Date: Sunday January 19, 1997
NT Text: Mark 8:1-30
Sermon Title: Our Mission
Major Recent Event:
Recurring Theme in Ministry: Discipleship
Own "life story" connection:
A scene on a calendar depicts the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth. He is out on a rough sea at night in a small lifeboat. As the waves rage, Booth is reaching out his hand to pull in a survivor who was lost at sea. A small vignette in the corner shows Booth's granddaughter asking her grandmother, "Grandma, is granddaddy trying to save that man or only shaking hands with him?" We would do well, as the church to ask the same question of our missionary and outreach efforts.
God's Word to us today speaks about His Vision for the Church in a brocken world. The Scripture passage from Mark 8 is in a way a somewhat complicated text. It's one of those where Jesus seems to speak in code language to his disciples, assuming that they have attained the spiritual maturity to understand God's plan of salvation for the world.
I want to highlight again a brief portion of the text:
Mark 8:17-21 17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" "Twelve," they replied. 20 "And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?" They answered, "Seven." 21 He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"
When I first read a this passage and some commentaries on this passage I was getting frustrated because the commentary wasn't giving me the answers I needed. And I had to admit, "No, I do not understand. I'm just as unperceptive, if not stupid, as the disciples were." What is in all this symbolism?
First of all, we need observe that the gospel of Mark portrays Jesus as safeguarding the Messianic secret. In other words, Jesus wanted his disciples to know that he was the Messiah -- God's reconciling and healing agent for the world. But the time had not yet come for this secret to be made public. From this perspective we can understand why Jesus was speaking in a language that only the people who were familiar with the Old Testament symbolism would understand.
We further observe that Mark records two feedings: the feeding of the 5000 in Jewish territory and the feeding of the 4000 on the other side of the lake in Gentile territory. Let us look at the significance of the numbers in the Gospel of Mark. First we have the feeding of the 5000 with 5 loves and 12 baskets full of leftovers. The 5 loaves represent the 5 books of Moses, the Law of God or the bread of God, as it were, that was given to the people of Israel as God's chosen people. The 12 baskets represent the 12 tribes of Israel, the chosen people of God under the old covenant. This first feeding took place in Jewisch territory, symbolising that God sent his Messiah - the Bread of Life - to his chosen people Israel.
Then there is the feeding of the 4000 people with 7 loaves of bread and 7 baskets full of leftovers. The number 7 represents the Old Testament number of perfection. God created the whole world in 7 days. We also know that the 7 Churches in Revelations are in predominantly Gentile territory. The number 4 in this feeding represents the 4 corners of the world and also the 4 Gospels.
When we look at all the numbers we conclude that Jesus is really telling his followers, the Church, about their Mission. The Good News, that God extends an invitation to receive his grace, first of all to his chosen Israel and also to all the people in the world, is what this text is all about. God has a vision that through faith in Jesus Christ his Church will be an agent of healing and hope in a broken world.
To often, however the Church seems sidetracked from the purpose that God has for us as salt and light of the world. We, as the Church, have a tendency to misplace our focus. Someone compared it with his experience of driving in the rain.
It was the first rain of the season and my windshield got worse as I drove. It wasn't long before my focus was on my windshield and how my wipers were doing. Then suddenly I realized that I was about to rear-end the back of a big semi truck and trailer. We have the same problem in the Church. Whenever we become so preoccupied with our own lives and how we are doing morally, or with our fellowship and study or with our budgets, as ends in themselves, we have misplaced our focus. We forget about the real role of Christ's people and Body in the world. The quality of life within the church is a vital component of the church's witness. but the gathered church is there to help us see the needs around us more clearly. As the windshield wipers help us see the road more clearly, the body of Christ enables us to see the world that God loves so dearly, with all of its need, pain, possibilities and potential.
William Carey was a shoe maker by trade, but he had a longing to be a missionary. Everyone who came into his shoe shop heard about Jesus Christ. One day his friend took him aside and said, "William, all this talk about Jesus is ruining your business." Carey responded, "My business? My business is to extend the Kingdom of God. I only cobble shoes to meet expenses." I believe that the Church today needs this kind of VISION to do BUSINESS. My business is to extend the Kingdom of God. Your business is to express the love and forgiveness of God to people around you.
I don't know about you, but I often feel overwhelmed by the inmense need in our society, and by the church's seeming ineffectiveness to be an agent of permanent and positive change in the world. And you might be saying, "Ok, what am I as an individual supposed to do? What are we as a Church to do? What is our mission as God's people here in North Kildonan? Where do we fit in with God's scheme to reconcile the world to Himself?"
In 1995 the GCMC adopted a Mission statement that addresses some of these issues. It goes like this: "God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God's healing and hope flow through us to the world."
Now, what does this mean in our day to day life? How do we see God's healing and hope flowing through us into the world? What does this mission statement say in regard to the people in our community? What does it mean in regard to the teaching ministry of the congregation? What does it mean in regards to our financial stewardship? What does it mean in regards to how we relate to our young people? What implications does Christ's call to missions and outreach have for your and my life?
As Christians we must find a mission in life and take it seriously. We must not leave a stone unturned or an opportunity wasted. We need to examine ourselves. What is the Lord laying on our hearts with the opportunities and needs that come our way?
Mission -- it is our responsibility... our privilege. When we hear of missionaries around the world bringing people to Christ - let us pray for them and give them our financial support through our missions organizations. When we see a family that is struggling to make ends meet - let us be generous in our giving. When we rub shoulders with parents who are frustrated by communication breakdowns with their teens -- let us be a support and encouragement to keep trying. When we encounter children, teens, young adults, and adults caving in under the pressures of achievement-oriented expectations, let us extend to them the assurance that it is OK to be something other than Number 1. When we stumble accross the countless people in our daily lives -- whether they are friends, family members, or strangers -- let us take hold of each and every opportunity to extend the love of God to them.
To go into all the world, to teach and resource, to witness, to baptize, to share the Good News of God's intervention in people's lives -- that is God's mission for the world. Our calling is to be a reflection of the eternal God who showed compassion on all people. God called the Church, not to do a feasibility study on the cost and benefits of foreign missions and community outreach, but rather to look at the need wherever it may be and to engage the Church in Kingdom work. God calls us to do missions, to be agents of compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness and grace.
The question that remains for each to examine and answer personally is, "How do I fit into the picture of God's mission for the world? How can I be an agent of God's healing and hope to others?"
God's own mission was to reconcile us to himself through His only begotten Son. The world will never be brought to Christ until we bring Christ to the world. Jesus Himself taught us that missions is the only way to make disciples, and the message that we bring as Christ's messengers is the greatest hope of the world. The Church is the Body of Christ that brings healing and hope into the world. I believe that your and my role is not only to tolerate the lost, but to extend the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
God has entrusted to you and me the responsibility of not only shaking hands with a drowning person, but to be compassionate as Jesus was, and extend to them the hope of salvation from despair. God calls the church to be a grace-base in an unforgiving world... a home base, if you will, where people who are burdenend by the weight and pressures of sin and hopelessness, can find rest, peace and a glimps of hope to go on.
We all know people in our circles of influence who could use a bit of Good News of God's healing love today. Perhaps you are that person yourself. If that is the case, it is my prayer that God will use individuals in this congregation to minister to you, that you may find God's peace and comfort.
May God's purpose of salvation come to fulfillment in our lives and for the people who we are able to influence.