Monthly Archives: November 2015

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015 – SERMON: Sunday Dinner Celebration

“Sunday Dinner Celebration – A New Hunger”
a sermon by Gorman Houston
First United Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa – Bridge
Mark 6:33-44

          Everybody’s hungry for something.  What are you hungry for?  Maybe you are one of 795 million people in the world who do not have enough food to live a healthy, active life.  Greater than 10% of world’s population are hungry.  Maybe you are hungry today… hungry for something to eat.

Do you remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  Food is at the very bottom, along with water – a basic need for survival – physiological needs.  Are you hungry this morning for something to eat?

Or maybe you’re hungry for safety or security.  That’s the next level up in Maslow’s hierarchy.  Maybe you’ve been through a natural disaster like the people in the Bahamas this week or Bermuda this weekend – or Georgia yesterday.  Oh, wait a minute.  Maybe you remember the tornado here back in 2011 or a hurricane at the Gulf Coast.  Or maybe your hunger for security emerges from being victimized.  Maybe you’ve been harmed in some way, and you feel incredibly vulnerable, fragile.  Maybe you’ve had a health crisis – maybe you know what it’s like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Whatever the reason, maybe you’re hungry for safety, for security.  Everybody’s hungry for something.  What are you hungry for?

Perhaps you are hungry this morning for acceptance.  That’s Maslow’s next level up – belonging, acceptance, love.  Oh, there are an awful lot of people who are hungry for love, hungry to belong, hungry to be accepted, cared for.

It could be that you are hungry for experiencing success. We all need to experience success.  When I counsel with parents whose children seem to be underperforming, whose children seem to have lost all interest in school, who may be running with a rough crowd, who appear to be taking the path of least resistance… when I talk to those parents, I always ask them what is it that your child is great at doing.  One of the most important roles of parents is to see in our children things that our children can’t see in themselves, and then it’s up to us to coach those things forward.  We all need to help our children find the things they are really good at…. And I don’t mean just playing video games and watching television.  Parents need to invest in their children’s lives to help them discover themselves and to find something they are really good at. All children need to experience success – sports, academics, dancing, weight lifting, writing, art, keeping statistics, fishing, swimming, singing, sewing, whatever it is.  We need to help our children find and experience success to help them see their own possibilities, not just their own limitations.  We all need to achieve success.  Maybe you have ego needs that are not being met right now, maybe you are hungry for success.

Or it could be that you are at the very highest level on Maslow’s need hierarchy, self-actualization – maybe you are hungry for meaning in life, for purpose in life.  Maybe you’ve climbed to the top of the ladder, achieved success at every level, and you’re left asking, “Is that all there is?” Maybe your achievements seem empty, and you are hungry for a higher purpose, for greater meaning in life.  What are you hungry for?

Our scripture passage today from Mark’s Gospel is all about being hungry, and about being satisfied.

If you’ve been with us this fall, you know we are working our way through Mark’s Gospel.  We are calling this series, “New Wine,” based on Mark 2:22.  As I understand Mark’s Gospel, 2:22 is the signature verse.  Maybe you know it from memory already, but let’s read it together.

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins, lest the wine burst the skins, and the wine and skins be lost; but new wine is for fresh skins.”

Mark makes it clear that this faith in Christ Jesus is not just a new philosophy, not just a new moral code, not just a new ritual or a new doctrine, this faith is about a whole new you.  This is new wine – wine that transforms.  This faith is about that kind of power.  This faith in Jesus Christ is not static, it’s dynamic, it’s a change agent, it’s transformational.

And we see this same kind of faith at work in our scripture passage today, found in Mark, chapter 6.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Isn’t this a great scripture passage?  Just before this passage, Jesus sent out his 12 disciples out into all the towns and villages to share with them the kingdom of God.  Now, these men may not have understood it all, they didn’t have all the insights, they didn’t have all the answers.  They didn’t have to.  They had enough.  They had the new wine.  And we are told that they went out into all the villages and they had incredible success.  They taught with power of the kingdom of God, they saw lives changed, broken people made whole, unclean spirits cast out.

Now, I don’t know if it happened like this, but it could have—Jesus was closest we find in Mark’s Gospel to 3 of his disciples – Peter, James, and John.  And perhaps each of these men connected with three other disciples, that would be nine more, which would be a total of twelve disciples.  And perhaps Jesus sent them out, and the 12 went out and connected with 3 others, that would be 36..

