February 3, 2002
JESUS AMONG US: BALANCED
Mary J. Davis, Pastor
The Grantham Church
When I was a young girl, my family worshiped at a church in Harrisburg. A man, probably about my age now, but to me then he seemed really old, worshiped there as well. His name was Ed Deiner, but we just called him ³Deiner.² He had a long straggly beard, graying hair that hung to his shoulders. His eloquent testimonies to my young ears sounded like the Apostle Paul speaking. Occasionally he would get overwhelmed in the service and cry aloud. To me as a youngster, he seemed like the most spiritual man in the world. One day I asked my grandfather, ³Grandpa, is Deiner a saint?² Not that I understood what a saint was, but it sounded like a spiritual giant to me. Now my grandfather was a quiet, rather distinguished man who never said a negative thing about anyone, so I was somewhat surprised when he said rather bruskly, ³Oh, Deiner is so heavenly minded, heıs no earthly good.² It was years later that I finally understood what Grandpa meant. Yes, Deiner was a Godly man. He had remained single all his life and spent lots of time alone and after taking early retirement from the railroad, he spent all his waking hours in mediation and contemplation and prayer. But he never accepted an invitation to serve in the church, to teach, or usher, to be a deacon, or be part of a planning committee. He never helped out with others, or served in the community, or invited others to church. And although to my young eyes and mind, he seemed like a saint, Deinerıs choices gave him a very unbalanced life.
On the other hand, let me tell you about a woman I worked with when I worked for Lancaster- Lebanon Intermediate Unit. Nancy was so driven and so consumed with pressures and obligations and responsibilities and even guilt, that she worked constantly. She could never say ³No.² Her phone was always ringing, and she was always running. She taught school, served on a half dozen committees at a time, was active in PTO at her daughterıs school, coached a kidsı soccer team, played violin in the Hershey Symphony Orchestra, taught Sunday School, was on the church council, organized a nursery school that the church sponsored, and served on the board of directors of a local psychiatric hospital. She didnıt delegate anything to anyone, feeling the burdens of the job, and the family, and maybe even the world on her shoulders. We might call Nancy a workaholic. Like Deiner, her choices gave her a very unbalanced life.
As I was reading this week through a magazine, Runners World, along with discovering how to have rock hard abs, how to boost my winter energy or run faster and easier, I saw an ad that caught my attention. It reads ³Your ultimate guide to a balanced life.² I did a double take... a balanced life? Iıve been thinking about that for the last couple of weeks. So I read more. It is an ad introducing a magazine called Organic Style. It reads, ³Organic Style - the art of living in balance.. Discover how to look and feel wonderful. Build a peaceful home. Savor, pure, delicious food. Learn, grow and have fun. Try a fresh approach to living a balanced life.² Iım sure there are some good ideas for healthy living here... but Iıd like to differ with the advertisement... I do not agree that this magazine, as good as it might be, is the ultimate guide to a balanced life. This morning Iıd like to challenge us, instead, to turn to the Scriptures which, in my opinion, is truly the ultimate guide to life.
Jesus Among Us: Balanced. Turn to Mark 6. In order to fully understand the impact of this Scripture we need to go back and briefly look , beginning at verse 7, where we can discover what the disciples were up to before they met up again with Jesus in verse 30 where they were reporting what they had done. Jesus called the twelve disciples and sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. With careful instructions, Jesus was beginning to delegate his work here on earth to these twelve men. They went on this mission without Jesus. I can only imagined that their hearts were pounding with excitement but at the same time their knees were probably knocking out of fear. They preached, they drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. Jesus had entrusted his work to them, work that was intense, new, and unbelievably invigorating, powerful. This was high pressure work. What if they failed? What if they were rejected? This is the kind of work that emotionally spends you. Itıs exhausting! In many ways I canıt relate to what these twelve were facing that day. But I do know after a Sunday morning up front here, whether preaching or leading worship, attempting to keep the service moving smoothly, knowing that I hold some responsibility in helping the congregation come into the presence of God, when the service is over, I usually am exhausted. In verse 30 the disciples, invigorated but exhausted, come back to Jesus who himself has just received hard news that John the Baptist was beheaded. Together they were grieving the lose of a beloved friend. They had a lot to tell each other. Do you remember what when our youth missions team came back from Venezuela? Remember how excited they were to report back to us all that had happened? Thatıs what this group of twelve was doing with Jesus after their missions trip that he had sent them on. But immediately people started bombarding them. They didnıt even have time to eat, and Jesus says to them, ³Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. So they go off by themselves to a solitary place. I can imagine Jesusı say to them, ³Obviously you are very tired, we all are grieving. We have been with people, dealing with tough stuff. We are tired, hungry and emotionally drained. Letıs retreat!² Jesus knew how much the human body could endure. He knew that they needed to crash. He had been where they had been. Iıve been there, done that and maybe you have too. A few years ago, along with John Luft and Joe Rudy, I led a youth missions team to Chicago. It was a great week of hard work, building relationships and attempting to keep safe in a rough section of Chicago. A great life-changing trip. But when we reached our final destination back here at Grantham, I couldnıt wait to get out of the van, to get home, to crawl into my bed to just crash. The excitement, the challenge, the tensions made we want to go home and sleep for a week.
But wait, look what happens next to Jesus and the disciples. Verse 33. They were recognized and the crowds followed them. No, time for rest. Itıs rare persons who can perfectly schedule life, so that they can always do what they want to do when they want to do it. That their schedules are never changed. That other people never infringe on their time. And that is what happened here. Now, Jesus or the disciples could have said, ³Excuse us, friends, this is our day off. Give us a break.² Or ³Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.² But Jesus is modeling a tremendous lesson to us. He is showing the disciples what a balanced life is truly like. And this side of the scales, in a sense, is showing the side of work and service and at times that means doing what you donıt always want to do. Half way through verse 34, ³He had compassion on them (the crowds) because they were like sheep without a shepherd.² Mark, the writer here, knew the behavior of sheep. This must have been a pitiful looking crowd, scattered, confused and in grave danger. And Jesus, as the gentle shepherd knew he could teach them, he could keep them from straying from God. So in spite of his grief, in spite of the disciples tiredness, they went with the crowds. And Jesus taught.. He knew his mission on earth. Gordon McDonald in his book, Ordering Your Private World, says that essentially Jesus had no private life to speak of. I try to imagine our Lord in todayıs world. Would he carry a cell phone; would he use e-mail? Would he fly rather than walk? Would he be interested in direct-mailing campaigns? How would he fit into a time where a word spoken can be flashed around the world in seconds to become headlines for the next morningıs paper? Although his world was on a much smaller scale, it would appear that he lived with very much the same sort of intrusions and demands with which we are familiar. How did he do that? What was he modeling to us about a balanced life that includes our life of work and service? When we look at this carefully, we can assess that first, Jesus discerned the importance of peopleıs needs. These people needed to be cared for; they needed answers to their questions; they needed guidance and direction in life. Jesus saw it and accepted his role. He changed his plans to meet the discerned needs. We, too, often have to be discerning to made hard decisions if the present is when we ³need² to take care of something, or do a certain job, or be there for someone.
But the disciples, didnıt quite get it. They were ready to pack it in. They were hungry and this crowd of probably close to 15,000 plus which included women and children would very soon be getting hungry too. It seems to me that the disciples made a wise suggestion. It was a remote place. There was no McDonaldıs around the corner. So they said to Jesus, ³Send them away so they can go into the surrounding villages and buy something to eat.² Here is where Jesus shows us a second thing about our work and service. In the midst of our work and service, we need to be resourceful and creative in handling the unexpected. He replies to the disciples, ³You give them something to eat.² As I read that over and over - ³You give them something to eat,² I had this outrageous scenario in my head. I could just hear the order called in to Papa Johns in Bethsaida. Itıs what the deacons do here on a Sunday afternoon when we are having a meeting. ³Weıd like 8,000 pizzas, delivered please; half with double cheese and half with pepperoni and, oh yes, youıd better send along a few with anchovies. And at least 15,000 cokes, half of them probably ought be diet and throw in some bottled water. Deliver them to the far hill on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Youıll have no trouble finding us; the river bank is crawling with people.²
Now even if there had been a Papa Johns in Bethsaida, there was big problem here. In fact, a huge problem. Not enough money! It would take eight months of a manıs wages to feed this crowd.
