Get Up and Eat

Meditation on 1 Kings 19:4-8

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Aug. 8, 2021

Link to our Livestreamed Worship on Facebook:

https://fb.watch/7iNc8UQTW5/

Elijah sleeping under the broom tree.

The week was off to a great start with VBS on Monday night! This year’s theme was Beach Party, with our programs mostly outside on the church lawn. Storytime and snacks were served up on beach blankets under some shade trees. Children listened to Bible stories on the theme of water and fish, such as Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry land; Jesus walking on water and calming the storm; Jonah and the Whale, told from the perspective of the whale; Jesus calling the disciples to be fishers of people; and, another miraculous picnic: Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. 

Jeff and other volunteers sent me photos from the nights that I couldn’t attend. Thursday, the last day, was water day. Janice filled wading pools with 600 water balloons. Some experiences that you don’t get from the photos, Jeff said, are the heat of the August night; the anticipation, “I’m so gonna get you!!” Then, splat!! The water balloon hits you in the back, and the water is COLD. And all the laughter!! And shrieks! Until all the balloons were thrown and everyone was SOAKED.

Jeff saw drivers slowing down as they passed the church, hearing the shrieks and laughter; grinning, then driving by slowly…. Jeff was still laughing on Friday when he shared the photos by text message and told me about the last evening.

Isn’t it wonderful that our VBS was a blessing to the children and families and volunteers AND a witness to the love, joy, and peace of those who happened to be driving by the church???? That’s what we have been praying for!!

Though too brief, Monday night was a feast that strengthened me through a long, dry, wilderness week—when Jim had his knee surgery, and we struggled with his care at home after two days and one night in the hospital.

While I was sad to have missed so much of VBS, the Lord spoke to me in the quiet at home through happy memories from Monday of this powerful outreach to children and families in our church and community. Whenever I was discouraged and weary, the Lord brought to mind the joy of all who participated in VBS—and all the seeds that were sown for the sake of the Kingdom. God was saying to me with these nourishing, uplifting reminders of his faithfulness in my life and in the life of our church, “Get up and eat.”

***

Elijah the Tishbite, the great prophet of Israel, is running for his life in our reading in 1 Kings today. Queen Jezebel, wife of King Ahab of Israel, has vowed to kill him.  

Jezebel   is a Phoenician princess in the 9th century who marries Ahab, the prince of Israel. Have you heard of Jezebel?  Phoenicia is located in what is now Lebanon. While Israel is struggling with internal tribal differences and susceptible to frequent invasions, it still follows the beliefs of Yahweh, the “one true” God. Phoenicia is a large, cosmopolitan, religiously diverse area. Jezebel had grown up in a wealthy family and was well educated by tutors. Her family worshiped many gods.

    When Ahab and Jezebel rule as king and queen of Israel, Jezebel continues worship of the nature god Baal and begins killing off the prophets of the Lord.

    You wouldn’t know it by his despair, but Elijah has just had a great victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. After Baal fails to respond to its followers sacrifice and their shouting,  “O Baal, answer us!” from morning to noon, Elijah builds an altar and prepares a sacrifice to the Lord, pouring water over and around it. Then he prays to God and immediately fire falls from heaven and consumes everything.  When the Israelites see it, they fall on their faces and shout,  “The Lord alone is God. The Lord alone is God.” (I Kings 18:39). The prophets of Baal are seized and killed by sword.

Elijah’s fear and despair are triggered by a note from Jezebel’s messenger saying that he will be killed by the next day. He runs to Beersheba in Judah. Leaving his servant there, he goes a day’s journey into the wilderness. Under the broom tree, he finds shade and a place to pray.  But instead of asking God to deliver him from the queen, he asks the Lord to end his life.

He has had enough.

Even a great prophet of the Lord can become weary of body, mind and spirit. In more modern-day terms, we could say that he has PTSD. He is a prophet and a soldier for God. The fear and tiredness are talking when he says, “I am no better than my ancestors.”

Elijah, who prays for death, is one of only a few in the Bible who will not die. When his ministry draws to a close on earth and his assistant, Elisha, is prepared to take his place, Elijah will be taken up in a whirlwind and a fiery chariot will ride the sky.

God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer is sleep!!! He falls asleep under the desert broom tree!

This passage really brings home to me how the Lord cares for us– body, mind, and soul. We are not always good about taking care of ourselves! Especially caregivers! We can become so focused on our loved one that we don’t take the time for self-care. But God our maker knows how precious we are. He tenderly feeds us, when we don’t have the strength to carry on.

An angel awakens Elijah with,  “Get up and eat.” He doesn’t let the prophet oversleep!

