The image that has been on the screen and on the service sheet this morning is a photo of a wonderful floor mosaic in the church of the multiplication of bread and fish at Tabgha on the nor-western shore of the Sea of Galilee in modern day Israel. The existing church is built on the ruins of two previous churches, a small fourth century chapel and a bigger fifth century church. The mosaic was part of a fifth century church, that church was destroyed and the mosaic lost for about a thousand years till archaeologists excavated it in 1933 and the new modern church was built around it. You may remember the church briefly making the news last year because it was badly damaged in an arson attack by a Jewish extremist group.
The mosaic depicts a basket with five loaves of bread and two fish, the little that the disciples had that Jesus was able to take give thanks for and use to feed the five thousand in the reading we had this morning from Luke’s gospel.
AS I looked at the mosaic and its history I thought it was a helpful framework as we come to the passage today.
Firstly, because the reading we had this morning probably felt a bit like a mosaic. We are used to hearing the episodes in Jesus life, the sending of the twelve and the feeding of the five thousand, which appears in all four gospels, separately and as distinct units, like tiles, and even here they may seem like that because they are separated by the paragraph in the middle about Herod’s reaction to and curiosity about Jesus. But in Luke they flow together, they are all part of the same sequence of Jesus sending the twelve on a mission tour, the section about Herod is a reflection of the impact of that mission trip, and then the feeding of the five thousand happens in the process of Jesus debriefing his disciples on their return. Flowing through the whole section is the disciples beginning to be involved in the mission of Jesus and learning to trust him to be able to take what they offer and use it to meet the needs of the people around them.
Secondly, as this passage is about the origins of the mission of the church it gives us good insights into what Jesus call on the church today looks like. But it’s not like the clear twenty first century images we are used to it’s like the tiles of a mosaic. And it’s like the mosaic in the church of the multiplication, it’s at the centre of what we as a church are about, but when we come to view it in the confines of the structure we’ve built around it.
When I talked about this passage with Kris she said that it had the feel of like what teacher training was like. You learned about teaching by being with education lecturers, then you were sent out to put that into practise in placements in real schools, after that you’d come back debrief and reflect and then there would be a test...
Up until this point the disciples have had a rather passive part in the gospel narrative, there role had been to simply be with Jesus. They had got to know what Jesus was like, they had seen his interactions with people, they had experienced his grace and mercy, they had seen God move through Jesus, had front row seats as Jesus had taught about what it meant to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in the sermon on the plain, they had Jesus explain the parable of the sower and knew that the faith Jesus was looking for was people hearing Jesus word and then obeying it, putting it to action. At the centre of the call for the church today and for our mission is to be with Christ... To know Jesus and be known by him, we love because we have experienced his love, we serve because of the way Jesus was a servant, we forgive because we have been forgiven.
Now the twelve are sent out on section, on a short term mission trip. They have seen what Jesus did and they are told to go do likewise, to participate in Jesus ministry of word and deed: to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal all those who are sick. When we look at this we often see those two things like two separate tiles. There are parts of the church, that focus on proclamation, and they are often open to, in the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians if being a noisy gong, they lack the display of God’s compassion and love that gives substance to their message. The other tile is people who are committed to showing the love and compassion of God, but it is void of the important narrative of Jesus kingdom. The fact is the two are to be viewed together; The kingdom is proclaimed and demonstrated.
We could also get caught up or put off by thinking that the focus for Jesus deeds is the miraculous. But all through the gospel we have seen that Jesus miracles come out of his love and compassion for people, as we saw last week when Jesus is prepared to get his hands dirty with the problems of the world, that we see the presence and power of God displayed. It’s the same for us as we get our hand’s dirty with the problems of the world God and bring the narrative of God’s kingdom we see the possibility of God’s presence and gracious activity. I’m constantly surprised when God actually turns up when I am praying with people or in the midst of the nitty-gritty-ness of life with them.
