“Feeding the Hungry.”

John 6: 1-21, July 25th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear again this lesson from the gospel according to John, verses one thru sixteen.”

John 6:1-21

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what are they among so many people?”  10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.”  Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.  11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”  13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.  It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.  19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.  20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”  21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

“Having heard the miraculous event of Jesus feeding the crowd, let us carefully consider the response from those gathered that day.  Let us ask ourselves, ‘would we, would you or I response in like manner?’”

“Feeding the Hungry.”

I have always been fascinated with this passage of scripture.  The miracle of Jesus feeding that large crowd that was recorded as at least five thousand.  Perhaps a great many more than just five thousand, as scholars speculate that they did not count the women and children.  Which is possibly correct as in that time in history men where in dominance and women had few rights, thus were not often counted.  The truly fascinating point of the passage is that there are so many plausible possibilities as to ‘how’ Jesus feed the crowd.  Is the accounting ‘literally’ accurate and the food simply multiplied as it was passed around within the crowd while in the twelve baskets?  Or perhaps there were a great many, like the boy that day, whom had two dried fish and five barley loaves of bread.  And after Jesus lifted-up the generous donation, which the boy offered, and after Jesus had blessed it, the heart of a great many gathered were opened – and they also shared their packed lunches that they also carried with them!  Either way it was a great miracle!  Being an ordained pastor for over twenty-six years now, I realize how mystical and miraculous it still is for people to open-up their own food supplies and donate it to the hungry.  Thankfully, we know how crucial such miracles are in this time in history!

What many theologians strive to do, at a moment such as this, is to see if any of you can identify with any of the characters in our passage.  Janet H. Hunt, a theologian and author, asks us about how we relate to this passage.  “Who do you relate to in this story?  Philip?  Andrew?  The boy?  Someone in the crowd?  How does where you enter the story impact your understanding of the meaning of Jesus feeding the 5,000?”  Each aspect of her questions open-up a new thought.  Philip, the practical one wanted to be sure Jesus understood how far from town they were, as that is the place in which they could have purchased food that day.   He also stressed how expensive that would be when Jesus expressed interest in how and where they could get food.  “When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Jesus said this to test Philip, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered Jesus, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  /John 67: 5-7/ Yet it was Andrew who first turned to the crowd looking for a solution.   ‘One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, (seemingly without being asked) “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.  But what are they among so many people?”’ /John 6: 8 & 9/

So where might we find ourselves in this lesson?  We do still need to decide where in the story we are.  As a youngster, if I were listening to the story, I would want to be at the center of it all, thus I would want to be the boy, the lad that offers up his lunch, which was packed for me when I headed out that morning.  How glorious it would be to think that Jesus blesses my lunch and then feeds it to the people.  As the boy I would be pretty darn proud that my food was chosen to a part of a miracle performed by Jesus!  Wouldn’t you feel the same?  Or I could get all excited and see Jesus as the teacher, the Pastor, thereby using this opportunity to teach a lesson to those gathered.  The power of God’s love… mystically having the food multiply… once it is blessed and placed in the basket.  And the hearts of those gathered are opened to the example of the boy who shared all he had so that others might be fed.  Being either the lad or the pastor in the story would allow me to be a ‘conduit’ of God’s mystical powers!  There are a great many within this congregation, within this faith fellowship who could and do fill these roles on a regular basis.  Each one of you who donate food or give of your time or talents to help facilitate feeding others, puts you in the story.  If you related to Philip and were considering how you might help fund a needed enterprise, you are here too!  If you are the one who is always trying to convince someone how they can make a difference by their small offerings, there is room for you in this dialog; you are much like Andrew.  All of us are in this crowd gathered, is some way. 

