The Jesus Way

As you listen to today's message ponder the following question. Is today's gospel another healing story, which is typical of Mark's Gospel or, is today's gospel really a teaching story?

Jesus at first tries to get away "to a deserted place" with his disciples, so they might "rest a while" (6:31). But many were crying out to Jesus. And Jesus has "compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd" (6:34). The image here is one of great human need and Jesus as the one who, despite his fatigue and his desire to be alone with his disciples, reaches out to those in need.

At this point we might have expected Jesus to begin healing. But Mark says that Jesus "began to teach them many things" (6:34).

Later on, he'll heal many, but right now, right after he has seen the crowds as sheep who are lost, particularly when they have no shepherd, Jesus begins to teach.

While it's true there is much healing in Mark's gospel, there is also an awlful lot of teaching. And this is manifested in the primary designation Mark gives for Jesus, "rabbi," meaning "teacher." Even though the disciples are portrayed as those who rarely understand, hardly ever getting the point, Jesus is persistent and patiently teaches.

Over the past few months we've come to understand that healing can take many forms. Sometimes we are in need of physical healing, or perhaps emotional or spiritual healing. At other times we need to be healed of our ignorance, our confusion or our uncertainty. Jesus is the teacher who has compassion, who ministers to us in our need, whatever that need may be. And it's not uncommon that through Jesus' teachings we are healed.

There once was a woman named Bertha. "I believe in God," she says, "I'm not a religious fanatic." "I can't remember the last time I went to church. As a matter of fact who needs church. My faith has carried me a long way, the simple small voice in my head is all I need. This illustration speaks to the widespread popularity of the simple small voice in my head, as the only authoritative word to our lives. No voice of God to challenge our small voice. Not much need for growth, no need for change or development when God is simply "my own simple small voice" speaking to me.

We are here today, in church, because we have heard something more significant than just a small voice in our head. We have been addressed by a larger bolder voice. We have heard a word from the outside. Perhaps that's one reason why, right after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the first post-Pentecost episode written of in the book of Acts is for the church to devote "themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42).

Discipleship, or learning about Jesus, does not come naturally, it's not in sync with our natural tendencies. So why bother learning about Jesus since being a disciple of his, is not required for us to be a sensitive, caring person. After all a number of folks who don't claim to be disciples of Christ are caring and sensitive people. We all know some of these folks. There very nice and some are even friends we could name.

Or some might say, "I live in North America, which is predominantly Christian, so I am a Christian just be virtue of being raised in this country, therefore I have no need to be made a Christian, or to spend time learning what it means to be a Christian.

We are not born disciples, disciples are those who have been formed by the good news of Jesus Christ into a group of people who live in the world in a certain way that is often counter to the world's way. Therefore, we must be taught, formed, and prepared to walk this narrow way called discipleship. The Baltimore Orioles in the days of Cal Ripken often spoke of the Oriole Way, which was the way one was taught to play the game of baseball. Well today I speak of the Jesus way, which is the way we are taught to be followers of Christ. My son Bobby wants very badly to become a pilot. He has computer flight simulator games and he spends hours taking off, landing and just visiting airports around the world. He assumed that because of all his computer time he was ready to fly and couldn't understand why learning to fly real planes took so long and required so much training.

Well several weeks ago for his birthday we treated Bobby to a half-hour flight in a real plane with a Flight Instructor so he could see what it really takes to be a pilot. The Flight Instructor allowed Bobby to take off, fly the plane and land. We figured by offering him this opportunity he will never want to fly again or we will have created a monster. Well when he returned to the ground he was on cloud nine, and yes we created a monster. But when he returned he also understood better why there were all kinds of formal schooling and training required before he could fly a plane by himself. If he wants to be a pilot he has to be discipled by someone who has the experience and education required to help him become proficient at flying.

The education received and the experience gained is what will save him if or when he encounters problems when flying.

The same is true of flying with Christ. We can't accept Christ one day and just assume we're ready to take on the world. We need to share our experiences and be educated in the ways of Jesus so that when we encounter those troubling times we can persevere. Or, when others encounter troubling times we can provide effective counsel and help. Discipleship is not some religious requirement we must engage in, it's a gift we ought to openly receive. It's a gift offered by the church through Sunday school, evening Bible Study, or through some other small group designed to learn the Jesus Way.

One day, when the apostles reported to Jesus, Jesus suggested that they get away and "rest a while" (Mk 6:31). So Jesus suggested they go to the desert for some well deserved downtime. But by the time they got there the desert was anything but deserted. A great crowd gathers and Jesus "had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things" (6:34). In a short time we find out that this great crowd is hungry, and Jesus will respond to their hunger with a miraculous outpouring of food. Yet isn't it interesting that Jesus, sensing that they are "like sheep without a shepherd," doesn't feed them first but teaches them first. Our situation today, as Christians in this culture, sometimes resembles sheep without a shepherd. We find ourselves scattered in a wilderness where many lose their way. Sometimes we feel like strangers in a strange land, like people in exile, not sure of the proper direction. Isaiah 5 speaks of the sadness of God's people going into exile "without knowledge." And I believe if we have no knowledge, or little knowledge, losing hope isn't but one tough day away.

We have those who are forced, by the nature of our society, to live in circumstances of exile without the practical means to resist. There are many in our society who are in pain, not because of some psychological or physiological issue, or because something bad happened to them.

