West Concord Union Church had a visit from Rev. James Ross II, the new Minister for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for our Southern New England Conference of the UCC. Hear his sermon on Mark 10:35-45:
Posted in Sermons
Sermons preached by Pastor Hannah and guest speakers at West Concord Union Church.
A sermon on Mark 9:30-37 for October 10th, 2021.
A sermon from October 3rd, 2021 on the second creation story found in Genesis 2.
A sermon from September 26, 2021 on Mark 9:38-50
A sermon on Mark 6:31-44, 8:1-10 for September 5th, 2021 from the Rev. Hannah Brown
Jesus likes to host dinner parties. But he isn’t your average host.
If you’ve hosted a party before, or watched someone do it, you know that hosting a dinner party can be a lot of work. You choose a date and a location, maybe a theme. You plan a guest list and send out invitations. You decide on a menu, and buy and prepare a meal. You may need to do some cleaning, or decide to decorate. You might dress up, play some music, or light some candles.
Jesus likes to host dinner parties. But he doesn’t do any of these things. In our scriptures today, we hear two different stories of Jesus hosting a meal. Both times, the party happens with absolutely zero prior planning. And the date, the time, and the place are not only unplanned; they are really inconvenient. Not only that, but the guest list is enormous. These stories are known as the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand, but these numbers only include adult men. They were the only ones biblical writers recorded. So if you count the women and children that we know were also there, we’re talking upwards of 10,000 unexpected dinner guests.
So — it’s not surprising that the disciples hesitate. “What about the budget?” they wonder. “What about the supplies?”. They only have a little food, probably whatever they packed for themselves: Five loaves of bread, and two fish; seven loaves of bread, and a few small fish. It doesn’t sound like enough to satisfy Jesus and the disciples, let alone thousands and thousands and thousands of other people.
But Jesus isn’t worried. He just tells everyone to sit down, right where they are. He blesses and breaks the bread and the fish, and he tells the disciples to pass them around. You probably know what happens next. Everyone eats, and not only that, they are filled. And even after they are filled, there are still baskets full of broken pieces of bread and fish left over.
How does this happen? People have opinions. There are two main camps. Some folks say: God made a miracle! God multiplied the scant resources that were there. Other folks say: the people are the miracle! Enough people were able to share what they had as the basket went by, that no one went hungry.
Maybe you have a favorite explanation out of these two. If so, great. I also wonder: couldn’t both be true?
Bread and fish both have important meanings in Christian tradition. Bread is a staple food among the peoples who wrote our bible. And it’s what Jesus blesses, and breaks, at the last supper, when he teaches his disciples that he will be present with them in a new way after his death, whenever they eat together in his name.
Fish show up in all kinds of ways, both in our scriptures and in the early church. Jesus tells his disciples they will fish for people. Jesus grills some fish on a beach for a special breakfast for the disciples after his death and resurrection. The fish is also sometimes called the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of a great fish, and it has become for many Christians a symbol of the resurrection.
After Jesus’ death, Christians began to use a simple symbol of a fish, with two curving lines. Maybe you’ve seen this shape on the back of a car. Some folks think it helped followers of Jesus recognize one another. If you wanted to know if someone you met was a follower of Jesus, you could make the first arc of the fish shape in the dirt. The other person would complete the shape. Then you knew you were in the company of another member of what was then an underground movement. You were in community.
Too often, we get stuck in situations where it just doesn’t seem like there’s enough to go around. If you crunch the numbers; if you evaluate what’s on hand, there’s no way that what you have will meet the needs that exist. There’s a lack of money; a lack of resources; a lack of time; a lack of emotional capacity; there’s just no way to make it work. These situations are real, and they’re hard, and too often, they are created by prejudice and the desire for profit.
