Moving Forward With Faith
Scripture: Luke 9:1-6, 10-17
Today is World Communion Sunday. Every year on the first Sunday of October, congregations around the globe representing a host different denominations celebrate the Lord’s Supper and, as they do, they take the time to reflect that Jesus commissioned us “to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and to make disciples of all nations” as “today his family in all the world is joining at his holy table.”
Like many of you, I’m sure, I have fond childhood memories of family gatherings when siblings and parents, aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents gathered around my parents dining room and kitchen tables, with the younger children spilling over onto card tables; when every moveable chair in the house was pulled up to a table; and “table” could be anything with a surface flat enough to keep mounds of food from sliding off the plate before it could reach your mouth.
This morning’s scripture reading is also about a meal; a meal that was both symbol and substance. And this gospel story has something to teach us about what it means to be a community of Jesus’ followers. Jesus has been teaching and instructing his disciples for some time now and so he decides to send them out to do some ministry on their own. Their work is to be a continuation of his: they are to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. When they return and give their report, Jesus invites them to come away with him for some quiet time. But, as is so often the case, the crowds figure out where Jesus is headed and they follow him and, again as so often is the case, Jesus suspends his plans in order to minister to their needs. As the day winds down, it is the disciples who express concern about the crowd and their hunger. When Jesus suggests that the disciples go ahead and feed the crowd, the disciples can’t imagine how that will ever work out when they have such a meager supply to work with: five loaves of bread and two fish. Now, the curious thing about this story is that the disciples have just returned from a mission where they have needed to exercise faith. After all, when Jesus sent them out he instructed them to take nothing for their journey – no walking staff, no luggage, no money, no extra clothes, not even any bread. They were to enter the mission field empty and vulnerable, dependent on the grace of God and the hospitality of strangers. And it must have worked. All of them returned safe and sound. And yet now, they are concerned that they will NOT have the necessary resources to feed this crowd. But they do. They do because, when Jesus instructs them (or us, for that matter) to care for those in need around us, you’d better believe that Jesus will provide what’s necessary to answer that call, to respond to that need. No matter how deficient our resources, no matter how meager our supply, Jesus provides what we need to meet the needs of his world in his name. In addition, the flow of this gospel story reveals to us that our times of worship should never separate us from a world in need. Jesus and his disciples had set aside time to be alone together, but it didn’t stay that way for long. Worship, if it removes us from the world and its needs, becomes meaningless ritual. The life of a Christian disciple is a life in which word and deed, worship and service, gospel proclamation and practice go hand in hand.
Likewise today, as we celebrate communion, we’re reminded that it is not only communion with Christ; it is also communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ – here and beyond these walls. It is “a sacrament of both horizontal and vertical communion.” My brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s Supper on this World Communion Day, it is a reminder to us that our call to follow Christ will never find its ultimate fulfillment in worship, study and prayer – as important as those things are. But our call to follow Christ always includes extending God’s grace and care to others. When we commune we hear Jesus’ reminder: “Do this in remembrance of me.” And so, we recall the do-ings of Jesus. You see, our remembrance of Jesus should never be isolated to those last couple of days of his life, his passion. We need to remember ALL of Jesus’ life and ministry, a ministry that brought healing, liberation and reconciliation to those in need, a ministry that fed bodies and souls.
This morning’s worship service also kicks off our annual Fall Stewardship Campaign: Moving Forward with Faith. Throughout this campaign I want to keep four questions before you that are printed in the center of your program this morning. I want to invite you to read those questions aloud with me now:
But, along with being called to spend time with Jesus, we are also called to go for Jesus, to continue his work of healing and proclaiming good news to the world, or at least to our little piece of it. But if we are to do that with authenticity and determination, then it will involve risk and faith, just as it did for those first disciples. They didn’t have what they needed; they weren’t wealthy people; they’d left everything to follow Jesus. And yet, Jesus asked them to do the impossible in his name: to multiply bread, to make abundance out of scarcity. And you know what? They did it. They did it because they took that step of faith. And that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to discern God’s call for our community, for this Lafayette/West Lafayette area. As the Nike folks have long said, we need to “just do it.” We need to give by faith; we need to serve by faith; we need to move forward with faith… because God and this city are depending on us to proclaim his good news and to bring healing, liberation and reconciliation to God’s people.
As you prepare to turn in your 2016 pledge cards at the end of this month, I pray you’ll remember that we are called to take a step of faith because our community, our city, needs us. It is not enough for our church to get by, to keep the heat and the lights on. That means nothing, it serves no purpose whatsoever, if we’re not engaged in risk-taking mission and service. Certainly we are blessed with a beautiful sanctuary but the church is not really a building. The church is the people – the disciples of Jesus.
If we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, then we have been entrusted with his ministry, a ministry that went to people and places that everyone else ignored. The ministry of our Lord was risky and bold and ours should be no less risky and bold. Remember, those 12 disciples were sent out with nothing. We definitely have way more than that. Of their story, preacher and teacher Fred Craddock says this: “Had they gone with money and extra provisions, their witness would have been undercut by such an evident lack of faith in God and trust in the hospitality of the people. [Oh] How many of the church’s sermons are contradicted by budgets and programs of self-protection and security!” So friends, I ask, when we develop our ministry goals and budgets, what are we concerned about? Are we determined to reach boldly beyond our walls? Or, is it about self-protection and security? And, how many of our personal, individual budgets reflect fear and self-protection? Does our financial giving to the church reveal an act of faith or fear? Brothers and sisters in Christ, our church’s budget, our church’s programs, our church’s witness to this community depends on each one of us – as individuals and as a faith community. Jesus can accomplish amazing things with our meager resources. But it does depend upon our willingness to gather those resources and offer them up to Jesus – to be bold, to take a risk, to Move Forward with Faith. Amen.
 The United Methodist Book of Worship. P. 72.
 Conflict and Community in Corinth by Ben Witherington. Eardmann’s Publishing. 1995. p. 243.
 Interpretation Commentary: Luke by Fred Craddock. John Knox Press. 1990. p. 122.
On a lifelong journey of seeking to live out God's call on my life and to reflect His grace.
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