Give or Take

Give or Take

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 29, 2018

10th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 11:1-15; John 6:1-21


Did you know that the feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels? No doubt, you are quite familiar with the story. Still, I urge you not to wander off, but to stay with me—in body and mind—for though there is fish and bread on the menu, there is spiritual food, as well.

In the story, we come upon people who are hungry—very hungry. They have followed Jesus and have become so engaged in what he has to say and what he is doing before their very eyes, well, they cannot pull themselves away. To leave his presence, to miss something extraordinary—oh no, they simply cannot. So, they stay, and they stay, and they stay, until, truth is, they may be too weak to return to their homes. Now what?

Jesus recognizes the problem. And the solution? Well, it begins with a boy who has a little food that he is willing to share. As adults, we would likely do the math, much as Philip does, “Six months wages wouldn’t make a drop in a bucket toward what we need.” But children, well, they are better at imagining abundance than we are. They are better at God’s math! So, the boy gives all that he has, and Jesus takes it, multiplies it, and uses it to perform a wondrous miracle. The result is a feast so great that people are patting their tummies and saying, “Oh no, thank you but I simply can’t hold another bite.” (Much like those of us who attended our Session Retreat felt after feasting on both breakfast and lunch at Kinderlou Clubhouse yesterday.)

Through it all, Jesus appears relaxed. He knows his Abba Father will not fail him. Here we see Jesus at his best. It’s one of specialties, really. With a blessing of his hands, he turns the weak into the strong, the blind into the sighted, the loser into the winner, and the little into the large. In desolate places, with hungry souls, Jesus transforms hopelessness into delight, and hunger into fulfillment. There is food aplenty because of the power of God working through Jesus and the generous nature of a little boy.

A generous nature, however, is not what we see in the person of King David. I’m sure you’ve noticed that over the past few weeks our Old Testament readings have followed the life of David. We may recall how Israel’s first king, Saul, falls out of favor with God. Then we learn about young David having to be called away from the sheepfold for the prophet Samuel to anoint him. He’s ignored, altogether, being the runt of the family and all. After a time, David becomes the official king of Israel and his popularity grows. But then, David succumbs to sin. David is chosen by God to be the king of God’s people. He can have anything he wants. Already, he has wives aplenty; and God seems bent on filling David’s every longing, until, that is, David’s heart longs for the wife of another man.

The deed is done. Then, as if adultery isn’t bad enough, when David learns that Bathsheba is pregnant with his child, he tries to cover it up by devising a plan to make the baby appear to be fathered by Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband). When the plan fails, David makes matters worse by plotting to have Uriah conveniently “killed” in battle. What a shameful episode in the life of God’s chosen king. Out of lust and greed, David takes what is not his to take. Then, his sin is multiplied when he causes the murder of an innocent man. Sin is like that, you know. We never sin in a vacuum because, ultimately, our sin effects other people.

It is quite a contrast to go from David the great king to David the great adulterer and murderer, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the Bible boldly tells of this sordid affair. And there’s hope in that. For although David’s sin makes a dark mark on his character and his future, it is not the end of his story. God still walks with David, still loves David—and that is good news for us. For everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That is David’s story. It is our story, too. As one preacher puts it, “The margin between standing tall and falling is often as thin as glad wrap.”[i]  While we may not be planning to commit murder, still we face our own demons—greed, gossip, pride, holding grudges—sin comes in endless packages.

That is not to say that sin is okay or since we all are tempted, there is no use trying to live a godly life. Not at all! The important thing is to recognize our frailty and then accept the grace-filled news that our sinfulness is not the whole truth of who we are. Our sinful nature may, from time to time, lead us astray. But just as David was graced with God’s saving hand, so have we been. The ultimate truth is that we are precious in the eyes of our Creator and Redeemer. Broken, yes that is our universal story. But forgiven—that can be our story, too.

If we examine this chapter in David’s life, we might say that he is a taker. He takes what is not his to take without considering the cost to himself or to other people. In stark contrast, we might say that the little boy who shares his bread and fish, giving all that he has to give, well, he is a giver. Such is life—give or take—take or give.  These two figures demonstrate generosity placed alongside lust and greed.

In the warp and woof of life, it behooves us to consider in which camp we stand in this chapter of our own story. Are we givers or are we takers? It’s worth considering. Some people go through their entire lives looking for ways to contribute, to add goodness to the world. While other people go through life with an attitude of greed, blind to the needs of those around them, always asking that ever-important question, “What’s in it for me?” In this world filled with the abundance of God’s creation, isn’t there enough for everyone? To be greedy, well that is really a part of our worldly nature. Living like David, taking what’s not ours to take—that the world knows full well. But to live a life of generosity, in our day and time, we might call that counter-cultural.

Think about it! On most days, can you tell a difference between people who go to church and people who do not?  It seems the church is in danger of losing her identity. Getting back to the basics of our faith may be a way to find it again. Living out of an attitude of abundance instead of an attitude of scarcity may be the best witness we can make as faithful Christians.

And in God’s mathematics, whatever our gifts or talents, whatever efforts we make to better the world in the name of Jesus will be received, blessed, and multiplied. Giving whatever we are able to give may not seem like a big deal unless we remember the time Jesus faced 5000 hungry people and created a bountiful feast out of nothing more than a child’s gift of 5 loaves and 2 small fish.