And, sometimes we can still find a way to meet the needs that emerge. It helps, if we take a Jesus kind of party planning approach. If we decide to forget about etiquette, and expectations. If we throw out the spreadsheet, and the menu. If we realize there never should have been a guest list at all. If we invite the power of God’s blessing and the power of holy community to meet hungry people, whenever we find them, whenever we are them. All we really need is bread: the presence of God among us. All we really need is fish: the power of a community bound together.
God, sometimes there’s just not enough,
and people who tell us it will all be OK just make us angry.
Help us to know that you are with us, right where we are, just as we are.
Open our hearts to the possibilities you and your people produce:
Finding way after way after way out of no way;
Breaking apart bread and fish, as well as chains of injustice;
Filling hungry bellies, and aching hearts, until all are satisfied,
And there are baskets and baskets and baskets of extra
For whoever might show up later.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
How is the kingdom of God like a mustard seed? And how does mustard really grow? A sermon on Mark 4:30-33:
Extra bonus from worship on July 4th: this beautiful excerpt from Copland’s Appalachian Spring, played by Jim Barkovic with friend and colleague, Terry Halco:
A sermon for outdoor worship on June 27th, based on Mark 4:26-29
This season we’re exploring some of Jesus’ parables as found in the Gospel of Mark. Today’s parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly. It is only found in this gospel.
Although the parable is unique, the topic isn’t; many of Jesus’ parables begin in this way: “The kingdom of God is like…” or, “the kingdom of God is as if…” Which begs the question – what is the kingdom of God, and why do we need to know what it’s like?
The Greek word basileia, traditionally translated kingdom, could just as easily be read as realm, reign, rule, or sovereignty. Today, we sometimes use the word kindom instead. So when we’re talking about the kingdom of God we’re talking about the place, or the time, or the ways, or the loving community in which God’s desires for us become fully realized. How can we work towards it? How can we recognize it? How can we receive it?
This topic is mysterious, and Jesus devotes a lot of his teachings to it. Each time, he describes the kingdom of God with a story or a metaphor. Even Jesus can’t tell us exactly what God’s kingdom is; only that it’s sort of like this; or sort of like that.
In this case, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is as if someone scatters seeds, and then ignores them. Meanwhile, the seeds sprout and grow. The earth produces a stalk, and then a head, and then a full grain for harvest.
One commentator said that we don’t talk about this parable much because it’s boring! There’s no drama in this story. I wonder if it may still be a helpful message for us, boring or not, in this culture that encourages us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and demonstrate our self-worth through achievement, and prove our morality through sacrificial effort, and continuously improve ourselves through the relentless force of our own will.
I invite you to consider a moment in your life when things went right without your forcing them to. You abandoned a task only to discover that someone else eventually completed it, maybe even better than you could have. You gave up on a problem only to have a solution drop into your mind a few days later. You stopped fighting with someone and something shifted, in yourself or in someone else, or both, for peace, for healing, for good.
I’m not suggesting that the key to life or spiritual health is to stop trying altogether. But I do think we can get trapped into thinking that our determined efforts are the only solution to problems; problems that are often much larger than us. We forget to leave any room for other folks to take a role, or for the Holy Spirit to intervene.
Of course, allowing anyone to help us, human or divine, means letting go a little. It means not being in total control. The outcome may be a little different than what we had in mind. The time frame may not really meet our expectations. That seed which Jesus said grew so well on its own — how many days and nights did it take to sprout and grow and bear grain, to be ready for the harvest?
This parable of the seed that grows secretly reminds me of one of my favorite prayers. It was written by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher and teacher. He writes:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our God the benefit of believing
that their hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”
Please pray with me. God, we long for all things to be good, to be right, to be how you would have them be; or at least, how we would have them be. Help us to work faithfully in your fields as we are called and also to recognize opportunities to rest, to ask for help, to embrace uncertainty, to wait for an outcome that is beyond our capacity to reach alone. May we wait for the seed to sprout, for the stalk to grow, for the grain to ripen, for the harvest to come, through your grace, and with your kindom, and in your time. Amen.