Most of us know what it means to be hungry… it happens every day!  If you had traveled a great distance and supplies were running short, as probably not everyone had as much quantity as the young lad did, you would want to be fed.  You would be hungry and thirsty as well!  Surely, we all could identify with part of the crowd.  After traveling a long way to hear and see someone or something spectacular based on what others had said.  In this case Jesus was known to be a healer and a storyteller.  He was clearly charismatic as he drew the crowds and once, they heard Jesus, they wanted more and more from him!  Yes, they were hungry and thirst for food and water, just as we would be, if we were there that day.  But they did not travel just to get nourishment for their bodies, they wanted something else.  They wanted some of that spiritual food he offered.  You do realize that food often is administered and spoken of abstractly, as in a spiritual way?  People hunger and thirst for nourishment for their spirits and their souls as often as they crave food for their bodies.  Which did the crowd gather for as they followed Jesus out into the countryside; so far out it would take hours to get back to town to buy or fix lunch?   Surely, they came for the spiritual nourishment for their very souls; their spirits needed an uplift after being oppressed for so, so long!  The food and water for their bodies was just an afterthought which Jesus uses to, once again, offer new hope to a people who had lost hope!

If you are a literalist, you may still be reeling with my suggestion that there are at least two possible ways the people were all fed the food they needed.  And perhaps, you think that it is ridiculous that Jesus could or would have unhardened the hearts of the crowd, enough to cause them to give up their own packed lunches, to be sure all had plenty to eat.  Well, before you reject this as a plausible possibility let me offer this thought.    Consider this: ‘Try retelling this story, as written, to someone you know.  Be sure to tell them all the details, as they in turn will be instructed to tell the account of the passage to another.’  Do this for about thirty years, and then check back in with me, if I am still here, and let us compare notes.  Did any of the details change?  It may be a shock for you to hear this, but there is no record of this lesson being documented or written down until Jesus has been crucified by the Romans for thirty years.  Is it not plausible that some of the details of the story may have gotten distorted or left out during such a long thirty-year oral tradition?  And please tell me the last time you were on a bus or a train or at the beach and someone started passing out their lunch and/or sharing their bottles of cold drinks to all the strangers around them!  I must agree with your silent answers: “Now that would be very special indeed, perhaps a miracle even!”  Whatever way we reflect on this lesson, it always comes out that Jesus performed a miracle that day.  No one went back to town and shelled out six months wages to buy food for the crowd.  The absolute truth is Jesus caused the people to be fed, fed until they were full!  That is a miracle!

Even as we ponder this miracle story, the additional verses which take us to the sea to Capernaum, we hear of yet another miracle – Jesus, walking on water!   What are we to make of all this!?  First, let us consider what the crowd did after being fed!  “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” /John 6: 15/ Then the disciples head out upon the sea, to cross over to the other side.  (The scripture does not clarify the details any further.)  Apparently, they were far, far from shore and Jesus appears to them as he walks on the water to join them!  As soon as they see him, the rough water caused by the wind is calmed, they then are suddenly on land at the other side!  The combination of these two accounts linked together can only leave us as astonished as the disciples must have been.  The feeding of the large crowd was surely a miracle event.  It is no wonder the people wanted to make Jesus the king!  Then the disciples seeing Jesus out on a ‘rough wind driven sea’ and walking on the water!  This too – uplifts who Jesus was believed to be.  As the disciples were far from the crowd, this line of scripture comes from accounts from the disciples themselves.  Perhaps they recounted this event after his resurrection as they tried to make sense of it all. 

Whatever the details were, something mystical happened when Jesus blessed the five barley loves and the two dried fish; thousands perhaps retold the story of that day over, and over again.  Likewise, something mystical happened upon the sea as it is the disciples who report that Jesus walked on water and calmed the sea!  They kept these events alive by retelling the stories over, and over again.  And after much time had passed, they wrote this all down, so that we too… we would come to believe.  Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” /John 20:30 & 31/

 Amen.

Preparing the Way.”

Mark 6:14-29, July 11th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Read Statement of Faith


“Hear now this accounting from the gospel according to Mark, chapter six, verses fourteen thru twenty-six.”

Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.  Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 

15 But others said, “It is Elijah.”  And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 

16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 

18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 

19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.  But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.  When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 

22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 

23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”  She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 

25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 

26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 

27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.  He went and beheaded him in the prison. 

29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

“Having heard this scripture which describes the death of John the Baptist, let us consider how this reflects on our actions in the Twenty-First Century.”

“Preparing the Way.”

Our morning scripture lesson is difficult to read and to hear.  When I first chose it from our lectionary-based guide, which helps pastors like me choose a passage for Sunday worship, I had cut out the difficult sentences.  Yet, this week as I got involved in putting together our reflection to help us contemplate the meaning of this passage, I realized that ignoring the atrocity which the writing speaks of – does not ease its burden!  When beheadings by terrorists in our modern times shocked the nation and the world, we were naïve ‘perhaps’ to have thought that such brutality and cruelty was new to humankind.  No, the scripture we listened to as our worship leader read it, does in fact portray the harsh reality of humankind’s darker side; the nature of which has not changed over the ages.  This stark reminder is something you and I need to acknowledge, even as we worship the God of Mercy, who came to us in the form of Christ Jesus, to wipe away our sinfulness – if we but repent and ask for such forgiveness. 

John the Baptist, like Jesus, the man from Nazareth, had committed no crime!  Yet, he was arrested in put in prison simply because the powers in play, during that time-period, felt he was causing trouble by stirring up the people!  What trouble could John the Baptist have caused!?  Even as the prophet Isaiah spoke of “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  The ‘very’ Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Might, the Spirit of Knowledge and the Fear of the Lord.” /Isaiah 11:1-2/ It was the prophet Isaiah, who first foretold the coming of the Messiah.  And it was John the Baptist who was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” just as the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed he was to be!  John was sent by God to ‘prepare the way’ for the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior.  “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way!” /Isaiah 40:3/ Throughout the ages, leaders of nations and of military forces, they have often sent out their scouts and messengers to see and to communicate with their adversaries, only to have their messengers and scouts unjustly executed.  Oftentimes, brutally executed, to send a message back that the new way of peace and justice would not and will not be accepted! 

Our lesson today speaks of John’s imprisonment and execution.  But only as a backdrop to the deeper story.  Old King Herod believed, since he had executed the Baptist, that it was John who had been raised-up from the grave; however, it was Jesus who was stirring up the people.  John the Baptizer had only prepared the way for the work and ministry of Jesus!  Still others thought it was Elijah who had been raised up.  Both Elijah and John had done their work as God had called them to.  The Baptizer was the one that was and is given the most credit for preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah, in many ways.  We, you, and I, we know of the ministry, the teachings and all the miracles which Jesus administered during his ministry; and we understand how such has altered the thinking and the base nature of millions!  Such things, which Jesus taught and the things which he did, without a doubt, stirred up the crowds.  In hindsight it is easy to see how John the Baptist was preparing the crowds for the true message that Jesus was bringing.  He told the people to repent as the baptism he offered to the people was meant to be a cleansing of their sins.  Yet, he told them that he only used water, Jesus with baptize them with the Holy Spirit! 

What is the takeaway from this lesson?  What can we gleen from these words of scripture and use in our lives today?  This is what we need to focus on, these points of importance, which will give us clarity for our own faith journeys today?  There are three points we need to review further.  One is of course the harsh reality of human suffering at the hands of others.  Secondly, the need to confess our humanness as needed, asking God through Christ Jesus, to forgive our sinfulness.  And most importantly to identify and clarify what it is which God still calls upon us to ‘prepare’ during our earthly, mortal, journeys.  Surely, we were each given many gifts which we are called upon to use ‘to influence’ the course of events within our own circles of interactions.  There are many ways we can make a difference – when we ask God to guide and direct our actions.  The combination of these three points, will bring to clearer focus many aspects of our personal and corporate faith journeys.  Seeing things for what they truly are – is crucial of course.  Acknowledging our part in the way things are is important to do – before our efforts can be effective.  Realizing that it is expected, by our Creator, that we do prepare, ourselves and others, to be a part of the future solution envisioned by God.

As we consider these ramifications, let us consider that all of us have equal rights as the children of God; and this includes our right to be wrong minded about how we treat others.  Thankfully, a great many of us have grown in the ‘light’ of God’s grace.  Yet, we must accept the base reality that humankind is mortal, thus we are subject to our fear of the unknown, especially our own death.  Steaming from this reality – is our nature.  Human nature does not seem to have shifted since ancient biblical times.  Meaning that we as a species still crave power and control over others, to fill the void that our fear creates within us.  It is that simple, even though everyone who hears my interpretation will want to expand on all that I have not said.  So be it.

As we move through our lesson, let us be reassured that vast numbers of our neighbors, throughout the world, crave something better; and great strides have been taken to turn the tide of that harsh and oftentimes unforgiving reality of our human nature.  World religions and chosen religious leaders, such as we have in Christianity and in other world religions, we seek much the same.  We all are seeking to instill a level of hope for the future of the people we work with.  We teach and seek to pass on things like compassion, and kindness, forgiveness through grace, and mercy, thereby giving people something to be hopeful of.   The truth is we all stive for a better social system in which to live and bring up the next generations of our children and grandchildren.  No matter our creed, color or race, the majority of parents, grandparents and families want a better place for those they love.  None of us want the cruelty of our darker human side to overtake the good which the vast majority of humankind strive for.  Yes, we express our understanding of who and in what style and within what rules we ought to live.  However, our social and ethnic differences do not need to cause us to be separated by unnecessary biases and blind prejudices.  If we but embrace the love that permeates from us all to draw us together on common concerns and issues, we shall be preparing for a better tomorrow!

There have been a great many great leaders throughout history who have fought for the rights of others.  And there are many such leaders still at work, even within our own society.  We need to focus on our understanding of God’s work being done within the day-to-day world in which we do live.  We as Christians need to focus on our understanding of God’s love and our interpretations of the teachings of Christ as contained in the gospels – to help guide our efforts.  Whether we are progressive and broadminded Liberals or more traditional conservatives, whether we are leaning on the sides of moderates or cautious fundamentalism, we are all still, God’s children, moving through life with the same human traits as our brothers and sisters around the world!  We have vastly different approaches to similar issues throughout the world.  But our methods, our tools and skills, and the technologies we use are quite different.  The saying is true: we speak different languages and embrace various customs of our individual heritages, yet we all want the same things, even if we each express them differently. 

The question left for us to grapple with is the same in which John the Baptist wrestled and struggled with.  How do we prepare for our part of the world order in which we live?  Do we allow our fears of our mortality to play a major role in how we use the gifts of our humanness?  Or do we pay heed to all that the God of Love, kindness, and mercy, which Jesus portrayed, and the New Testament proclaimed for us to use, as a guide?  It is quite evident that the ‘vast majority’ of humankind has the capability to be part of the positive forward movement of humanity, even though there is still a strong presence of the harsh cruel side of our ancient human nature still lurking throughout the world.  The king Herod’s still thrive and live within our society and the world.  Fear and hatred still influence and cause harsh aspects of our human nature to ‘too frequently’ disrupt the social order of things; here in our beloved United States of America, and throughout the world we live within.  In conclusion, let us give thanks for the men and the women such as John the Baptist, who strived to prepare the way for the likes of the man Jesus, the Carpenter, from Nazareth.  Let us do our best to ‘prepare the way’ for those who shall follow in our footsteps as well. 

Amen.

“The Carpenter”

Mark 6:1-13, July 4, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

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Communion

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter six, verses one thru thirteen.”

Mark 6:1-13

1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.  They said, “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.  

Then he went about among the villages teaching.  7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.  10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

“Having heard this account of “The Carpenter” from Jerusalem, let us now open our hearts as we seek its meaning in the Twenty-First Century.”