Another important tile in the picture of the mission of the church from this passage is that before Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the kingdom in word and deed, he delegates his power and authority to them. This week I’ve been shopping for a laptop with Bethany, which means basically that I’m there to drive and to provide moral support and to learn about computers. Bethany knows what she wants her laptop to do and she knows what specs she needs for her laptop to achieve that. To have a computer that will do what she needs it to do it has to be powered by a certain CPU (central Processing Unit), it needs to have an i7 CPU...The church is powered by Jesus to do what he calls us to do. Here we see him giving them his authority and power, after the resurrection, Jesus commission’s these same disciples sort of like going out as qualified teachers, but he says that he goes with them and will be with them, in Luke Jesus promises to send power from on high, we see this happen at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy for us to think that being the church and doing what God has for us is dependent on us. But we are God’s spirited people; God has empowered us to do the things he has called us to. But we can also forget who the Lord is and who is the servant and think it all has to do with us. I think we are all aware of Christian leaders who have got caught up with power and prestige and the negative impact that has for the gospel.
Jesus not only asked and empowered the disciples to do what he had done, but also to have the same kind of faith and trust he has as well. He asks them to go out with nothing, rather to Trust God to provide. The mention of a bag in the list of things not to bring refers to the begging bag that itinerant religious preachers in Jesus day would carry, the disciples were not to make people pay for the ministry that they were offering in his name. Can I say, we often see people who talk of having a faith ministry actually being people who have bought the bag along with them. They were not to go house to house in the villages they were in, trying to get a better place to stay, rather to see a welcome as God’s provision. This travelling light was to teach them to trust in God’s provision. Now later in the gospel Jesus will change this strategy and encourage his followers to take resources with them. In Acts the Church in Jerusalem showed equal faith in holding what they had in common, and being prepared to sell what they had to meet a need. How we resource our mission and ministry has always been an issue, here Jesus shows that resources will follow mission. AS we set about the ministry of word and deed that Jesus did, we will see God’s provision. It’s interesting I’ve moved quit a few times in my life and each time there just seems to be more and more stuff that comes along. When I went to Bible College everything I owned fitted in my car. When I left Bible College that wasn’t the case... for one thing I got married to Kris and so couldn’t pile as much stuff on the front seat. And as we’ve moved around it’s gone from a hired van to half a truck to a full truck and a bigger truck as our family grew. And I feel as the church has done the same thing. It’s like the big church that has been built round the mosaic that we are using as our central image today. We've picked up more and more baggage that we want to take with us...We expend energy and seek resources to keep all of that going, and just maybe we need to hear Jesus words here about travelling lightly.
The other thing that Jesus tells his disciples is that need to be prepared for rejection as well, there will be places that do not receive the good news that will not welcome them. We don’t know what percentage of villages refused them. We do know that this mission trip, these six pairs of disciples had an effect because word of Jesus got to Herod and he was both curious and concerned about Jesus. In this passage Herod asks the central question that Luke wants us to ask as we’ve encountered Jesus... who is I hear such things about?... But we know that in the stunning way we are introduced to the fact that Herod has beheaded John the Baptist, that there will be very negative reactions to Jesus as well.
I want to finish as Luke does with the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, because it’s like the disciples test after there going on section and it is central for us to build a picture and understanding of the mission of the church.
The crowds come looking for Jesus and this maybe an indication of how well the disciples had done in their mission, here are people wanting to meet and hear Jesus. They follow Jesus and the disciples out into the wilderness, there is no town, no fast food outlets nearby, and Jesus ministers to them. The disciples actually show some concern and compassion for the crowd because they are aware that the crowd is hungry the time is late and well there is nowhere near by for them. They make a reasonable decision of what needs to be done. Dismiss these people Jesus and they can go get what they need. But Jesus says to them, “You give them something to eat”. The disciples scratch their heads, they do some calculations of what this could cost them, and are aware they only have five loafs of bread and two fish. But Jesus takes that looks to heaven for God’s help and is able to feed the crowd. By the way five thousand men does not mean that women and children were not there or any less important, a friend of mine travelling in the middle east talked of talking to a large outdoor crowd and the men sat separately from the women and while the men sat in orderly rows that you could count the area where the women sat with the children was a uncountable moving mass. Here Jesus takes the little the disciples had to offer feds the crowd and there is plenty left over.
Here is the centre of Mission, the picture at the heart of this mosaic of mission we have been piecing together, its trusting in Jesus to be able to meet the needs of the people around us. Trusting him enough that when we hear him ask us to feed the hungry, the spiritually hungry and the physically hungry that when we offer the meagre resources, and I know that the most valuable and meagre resource we have these days is time, we have he is able to take that and use it, multiply it to meet that need and there is plenty leftover It’s a call to trust Jesus, to put our faith into action and RISK to reach out.