Candidate Sermon – Pat Nicholas
Congregational Church of New Fairfield

September 20, 1998
Our own Pat Nicholas, so involved with Christian Education and the members of our church in New Milford, presented this sermon at her candidating service for Pastor of the Congregational Church of New Fairfield - she was accepted by a unanimous vote. Pat is a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School.  We wish her luck in her new career in service to the Lord's work. Pat's ordination service is at our church, November 29, 1998.
Write to Pat
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Mark 6: 30-44

This morning’s Scripture is one that is very familiar to most of us. We know it as the Feeding of the 5,000. This is the only miracle story that is found in all four gospels The version we are most familiar with comes from the Gospel according to John, as the story of the young child who offers his small basket of bread and fish to Jesus. The account of this miracle is slightly different in the other three gospels, but the fact that it is recorded in all indicates the significance of this event. Now there is one thing that I would like to point out at the very beginning.

This text should really be called the feeding of the 15 or 20,000, because back in ancient times women and children were never included in a count of the people. The reason I want to point out this little detail at all is to give you a better idea of the kind of following that Jesus had, and the magnitude of this particular event.

There are some people who try to rationalize this event by saying that the people really had food, they were just hiding it because they didn’t want to share it. The reasoning is that when the apostles offer their only food the rest of the people are shamed into sharing. And when everyone takes out the food they have been hoarding there is more than enough to go around.

It may have happened that way. But it seems unlikely that simply getting people to share their food would have caused enough of a sensation to have all four Gospel writers include this story. Something really BIG happened here. To reason it away limits God to our ability to come to grips with what we don’t understand. We’re uneasy and suspicious about what we can’t prove. And that’s exactly the point. Jesus was the proof. Jesus challenges us to risk going beyond what our human intellect can grasp and to put our trust into what we know by faith.

This text begins with the apostles coming home after their first mission journey. Jesus had sent them out two by two, and they have just returned after casting out demons and curing the sick in Jesus’ name. They are tired and worn out from their travels and Jesus knowing that they are in need of some time to rest and pray goes with them to a deserted place where they can be by themselves. But that plan doesn’t quite work out for great throngs of people have beaten to the spot them and are waiting on the shore. So although Jesus and the disciples are weary and tired Jesus doesn’t turn the people away, but begins to teach them.

The crowd is so enthralled with his teaching that they don’t leave, even though it is getting late. Now the disciples hadn’t gotten a chance to eat before they set out so I’m sure by this time they’re getting just a little bit cranky – and very hungry. So they tell Jesus to send the people away in search of food. And incredibly Jesus says to them, "You give them something to eat."

What?! Can you imagine the disciple’s reaction to that demand? They were probably thinking that Jesus has really lost it - this whole day has obviously been too much for him! To begin with where would they find enough bread to feed these people. They are out in a deserted place, there is no convenient 24 hour Grand Union around, there isn’t even a local 7-11. Besides it would cost about 6 months wages to buy enough to feed all these people. They certainly didn’t have that kind of money. What could he be thinking! This command is impossible!! But the bigger question at this point is what could they be thinking. They know the power of Jesus, they have seen him heal the paralyzed, command demons to obey, cleanse lepers and restores the crippled to health. They themselves through the power of God have healed the sick. Yet they are still confined by their human understanding of the world and the limits they placed on themselves. What Jesus does in response is to show them how to achieve the impossible. He takes what they have. The few loaves and fishes, blesses them and feeds the thousands and thousands of hungry people – with food to spare. Impossible or not? What seems impossible to us - is just a new possibility for God.

I have some personal experience with the possibility of doing the impossible. You see, it’s really impossible that I am standing here today, or at least that’s what I thought seven and a half years ago. I remember vividly the conversation - an Interim Pastor thinking I had a college degree suggested that I consider going to seminary - well, it took me at least ten minutes to list all the reasons that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to even begin to think about going to school!

To begin with I was too old, I had never gone to college, and I wasn’t a terrific student when I was in High School. I knew I would never get through algebra, I had tried taking a few course before and it was just to difficult to juggle everything I had to do. I had a husband, two kids, a household to run, and besides that I had to work at least part-time. It was IMPOSSIBLE. - or did I just think so?

Like the disciples I was limited by my human boundaries. I only looked at what I had to offer and I thought I had to rely on myself to accomplish what this Pastor suggested. Fortunately, God had other ideas – for what I had thought was impossible I found myself doing. In a few short months I was working, volunteering as the C.E. director, taking three college classes and the ACE Christian Education course in Hartford.

Not only was I doing it all, but I was enjoying myself, and I didn’t have to do it alone. I found that I could depend on other people for help in any number of ways, and they were more than willing to give me a hand. I look back and know with certainty that it was only by God’s grace that I was able to graduate from Western Connecticut summa cum laude and go on to get my Master’s Degree at Yale in seven years.

Like the meager offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish, God used what I brought and opened possibilities that I never could have imagined. Once I began to depend on God and not on myself I found myself accomplishing things that I would never even have attempted before. I look back on the years of juggling home, and school, and family and I am certain of God’s grace and guidance along each step of the way.

And I am aware of a letting go of my need for security and certainty. One example of letting go was when my daughter said a few years ago, "Mom, I know that this is what you are suppose to do, but you can’t speak in public, so how are you going to be a minister? And I replied, "I know I can’t - but God has gotten me this far, I guess God will figure something out." And here I am! Who knew!

But God doesn’t just call me - God calls all of us as disciples and uses whatever we bring - no offering is too small no matter who we are, where we work, what education we have, or how little we think we can accomplish. When we offer our gifts for Christ’s blessing they are strengthened and multiplied. In the miraculous event of today’s Scripture reading Jesus shows us how to break through our self-imposed limits, let go of our fears, and let God open possibilities we never would have considered. Jesus says, ‘Bring me what you have.’ Bring your skills and your weaknesses, your strengths and fears, your hopes and dreams, your convictions, burdens and responsibilities. And he challenges us to use them as instruments of God’s love to care for one other.

Jesus looks on the crowd of people and has compassion for them. He teaches them instead of turning them away, takes care of their physical needs by providing food, and takes care of them spiritually by showing them the power of God when they turn to God in prayer. Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, and enlisting the disciples tells them to sit down in groups on the grass. No one ate alone.

In a perfect model of how we need to first depend on God and then depend on each other Jesus brings this group together as a community to sit and break bread and enjoy each other’s company. What better model could we have of how we should live our lives and what ‘church’ should be? When we come together as Christ’s community, willing to put God first, and sharing what we have with each other, reaching out to those who are in need, and welcoming all to God's table we can accomplish more than our minds can begin to comprehend.

For us the challenge may be impossible - but with God the possibilities are endless.