Who experienced the new wine and shared it with 3 others… that would be over 100 who shared it with 3 others = 300..

Who shared it with 3 others = 900…

Who shared it with 3 others = 2700…

Who shared it with 3 others = well over 5,000, maybe as many as 8000 or 10,000.

Maybe that’s what happened.  Because when the disciples returned to Jesus, thousands of people accompanied them.  It seemed they simply could not get enough.  They were hungry for more.

Jesus was delighted by the disciples’ success, and he wanted to retreat with them, so they got in the boat to travel down the coast a bit.  But the people were so passionate, so energized by their new-found faith that they ran along the coastline following Jesus and his disciples.

Mark tells us that Jesus saw the crowd and had compassion on them for they were like “sheep without a shepherd.”  So Mark tells us Jesus got out of the boat and taught the crowds.  As is typical of Mark, no record is included of Jesus teaching.  He does tell us that when it began to grow late, the disciples were concerned that the people would need something to eat, so they suggested that Jesus send the crowd away so they could get something to eat.

Jesus told them to feed the crowd, but they recognized their scarcity.  They said, even if we had nearly a year’s salary we couldn’t buy enough bread so that everyone could just get a small bite.

Perhaps Mark includes this comment to show how dire the situation was.  Perhaps to show the contrast between the world we live in and the kingdom of God.

Our world is based on scarcity – our economy on scarcity. Supply and demand economics.  But not God’s kingdom.  God’s kingdom is defined by abundance.

So Jesus instructs the disciples to have the people sit on the green grass in groups of 50.  Can you see the imagery of the Good Shepherd?  “He maketh me lie down in green pastures.”

Then Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish and blessed them and broke them, and as the disciples began to pass them around, they found that they did indeed have enough.  In fact they had more than enough for everyone’s hunger to be satisfied.  And twelve baskets full of leftovers were gathered up.

It’s a great story.  I’ve always been amazed that there was no strong reaction to the miracle by the disciples or by the crowd.  Just a reporting – like a box score in a baseball game that over 5,000 men were in attendance.

I like the story just as it is, but sometimes I wonder if maybe the transformation Jesus worked that day was not on the bread and fish but on the hearts of the people.  Maybe Jesus put the people in groups of 50 so they could get to know each other, spend time together.  Maybe when they were just part of the big crowd, anyone who had a little food hid it.  They hoarded it so they wouldn’t have to share it with strangers.  But after Jesus taught the people about the abundance of God’s grace and truth, after they received this new wine, and in the context of a small community of fifty or so, maybe they dared to pull their food out from under their robes.  I can picture a grandmother saying, “Well, I brought a little bread here and some ham and a small bowl of potato salad.” And her act of sharing prompted others.  Before long, teenagers were sharing their snicker bars and children were sharing their Oreos, a rough fisherman shared some beef jerky and another man brought out two cans of Vienna Sausage.  It was less like a hungry mob and more like a tailgate on the quad – everyone shared what they had, and more than that, maybe shared their stories and pictures of their children and tips on how to bake bread.  And maybe, it was a beautiful sight – an explosion of hospitality and generosity… so much so that 12 baskets full of leftovers were collected in case there were others who were hungry.

Oh my…  maybe this new wine has a multiplication effect – it ferments and expands… not only as disciples reach out to others and the movement grows, but also as people come hungry for food or for security or for belonging or for achievement or for meaning in life… it seems whatever the hunger, this new wine satisfies with a shepherds care and community and compassion and effectiveness and meaning, all as part of the Mighty Movement of God.

When we gather today on World Communion Sunday we join Christians all around the globe who are gathered in cathedrals and mud huts and county seat churches and mission field tents to receive just a pinch of bread and just a taste of wine.

It may taste like grape juice to you, but do you know what it really is?  It’s new wine.

Hey, everybody’s hungry for something.  What are you hungry for?

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Monday, November 16, 2015 – Getting Inside the Parable

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”  And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? – Mark 4:10-13

Following the familiar parable of the seeds, the sower, and the soil, Mark records that Jesus followers – both the twelve disciples and other unnamed followers – asked him about his pedagogic style of teaching in parables.  It seems that the disciples were confused, and they sought deeper meaning.

As Dean Leander Keck at Yale University Divinity School used to say, “A good parable is like a good joke.  You either ‘get it’ or your don’t.”  His remarks were designed to guide us students away from making parables into allegories.  Jesus’ parables have an explosive power which reveals in a contextual, personal, and transformative way the workings of God.  Some parables may haunt us, may prick at our consciences, may run around in our minds until finally our old, worn-out lives awaken to enlightenment and life.

We like to think that by teaching in parables, Jesus used simple concepts and ordinary things to reveal eternal truth and extraordinary things.  We like to think that parables serve to make the kingdom of God accessible to all persons; however, in this particular parable, we find such not to be the case.

Mark tells us that Jesus’ followers were not “getting it,” so they asked Jesus what the parable meant.  As is often the case, Jesus’ answer was far greater than the question.  “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God,” Jesus told them, “but for those outside, everything comes in parables.”  And then Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to offer a far different interpretation of the mystery of his parables.  He says, “for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

Jesus tells us that the only way to “get” the parable is to enter the parable, to live inside it.  Jesus was saying that the parable is the way the kingdom of God works.  To those outside the parable – outside God’s kingdom – everything is confusing, everything is in riddles… not just the story of the seeds and soil, but fundamentally the cross and its wounded healer and suffering savior.

This kind of faith is not attainable simply by applying rational analysis.  We only come to this discovery of grace and truth by entering into the teaching, by entering into the parable, by entering into God’s kingdom.

Lord Jesus, you invite us into your parable, into your teaching, into your suffering, and into your kingdom.  May we learn your lessons, follow your example, and live in your kingdom.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston




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Wednesday, November 4, 2015 – Exponential Living

Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” – Mark 4:1-9

Mark tells us of the transformational power of the Gospel, the “new wine” of the Kingdom of God.  This “new wine” is a cocktail of God’s grace and truth, and it simply changes everything.  Throughout Mark’s account, we read of those who are healed and claimed and called and set free as they respond to Jesus’ offer.  They all become part of God’s mighty movement – a part of God’s great answer to the world’s great problems – as they receive the “new wine” and begin to live under its intoxicating influence.

In our passage today, we read Jesus’ familiar parable of the sower and the fields.  This simple story uses common imagery to explain the amazing kingdom offer of exponential living.  The message is that genuine faith in Christ Jesus is not simply about getting our lives a bit tidier; it’s not about becoming a little more moral; it’s not about taking on a little more discipline to be a little more faithful.  Jesus makes it clear that he did not die on a cross just so we would go to church. Jesus’ offer is not a new philosophy or a new doctrine or a new moral code.  His offer is exponential life.  This is not an incremental hope of believing that today might be a bit better than yesterday.  This Gospel is amazing, intoxicating, fermenting new wine, and it will burst the old wineskins, the old outlooks, the old faith structures, the old idle hopes.  The Gospel changes everything.  That is the clear message Mark tells us, and we find that same message in this homey parable.

A farmer plants seed everywhere.  Some seeds grow; some don’t.  The seeds that don’t grow landed on ground that didn’t receive and nurture them.  The amazing message is what happens to the seeds that do grow.  A simple seed sown in fertile, receptive soil produces a mighty and abundant harvest, exponentially larger than the single seed – some thirty, some sixty, and some even one-hundred fold.  Jesus tells us that that is what our lives are like as we become part of God’s mighty movement.

As we drink deep from this new wine, this gospel cocktail, our lives take on incredible meaning, and we experience a complete transformation of body, mind, soul, and spirit.  Our lives are as different as the harvest is from planting, as the crop is from a bare seed, as wine is from grapes.  Such change is explosive… and frightening.  Gone are the convenient prejudices and comfortable half-truths.  Gone are the petty pursuits and the self-oriented outlook.  Gone is a casual, unfocused, undisciplined, purposeless life.  And in its place is a life fully given over to God’s truth, fully filled with God’s grace, and fully motivated by an all-encompassing love for God and a genuine love for all others.

Jesus doesn’t offer us an easy life, a neat life, not even a safe life.  He seems to have no interest in simply making everything work out for us.  His offer is a new life.  He wants to plant faith and hope and love in our lives and water it with his new wine of grace and truth that we might experience exponential life on his terms to God’s glory.

Good father, we content ourselves with incremental living on such a low level.  We would be happy with just a bit more, but it seems you are not.  Your offer is exponentially higher than we can even imagine.  Lift our vision, elevate our expectation, and magnify our desire to be a part of your mighty work.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A BIble-study devotional blog by Gorman Houston