Sermon For November 2, 2014

Mark 6:30-44

“Present In The Desert: Sacred Abundance In The Wilderness Of Our Lives”

A Sermon Series On “From Bread & Wine To Faith & Giving:

God gives to us at the table and, in turn, God’s giving inspires and empowers our own giving.”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail:

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:

The Video for this sermon can be found at:


Art Week TwoWhat are the wilderness places of your lives? And by wilderness, I do not mean the vacation you took to the Grand Canyon in Colorado or to White Sands National Park in New Mexico. I’m not talking about the time you roughed it in Hocking Hills for a weekend or when during your college years when you ate raman noodles and drank cheap beer. I’m talking about wilderness in a spiritual sense: the rocky crags of inner loneliness and deep depression, the barren landscapes of the betrayal of friends and the apathy of the soul. I’m speaking of the jungles of unimaginable brokenness and breath-sucking heartache. Such are the kinds of wilderness scripture describes, and that even Jesus, our sovereign and savior encountered. What are the wilds and wastelands of your life?


I know these harsh places all too well, as I suspect you do, too. I knew them as a child on the playground when I was painfully reminded by the structures of the school curriculum and the intimidation of my classmates on the playground that a gentle quiet boy who preferred to read books and make clubhouses with the girls deserved an upturned eyebrow at best, and ridicule and banishment at worst. I knew such wilderness places when I came out to myself as sensually and sexually attracted to men and yet still called to Christ’s ministry, as I stayed up late at night screaming my anger, drenched in tears, at a God who seemed to refuse to show the divine face to a broken and begging soul. I’ve know such deserts as I’ve become farther and farther removed from a family who sees the world in sharp contrast to my own values of compromise, conversation, and compassion. I knew a particularly harsh wilderness here in Cleveland as our home was being renovated and I felt like a stranger in my own life and my cherished values seemed to have no place to lay their collective head. But what about you… where are the wastelands of your life?


A truth that has become real to me is that one of the surest buffers for the winds of wilderness and the storms of the desert lies in safe, sacred community. As a child my life was saved when I was chosen to go to a special program for kids like me at another location where thoughtfulness was valued and gentleness was a virtue. In seminary I was surrounded by a cloud of living saints, both the friends that prayed for me to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in my living room and those who enfolded me by phone. I have developed a community of friends over the years who I count as chosen family, who redeem the concepts of kinship and remind me that love is thicker than blood. And I have this church, this wild and wooly, this queer and quirky, this vexing and beguiling group of transient souls who are just looking for bread… and acceptance… and fun… and a place to serve God and neighbor… and love. Community makes the wilderness treks of my life manageable.


But community is not just a bunch of people gathered in the same space for some purpose or another. That’s a crowd. Crowds can actually become wilderness if allowed to. Crowds become mobs and push people to lynch their neighbors, beat to death their friends, burn their neighborhoods, and destroy their own livelihood.


But community, when invited to recognize and celebrate the good in life, can become a healing, comforting, sharing, life-giving place that makes the wilderness places of our lives not just bearable, but sacred and powerfully restorative. How? How do we create community that is holy rather than mobs that are destructive? Well guidance is given in our scripture today.


In this text, told in all four gospels (which makes it extremely unique and thus incredibly significant) Jesus offers us a model of community-building… which, by the way, is also a model for stewardship, for the management of our resources. Some of the truths Jesus demonstrates that we would do well to learn when we are wandering in the wilderness places of our lives, individually and collectively, are:

  1. Jesus is not overwhelmed by the need. Whether it’s five or five thousand, Jesus is relaxed and focused. Perhaps this is why he said, “The poor you will always have with you.” He was going to address their need whether it was one poor beggar or throngs of unruly followers.
  2. Jesus never wavers in his understanding that those gathered will have enough to share and be fed. At no point does he doubt that the end of the story is people fed. This earth has and always has had enough food, enough clean water, enough fertile earth to sustain human life. The only question is will we share to make it so.
  3. In John’s gospel, the initial five loaves and two fish are from a young boy. Jesus does not discount the gifts of the least among them. In fact, these gifts inspire greater gifts. Jesus not only notices the child, but presumes the child has wealth that will generate giving, if the boy is willing to share, and he is.
  4. Jesus does not demand everyone gives the same gifts nor offers them in the same way. He does not insist the bread by rye with a light golden crust, or the fish be trout baked with lemon and capers. All gifts are used. A rich tapestry of gifts in fact is necessary to meet the diverse needs we have.
  5. Jesus does not do this miracle alone, but insists his disciples will be part of the resolution. They begin by seeing only the problem, the scarcity, and come up with unacceptable alternatives that do not address the real predicament. But even when recalcitrant, Jesus uses the disciples to unravel the mystery, expand the possibilities, solve the problem.


And something almost magical happens: all are fed… and there are leftovers. I don’t know if this was the case of a “stone soup” sort of meal, where folks were inspired to bring from their own resources to share together to make a meal for all… or if it was purely a miracle. Well, actually, when we inspire people to overcome their fears of neediness, overcome their insistence that there is not enough, overcome their instincts to discount the littlest and the least, overcome their requirements that only certain kinds of gifts be given, and overcome their inclination to leave it to the experts… then that truly is a miracle.


The table of Holy Communion is just such a feast. We bring to it our brokenness, our longings, our hurts and fears, our sin and our division, and Jesus, host at this table, ensures there is enough to go around for all. Enough hope, enough compassion, enough righteousness, enough faith, enough love… enough love. Surely this table abundance in the wilderness of our spiritual lives can transform the way we live into and through the wilds beyond the table. Surely this table abundance can transform the way we live into and through the wilds of this congregation’s future. It can, and will if we let it.


May this table:

– help us embrace the needs of our congregation’s future, no matter how large;

– help us have faith that the resources we need to do our unique mission and ministry are present, they just need to be discovered;

– help us honor the gifts of all who gather in our community, especially those who appear to have the least to offer;

– help us receive all gifts and be open to the resources of our diverse community;

– and help us to rely on each other, and not just the pastor and the treasurer to guide us through the wilderness to the place of abundance God has in store for this congregation.


Whatever wilderness you may encounter, my beloved congregation, let us be a table community at its best and believe all will be fed.