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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.