“The Carpenter”

My uncle Chester, my father’s older brother, was a carpenter.  He started building houses during the depression.  His father, my grandfather, divided up the farm and invited his sons to learn how to build homes for themselves.  And that they did, even hand dug wells for water at each home.  Chester continued and developed a business building houses.  In his case, necessity taught him how to be a carpenter.  I do not have enough information to know who passed on the skills to him, yet I suspect growing up on a farm gave him a good start!  I do remember helping pound a few nails when my father added on to our original home.  All of us children helped a bit.  I suspect my older brothers did a lot of the work.  As the years passed my father took other work, but Chester continued building houses.  He was the real ‘Carpenter’ in the family.  From what we know of Jesus’ upbring, his Father Joseph, who raised him from birth, taught him the trade.  We even hear Jesus called the ‘Carpenter’ in our scripture lesson.  Carpentry is certainly an honorable trade! 

Jesus was a ‘Carpenter’ and he loved to build things!  We know he loved to build compassionate and uplifting conversations as he began to build his following of those that absolutely wanted what he was building.  Jesus was building a new understanding of the ancient words of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, as he artfully spoke of the kingdom of God.  His words were captivating as he built bridges between the marginalized remnants of the Israelites, seeking to draw a clear line from the ancient understanding of our Creator God to the God of Salvation, forgiveness and compassion for others, no matter where they were on life’s journey!  Jesus reached out to the tax collectors who were believed to be over taxing the people for their own gain.  Jesus challenged those that would condemn a woman for prostitution, thus building a new understanding of compassion and mercy.  Indeed, if Jesus were seeking to draw a crowd in our modern society, he could easily build a platform that would shatter the illusions of power and wealth verses those in the food lines and unemployment lines!  Indeed, carpentry is a noble trade, used to build strong reliable things like homes for all of God’s children and tables with chairs.  Around those tables Jesus drew together diverse groups from different walks of life, so they might find common ground as he worked his trade to cause them to see how equal they were in the eyes of God.  So, just where did Jesus become such a skilled craftsman?  Clearly, it started at his birth.

We do not hear a lot about Joseph beyond the early years in Jesus’ life.  We can presume he died long before Jesus began his formal ministry around age thirty.  What we do know is that Jesus picked up the carpentry trade and was known by the hometown crowd as a carpenter.  We also know that Jesus began his ministry and was baptized by John the Baptist which led Jesus to become more visible in his hometown.  What ought to catch our attention here is that folks were skeptical of his ministry in and around his home and community.  Jesus even says that “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” /Mark 6:4/ How utterly sad, yet it has often been confirmed as true.  With this setting we begin to hear of how Jesus was preparing his disciples, building up their tools of ministry which they would need to carry with them, as he sent them out two by two to begin their ministries among the people in surrounding areas.  No, he did not send them off with a three-gun salute or a marching band.  Rather, Jesus sent them forth with instructions as to how to deal with those that did not welcome them.  “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” /Mark 6:11/ He told them to travel light and be prepared to be moving on when rejected.  What a discouraging way to start out!  But, not necessarily, as the truth is known to set us free!

We can only speculate, yet it does appear that Jesus was preparing his Disciples for the harsh truth: “becoming a part of the ministry to which Jesus calls others to join, will not be greeted with open arms by all who hear his message.”  People back then were oppressed as conquered people living under the rule of the Roman armies and their rulers.  They had been taught that a Messiah would come and rescue them!  They believed this meant they would be sent a strong leader to lead them in battle against their oppressors.  This does not describe Jesus, the Carpenter from Jerusalem.  Just the opposite, Jesus was a loving, compassionate man who humbly walked from community to community, hanging out with common working-class fisherman.  He also spent considerable time with the outcast, the lame, and the crippled, also the blind and sinners alike!  He was virtually homeless and as far as we know no one every paid him for his work.  Rather the disciples were always seeking ways to secure food and the occasional nights lodging with family, friends and/or those Jesus was ministering to.  However, we see all this, we need to acknowledge that Jesus was said to have empowered his disciples to heal the sick and lame, casting out demons just as Jesus himself did.