Throughout this passage, we encounter phrases that connect Elijah’s story with the great story of God and God’s people in the Old Testament and New—and with our own story. Through God’s loving action, Elijah experiences redemption!

The broom tree and wilderness remind us of the Israelites’ time in the desert with Moses, when they camp at a place known for broom trees in Numbers 33:18-19.  The cake baked on hot stones reminds us of God’s provision of manna from heaven, tasting sweet like honey, when they were hungry.  Water in the stone jar reminds us of water provided by God from a rock when the Israelites are thirsty.  And when Jesus turns water into wine  and offers living water to the Samaritan woman  at the well in John.

The rest and nourishment prepare Elijah for his 40-day and 40-night wilderness journey to Mt Horeb, the Mountain of God. This is a spiritual journey that brings to mind Moses  spending 40 days and nights atop Sinai in Exodus 24:18;

memories of the rain falling on Noah’s ark;

and in the New Testament, when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness to prepare for his ministry —and, in his time of need and weakness, at the end of 40 days and nights, is ministered to by angels.

God will speak to Elijah on Horeb. He will surprise him as he passes by, not in the great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks. Not in the earthquake that follows, nor the fire. God’s voice will be heard as a soft murmur in the silence.

How does the Elijah story connect with your story today? Are you or a loved one weary in your journey of faith? Is life getting you down? Are you having trouble hearing from God in the noise of your life?

The Lord is teaching me to rely on Him for EVERYTHING—and that means learning to ask for help—from God and from others, when I need it. And that some days, the best thing we can say is that we made it through the day—and tomorrow will be better!! And that food and rest are necessary for mental and spiritual health.

And that worry is a waste of time and energy. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew, today really does have enough worries of its own. So don’t worry about tomorrow!! God is still using angels to help us in our time of need! Only the angels are YOU and Me! Sometimes, God will use a complete stranger to minister to you or a loved one in need.

Do you know that God is with you, right now? And that his voice can be heard if you just stop running and giving into fear and despair? The Lord is speaking to us, offering nourishment for those who are weary in body, mind and soul:

 “Get up and eat.”

Let us pray.

Holy one, thank you for your love, for calling each of us your precious child and for having a plan for our lives. Thank you for our VBS and the many children and families our congregation was able to serve. Bless all our volunteers for their acts of kindness, sewing seeds of faith for your sake, sharing your love and grace. Reassure us, Lord, when we are weary and discouraged, in spite of how you have used us for your ministry. We still get tired! Keep us from obsessing over failures and weakness and to look to you for our strength. Remind us to take time to care for ourselves—to find nourishment for body, mind, and soul. And that you desire us to rest and eat, care for our physical bodies—and leave the worrying to you. Help us to know when to ask for help from you and others—and to recognize the angels in our midst. Use us, Lord, as your ministering angels, helping and encouraging others who are in need. We pray these things in the name of the Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

Be Bread for the World

Meditation on Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-16 and John 6:24-35

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

Aug. 1, 2021

Link to Aug. 1, 2021 live-streamed worship service, including this message:

https://fb.watch/77YDgSOGTS/

   Last Tuesday, our Session gathered at the home of our clerk, Sarah Swigert, for a picnic. Once a year, with the exception of 2020, instead of a regular Session meeting in July, we meet for a potluck dinner and cookout with our spouses. We enjoyed an abundance of home-cooked food and the company of Christian friends who have become a family of God. Unfortunately, two of our members and their spouses were not able to make it. We missed them!

      Our Session is a group of gifted, faithful people who have hung together and labored long and hard for the sake of the Lord and His Church—through difficult, anxious times, as well as times of joy and laughter. Last Tuesday was fun!

Near the end of the gathering, Debbie Clark made an interesting observation. It was just like a Session meeting, she said, only with food! What I think she meant was that this relaxed, comfortable way we are with each other at a fellowship gathering is the same way we are when we are together—virtually or in person—doing the important work of leading the church.

    We love each other and respect and value each other’s differences. For each of us not only possess gifts to develop and share for the Lord; each of us ARE gifts from the Lord to His Church and the world.

      All believers are connected by a common calling—the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It moves us to give of ourselves, build up those around us, and grow the Kingdom.  Like the crowd of more than 5,000 hungry people who were nourished by a few loaves and fish—blessed, broken and given by the Bread of Life—we feast on Christ’s Word and Spirit so that we may be equipped to be Bread for the World.

     This common gospel calling is what Paul is talking about in the 4th chapter of Ephesians. This letter is meant for the Church, encouragement for those who are trying to be faithful. But it’s also for those on different places on their faith journey, as well as those from different walks of life, backgrounds, knowledge, and experience, including Gentile and Jewish Christians.

    Paul provides some basic rules of living the new life in Christ together in this chapter—for the good of the community.  He tells believers to put away all falsehood, ”for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” He emphasizes the importance of our words and their effect on others.   “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” he says, “but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph 4:29)

    Our passage begins a new section of the letter, where everything that came before chapter 4 is leading to Paul’s main point: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”  It’s not enough to say you are a Christian. The Lord wants us to let our lives, demeanor, behavior, and attitude show it. Christ has given gifts to the Church so that some would be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their shared purpose is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

    Serving in the Church requires a different mindset than working in the world or serving as a volunteer with a secular organization.  It’s the reason we do we what do—and for whom! We serve the Church because we love the Lord and the people God so loves.

    For some people, it’s hard not to see Christianity as just “Jesus and me.” The vision of Paul’s beloved Spirit-filled community is that we are a new family of God and not just solitary believers, working alone.  The church’s life and mission are shaped and given to us by Jesus Christ. We are forever connected to him and to one another and are known as his disciples by our love. Paul says a life worthy of the calling is lived:  “with all humility and gentleness, with patience”  “bearing with one another in love.”

“Bearing with one another” is something that shows up in other Pauline letters and is connected with forgiveness in Colossians 3:13,  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Bearing with one another in love may also be holding one another up and keeping each other from falling, helping to carry one another’s burdens. This is something that I often see happening in our church family, and it’s such a blessing to me!

   Unity and peace are recurring themes in Paul’s letters. Here in Ephesians, Paul acknowledges that achieving unity in the Church is not something the Holy Spirit does alone. We have to work at it and keep on working at it:  “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) Unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  As Paul says in verse 7,  “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We have to expect differences of opinion with our different gifts and perspectives, and not be afraid of respectful disagreements, which may be the path to Spirit-led transformation.

    On the other hand, Paul has no tolerance for false teachers who try to lead Christians astray. He urges believers to not be like spiritual children: “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”

     Going along with unity is peace. This is the bond or glue that holds everything together! Peace requires effort and commitment, as well. As Paul says in Romans 12:18, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

    My favorite part of this passage are verses 4-6, some of which we read at baptisms. ‘ONE’ is repeated 7 times to reinforce what is common to every believer. These are reasons to rejoice and give God our thanks and praise!   “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

     Dear friends, each of you possesses gifts that God wants you to use to help grow the church. But I want you to know that each of YOU are also GIFTS to the Church!   I treasure you and appreciate all that you do, many of you quietly, behind the scenes, where nobody else can see.  Thank you for your faithfulness and for all your prayerful efforts at maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in our church family.  Just coming to worship every Lord’s Day is a wonderful witness to our unity!

     This week, kind volunteers—youth and adults—will be seeking to grow the Church by serving the children of our community through Vacation Bible School.  It’s been 2 years since our last VBS!  Our volunteers need our encouragement and prayers. I plan to be there whenever I can to assist them, helping to welcome our children and families, lead prayer, share Bible stories, and do whatever is needed. We will also do crafts, play games, have snacks, and just enjoy our time together. Most of all, we hope to show the love and grace of Christ through caring words and ways that children will understand.  Please pray that hearts and lives will be changed—including ours!

    You know, we can’t do any of our ministries without God’s help and without seeking to grow ourselves and become more spiritually mature.  Like the Israelites who ate of the manna from heaven each day in the desert wilderness, we must nourish ourselves on the Bread of Life so that, serving together, we may be Bread for the World. 

Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you for your love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We pray for unity and peace in our faith community and community at large. Help us always to be gentle, patient, and kind, bearing with one another in love. Let us urge each other to spiritual maturity, growing up into our head, who is Jesus Christ. We pray for the children of our church and community. Bless them, Lord, watch over them and keep them safe. Draw them nearer and deeper into the fold and help us to joyfully and creatively minister to them and they to us. Send down your manna every day to strengthen us to do your will and live lives that are worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Feed us with the Bread of Life so that we may be Bread for the World. Amen.

July 25, 2021 Worship and Message

Link to live-streamed service:

https://fb.watch/6_Cxyimzl1/

A Child’s Gift

Meditation on John 6:1-21

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4 St., Coshocton

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 25, 2021

    It’s finally here-after being postponed for a year! The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have begun! Anyone watching the Olympics? The International Olympic Committee says that this is the first gender-balanced Olympics, with almost as many women as men competing! We do seem to be hearing more of the women’s voices speaking up about issues specific to female athletes.

     More than a dozen mothers are competing at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics for Team USA (Today). The list includes gold-medal sprinter Allyson Felix  and her talented teammate Quanara Hayes , marathoners Sally Kipyego  and Aliphine Tuliamuk , soccer player Alex Morgan, Team USA basketball star Skylar Diggins-Smith, long jumper Brittney Reese , softball pitcher Cat Osterman, fencer Mariel Zagunis, and others.

      Quanara Hayes said of returning to track after giving birth, “Coming back, it was tough. It was like I had to learn how to run all over again. I couldn’t come out of [the blocks], my stride was different.” Mariel Zagunis said that training was frustrating after giving birth.  But with four Olympic medals under her belt, her 3-year-old daughter, Sunday, gave her a new sense of purpose as she prepared to compete in Tokyo. “Now I have a new motivation—doing this for my daughter and trying to make that work…I’m really excited to go to my next Olympics with her to show that anything is possible. If you put your mind to it, you can make your dreams come true.” (Today)

      “Long jumper Brittney Reese won Olympic gold in 2012 and will be making her fourth Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games, her second as a mom. Reese adopted her godson, Alex, before the 2016 Rio Games, when a friend was no longer able to raise him. …  ‘He’s a good motivator,’ she said. ‘He’s at the end of the runway saying, ‘Let’s go, Brittney!’”  (Today)

      Alex Morgan, a U.S. women’s soccer star, “gave birth to a baby girl, Charlie, in 2020, just months before the originally scheduled Tokyo Olympics. She says that her daughter is one of the reasons she’s fighting for equal pay for women athletes.  ‘I never want to become someone who puts down a dream whether it’s realistic or not,” she told Prevention magazine. ‘I had a dream when I was 7 years old of playing professional soccer, and there were absolutely no avenues to do that at the time.  (My mother) encouraged me to live out my dream, so that’s what I want to pass along to Charlie.’”

     What stood out to me in the account of the feeding of the multitude in John this week was that the inspiration for the miracle was provided by none other than the gift of a child! A child! How can this be?! Women and children were practically invisible in Bible times. We often encounter unnamed women and children in the Bible who rarely play important roles. This child is nearly invisible, but not quite. The passage speaks only of the 5,000 men in attendance—and nothing of the women and children—not until the unnamed boy is singled out for his generous gift! Scholars think that had John counted men, women, and children there may have been 10,000 people gathered for the meal of loaves and fish!

     The crowd has followed Jesus because of the “signs”—how he is healing the sick.  They follow him because of their need and Christ’s unusual compassion, not shown by earthly rulers. No wonder they want to make him their king, and he has to flee to a mountain for safety! They are hungry and have no food to eat or, presumably, the means to buy enough food so that they are full.

      In teaching mode and posture—seated on a mountain with his disciples—Jesus asks Philip when he sees the crowd approach, “Where will we get enough food to feed all these people?” He says this to “test Philipsince he already knew what he was going to do.” Notice the assumption—that Jesus and the disciples have a responsibility to respond to the needs that they see.

     Do you wonder why Jesus chooses Philip for this test? Raymond Brown says it was logical to ask Philip because he was from Bethsaida, and the scene probably took place in Bethsaida. Resident expert! But then, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida—and he didn’t ask them.  I think he asked Philip because of his personality; he already knew what Philip was going to say –that he would be the voice of reason and logic. He would tell it just like it is. Do you know anybody like that? They are that one person who will quickly analyze the situation and, without declaring it impossible, will let the facts speak for themselves.

     What he actually says to Jesus is, “Not even with 200 denarii could we buy enough loaves to give each of them a little.” Ordinary workers made one denarii a day; therefore, 200 denarii is the wage for 200 days of labor. Obviously, Jesus and the disciples didn’t have that much money on them, for they were ordinary themselves.

    Philip, a fisherman with a Greek (Gentile) name, had answered the call to follow Jesus without hesitation. He didn’t need extra coaxing when he found Jesus in John 1:43, who said, “Follow me.” Next thing we know, Philip is reaching out to his friend Nathanael and saying to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

    His remark now about how even 200 denarii—if they could ever scrape together that much money—wouldn’t be enough to feed the crowd moves Andrew to find his voice. Andrew was the first disciple to be called in the gospel of John; he had been a follower of John the Baptist when John says about Jesus, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” Andrew follows Jesus to where he is staying and remains with him the entire day before bringing his brother, Simon, to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah.”

    Now, responding to Jesus’ question and Philip’s unbelieving answer, Andrew, also a fisherman with a Greek (Gentile) name, turns the conversation to a little boy he has met.  The unnamed boy must have overheard Jesus’ question and approached Andrew. He is ready to give away all the food he has brought with him to eat because he trusts in Jesus. He is anticipating a miracle. The boy’s gift grows Andrew’s faith. He says, “There is a boy here who has five small loaves of barley bread and two fish. But what good is that with all these people?”

     Barley bread was less common than wheat bread, if you are wondering. “Barley loaves were cheaper and served for the poor.” (Raymond Brown) Luke 11:5-6 confirms that these three small loaves are the normal portion for one person: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’” 

 Jesus takes the bread into his hands, gives thanks to God, passes it to the people—and then does the same with the fish. And for perhaps the first time in their lives, everyone has plenty to eat!

And there’s still more, revealing a glimpse of the abundance of God’s Kingdom of which Mary sang in her song in Luke 1:52-53:

 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things….”

     This year, while I always look forward to the Olympics, the stories of young mothers on the USA Olympic Team have especially touched my heart.  May they inspire us to never give up on our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, the church and for a more just and peaceful world, no matter how impossible that may seem. A world where no one goes hungry, and there is PLENTY for all.

     That child who gave up his entire lunch wasn’t thinking he was going to starve!  With his barley loaves, he was definitely someone who came from a low socio-economic background, but wasn’t thinking he was “poor.” He wasn’t counting the money that was needed, that he didn’t have, like Philip, for everyone to have just a mouthful. He was investing in the Kingdom with all that he had—because he had seen the signs—and knew Jesus was and is the Messiah for the world.

      I leave you now with some questions to consider.

     What would you do for our Lord—the One who walked on water and fed 10,000 people with a couple of loaves and fish —right now, if you believed in ABUNDANCE, rather than scarcity? If you had NO fear? What would you do for Jesus if you allowed yourself to be moved by the faith and generosity of a child to invest in the Kingdom, anticipating the wondrous works of God?

Let us pray. Holy One, we are inspired by the boy who offered all the food that he had brought with him to Your Son, so that a multitude could be fed! Father, give us the faith of that child. You know his name, Lord. Help us to listen to children, see them, and learn from them, encouraging them in the good things that they do. Strengthen us to let go of the things of this world that have their hold on us so that we might share with others so desperately in need—and all may be fed. Lead us to works of generosity and compassion so that we may truly live lives as witnesses to the Messiah and the abundance of the Kingdom Your Son ushered in. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

Come Away to a Deserted Place

Meditation on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 18, 2021

Below is a recording of our live-streamed worship service on July 18, 2021:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?height=314&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpresbycoshocton%2Fvideos%2F954442202014221%2F&show_text=true&width=560&t=709

Here is a downloadable bulletin from the July 18, 2021 service:

      It’s good to be back with you after having a weekend off to rest and hang out with my family and our dog, Mabel, and two orange cats, Liam and Seamus. We did plenty of eating and some projects around the house and garage. For fun, I have been enjoying evening walks, sometimes in the rain, and watching episodes of the ABC TV series, “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.” Have you heard of it? Here are some of the cast.  

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – “Pilot” (Photo by Justin Lubin/ABC via Getty Images) COBIE SMULDERS

SHIELD is an acronym for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division; it’s a fictional federal peacekeeping and spy agency in a world of superheroes, aliens, and otherwise ordinary people with extraordinary “gifts” or powers, used for good or evil, depending on who is nurturing the gifts.

        One of the most intriguing things about the show is the gradual transformation of the agents themselves, the revelation of surprising details about each one’s past and present, and their growing relationships and reliance upon one another and their director, Phil Colson. Colson, who died and was brought to life with an injection of alien DNA, leads them to do acts of justice and fulfill his call—protecting humankind from enemies without and within and keep the struggling agents going, in spite of all their hardships, losses and disappointments—which are many.

       While the story is science fiction/fantasy and not particularly Christian, I hear echoes of our faith in the overarching themes of good against evil, life battling and winning over death, and love conquering hate. Those willing to serve risk their lives on dangerous missions and place their trust in their leader and the team that values their gifts and skills, but also loves them and cares for them as people, with all their flaws and weaknesses. There are many times when, between missions, the team is gathered on the specially equipped plane they call the bus, resting, recovering and getting ready for the next adventure so that the world may be saved.

     The apostles have returned from their mission, not so unlike the agents of SHIELD. Notice the use of the word apostles— the Greek word apostolos meaning “those sent out” by Jesus in pairs to go to all the towns, villages, and cities proclaiming peace, calling to repentance, casting out demons, healing the sick, and teaching about the Kingdom of God. When they return, they gather around Jesus. They can’t wait to tell him all that they had done and taught. They want him to say,“Well done, good and faithful servants.”

     And Jesus must be pleased at how they had gone out for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom and were welcomed into people’s homes, where they taught and cared for people in need, as Jesus had told them to do. But here we see him concerned about the physical and emotional health and well-being of his disciples. For he loved them all and called them his friends. He says to them now,“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” For many needy people were coming and going and the disciples “had no leisure even to eat.”

     When Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest” – he doesn’t send each person off alone in the wilderness to pray—as he will do for himself on a mountain later in the passage. He is talking about the team coming together to share with one another, rest, eat and be strengthened for the work of ministry. They’re hungry. They’re tired. They have stories to share. So they get into a boat and go to “a deserted place by themselves.”

     Only it’s not a deserted place when they get there. So much for their break! They only get the boat ride before the demands of ministry begin again. People see them going and “recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.”

     Waiting on the shore for Jesus and his followers is a crowd that has grown larger than before as word got out about the healings. Jesus chooses to put aside his disciples’ need and desire for rest when he sees a “great crowd” and has  “compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd ….”

      The phrase has echoes from Jewish tradition. Moses and David, Israel’s greatest leaders, were shepherds. When Moses grows old, he asks the Lord in Numbers 27:17 to appoint a successor “so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel promise a future ruler who will guide the people like a good shepherd. (Jer. 23:4; Ezek. 34:23.)

     Sandwiched between where our lectionary reading stops at verse 34 and picks up at verse 53 are two miracle stories– Jesus walking on the sea and the feeding of 5,000 men, plus women and children on the green grass. (In Palestine, grass grows in the desert only in springtime.) The “green grass” and image of the shepherd, as well as the satisfaction of wants—as all who eat are filled and there’s some leftover!—are allusions to Psalm 23!

      Crossing over in their boat, after the miracle feeding that also satisfies the hunger of the disciples and the episode of Jesus walking on the sea, they arrive at the land of Gennesaret. This is not a town or village but a 3/1/2 mile long plain on the shore of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberias and Capernaum. Jesus and the disciples are recognized, again!

People run, bringing the sick on mats to wherever he goes. And Jesus walks everywhere; his compassion is for the people of the towns and cities, villages and rural areas. His love is for all.

   Says William Placher, “Jesus acts with compassion and confidence. The people, sheep without a shepherd, take him as their shepherd. The disciples worry about scarcity and want to exclude; Jesus creates plenty and includes everyone.”

    The faith shown by those who are sick is tremendous! What a contrast to that terrible day when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by his own and prevented from healing but a few people because they did not believe in him.

     But now, the sick and their loved ones follow Jesus around and beg for the healing that only he can give….. And did you catch the way they are healed? They believe they only have to touch the fringe of his garment. The fringe are the tassels that Jewish males were required to wear at the four corners of their garments to remind them of God’s commandments—and to obey.

     Mark says, “And all who touched it were healed.”

     The word translated “were healed” is literally “were saved.” For this is a healing of body, mind, and soul.

      On Thursday night, we had our first Confirmation reunion for the class of 2020. I had been longing for a reunion ever since last October when we confirmed them during worship on Reformation Sunday. And what better “deserted place” than the country home of the Swigerts in Newcomerstown? Here they are—the four students—on Sarah and Matt’s front porch.

 It was a time to eat, talk, and laugh. No agenda—except rest and fellowship for the students, families, and their pastor and her spouse. We had grilled hot dogs with homemade coney sauce, creamy potatoes, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, and other sides and drinks. For dessert, we had four different kinds of ice cream and triple chocolate brownies.

     As we finished eating, it suddenly began to rain. It poured, soaking the children and youth who had gone outside to explore the woods on the Swigert’s property. We heard laughing and happy screaming! Ethan ran back to get the 4-wheel ranger  and rescue the girls—and their discarded shoes. Sarah ran for some towels to dry off the kids and the dog named Boone.

     Later, there was an impromptu game of tug of war on the front lawn. And lots more laughing, slipping and sliding. Some of us were relaxing on the front porch swing. 

It was a time to build up relationships and prepare us for the ministry to come. For we are in a season of healing and recovery from the pandemic and the months of separation and isolation. We are all anxious to feel more and more like we are back to normal. But during this time of healing and recovery, God can and will still use us for compassionate ministry, if we allow Him. It’s in the serving and caring for others that we often find our own healing. Dear friends, so many people in our communities are like sheep without a shepherd, crying out in need.

     I like to think of the children and youth of our congregation being like the secret agents of SHIELD.  The church is our home base, like SHIELD’s plane, a place where we receive and share God’s love and encourage one another. We love our children and youth and want to help them discover and grow their faith and God-given gifts.

    Christ sends us all out to conquer evil with good and overpower hatred with love, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our compassionate Lord sends us out to feed the hungry and meet other needs. And like the first apostles, we are sent out to bring the Spirit’s healing to bodies, minds, and souls.

     But as we seek to be faithful to serve and care for others, let us also remember the importance Christ placed on spending time alone with God—to pray and be still—and to gather together with other believers—in large and small groups—for rest, food, and fellowship, like we did with our Confirmation class reunion. When we gather is when the Spirit works in and among us to restore, renew, revive, strengthen, and bind us together for the ministry God has planned.

     May we be led to accept Christ’s invitation to come away to a deserted place– together, all by ourselves—and rest awhile— so that we might serve our God who desires the world to be saved.

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for your love shown by your Son, who was concerned for the wellbeing of his followers when they were weary from their mission, and yet saw the crowds of sick and otherwise needy people and had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Thank you for sending your Son to be our Good Shepherd, who watches over us each day and guides us on our way, filling us with your love and grace. Lord, teach us how to be quiet and still and listen for you. Heal our hurts, Lord, so that we might be your agent of healing for others. And gather us together, Lord, with other believers for rest, food and fellowship so that we are strengthened to help you save the world. In the name of our Holy Triune God we pray. Amen.

Travel Light!

Meditation on Mark 6:1–13

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

July 4, 2021

My husband, Jim, and I are celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this month. We share an anniversary with Dick and Alice Hoover! July 15.

It can be hard to be a pastor’s spouse. Can I say that? I speak from my own personal experience as a pastor’s wife before I became a pastor myself and from witnessing all that Jim goes through as my husband and a pastor, himself. The needs and activities of ministry consume so much of the minister’s time, energy, and emotion. Sacrifices are made for the sake of the Lord and His Church. The boundaries of ministry time and family time are blurred, sometimes because of the intimate nature of the calling—the lives of faith that we share and the Spirit that connects each one of us.

I am getting better at carving out time for Jim and me. But I have some room to grow in this area. I am working on it, with God’s help.

It’s also such a blessing to be married to a pastor. Can I say that, too? I wouldn’t be who I am without Jim, my partner in ministry, my companion for life. We have some interesting theological conversations. They would probably be boring to you! Not to us!

The apostle Paul gives good advice when he says in 2 Cor. 6:14, “Do not be matched with unbelievers” or “unequally yoked,” as some translations say. An equal yoke conjures the image of two oxen, working side by side for the same purpose, pulling and sharing the same load, going in the same direction.

   We are stronger together, Jim and me. We lift one another up, urging one another to be faithful and remember the responsibility that comes with God’s gifts to use for His purposes—and keep on using them! Just as Paul tells the Galatians in 6:9, “ So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”   

    Jim and I know that God brought us together for love and companionship—and for ministry. Just as it’s no accident that Jesus sends out his disciples on a mission two by two. slide This is an intentional pairing—I can just see him thinking about their personalities and who might work best together. He might even choose the ones who struggle to get along so they learn how to get along. He chooses the pairs and when they are ready to go. They don’t all go at the same time!  Listen: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two…”

       They will hold each other accountable. And they will be companions, partners in ministry. Two are stronger than one and better protection from bandits on the road. When there’s someone walking beside us—to urge us on and keep us company along the way—it’s so much better. It’s easier when there’s someone to say, when we are tired of the struggle, “Don’t grow weary of doing right.”

     For there will be rejection, something Jesus prepares them for with his own example when he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. The village of about 300 people at the time is, “the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else. Any Jewish adult male could be invited to speak in a synagogue, and Jesus, a local boy comes home, accepts such an invitation.” (William C. Placher). The synagogue may have looked something like this…

Ancient tradition, says columnists Daniel Peterson and Bill Hamblin, maintains that something called the “Synagogue Church” in modern day Nazareth stands atop the Roman-era synagogue where Jesus worshipped as a young man.

The Synagogue Church

    Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor and author, says of Christ’s rejection in our gospel reading today: He “enters his hometown, Nazareth, having just outdone himself in the miracle department: he raised a young girl from the dead. But he’s hardly been elevated to superhero or superhealer status—recall that in last week’s reading (in Mark 5), the people laughed at him. The rejection our Lord meets in his hometown is different from what he faces elsewhere only in degree…”

    Many who hear him are “astounded!” They question the source of his power and identify him by his siblings and mom, who still live in Nazareth, and his occupation—tekton in Greek, with a meaning closer to “construction worker” than “carpenter” in today’s language. Jesus the teckton or “construction worker” is something that only shows up here and in the gospel of Matthew (13:55).

    “And they take offense at him.”

     Christ’s response reveals a very human Jesus, who expects more of his hometown and kin. He is “amazed at their unbelief.”

