Texas Methodist Foundation, Round Rock, TX.
June 2, 1991