This passage challenges us, each of us, to face our journeys with a sense of clarity, not naivete!  Like inexperienced disciples or carpenters who had to ‘learn’ how the ‘hard way’ as sometimes things can just be tough, difficult, and demanding!   What we need to know is that building something worthy; is worth all the sweat and aching muscles it takes!  I was listening to the TV as I am typing out this message, and there was an interview with a young woman who built a house for her family from scratch with no prior experience.  Much like how my Uncle Chester and family became carpenters!  But in the case of the television interview, which I only half heard, a young woman and her younger children built a house with no experience from growing up on a farm such as my uncle did.  But, in a nine-month period they got the job done!  And that is when I walked back into the living room and saw the picture of their two-story brick home!  Amazing!  Surely, if she had asked anyone she knew if it were possible, they would have laughed at her or brushed her off.  Yes, we need to accept that things may be hard on the road of life ahead of us.  But we do not need to give up without giving it a try.  By trying I mean we need to dig deep and when we believe in something we need to commit to it and strive to get it done.  Things get built after a commitment is made to bring projects to completion – especially when coupled with faith and determination to get the chosen mission done!

Jesus had personally trained his disciples.  He showed them the power of faith.  He led by example to show them a new way to help others and to save people.  He gave them hope and he encouraged them to build upon such hope.  He also offered them the opportunity to be ‘servants’ of God while helping them understand the ‘freedom’ that can be had by doing good!  Jesus words, in today’s lesson, perhaps did imply that the going may get tough, yet he was teaching them, training them how to do this in community.  Jesus was encouraging them to not give up or give in to rejection.  No, he wanted his disciples to remember their roots, deeply entrenched in their faith and belief in the transforming power of God!  Why would untrained famers, built their own homes while continuing to farm the land?  Because they wanted to have a home for their families, and they also needed food to nourish their bodies as they pushed forward with their task!  The disciples needed to know they were doing God’s work and it would make a difference!

When we take on a task, we need faith that we can get it done.  The woman on TV, which I listened to briefly, believed she could build that house, thereby making a real home for her family – and she did!  Across the street in front of my home, a man is building a new home, with plans to build two on the two lots he purchased last year.  The foundation, the roof and the concrete block walls are all in place.  He paid contractors to do the work.  The other day, I noticed he was doing the outside painting on his own, a light blue, truly beautiful.    When I engaged him in conversation, I learned he was painting it himself, as he learned and now believes he saved close to seven thousand dollars by doing the work himself!  The combination of having contractors do the specialized projects and doing some of the other projects himself seems to be a winning combination.  Jesus was teaching his disciples to do the leg work and leave the miracle of building the Universal Church of Jesus Christ to God’s handiwork!  

For over one hundred and thirty plus years, the Riviera United Church of Christ has been serving the needs of the Melbourne and Palm Bay communities.  It has been a challenge.  To read the full story go to our website at rivieraucc.org and read about ‘who we are’ and ‘where we came from.’  To continue this ministry into the unknow future, we shall need new disciples, new craftsmen, and craftswomen, to continue our efforts to build bridges out into the local community.  We need talented, faithful people who are not afraid they may be rejected by nonbelievers.  We need willing disciples of Christ who are ready to donate their talents, their time and to support this ministry financially – if we are to continue serving God and future generations who shall follow us.  As we gather around our Communion table this morning, around the table built by a handy craftsperson, a carpenter, consider how you can actively help continue this ministry well into the future as envisioned by the early pioneers who began the process of building this church. 

Amen.

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“Miracle upon Miracle”

Mark 5:21-43, June 27th, 2021

Sermon Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now this accounting from the writings according to Mark, chapter five verses twenty-one thru verses forty-three.”

 Mark 5:21-43,

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”  

24 So he went with him.  And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”  31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”  32 He looked all around to see who had done it.  33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?”  

36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  40 And they laughed at him.  Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”  42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).  At this they were overcome with amazement.  43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.  

“Having listened with our ears to this accounting of miracles attributed to Jesus, let us open our hearts to what this means to those of us now living in this time period.”

“Miracle upon Miracle”

Not surprisingly, someone mentioned to me that this was a long scripture reading this morning.  Yes, it was a bit longer than usual.  However, it does deserve a few extra words, does it not?  Two miracles, two miracles are worth a couple additional minutes!  The first request was from a father, a man of great faith in Jesus’ powers to heal, asking Jesus to heal his dying daughter.  And then, while on his way to the home where she was, a large crowd surrounded Jesus.  As people crowded around Jesus, a woman – also of great faith, pressed toward Jesus, believing that if she but touched the cloak he wore she would be healed.  Is this not worthy of a few extra words this morning?  Modern Christians such as ourselves need to be reminded of the healing grace of God, as we live in a world desperate for such healing.  We could easily turn this moment into a long, long rendition of all the disease, illness, pain, and heartache in our society today.  You know of what we speak.  If you read or hear news at all… you know this to be true!

I have heard it said and seen it written that the time of miracles has passed.  It so sad to realize how many have lost their faith in the power of God!  Their belief which was passed to them, offered to them, and now – has been set aside – due to their discouraging encounters with others and with life itself.  Of course, this is not true, the time of miracles has not passed.  Believe me when I tell you – miracles still abound!  I hear of them frequently.  Many tell me of the miraculous healings of others.  Unexplainable healings occur on a regular basis.  I have prayed with the dying… to only find that God wanted them to live!  Miracles all!  I have prayed with the suffering and seen God grant them peace.  I have seen countless men and women living in the ‘hell’ of addiction, hopeless cases all.  I have seen many mystically healed of their addictions and returned to normal life, simply because they came to believe and asked for help.  Miracles all!  The time of miracles has not passed us by.  Yet so many suffer and never know relief because they will not humbly ask for help from God.  Still many live selfless lives, giving back to society, becoming of maximum service to God and others.  A Miracle to behold.

Regrettably, millions needlessly suffer from all sorts of human problems, situations, circumstances, and conditions.  Addiction is just one of a large listing of human ailments.  Likewise, suffering and miracles occur within all elements of our society.  There are a great many who have strong faith and have dedicated themselves to selfless lives; both rich and poor alike!  Yet, a great many have also given up on the concept that there is a God out there, a God out there who cares about them.  They could use a miracle in their lives.  Then there are the ones around us who believe, with all their hearts, that they can fix it all – on their own.  They have been given many gifts.  Yet have forgotten where their gifts have originated from.  Unfortunately, humankind still suffers from the belief that happiness and longevity of life, can be expanded through science, knowledge, wealth, and power.  Also, there are many, far too many, in our communities who belief they can control the outcomes in all that they endeavor to do.  In the short-term this is possible and does occur.  Yet, the true power which brings true happiness and peace originated from the grace, the kindness, and the love of our Creator God.  All that has ever been asked of us is to believe and have faith that God will provide for our needs – not necessarily all our selfish wants.  Of course, our mortality is problematic to our understanding of God’s healing powers!

Ah yes, the age-old dilemma of ‘accepting’ life on life’s terms is difficult to be sure!  How many of us remember dear old Lazarus, his story is in the gospel of John chapter eleven?  Scripture tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sister Mary.  Lazarus dies and was buried four days when Jesus gets to the tomb. Scripture also tells us Jesus cried that day over the death of Lazarus.  It is worth noting that Jesus was confronted with a woman’s deep belief that Lazarus did not need to die; the woman was then confronted with her lack of faith.  Jesus then ordered the stone removed from his tomb and called out for Lazarus to get up – which he did.  Many times, I have referred to the passage of the death and restoration of Lazarus’ life at the command of Jesus’ voice.   Rhetorically, I have asked others if they had ever met Lazarus and their reply is always, no.  Neither have I.  We mortals all must give up our mortal bodies at some point in time; no matter how many times we are resuscitated!  Even Jesus gave up his human body.  A body that hid his identity to those who first encountered him outside his tomb and on the road to Emmaus.  In the Upper Room where many of the disciples first saw him, recounted that they never opened the lock doors, yet he ‘appeared’ then left the same way.  Clearly, Jesus no longer had an earthly body!  I long for the day when I shall be joined with others who have gone before me and have a body like that of the resurrected Jesus!

What, exactly, constitutes a miracle?  Our Roman Catholic friends, look to clarify a miracle now and then; it is my understanding they have a very formal way of doing so.  I do not have their resources nor their interest in formally clarifying what makes an event a sanctified miracle.   No matter how one might view their process, the important aspect is that they are still sanctifying miracles within the modern age!  The miracles that I have seen in my journey are real; and they do not need any human to sanctify them to confirm this for me.  Why?  Because God blessed them the moment they occurred.  The problem with us educated moderns, here in the Twenty-First Century, spend too much time trying to disprove what is known to be true.  It saddens me and possibly many here gathered today.  Ask yourself this: “Would you need others to approve of the miracle you are a part of or have witnessed, to make it more real?”  Why would anyone who has been blessed with the love of God in such a way, wish to put up for debate what we know to be true?  If we know in our hearts we have been indorsed and backed by God, why would we open it up for debate?  The scrutiny of those that seek to tear down the temple of integrity, and truth of something; for their selfish, self-centered desire to discredit any and everything that may cause harm to their agenda; is not something we need to invite into the mystical grace of God, miraculous grace which we witness!  Miracles speak for themselves and live within the hearts of all who witness and or experience them! 

So how do we avail ourselves to a miracle?  A really, good question.  Well, the first step in the process is to believe that miracles do happen.  That is what faith is all about: believing in something without proof of its existence.  If we shut out the possibility that God exists and God cares enough about us, about humankind, to cross the boundaries of mortal human life, to do the seemingly impossible, then we will possibly never witness such an event.  I have learned, over time, that my responsibility is to believe that God can do for us, that which we cannot do for ourselves.  How we get God to do a miracle then?  OK.  Fair question.  But bear in mind the question implies you now believe that miracles are possible, and that God is the source of such events.  This clearly means that you are involved in the teachings of Christ Jesus as expressed in the gospels.  If you are looking to the Good Shepherd for the answers, study up on what the Teacher has already spoken of through the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  There are a lot of things to learn from the letters of Paul and others which are also in the New Testament for us to read, study, and lean from.  Avail yourself to the traditions of our faith, as they point to how others have lived and come to know of God’s mystical ways.  As individuals we each have experiences in our life journeys that may also enhance our understanding of the ways of the Holy One.  Do not discount your experiences, they may contain the key that unlocks the doorway to a miraculous life! 

One of the aspects of our faith journeys, that many of us miss, is that God has given us intellect, which, is a gift and a miracle of the highest degree.  Used wisely, for selfless purposes, our intellect can enhance our journeys.  Now, we must become aware of one aspect which many have fallen prey to; a belief that we can cause a miracle to happen.  No, miracles, by definition, are not humanly possible.  It takes divine intervention to be a miracle.  Jesus, the Christ, performed many miracles.  Yes, Jesus was human, his essence was one hundred percent human, but the essence of Jesus was also one hundred percent divine!  Those who came to the Son of God with humility and faith, asking to be healed, of those that were healed, they possessed both faith and humility.  Are all healed?  No, not all are healed to their satisfaction.  Can any faithful and believing pastor bring forth healing for others by invoking the name of Jesus?  Not by their own power, the dominion, the authority for miracles is left up to God.  Do miracles occur at the hands of pastors?  Yes, when it is God’s will.  Use your intellect to help you discern the truth, yet do not let it get in the way of your faith.  In the end, the healing grace of God is mystical and special. 

Stay open to God and the love and compassion of God will also be yours.  Remember, you already are a miracle. 

Amen.