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Mission Impossible

April 20, 2008

Mark 6:30-44

The passage of Mark 6:30-44 provides one of my favorite stories from the life of Jesus. Other than the incarnation and the resurrection, this miracle of feeding the 5,000 is the only one recorded in all four Gospels. We should start considering this story by asking ourselves why that is the case.

I know you have been, as I have, to a very large banquet, perhaps a banquet in a hotel, a huge ballroom, or an auditorium. People go into a banquet room and sit down at a table to enjoy wonderful food. We give almost no thought to the fact that an entire staff has been working all day to prepare that food before the wait staff serves us all.

The disciples of Jesus are the wait staff in this story. They serve the meal, but they also know of the effort and time that went into its preparation. I doubt that the 5,000 men and their families understood what had happened in order to provide food for them. Those disciples knew, and they wanted to ensure that this story was told.

Each gospel presents this story found in Mark 6 in a little different context. Matthew’s gospel provides the information that Jesus is grieving deeply because John the Baptist has been beheaded. The Gospel of Mark focuses on the fact that the disciples are weary. Jesus had sent them out on a mission, and they have returned tired. Now the crowds are pressing in around them, and they have not eaten and rested. In order for them to have some time to relax, Jesus invites them to go away with him on a kind of retreat. They get in a boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, and come to a place that some translations call the Lonely Place. I love the word lonely because the place was anything but lonely when they arrive. Five thousand men, not counting their children, wives, and extended family, are waiting for them to arrive.

Jesus is grieving. He is tired, and the disciples are tired; but the Scripture states that Jesus has compassion on these people. He ministers to them because they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” He could have redirected the boat. He could have easily turned the crowd away when he stepped ashore. He did not do that, however, because they have needs. Now late in the day, the disciples encourage Jesus, “This is a remote place. Send these people away.”

Anyone who has ever taught school knows the feeling these disciples are experiencing. After a rough day with the kids, teachers just want to send them away and get some rest. Anybody who has ever directed a children’s choir, a youth choir, a youth group, a Scout troop, or any other group knows that a time comes when you just want to send them some other place. Doctors and nurses also know that. It is true that all of us become fatigued.

I love the Scripture used for our offertory sentence this morning: “We must not grow weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9). We do grow weary, and our reaction is, “Send them away.” Jesus responds to his disciples in a different way by directing, “You feed them.” That is not exactly the response they wanted to hear because Jesus is asking them to complete a mission that is impossible. According to Chapter 6 in the Gospel of John, Phillip speaks up, “Lord, it would take eight months of a man’s salary for us to provide just a meager meal for all of these people. Is that what you want us to do? You have given us a mission, a task that is absolutely impossible.” Jesus replies, “What do you have? Go and see.”

John’s gospel tells us that Andrew is the disciple who finds a small boy in the crowd with a lunch of five loaves, rolls, and two fish about the size of sardines. Imagine having a crowd like that and trying to feed them with a big fish sandwich from McDonalds. This boy’s lunch is about the same as that sandwich.

What does Jesus do when Andrew brings the boy to Jesus? Jesus takes that boy’s lunch – the five loaves of bread and two fish – blesses it, and divides it. Instead of distributing that broken food to the people himself, he gives it to his disciples, allowing them to complete the impossible mission. The Scriptures tell us that all of those people had their fill and that the disciples collected twelve baskets – one for each disciple – of leftover food. Plenty of food was available for the entire crowd.

I find this particular miracle remarkable. First, Jesus gave his disciples an impossible mission. There was no way in the world they could accomplish the task by themselves. He took the meager resources they had and enabled them to do what he had asked of them. Second, this story reminds me of the way the Lord is at work in this place. Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in me, you can bear much fruit, but apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5-7). That is the gospel truth. In our own strength, in our own wisdom, with our own resources, we cannot accomplish much. When we take what we have though and present it to Christ in faith, he enables us to achieve tasks that are absolutely beyond our imagination.

I had been at Morningside as pastor about three weeks when Tom Grier, owner of Grier and Company, called and told me he thought we needed to buy the yellow Riedman building next door. Tom’s idea about what how we should purchase it and the way we thought we could buy it did not mesh. It took us a long time to work out the details. After that call, I walked outside. I looked at that building, looked at this church, and thought, Lord, You have more in mind for the future of this church than I had imagined. You want us to do more than I ever thought possible.

Morningside Baptist Church was a good church when I came here as pastor. Not one single aspect of this church needed to be fixed. I felt so blessed that God called me here. My prayer was that He would enlarge my vision and help me begin to see what that vision was.

Morningside has had a long history of being involved in missions. Long before I came as pastor, people here were involved in mission trips: eight to Belize, two to Kenya, two to the Cayman Islands, four to the Dominican Republic, and four to Brazil. People were involved in mission trips to Haiti, Bangladesh, Korea, Chile, Uruguay, and the Panama Canal. Morningside was involved in mission trips right here in the United States, too. Groups had gone to Hollister, North Carolina, and groups had participated in disaster relief after Hurricane Hugo and several tornados.

The mission emphasis has continued in the past twelve years. Just think about the numerous mission trips to

– Poland (5 trips)
– Romania (4 trips)
– Hinesville, Georgia (Youth)
– Cleveland, Tennessee
– Williamsburg, Kentucky
– Areas affected by Hurricane Katrina (Multiple trips)
– Beckley, West Virginia
– Venezuela
– a southeast Asian country, whose name we are not allowed to mention

I remember when some of our members returned Romania from the first time. I saw the fire in their eyes and knew the only way to learn about missions is to be involved in missions.

The church has also been involved in missions in other ways. In November after I came, we made a commitment to start the Spartanburg Community Church. It was one of the most courageous acts I have seen a group of people do. That church, which has now grown to over 1,000 members, is starting a new church. Consider other North American ministry opportunities we have supported in some way:

– New Beginning Baptist Church in Clover, South Carolina
– West Spartanburg Baptist Church in Reidville, South Carolina
– Hopebrook Community Church in Six-Mile, South Carolina
– First Contemporary Baptist Church here in Spartanburg, South Carolina
– New Song Community Church in Blacksburg, South Carolina
– Care Baptist Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina
– First Baptist Church of Moore, South Carolina
– Red Oak Baptist Church, an African-American church in Greenville, South Carolina
– South Side Church in South Bend, Indiana
– Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island, South Carolina

Other opportunities have included the

– Purchase of property in Gheorgheni, Romania, for a church and financial assistance to complete the roof
– Donation of funds to Harvester’s International Ministry to build a church in Mozambique
– Completion of a church in Tambov, Russia
– Construction of three churches in Namibia
– Sponsorship of New Day Baptist Church, which will move into their own building in May
– Construction of thirteen churches in Brazil through the help of Tom Langston
– Assistance to North Central Indiana Baptist Church
– Aid to The Village Church in Holly Springs, North Carolina
– Construction of a church in Siberia
– Construction of two churches in Venezuela
– Construction of the seminary chapel in Warsaw, Poland
– Construction of a chapel at the Arab Baptist Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon – Reconstruction of the Baptist Church in Beirut, Lebanon
– Restoration of the Peniel Prayer Center in Cowpens
– Construction of four churches in that Southeast Asian country. One Sunday School class bought boats and video equipment for ministry in that Asian country

We have been involved with the Johenning Baptist Community Center in Washington, D.C., the Graffiti Ministry in New York City, and the Gutenberg II Project, which beamed gospel messages in Arabic into Islamic countries.

All the while, the church has supported

– TOTAL Ministries
– Faith Home in Greenwood
– St. Luke’s Free Medical Clinic
– the Jesus video project here in South Carolina
– Released Time, now known as South Carolina’s BEST
– Wayfarer Ministries
– Mobile Meals
– Gideons International
– Habitat for Humanity – This year, we are partnering with eleven other churches to build a Habitat house
– Miracle Hill Ministries
– Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, which actually started at a meeting right here in this church. Now, their day center is housed in that yellow building next door. – Shepherd’s Door
– Shepherd’s Center
– Journey Fellowship in Crofton, Maryland
– Metanoia in Charleston, South Carolina
– English Speakers of Other Languages program at Morningside

I read through this list on a Sunday night several weeks ago. Afterwards, some of you came to me and said, “You need to share this list with the congregation on a Sunday morning because many of our people do not know what God has done in this place.”

At Morningside, we have been able to complete the balcony, add a sound system, refurbish all the buildings, and purchase the Riedman building. Last year, we were given the remarkable gift of the Caine building. We now house four non-profit agencies in our facilities. In addition, we have built and paid for the Fellowship/Educational wing.

How does this happen? Does it happen because we are just so great? Does it happen because we are so smart? No. We did not do it. We cannot do this any more than those disciples could feed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. It is an impossible mission. How does it happen? It happens when people are committed to doing what the Lord asks us to do. It happens when we are willing to take the resources we have and say, “Here, Lord. Take what we have to offer and use us. Multiply them. Do what you want.”

I am somewhat reluctant to read the list because we have no bragging rights. We have nothing to boast about here. We can be very grateful that the Lord has seen fit to use us in this way. Why do I bring up this issue? I think the Lord wants us to continue having a heart for missions. The tithe on Growing Together with God, ten percent of money donated to our building fund, has enabled much of this work to be done. The beautiful aspect is that it keeps us from thinking that the center of the Kingdom of God is 897 South Pine Street. Morningside is not the center; it is only one small part of God’s Kingdom. God’s people, us, the church of Jesus Christ, must be committed to doing the will of God. We must be willing to say, “Lord, this is all we have. We do not know how you can use this, but we commit it to You, surrendering our will and giving ourselves to You.” If we do that, we have no way of knowing what the Lord can do.

If someone had told me twelve years ago that God intended Morningside to accomplish all of these tasks, I do not think I would have ever believed it. How does it happen? It happens by doing what God puts in front of us to do next. We never had to go out and look for ways to help. Do you remember what Henry Blackaby says? God is at work in the world around us. He invites us to join Him. God is doing just that. He keeps inviting us to be a part of this work.

I talked with a Sunday School class this morning about helping with a mission in Poland. A young man is willing to start a church in a town of 70,000 people, a town that has no Baptist church and only one evangelical church. This man is willing to do it, but he needs somebody to help him. I have asked that class to help financially for the remainder of this year. My hope is that we will put that church in our 2009 budget.

Another individual wants to start a church in some movie theaters here in Spartanburg. I am going to look into that possibility and pray about suggesting that we consider helping with that. Why am I suggesting we participate in giving assistance? God has put the opportunity in front of us. I do not know what He is going to do, but I do know what He wants us to do. He wants us to surrender our resources, our time and energy, and ourselves. If we do that, Jesus will take what we offer and multiply it. He will distribute it so that God’s kingdom will expand.

I invite you during this Week of Prayer to pray specifically about how God can use this church and about how God wants to use you. I invite you to consider what God would have you do beyond prayer. He wants us to take the Kingdom of God to the entire world. Our mission field begins right at our doorstep. Every time we walk out of the door of this place, we enter a mission field, a field that goes as far as the love of God goes. We must commit ourselves to do His bidding.

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely

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