With a willing, generous heart, God can transform hopelessness into delight and hunger into fulfillment. In a world where people tend to miss the extraordinary in the ordinary, the often-quoted Elizabeth Barrett Browning may say it best:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

And only he who sees takes off his shoes—

the rest sit around and pluck blackberries.[ii]

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[ii] Quoted by Douglas John Hall in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 288.

God’s Mission

God’s Mission

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 8, 2018

7th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Mark 6:1-13

Today we examine an intriguing event in the life of Jesus. He returns to his hometown, to family and friends, people who have known him since he was a little boy.  Since he has become the talk of the countryside, a grand reception might be in order, but, of course, that is not what happens. On the Sabbath Jesus does what he normally does—he goes to the synagogue and teaches. At first, the people are astonished and praise him, “Look at his wisdom and power!” But in the next breath they’re offended, “Just who does he think he is? He’s one of us! He’s the carpenter, the Son of Mary!” (Or like my grandmother used to say, “He’s gotten too big for his britches!)


What is it about familiarity that breeds contempt? Jesus is rejected by his own people, and while they are astounded by him, he’s equally astonished by their unbelief—a lack of faith that affects what happens next. “…he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” One commentator notes that because of their unbelief, the narrative is in fact an un-miracle story.[i]


Jesus has every reason to be discouraged, to have hurt feelings and go off somewhere and nurse his wounds.  We would certainly understand. Instead, he goes out into the villages to teach. He continues the mission God has called him to—never swaying—never stopping.


Already we’ve noted the amazement of the people in his hometown over Jesus’ ministry and his amazement at their unbelief. Since astonishment seems to be the emotion of the day, here’s something else over which to be astonished: whom Jesus calls forth to continue God’s mission: Jesus sends the disciples—that ragamuffin band of misfits—well, that’s how Mark often portrays them—the 12 who, more often than not, just don’t get it!  Nevertheless, on their way to understanding, they are sent on their way to do God’s mission.


What are their marching orders? Jesus instructs them to travel light and to rely on the hospitality of the people they encounter. “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” While this may seem like odd behavior to us, for the Jewish people it was something they did whenever they returned home after traveling through defiling Gentile territory. It was a way of separating themselves from those whom they perceived as ungodly or unclean.


The disciples do as instructed—they proclaim the need for repentance and they cast out demons and cure many who are sick. They go, they share, they do, and then they depart. Whether the people respond or not, well that is up to the people. It is God’s mission—and the people are free to accept it or reject it.


Could it be that in this “practice run” for future events, Jesus is preparing his disciples for rejection? Think about it, if Jesus, the very Son of God, is rejected by his own people, so will his disciples be rejected—so shall we be—from time to time. But like Jesus, we must not be swayed by our reception for it’s not about us. It is about the mission of God to save the world. The responsibility of the disciples and all who have followed the way of Jesus ever since is the same: We are responsible for our obedience to ministry in Christ’s name, not for how or if other’s respond positively.


Recently, among other topics, I have been researching mission and evangelism. Simply put, mission is outreach in deeds and evangelism is outreach in words.[ii] I like this definition. It’s short and simple—outreach in deeds; outreach in words. Truth be told, often we gravitate toward missions because the “E” word makes us anxious. But the work of God is not either evangelism OR mission—it’s both. They go hand in hand. The disciples model this when, sent out two by two, they evangelize—outreach in words—by telling the people of their need to repent, and they do the work of missions—outreach in deeds—by healing the sick and driving out evil spirits.


I’m convinced that both missions and evangelism will play key roles in the success of any church in the future. For too long, we have chased other rabbits that have led us nowhere except to a place of conflict and division. In doing so, we have failed to see the forest for the trees. We have failed to be faithful to our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, worshipers of our Sovereign God, and believers in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the world.


When General Assembly met in Pittsburg a few years ago, Brian McLaren was a guest speaker. McLaren is a prominent Christian pastor, author, activist, speaker and leading figure in the emerging church movement. At a General Assembly Breakfast, he said to the good Presbyterians gathered around: “I think that you are farther along the path of change than you realize, and I think better days are ahead.” I couldn’t agree more. In my heart and soul, I believe better days are just around the corner. New life and possibility abound—if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.


While I still have lots more research to do before I can offer ideas for future mission and evangelism that we might consider as a church, already I can share with you some methods that DO NOT work. Sometime if you’re bored and want a little church-related humor, google “ineffective evangelism techniques.” [iii]  When I did, I found a couple of interesting stories. One person told of working as a waiter and occasionally being given a tract that looked like money on one side, but had words on the other side that said, “are you disappointed it’s not real money…we’ll don’t be disappointed because Jesus offers you something better than money.” The man who shared this story said that many of the servers he worked with were single mothers barely getting by. When they were deprived of a tip and given a deceitful tract instead, they became turned off by Christians.


Here’s another example: In Southern California with gas prices soaring, a man saw a banner on a church that said: Save Gas / Worship Here. Seriously? Should we attend church because it’s close? If that’s what we are looking for—to save gas—we could stay home and watch televangelists. