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Go And See

Sermon – 11/07/04
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 6: 30-44

Our text this morning comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6 verses 30 – 44:  

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ 37But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ 38And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’ When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.  

I said in the first service I wasn’t going to comment on the election because if I did I’d probably get in trouble with somebody.  Everyone has different perspectives.  But as I was reading this text, it suddenly dawned on me that in that last verse 5,000 men is intentionally men because they only counted men.  Speaking of undercounts!  The problem in democracy when you have undercounted votes is a huge problem, so that’s my only comment on the election.  It’s a problem we have to figure out how to fix in this country.

This crowd was probably much larger, because there were undoubtedly women and children there as well.  So, 10, 15, 20 thousand?  We don’t know.  But you would know as someone from that culture that there were more that were there that for whatever reasons didn’t count, so to speak.  There’s a whole different sermon there, I’m not going to go there today. 

The three aspects of this story that interest me this morning are that the disciples try to send the crowds away because they need something to eat – they should go into the town to get something to eat.  Instead Jesus tells them ‘No, you give them something to eat’.  It never occurred to them that they could feed the crowd with five loaves and two fish.  Duh!  That they had the resources to feed such a large crowd – it never occurred to them. 

Jesus then tells them to take an inventory.  See how much food you have on hand.  They go and see and come back and report five loaves and two fish.  After blessing these very meager resources, hardly enough just to feed the 13 of them (and whatever women may have been in their company).  Jesus has the disciples distribute that food among the crowd.  And it is more than enough. 

Now we call this a miracle.  And rightly so – what else can you call it?  You start with this much, feed this many people, you end up with this much.  But note that there’s nothing in the story that claims that – that says it’s a miracle, that says it’s a sign.  Simply says ‘we started with this amount of food and ended up with this much’.  Draw your own conclusion.  Some have suggested that really what happened was that when the disciples came out with that food and the crowd saw them attempting to feed this huge crowd with so little, they either felt shamed or they were so moved and impressed by the effort, whatever the motivation, they then pulled out the food that they were holding back, and shared it with the rest.  And it was because of that that there was so much food left over. 

Now, before you discount that as denying the power of Jesus to miraculously feed this crowd, stop and ask yourself ‘which is the greater miracle?’  Causing inanimate objects to spontaneously multiply for a divine power?  Or, causing hungry people in a time of scarcity and want to spontaneously share of their meager resources? 

If you want to see a modern day miracle along that line I would just invite you this afternoon as part of our Go and See festival to visit the Helping Hand Ministry, to see what is happening there, it is one of the things we’ll be featuring.  We served last year almost 600 families, over 1,100 children, over 2,000 individuals all told, for less than $5,000.  We provided ample, quality clothing, coats, household items, Christmas gifts, backpacks, school supplies, toiletries, bedding – did I leave anything out?  What else?  Layettes, quilts, and all the rest for less than $2.50 per person.  In my book, that’s a miracle.  Multiplying not loaves and fishes but clothes and dishes.  It is a miraculous thing to behold. 

Now because we read this as a miracle story we tend to focus on what Jesus does in the story.  But the emphasis is really not on what Jesus is doing, it’s on what the disciples do or at least what they’re supposed to do.  First, Jesus gives them that imperative – ‘you feed the crowd’.  And then he tells them to take that inventory – ‘go and see’, and they do.  And then finally he gives them the food and they distribute it.  Each step along the way goes from Jesus to the disciples, and then to the people. 

In other words, this story is not so much about what Jesus did as it is about what the disciples, what the followers of Jesus, are supposed to do.  And this three-fold program for feeding the 5, 10, 20 thousand people I think is a model for our ministry.  First of all to determine our mission – you give them something to eat, you give them something to wear, you visit them when they are sick and in prison, you go and make disciples of all nations, you preach the good news to the poor, you heal the sick.  That’s what we are asked to do.  That is our imperative – why is it left to us?  Paul makes it quite clear, he says ‘you, followers of Jesus, are the body of Christ’.  We are the ones to continue this mission, this ministry of Jesus, here in this place, in this time.  That’s why our mission statement says that we are called to be a light to the world here in the heart of Eugene.  Living out that community envisioned by Jesus.  To be Christ-like people, spirit-filled, sharing the love of God for all people.

Secondly then, in this program of fulfilling our mission, we are to identify the resources we have to do just that.  How many loaves have you?  Go and see.  I think if you participate in the Go and See festival this afternoon (it’ll take about 90 minutes) it will be very enlightening as you go and see all the incredible things that the church does.  As a congregation, our resources basically come down to three things:  there is first of all the accumulated resources of past generations invested into this church, into this facility.  This beautiful, historical building, along with our education wing and even our parking lot are the gifts bequeathed to us by those who went before us, who established this congregation, given to us to do this ministry that God gives to us.  Sometimes I think we take that for granted, therefore it’s good to pause and to remember and to give thanks for all of this that has been made possible through the significant sacrifice of others. 

Think about 1911 when this building was built, and the streets out here were just dirt and mud. There were no sidewalks, there were hardly any buildings, we were WAY outside of town. Eugene was just a little sleepy village down there by the railroad station.  1911, $75,000 dollars – well, they had to deduct a $1,000 off the top of the building cost because they couldn’t fix the leak in the dome.  And for 80 years that was the job of the Deacons to go up there and move those buckets around to catch the water until we fixed that in our first phase of our building campaign in the early 90’s.  But think about that then -- $74,000 dollars and what that meant for that congregation.  And also think about the fact that they were not a church a lot larger than ours at the time – they had just built and paid for another building just 20 years prior to that.  And here they were moving out of a building only 20 years old to move into this building.  Think about the sacrifice they had to make. 

By the way, in 1911, we were the only Christian Church within a 20 mile radius.  Today, there are 9 or 10 in that same radius, mostly congregations that we helped to start.  So we have been growing in a variety of ways. 

In other words it is only through the significant sacrifice of many others before us that we have this wonderful resource available to us.  And that represents both a tremendous responsibility to use it well for the mission that we have been given, as well as big shoes for us to fill as we are challenged to step up and to meet the needs presented to us.

Then the current members and friends who make up the ministries of this church through their combined efforts, are the second resource that we have available.  This afternoon we are going to show you 33 different ministries of the church in our Go and See festival.  When I added up all those involved in those ministries – the leaders – I came up with 280 people.  When you count the duplicates – those who sing in the choir and teach Sunday school and the like – we still have about 150 people actively involved in some form of ministry in the congregation beyond those who come to worship or come to Sunday school.  I think that’s impressive. It’s a lot of people involved in doing ministry and it is our greatest asset. 

Case in point:  we identified about 24 members who are no longer able to attend here on a regular basis and we have a group of six women – our calling ministry – who stay in touch with those 24 people on a regular basis.  And our elders take communion every Sunday to people – about 8 or 10 out of that list.  This morning, one of our members is undergoing an angiogram, and I thought it’d be good to go and have prayer with her but I was a little tied up – hard for me to get away.  But I had no difficulty finding someone to go and to spend that time with her this morning so she knows that her church is thinking about her.

I suppose if we had a lot of money, that we could hire another minister to do all of that.  But in my experience, ministry is much more effective when it is done by those who are called to do it as members of the body of Christ rather than those who are paid to do it as the staff of the church.  Is that right?  Good!  Because you see if you really do your job well, then I won’t have anything to do, and that would be fine by me! I always said that ministry was a great profession, if I could just figure out how to do it right.

But the third resource at our disposal is of course financial.  Primarily through the offerings that we receive.  Last Sunday I said something about our tableau of giving.  You know how sometimes when you start to say something and then you know it’s not quite the right word but you go ahead and say it anyway because you can’t think of what the right word is?  Reminds me of the pastor of a mega-church, one of these big huge congregations, who was making this dramatic point of how it was necessary to take a second look at a particular thing in the life of a church, and with great emphasis he said that ‘it is time that this be re-thunk!’ Say it with conviction and people will think you know what you are saying J.  So I referred to our tableau of giving when I was at the table for the offering moment.  Somebody thought I didn’t know what I was talking about and suggested that I really meant ‘plateau’.  That we were on a plateau of giving—well I looked up the definition of tableau and it says a ‘graphic picture or scene’.  So I want to show you our tableau of giving, just so you know that I do know what I’m talking about. 

For, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, we had good, steady growth, and then the last couple years we have hit this plateau.

Here’s another tableau of giving that shows the ranges of gifts that we receive on a monthly basis, and the number of givers – the shortest bar down there are those that give about $10 or less a month, then $25, $50, $75, $100, $150, $200, $300, $400, $500, $600 and above.  Now obviously as you get to those larger amounts there aren’t as many, that give at that level, but there are people who make very significant contributions and they are all significant because they all add up to support the ministry of the church.  Over 180 households that contribute in one way or another to the life of the church – that’s very significant.

Here’s another tableau – our giving by age.  This is really interesting, Patty put this together.  What’s interesting – the dark green are the number of givers, the yellow is the total annual gift from those folks in that age group.  You see at the lower end, 5-19 years of age, we have a good number of givers.  I think that represents 10, 12, 13 folks that give in that 5-19 range.  Those are our children, our youth, that are giving on a regular basis – that is significantly up from where it was 10 years ago.  That’s a good sign.  Obviously they don’t give as much, they don’t have as much to give.

The 20-29 year old group, the 30-39, and then we have a big jump in the 40-49.  I don’t know what happened to the 50-something crowd, but let this be a challenge to the 50 something crowd, the 40-somethings are out giving you by a significant margin for whatever reason.  And then the strength of the congregation in the 60+ crowd, and on.  And that’s not surprising – folks at the maximum earning power in their lives, and frequently with the greatest discretionary funds that they have.  The last one is just all the folks that we don’t know their ages because they’re new, or only here on occasion, what have you.

Lastly, how do we compare to other churches, Disciple churches in Oregon?  We are 6th in per capital annual giving, a little over $1,200 that we give per household to the church.  That’s significant – we do fairly well in comparison to other churches, but obviously there are others that do better, so there’s a challenge there for us.  So, there’s our giving tableau, that I hope will help us to move off the giving plateau!  As we are all challenged by that. 

This will only happen if those of us who are able to do so step up the challenge, inventory our personal resources, to go and see how much we can give to feed the 5,000, the 10,000, the 20,000.  To make miracles happen here at First Christian Church.  I just have to say one more thing about that:  the Biblical bench-mark for good stewardship is tithing.  Giving 10% of our income.  And for many of us that is a healthy goal to strive toward.  However, Art Simon, the founder of Bread for the World notes that it has a couple drawbacks.  First of all, in encourages people to think of stewardship only in terms of their financial contribution to the church.  And stewardship, of course, is much more than that.  That is why I hesitate sometimes to even use the word stewardship to talk about financial campaigns.  Stewardship really is about everything we do with the resources God gives to us.  Stewardship is as much about the kind of car you drive – what would Jesus drive?  And the food you eat, and how you live your life as it is about what you give to the church.  Secondly, it is a one-size fits all approach which does not recognize that a tithe for some would be a hardship while for others it would be easy, and should be the floor of our giving, rather than the ceiling of our giving.  Third, and worst of all Simon says, it implies that if I give 10% to God, then the other 90% is all mine, whatever I want to do with it, it’s up to me. 

And you see, nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus doesn’t talk about the tithe, Jesus doesn’t want 10%, Jesus wants 100%.  He wants you to give your whole life.  We don’t expect people to give like he says to that rich young ruler, to sell everything he has.  But we do call people – that is the call of Christ, to give yourself, you full self, not just one small portion of your life to God.  And then to figure out what that means in terms of your giving to the church, and what you do with your finances.  So for most of us, tithing sets the standards too low, and we need to think in bigger terms, we need to be challenged at whatever level that challenge comes, be that 3%, 5, 10, 12, 15, or 20 percent on. 

The last thing for us to do, once we have determined our mission, and taken account of our resources available to fulfill that mission is to then pass out those loaves and fishes.  To put those resources to work for God.  What will happen when we do that?  Will it produce a miracle?  There’s only one way to find out.  Go, and see.


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