They're hurting because they're wandering like lost sheep in the desert. They're confused and don't know which way to turn. It's not that they're sick; rather, they are uninformed, or badly informed. They simply have not taken the time, or not had the opportunity, to think through the faith. Because they lack knowledge, they lack hope.

These folks confront the complexity of life with bits and pieces of insight weaved together loosely from different thread, some from here and some from over there. Or they try to live in an adult world with the faith they received as an 8-year-old or rejected as a 16-year-old. In Mark 6 we find that there is a hunger for bread, but there is also a more substantial hunger for "every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4).

We live in a culture in which we are trained to grab, seize, and hold on tight. In learning the Jesus Way, we're taught the open-handed gesture that is necessary to confess emptiness, hunger, and need for a gift we call grace.

The Jesus Way of doing things forms a culture that is counter to the world's ways of doing things. Through the Church the Jesus Way doesn't simply reach out and speak to the dominant culture; it seeks to disrupt the culture by rescuing some from it, then to educate people into a new culture called the Jesus way. Being a Christian means to be someone who has been introduced into a distinctive culture, which like any culture, has its own series of beliefs, words, myths, practices, rituals, and habits through which it demarcates itself from other worlds.

More than that, it's our claim that this world, this culture - the church - is Jesus way with the world, the appointed means by which Christ is bringing all things unto himself. Because we're the victims of a host of competing stories and counter-means of formation, many of which are sanctioned by this culture and its economy, there is a necessity for Christian education.

In Christian education our intent is not to illuminate what people already know, but rather to form them into a way of life they could not have known without Christian education. So the education process must be continued and done over and over again, out of habit, retained through repetition, much like when we learned and remembered the alphabet when we were young. We had to keeping repeating the letters until we remembered them.

And even today I still recite the alphabet song when I need to remember which letter comes after another, especially in that pesky middle of the alphabet string.

In our gospel, Jesus and his disciples have gone out to the desert to be alone. With so much human need and pain pressing in upon them, they need a respite from the work of ministry. And so Jesus begins to teach, he begins to teach his way.

He will teach them words of life that will enable them to know the secret of what's afoot in the world, enabling them to lay hold of their lives so they will cease to be jerked around by the principalities and powers of the present age.

Jesus' good news finds the folks in their lostness. He becomes their shepherd in teaching them. And Jesus is our great shepherd too, as he teaches us.

"Years ago, Dean Kelley gave us a first look at the evangelical resurgence in America with his book Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Kelley said that those churches that we label as "conservative" grow, as opposed to those churches we label as "liberal," because these growing churches keep close to the basic intellectual task of the Christian faith.

Religion provides people with a plausible structure, a plausible alternative to the world's ways of making sense. Religion is in the meaning-making business. If religion is only a simple imitation of the secular culture, said Kelley, it is going to dwindle. Why bother with faith if church is little more than a sanctified form of Rotary" or other service organization.

Kelley is not saying these service organizations aren't good and meaningful, because they are. Kelley is saying the church is something much more than a service organization full of caring sensitive people, it has a mission to make disciples for Jesus Christ. The Jesus Way provides us with the guidance and the boundaries we need to live appropriate Christian lives and to win disciples.

The foundation of the thriving church today is an effective discipleship ministry. Sheep cannot do the right thing until they know the right thing. Charles Wesley recognized the importance of Christian education when he said, "Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety."

There's a story about a homeowner who hired three men to paint a basketball key in his driveway. The homeowner showed the three men what had to be done and then left the three to do their work.

About twenty minutes later the homeowner returned to find the three men huddled under the basket. The homeowner asked, "Is there a problem?"

"Oh, no problem," the crew chief said. Then he showed the homeowner a plumb bob they had hung from the end of the basketball hoop. The crew chief said, "We're checking and rechecking all of our measurements to make sure we have the right starting point before we paint. We've learned from experience that unless you have the right starting point, everything else will turn out wrong.

What a powerful message for us to hear: "Unless we have the right starting point, everything else will turn out wrong."

Today, with the church no longer the dominant force in this culture, with many counter ways of interpreting the world, Christian education takes on new significance. A major part of Jesus' ministry was teaching. He loved people by telling them the truth about God, by forming them into his disciples.

Discipleship, learning the Jesus Way is the right starting point to grow a thriving church. The essence of the Jesus Way is helping the hungry, helping the lost sheep hear the word of God.

Discipleship is not a short-term ministry. It takes time and it takes people who are willing to work in the trenches for Jesus sake. The ministry of teaching and formation must continue today in the educational ministry of the church. It's a gift from God that keeps on giving. I encourage everyone to be involved in some form of Christian Education, whether it be Sunday School, Bible Study, or some other form of Christian education.

Are you being called to teach Sunday school, or lead a Bible Study? Are you being called to work in the trenches, so that others may become true and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ?

As a local church we ought to be amazing the community by creating an environment so warm, inviting, and nurturing of people's gifts, talents, creativity and imagination, that people want to become part of this thing we call church. And it's through discipleship that we can create a community that is so compelling that people who are nominal Christians want to learn more abut the Jesus way of life, and want to be a part of this amazing eternal story.

There is power in the Jesus Way, a divine power that draws people to Christ like a moth to a flame. We have a compelling story to tell, we have the truth, and it's through discipleship that people will want to know Christ and will want to become part of this fellowship we call Trinity (Catoctin) United Methodist Church.

Thanks be to God for allowing Jesus to teach us, the way the truth and the life.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade