Friday, September 28, 2012

What Do You Have?

By Rev. Mark Reece

The account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only miracle story that we find in all four of the gospel narratives.  In the Gospel of Mark, the story is found in the sixth chapter.  Jesus instructed the disciples to go out to a deserted place and rest.

They were apparently tired and had been so busy that they didn’t even have time to eat.  But there was no rest for the tired disciples because there was a multitude of people who were hungry for what Jesus had to offer.  They recognized the disciples who traveled by boat.  Apparently the crowd was so anxious to see Jesus that they took the long route around the water and beat them to the shore.  The text says in verse 34 that Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

The disciples on the other hand didn’t initially share in Jesus’ compassion.  They were ready to eat their food and they were tired.  They had a little food for themselves. So they commanded Jesus to send the crowds away from them to find their own food and rest.  Jesus’ response is one of the most powerful in all of the New Testament record:  “Give them something to eat.”  They were bewildered.  How were they going to come up with anything for all of these needy people?  Jesus offers another powerful response.  Essentially he says we’re going to use the resources that we have.  So they went and discovered that they only had five loaves and two fish.  And Jesus took what they had and he went to work.  Jesus blessed what they had.  He took the loaves, gave them to the disciples to “set before the people.”  He divided the fish among them all.  

There is much more to this story than a miracle if we pay particular attention to the dialogue present between Jesus and the disciples.  He’s teaching them what it means to serve when you’re running out of steam.  Indeed, this is the Jesus who feeds the physically hungry throughout the Gospels.  The hunger emphasis in this passage is not limited to our physical hunger though.  It was not physical hunger that drew the crowds to follow Jesus.  As soon as Jesus got off the boat he fed them with his teaching.  The disciples thought they were going away to a deserted place where they could rest and keep Jesus all to themselves.  The disciples thought they could call a big “time-out” on their mission and be comfortable for a while.  But the sense of urgency that we find all throughout the Gospel of Mark takes root in Jesus’ command: “Give them something to eat.”  

This passage is really all about sharing, an interpretation I first heard from Barbara Brown Taylor.  God has called us as a church to share what we have and not keep it to ourselves.  We share our food through the Community Garden, Friendship Meal and the Foothills Food Pantry.  We’re also called to share every dimension of our church campus with those who have spiritual and physical hunger.  There are no exceptions to feeding the hungry when it comes to those sheep without a shepherd.  They’re close to the heart of Jesus.  When I look at the world and our community I often wonder if we have the resources to even make a dent in our society.  Then I look at this passage and I’m reminded that Jesus took the resources that they had and he accomplished something great.  Without Jesus’ help, all the disciples had were two loaves and five pieces of fish.  But with Jesus, they had more power than they ever imagined.  Who is hungry this week?  What is their hunger?  Jesus says “give them something to eat.”

Mark Reece is the pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Grove.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Preaching in the Inventive Age – A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Preaching in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt is a book that encourages ministers to think outside the box on sermon preparation and delivery in the 21st century church. The inventive age (explained more in the precursor to this book Church and the Inventive Age, which I review here), is what he refers to as this age, where many people are accustomed to contributing and creating their own content in online communities. Because people are comfortable with participatory involvement elsewhere, the church should be adapting its leadership structure to be less authoritarian in style and function.

Pagitt posits that traditional sermonizing is really “speaching,” where a pastor is talking at someone from their own experience, or worse, from the experience of outdated commentaries. Rather than hold all the power and knowledge for ourselves, what if ministers allowed the congregation to shape the sermon? He gives several options for how to accomplish this, including having an open meeting earlier in the week where the pastor facilitates a discussion about the text he or she is going to going to preach the following Sunday. A pastor could also have a question and response time after their sermons or gather after the textual reading and knit together all the comments into a conclusion. Pagitt says that the more invested people are in the experience, the more they will see God’s story as their own, rather than struggle to find personal applicability in Sunday worship.

Pagitt also encourages us to reorient our worship space, where all seats are facing the pulpit and the pastor is the only one with the microphone. He challenges the reader by affirming the priesthood of all believers but stating that our church structures and functions only serve to reiterate hierarchy. What if we had a roundtable format instead?

This book is very easy to read and approach. There is a lot of white space and pull quotes because Pagitt wants you to be able to write your own reflection and add to his thoughts. He is insistent that he isn’t right about everything and he wants your input to evolve his own ideas. This book was a bit repetitive, but I suspect that is because he encourages the reader to flip around, not necessarily in chronological order. Pagitt does this because he wanted the structure of his book to support his thesis.  

I think Pagitt’s ideas are well worth reading because he vigilant and proactive about new and more holistic ways of doing church that involve listening and valuing the voices of everyone in our congregations. I believe the key to moving our congregations forward in the 21st century involves listening to one another’s stories and experiences and learning to value one another in community. Isn’t this what Jesus was about? 

Want to learn more? You can read more and order Preaching in the Inventive Age here: You can find out more about Doug Pagitt, speaker, pastor, and radio host here:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tethered to God

by Rev. Len Keever

Thursday night at the track meet Jared told me that Super Dave wanted to talk to me. I have really enjoyed getting to know David. He talks so fondly of the church following the accident that took his vision. The kids on the cross-country and track teams call him Super Dave. He is quite remarkable. When I saw him, he asked me if I was in shape enough to run a 5K (3.1 mile) race on Saturday (3/31). We would run tethered together and I’d give instructions on turns, curbs, and near pot-holes. He encourages the kids so much and quite frankly, his asking me to run was just the encouragement I needed to finally run an official race. His confidence in me helped me to have confidence in myself.

At 4:00 the starter gave the orders and we were off. We started in the back so as to not be in anyone's way. We were back there with parents running with their children or pushing strollers and a couple of people running with their pets. We had plenty of room; the pace was easy. Then, about 300-yards into the course, it happened: we had to make a sharp turn left and then another to the right to get through the crosswalk at the roundabout. That's when I knew it wasn't going to be as easy as the start had led me to believe.

Running through a parking lot, Dave stumbled as we began going uphill. He clipped my heel when he drifted too close. A lady suddenly stopped running in front of us and he brushed her shoulder; he couldn't see her and I couldn't react in time. As we exited the parking lot a car didn't slow for the runners. I changed my direction so Super Dave wouldn't run into its path. He stumbled and fell. I helped pick him up and we continued running. We quickly learned that the safest way to run was to keep the tension taut. As long as we could keep the rope tight, he could feel where I was. If he veered right, I pulled left. I told him when the grade increased and when a speed bump was in his path. A mile into the race we were both comfortable. Dave showed tremendous faith in me; it took confidence to run blindly while following my lead. Two miles into the race we were talking about how much our run reminded us of how God accompanies us every day.

It's true! We only think we can see but it is God who has the real vision. It's God who knows where the pot-holes are. When we fall, God picks us up. When we are facing an uphill climb, God encourages us. God gives us complete freedom and yet we find that if we yield to God’s wisdom we have more safety. We are strongest when we keep the tie that binds us tight. The tighter we keep our relationship with God the more we can feel God's presence. We may not see God but God is always there beside us. Are we tethered to God? Are we connected to God in prayer? Are we listening to His voice? Do we let God direct us?

We ran our race in 31:28. We were not the last people to finish! Our pace was fairly consistent (we did stop and walk about 30-yards at the top of a long hill). It felt so good to finish together. I hugged Dave and he hugged me. It was an experience I hope I never forget. Thanks Super Dave for asking me to run with you. Thank you Heavenly Father for showing us both a truth about faith that will draw us even closer to your finish line.

Len Keever is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dunn. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Builder.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Courage to Change

by Dr. Chris Chapman

It has been a heavy summer in terms of news of all kinds -- local, state, national, and world. In recent weeks, like most people, I have been greatly troubled by the revelation of molestation and cover-ups at Penn State University and the tragic shootings in Colorado. Yet, for me, an additional level of concern grows out of the ambiguous way we respond to these problems as a society.

At first glance, it may seem that there is no ambiguity. Everyone is quick to denounce such shameful behavior. The only arguments are over what the appropriate punishments are. Yet, if we consider the way we attempt to respond to the bigger issues of how to prevent such calamities in the future, our ambiguity is exposed.

We want children to be safe but whenever we attempt to put in place better safety procedures, there is resistance. Here I speak from thirty years of experience. Every attempt I have made to protect children has met resistance. "The church is a community of trust," people will say, "How can we question our own people?" Further, when I have become aware of a problem and dealt with it, there have been some who have been angry with me even knowing what happened.

In regard to the shootings, we know mental health issues have to be taken seriously but again and again we do not. Friends, family members, and various professionals ignore warning signs. We belittle people with mental health challenges and underfund treatment of mental illnesses. And we refuse to take reasonable measures to limit access to weapons. (Yes, people kill people, but they do it a lot more efficiently with certain weapons.)

So, how do we feel as a nation about these problems? If we really are outraged, let's express that sentiment in something more than a passing wave of anger. Let's have the courage to change our behavior. We may never prevent all harm but we can do better. Until we do, our expressions of courage are insincere.

Chris Chapman is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Raleigh, NC. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, First Foundations.