Here we are starting the second week of Lent. Lent is a long retreat period leading up to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and the miracle of the Resurrection. In our gospel, Jesus gives his disciples something precious to help prepare them —and us – for what’s ahead. Jesus hones in on one key message in this 8th Chapter of Mark: We’ve each received a gift that grows the more you use it. But if you don't use it, you lose it.
Slate Magazine is the last place you'd expect to find a sensible critique of Bible publishing. Turns out Slate reported on a discussion about the form and layout of the Bibles we read. The Bible is the all time best seller but probably has a low ratio of started and got to the end. The critique claims it’s not our fault. It's the publishers.
The Bible is not just a book. It's a collection of books. But we don't read it as a book. Look at your pew Bible. It has two columns on each page, and it's full of numbers and references right on the page you're reading. What's the last novel you read that looked like that? And look at all the numbers. Every sentence has a number. Numbers and notes and references are salt and peppered all over every page. It's more of a chore than a read. The books of the Bible weren’t written that way. They were continuous scrolls. No footnotes. And, I am sure that David didn’t start out by writing, “Psalm 23, Verse 1. The Lord is my Shepherd.” The system of chapters and verses you see in your pew bible were inserted in the Thirteenth Century while the Crusades were going on.
The Bible was meant to be read and listened to as a book. I love the way Craig does the Wednesday night Bible study. We sit down and somebody reads a whole chapter aloud. A whole chapter! Not a couple of sentences. This is the way the Bible is meant to be read. Thoughts and ideas are connected. You hear the story the author is developing. Then we think about what we heard, one thing leading to another. You see the flow, the message, the story.
This morning we read just a few verses towards the end of the 8th Chapter of the short book called The Gospel of Mark. This chapter is full of miracles - and events that explain what the miracles are teaching. The book of Mark is full of miracles. An important thing to understand about miracles —Jesus didn't do miracles as signs. Yes, Jesus did many miracles. Real miracles. But, he didn't do the miracles to prove he was the Messiah. Each of Jesus' miracles, like each of his parables is meant to teach us something. These are all teaching miracles, not proving-who-Jesus-is miracles.
In this Chapter the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign to prove he is the son of God, the anointed one. Jesus refuses. He tells his disciples His goal was not to be heralded or even recognized as the messiah while he was still in this earthly form. He even instructed those he healed not to reveal him as Messiah.
Our Old Testament is called Torah, which in Hebrew means teaching. Jesus taught Torah. The parables and miracles are how Jesus' taught. We often incorrectly think of the commandments of the Old Testament as a set of regulations imposed on us. The reality is the Commandments are more like Newton's Laws of Motion or the Law of Gravity than like laws enacted by Congress. Jewish believers call these commandments "Mitzvot", or blessings. Newton's laws of motion describe only in part how the universe works, the 3-D physical universe. God loves humanity so much he sent us instruction on how the whole universe really works, and how humans should operate within it for our own good. Jesus teaches us how the human and moral universe works and how to live within it; how to transform into full human beings, comfortable calling God, “Abba”, Daddy, familiarly and lovingly. And Jesus also teaches us how to die.
This 8th Chapter of Mark is a mini-New Testament in itself. Each of the miracles, healing, feeding, chastising events was meant to teach something about this universe God has placed us in. And each miraculous event builds to the climax of the chapter. Part of the flow of the chapter and the flow of the entire book. So this morning I want to draw from the whole of chapter 8. The chapter gives context to the few verses we read this morning. In the reading, we heard Jesus speaking plainly to his followers of his coming death. "At this Peter took hold of him and began to rebuke him. But Jesus, turning and looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter. ‘Out of my sight, Satan!’ he said. ‘You think as men think, not as God thinks.’"
What a thing to call the first Pope! Satan. Every translation says the same thing. Jesus turned to his disciples and away from Peter, with the rebuke aimed at them as well as Peter. Out of my sight, Satan. You think as men think, not as God thinks.
Satan! As men think, not as God thinks! What do we make of that? Let's go to the beginning of this chapter. The feeding of the crowd of four thousand people at the remote southeastern shore of the lake. If Lake Galilee were Lake Skaneateles this would be across from Glen Haven, far away from any large towns. The crowd had stayed longer than planned for a revival meeting, three days. Jesus knew they had run out of all the food they had brought along for the journey and the meeting. Jesus also knew they wouldn't make it home, they would collapse from hunger. His disciples said, "Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?" Jesus asks, “How many loaves do you have? "Seven." Jesus says the thanksgiving blessing for bread over the few loaves and tells the disciples to distribute them. They also find they have a few little fish, for which Jesus also thanks God. Jesus tells the disciples to distribute the few little fish as well. The people eat and are satisfied. The disciples pick up seven baskets of broken pieces left over. This is a miracle! Well fed, Jesus sends the crowd home, and with the disciples takes the boat. He goes north and west — if it were Skaneateles it would be to Mandana.
There, to test Jesus, the Pharisees ask him for a sign. Jesus sighs deeply and says, "Why does this generations ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given it." Then he got back into the boat and headed into Bethsaida, the little town at the north end of the lake. Right about here.
On the boat ride, the disciples see they forgot to bring bread —except for just one loaf they had with them in the boat. Jesus first warns them, "Be careful, Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod." The disciples are baffled. They conclude, "It is because we have no bread." Jesus, aware of the discussion, asks them, "Why are you talking about having no bread. Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see and ears but fail to hear?” (He might have said, “How dumb can you get!) “Don't you remember when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, and you picked up twelve loaves? And when I just broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls did you pick up? "Seven." He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"
It’s reasonable to explain this miracle by thinking Jesus must have warmed the hearts of the listeners, so they opened up and shared the food they had stashed away in their baggage. Mark says, "No." It was truly a miracle of multiplication. Jesus multiplied the bread. Jesus himself says, ‘We've all been here longer than the people planned, and they have run out of food. They are fasting now, and will never make it all they way home. They need to be fed!’ So let's look at this event as the shocking, inexplicable miracle Mark intended us to hear; the story Mark wrote. Jesus puts the problem to the disciples as a statement of need. The disciples’ response? "What are we supposed to do? How can anyone supply them food in this remote spot?" Then, to teach them, Jesus asks a question. How many loaves HAVE you? They answer, "Seven." Clearly not enough to make a dent in the problem facing them. Here’s the teaching: Jesus didn't ask them how they would solve the problem. He asks them to examine what they have, no matter how inadequate it seems. Once they take stock and present their small, seemingly inadequate resources to Jesus, Jesus moves into action. God uses what they have to solve the problem.
If we hold on to that idea, it can open some very down to earth and helpful ideas for us. The way men think is to throw up our hands at the impossibility of solving the huge problem in front of us. The better way is to look at what we have rather than moaning about what we don’t have. Examining what we have, blessing and thanking God for it, then putting it to use. That’s how Jesus approached the problem. By the way, this is a very practical definition of faith.
Faith is not what you claim to be or to believe. Faith is intelligent trust. Craig often uses the word Trust. I think partly because the word Faith is overused to the point we don’t really think about what it means. Jesus gives us a lesson here on what faith really means.
The disciples cried out, “No Way!” Jesus asks, “What do you have?” Not, ‘Do you have enough to solve the problem?’ but “What do you have?” Life confronts us with problems. That’s the nature of living. The first step, when confronted by the problems life confronts us with, is to ask ourselves; What capability, what resource, what gift, what talent, what personality trait, what strength do we have? It’s a statement, a challenge, not a request. What do you have.
First we examine and accept our talent, our gift, no matter how small it may appear. The next step is to express our thanks to God for this gift. We bless the Lord with a thankful heart. Then, mindful of what we have been blessed with, in absolute Trust that God can multiply this gift, this talent, we are ready for the final step. We put it to use. Use it. Distribute it to the people.
This is not a new thought. The Law of Faith is one of those basic Laws of the Universe, as real as the Law of Motion that tells us every action is met with an equal and opposite reaction. What goes around, comes around. As you sow, so shall you reap. Why? Because that’s the way it is. That’s why it’s a Law. Here, Jesus is teaching the Law of Faith.
"Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Faith will move the unmovable.”
Your gift may be the gift of faith itself. The woman had spent all her money on doctors over many years, in faith she reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus tallis —and was healed. The synagogue leader had faith Jesus could bring his daughter to life and he did. The Centurion had faith Jesus could command the cure of his servant without entering under his roof —and he did. They had the gift of Faith. They built on that gift, took action by reaching out, and Jesus multiplied the gift.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells of the servant who was given just one and now had just one. Unlike those who were given more, he did not use it, he hid it — he buried it. And what happened? Take the one talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents. For to every one that has, more shall be given, and he shall have in abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has. Use it. Don’t lose it. Jesus is teaching us we are given a gift, a talent. Examine it, be thankful to God for it. Be mindful of what you do have, and put it to work.
Let's sum up — Jesus has a very important teaching for us as we prepare for coming events. When trials come – and they will – first examine your relevant gift, the talent, the resource, the loaf of bread you have, then, be mindful and thankful to God for what you have. If what you have is faith alone, how blessed you are. Thank God for your faith, no matter how small or fragile it may appear. If you have other talents and resources, Thank God for them and use them. Commit , Jesus teaches us. Bring your gift, believe with all your might. God will move the mountain.
Remember that in this chapter of Mark, Jesus warns the disciples of his coming death. Talk about teaching miracles! At the end of these weeks of Lent comes Jesus' greatest teaching miracle of all. Resurrection. Rising from the dead. Our Prophet and Priest and King is also our Teacher and Guide. Jesus made certain we know the way home.
No matter how fragile or small our faith in the reality of our coming resurrection, our faith in the unimaginable, indescribable life to come grows as we use it. Resurrection is the ultimate healing miracle. Easter will come for each of us. As we wait patiently through these long weeks of Lent, it's important to examine our gift of faith. You'll see your faith is at least as big as a mustard seed.
Use it. Don’t lose it.