February 24, 2019
“Service is our middle name.” It has been an advertising slogan for a long time. For example, In the Nov.6, 1939 edition of Life Magazine, there is an ad for Cities Service Dealers, an oil and gas company, known today as Citco. The ad said, “Service is our middle name.” In 2018, Inc. Magazine ranked RSS in the top 20% of fastest growing businesses. What is RSS? It is Retail Service Systems. The ad says, “Service is our middle name.” Of course companies do not always live up to their name.
When Jesus walked the earth he said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus took upon himself the role of a servant. If Jesus is our master, what does that mean for us? Well, it means that every believer is called to serve others in Jesus’ name.
I. STEP INTO MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES. Lk.9:10-11
In Lk.5 Jesus calls the first disciples. In Lk.6 from out of a larger group of disciples Jesus selects 12 whom he calls apostles. In Lk.9 Jesus sends his 12 apostles out for ministry experience. You see in 9:1 that Jesus gives them, “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” They were to go out proclaiming the kingdom of God and to heal. It says they were healing everywhere. In Lk.9:10, we read, “On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida.” Bethsaida was northeast of Capernaum. A couple of weeks ago, relying on memory, I mentioned that Peter was from Capernaum. Memory does not always serve one well. In Jn.1:44 we learn that Philip, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida. It was Peter’s mother-in-law who was in Capernaum.
At any rate, after a time of focused ministry, Jesus takes his apostles to Bethsaida for a little R&R, rest and relaxation. The sense here is that they withdrew to an isolated area. They needed to recharge their batteries. After all, ministry can leave one physically and emotionally tired. Perhaps Jesus also wanted to process with them all that had taken place while they were out and about in ministry. There is always more to learn from Jesus.
The need to withdraw for rest is important. We all need rest. In our society, rest is often associated with vacations. According to Rebekah Simon-Peter, “In the ancient world Egyptians, Greeks and Romans traveled for education, entertainment and culture.” In Judaism there were special feasts in which people would travel to Jerusalem and the temple. Visiting family was important. So what Jesus was doing was not unheard of. To be sure, they were not going to a resort or a time-share, but they were getting away. We are protective of our vacation time and are always happy for more vacation. We hope that our vacation will not be interrupted by some unexpected event.
So here is Jesus and the apostles trying to get some much needed rest. But in v.11 we read, “When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.” One does not get any sense that Jesus resented being interrupted during this time of rest. He welcomed the crowds, not because he craved the attention, but because he treasures people. Jesus stepped into ministry opportunities. For Jesus, ministry was a priority. We don’t know how the apostles felt about it. After all their rest and relaxation was about to be interrupted.
Now we are followers of Jesus. Presumably this means we have embraced the priorities of Jesus. We do not live for ourselves. We live for Jesus. We live to promote Jesus in the world. And at this point it would be very easy to succumb to every pastor’s temptation. It is the temptation to apply a little guilt to the congregation. “You are not doing enough. You need to step it up a little when it comes to ministry.” I have no intention of yielding to temptation while preaching! Guilt is not the best motivator.
In fact, when I think about our congregation, I am grateful to see that a good number of us are actually interested in doing ministry. The ministry board has encouraged more involvement. Recently when the opportunity was presented to be involved in providing meals for homeless people, a good number of us stepped into the opportunity.
But we are also mindful that in a few months things are going to change here at the church. There will be a need for more of us to step into ministry opportunities. Not all of these opportunities are obvious. And not all of these opportunities are desirable. For example picking up the trash around the building is not particularly desirable. Mowing the lawn doesn’t cause one to break out in singing the doxology! But these are ministries that reflect on the church and ultimately on Jesus in this world.
Please do not hear me saying that we must step into every ministry opportunity. That isn’t wise. We can quickly burn out. But the opportunities will be there and will need to get done. And we will need to embrace the ministry. I realize that Jesus was welcoming people. Picking up trash and mowing the lawn is not quite welcoming people. But it does remove a potential barrier for people when they see that we care about how the church looks.
II. CONSIDER THE CHALLENGES OF MINISTRY. Lk.9:12-14a
In v.12-14 we read, “Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, ‘Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish--unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men.”
This is interesting. In v.11, Jesus was welcoming the people. Now in v.12 the disciples advise Jesus to send the people away. They perceived a big problem. It was getting to be dinner time and if Jesus kept teaching the people would become hungry with no place to buy food or spend the night. “Jesus, you need to bring it to a close here and send the people away so they can eat dinner and find a place to stay.” That was their solution to the problem.
There are many inherent challenges in ministry. Most of these challenges involve people, because ministry is ultimately about people. Not only are we serving people but we are serving alongside of people.
Jesus didn’t take their solution. Rather Jesus told the apostles to step into the ministry opportunity and give the people something to eat. I don’t know exactly what they thought about this, but what we see is that they held a committee meeting and continued to try to figure out a solution to the problem. First, they took stock of what was available to them. “Well, let’s see here. We only have five loaves and two fish. That isn’t going to go very far! Maybe we can go into town and buy the food. But wait, we don’t have enough money to feed 5,000 men plus women and children.” Ministry often creates problems.
Jesus told them to minister to the people by giving them something to eat, and they tried their best to figure it out. Isn’t that what we often do? We try our best to figure it out. We take stock of available resources. That’s reasonable. We think there must be a solution but maybe its hiding. If we can solve the problem let’s do it. However, once we exhaust our resources we come to the point where we don’t know what to do.
Often in a church when we don’t know what to do, we either don’t do anything, or we might wash our hands of the matter, or we might try to force something. The disciples didn’t have that luxury because Jesus had told them to feed the people. It seems to me that this was a bit of a crisis.
Now if I may, let me expand on this a bit. Many times in a congregation the challenges associated with ministry have to with those who are serving. On more than one occasion the disciples argued about who was greatest among them. James and John aspired to get the seats of honor next to Jesus in the kingdom. Paul and Barnabas got into a pretty heated argument over ministry matters involving John Mark. Euodia and Syntyche couldn’t seem to get along in the church at Philippi. There are many interpersonal issues that develop when we serve together, not to mention the challenges having to do with logistics and money.
Working together with other believers is not easy. Obviously there is a major oversight in the way the apostles approached this ministry challenge. And that leads me to point us to v.14-17.
III. LEARN TO SERVE WITH JESUS. Lk.9:14b-17
Look at v.14-17. “And he said to his disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.”
As we think about the apostles, I want to suggest that they were serving in the flesh. I say this only because their approach was limited to this world. “Send them away. We only have five loaves and two fish. We don’t have enough money.” Their orientation was focused on this world. I don’t want to be too hard on the apostles because I have to admit, I would probably be no different. The most important resource was standing right in front of them the whole time. They never once asked Jesus how they might go about meeting the needs of the people. So Jesus stepped into the ministry opportunity. He was going to meet the need for food and he was also going to help his apostles learn a very important lesson. All ministry involves serving others and serving with others in a variety of ways. In ministry we face a variety of challenges. Because of this, all ministry must be done in dependence upon Jesus.
Jesus gave the apostles instructions to divide the people into groups of 50. “Oh we can to that.” Then Jesus took what the apostles already had in their possession. Jesus uses who we are and what we have in his ministry, if we let him. And as we let him use us, we gain more experience in service which enables us to serve in greater ways. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed a blessing over the food. Some of us don’t even give thanks for our food when we eat. Jesus did. He looked to God even in the mundane matter of daily bread. He started breaking the loaves and handing out the fish to his disciples to give to the crowd. From the hand of Jesus they were giving the people something to eat.
What does it mean to serve with Jesus? It means to look to Jesus in our serving. Are you a greeter at the door? Are you an usher? Do you serve on a committee? Do you teach? Do you play an instrument? Are you making a meal? Are you visiting the sick? Are you doing it with Jesus? Often because we think we already know all that needs to be known about a ministry we fail to look to Jesus. I mean do we really need to look to Jesus in order to pick up the trash! Well, our attitude about it might need adjusting. Being gracious to the people who walk by as we are picking up the trash might require the kindness of Jesus. Extending grace to others on the committee when we have a difference calls for the character of Jesus. For the person who is quick to see things clearly, it can be difficult to humbly muddle through with the others in the church. I don’t know, but how can we do this without Jesus?
And then there is one more thought. After everyone had eaten their fill, Jesus told the disciples to pick up the broken pieces. I am going to bring a spiritual application from v.17. In ministry there are often broken pieces that need to be picked up. It is not unusual for people to be offended, to be hurt, to feel overlooked. It is not unusual for someone to show a rough edge or to say something in a hurtful way without even realizing it was hurtful. If we let the broken pieces lying on the ground, ministry will be hindered.
Maybe you are a sensitive soul or not very sensitive at all. Maybe past experiences have caused you to shy away from ministry. Men and women, we are followers of Jesus and we must look to Jesus to help us be faithful even with the broken pieces. And so our minds and hearts need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and the good word of God. Our focus needs to be on Jesus. If Jesus looked to God in blessing the food, surely we need to look to God as we minister with Jesus in blessing his church and the world.
George MacDonald, the 19th century Scottish author, poet, and pastor had this to say, “Am I going to do a good deed? Then, of all times, ‘Father into thy hands: lest the enemy should have me now.” Believers are called to service in the name of Jesus. Serving is part of who we are and what we do in Christ. But service is challenging. There are many dangers of pride and self-effort lurking in the midst of our good deeds of ministry. This is why it is important to serve with Jesus. “Lord, into your hands I commend myself that I might serve with joy and grace.” Will you follow the Lord in humble service? Amen