     “Prophets,” he says, sounding defensive and angry to me, “are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kind and in their own house.”

       I am sure that he offended his audience even more!

      This rejection doesn’t hold Jesus back from doing what God has sent him to do. He doesn’t dwell in the failure of his hometown, where he can do no deeds of power, other than a few healings, because of their lack of faith. He moves on, just as he instructs his disciples to do when they are not welcome in a town.  He leaves Nazareth and goes about “the villages” teaching, setting an example for the 12 when he sends them out two by two and tells them to TRAVEL LIGHT. Take no food. No bag. No money. No extra clothing! There are echoes of the Exodus story with what Christ tells them to wear and bring. Sandals, staff, and tunic are what the Israelites are told to wear and carry when Moses leads them out of Egypt (Ex. 12:11).

Taking nothing with them on their journey, they will be radically dependent on others—on strangers! If no one has compassion on them or has room to spare and food to share, they will have to sleep outside and probably go hungry for a time.  On the other hand, without any possessions to worry about, protect from robbers and bandits, or be burdened to carry for long distances, the disciples will be able to focus completely on seeking people to share the good news and do wonderful deeds with the power and authority Christ has given them.

    There are more instructions. Jesus warns them not to stay at more than one house in the same town. They shouldn’t be scouting around for the most comfortable places and wealthiest hosts that offer the best meals. This isn’t a vacation! And Christ is known to show preference to the poor with his message of hope. For repentance is a restoration of hope through the transformation of one’s core values—dedicating oneself to live for God’s purposes and turn away from sin, selfishness, despair and fear.

   Author William Placher points out something funny:  when a town is not hospitable, shaking the dust from your feet as you leave is testifying to the “failure of hospitality” since one of a host’s first duties was to see to the washing of the guest’s feet.

    What scripture does this bring to memory for you, with talk of foot washing?

Jesus, being the greatest servant of all, a model of humble, self-giving host, washing the feet of his disciples on the night he is betrayed. He tells his followers in John 13:14, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

    Another benefit to staying in one house for their duration of their visit would provide time for the disciples to form a deeper relationship with their hosts. You can really get to know someone when you stay in their homes and eat their food! For the ultimate goal of the disciples is the harvest! To make more disciples—who will go out and share the good news of the Kingdom with the world.

    The reality is this is a dangerous mission. Matthew adds more detail about the dangers they face when Jesus sends them out to proclaim the good news in word and deed: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (10:16)

     Mark doesn’t tell us in this passage, but surely there were towns, homes, and people who didn’t welcome the disciples, just as Nazareth refused to welcome “Jesus, the construction worker.” What Mark emphasizes isn’t the rejection by the unfaithful, though, but rather the obedience and good works of the faithful, sent out in Christ’s name.

    I hope today’s passage moves you to embrace the message of new, abundant life and healing through God’s Son! You have heard about it for a long time, but have you personally embraced it? The gospel isn’t a burden. This isn’t another work you have to do! The gospel sets you free from your burdens! Christ has freed us from sin and death.

   God gives us the freedom to choose our own path. We aren’t puppets on a string. “I have decided,” as we sing in that old familiar hymn, “to follow Jesus! No turning back. No turning back.”

     You have all that you need to do God’s work, to be obedient to the call, with the clothes on your back and shoes on your feet. Travel light!

    You have faith and God’s Word. And you aren’t alone. You have the Body of Christ. Everything is better when you take a friend with you!

     God is already preparing people’s hearts and homes for you to visit—if only you have the courage to reach out, make a call, write a note, knock on a door.

   We don’t have to go far. Jesus walked to nearby villages and sent his disciples to do the same. Think Warsaw or Windsorwood. West Lafayette. Roscoe Village. Conesville or Newcomerstown. Or the family who lives next door. The doctor’s office! The grocery store parking lot!

    Don’t be afraid of rejection. They rejected Jesus after all the miracles he did! In his hometown, of all places!!! Just move on. Shake your dusty feet and keep on walking.

Footprints In Sand At Sunset, Shoreline Water B1452

   Remember the responsibility that comes with God’s gifts to use for His purposes. Keep on using them!

    “Don’t grow weary in doing what is right. We will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up!”

Let us pray.

Holy one, we want to follow Jesus. We want to embrace the call, respond to your Son’s invitation to proclaim the gospel in words and deeds. But we are fearful, worried we won’t have the right words to say, worried what people will think of us. Worried of rejection. Help us to remember the suffering Christ endured for our sakes and be grateful and courageous. Stir us to live our faith boldly, going out of our comfort zones, traveling with you and other followers for the sake of compassionate mission to our neighbors, sharing the hope of abundant and eternal life through your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.

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