But does that stop Jesus? Oh, no. Very calmly he asks, ³How many loaves do you have? Go and see!² The Mark passage says that they found five loaves and two fish.. I like Johnıs telling of this story. John 6: 8. ³Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peterıs brother, spoke up. Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?² This response tells us that the disciples were really thinking, ³Come on, Lord, this isnıt going to work² Notice the contrast here. The disciples who had some financial resources, but knew they didnıt have enough, offered nothing. Instead they highly suggested to let the people go fend for themselves. The little boy, with his small offering of just five small loaves and two fish willingly gave up all that he had. This is a third lesson in our work and service scale. Age and resources arenıt factors in attending to our responsibilities. Willingness and freely giving make all the difference.
Now, we come to the most astonishing lesson we can learn from seeing Jesus Among Us today. The situation seems downright impossible. There is no way that this meager lunch was going to feed this crowd. What was Jesus thinking? But observe the disciples now. I think they are beginning to get the picture. They stop wanting things their way. They give up control. They listen carefully to Jesus and divide the crowd into groups of fifty and a hundred. They hand him the small barley loaves. And what does Jesus do? He gives thanks. He gives thanks for the little that they have and breaks the bread, and as he breaks it, it multiplies, and multiplies, and multiplies as he hands it to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. And he also divides the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied.
How often are you and I so overwhelmed with the immensity of a task or the impossibility of a situation or a relationship that we can not see what is possible with God? I recently saw the movie, A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash, the winner of the nobel prize for economics, who struggled with schizophrenia all his adult life. In one scene, when his wife, after realizing the enormity of the problem and how dangerous he could become, made a really tough decision to stay with him regardless of his condition. She made this statement, ³I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.² Have you ever thought that? ³I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible?² How often do we try and try and try to solve these kind of hard or sticky problems on our own and never take them to God, never thank him for what we do have or what has happened and never let him work the impossible? Are we saying that we do not believe in miracles anymore? Let me refresh our memories of some other impossible situations. God took a little shepherd boy named David who grew up to make some pretty awful choices and made him into a great king. God took an old man with a speech impediment and used him to free the Israelite slaves in Egypt. God took an old couple, Abraham and Sarah, and gave them a gift of a son. Jesus took a bunch of simple fisherman and turned them into great leaders. Impossibilities should be realities to us.
Iıd be deceiving you today if I told you that I have this lesson down pat. I tend to be a tough, independent, I-can-do-it- myself kind of person. Iım working on it, but I have a ways to go. Ask my friend, Tom Rudy; Iım still stubborn about putting my own beach umbrella in the sand at Cape May. And besides that, even though I know the wonderful stories of God working the impossible, I struggle in giving up control myself, of questioning like the disciples, ³What are you thinking, Lord?² This sermon didnıt come easy for me this week. In the midst of struggling to draft it, wrestling with this passage, I came into the sanctuary one day to pray, looked up at Joshıs mural and found myself in tears. I made my way up to the altar sobbing, and after a long, long while, finally willing to give up my control, I willingly handed over to God what seems like impossible to me. And as I went back to my desk, I returned to the text. I came to the next verse. ³The disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.² Iıve known since I was a child that that was how this story culminated. But I read it a second time: ³The disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.²- left over from five loaves and two fish after 15,000 people ate. It was like I had never read it before. I saw it with new eyes. Wow! What can we anticipate; what can we expect? When the impossible happens, we will receive much more than we asked for. God is an abundant giver. He doesnıt skimp. He doesnıt short-change. He gives far more than we ask. When we freely give to him all that we are with thanks, we will freely receive. God will take what we give him through trust and multiply it far beyond our wildest imaginations! Iım not saying that Godıs extraordinary returns will mean that we are cured, or that the situation will return to what it was. Godıs ways are not our ways. What we can be sure of it that God does have a plan and when we give up control, he will make his plan which will be far greater than what we can imagine, known to us. What is it in your life or work that seems entirely impossible? Are you willing to give up control and give the Lord your impossibilities with thanks for what you do have and what has happened? Donıt you want to anticipate the overflowing baskets of Godıs abundant return that you will receive from what seems like the impossible?
So on one side of the scales of life, we find work and service that require discernment of need, require resourcefulness and creativity, require willingness to freely give and require trust that God can work the impossible.
The other side of the scales is what began in verse 31 which we looked at earlier when Jesus and the disciples attempted to retreat and now picks up again in verse 45. Jesus Among Us: Balanced. Jesus demonstrated here that the rigors of our daily lives must be balanced with the quiet, get-away restful times of solitude and contemplation with our Heavenly Father.
We need to know, like Christ, our limitations in life. When Jesus came to earth as the incarnate Son of God, he set aside certain of his rights as the Prince of Heaven and accepted for a time, certain limitations in order to fully identify with us. He knew he needed rest and he knew he needed time alone in solitude with his heavenly father. If we took time to search the Scriptures, we would discover that before every major decision and action during his public ministry, Jesus sought solitude. He went apart from the crowds to pray and to rest. Just before he assumed public ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness communing with God. And donıt forget the night in prayer before he chose the twelve disciples. There were early morning vigils on the mountainside and withdrawal to the Mount of Transfiguration to prepare for his final trek to Jerusalem and finally there was the night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew his limits well. Strange as it may seem, he knew what we often forget: that we need to balance the busyness of our lives, our work and service with time for gathering inner strength and resolve in order to compensate for our weaknesses when spiritual warfare hits us. It equips us to meet lifeıs challenges and struggles head on. It prepares us to give willingly and to trust the impossible to God. Why is it that we think that we are different than Jesus? That we donıt need to stop, to rest, to spend time alone with God?
The story of Mary and Martha in the Scriptures gives us a picture of the tensions we face. Martha, the busy, housekeeper, always working, always preparing, always ready. Yes, we need to be like Martha at times. But balance that with Mary, who longed to sit at the Masterıs feet, who took in every word he said and whose life was one of being nurtured and filled. We need to be like Mary at times. I read recently about a pastor in Chicago who had grown a large evangelical urban church and after fourteen years of working non-stop he felt depleted, dried up. He was in a gathering of Christian workers one day describing his worn-out state, of how the people he served had pumped him for so long that his well had run dry. He was exhausted. A sweet, old Catholic sister in the group turned to him and said gently, ³The problem, Bill, is that the pipe of your soul doesnıt go deep enough.² The living water that refreshes, that renews, that restores us requires us to take time away to dig deeper.²
What might this inner journey with God look like for you? It could be daily, intentional times of quietness, of solitude, listening and speaking to God, of reading the Scriptures, of mediating on the Word and contemplating. Contemplation isnıt a word we use in our tradition. I like to think of it as ³playing² with God - in using my imagination to understand what God is saying to me. This inner journey for you might be intentional times away for a day or two or a long weekend for a spiritual retreat, like Deb Brensinger and Karen Durbin are doing this weekend.
The staff is committed to this concept to have a day every quarter when together we go away from the church, putting aside our busy schedules, the planning and the programming, the sermon writing, yes, even the phone calls and the people needs, to spend time individually and together seeking Godıs face, listening to his voice, allowing our hearts to receive him anew. None of us can give what we donıt have ourselves. Iım reminded of the people of Israel who wandered in the desert for 40 years relying on God to provide food for both body and soul. Our day-to-day existence is a journey through the desert of lifeıs routines, chores, complexities, difficulties, and traumas. The desert for some may be the boredom and drudgery of an uninspiring job. Others are withered by the loneliness which follows the death of a loved one. Still others live in the dryness of separation from God after painful experiences. In the desert we are painfully aware of our personal limitations and failures. The stresses of daily life keep us in touch with who we really are - weak, needy sinners. We battle apathy in our activities and relationships. We confront evil and face temptation, and we are all too easily distracted away from God. There is no escape, on one hand, from the desert. Itıs where we live. We cannot avoid the responsibilities and burdens of every day life. But we need to be mindful that God has an oases at which we can pause. These are moments of grace in his presence which refresh us and renew our focus on Christ in the midst of pressures and daily life. They are interludes of spiritual rest, encouragement and nourishment by which God equips us for the continuing journey.
As we partake in communion this morning, may we pause in these quiet moments of resting our souls to receive the miracle of the broken bread of Christ himself - a reminder of his life of freely giving to us all that he is, and we can freely receive because we believe that ³Jesus is Among Us² and has showed us the gift of living a balanced life of work and service and of resting in Him.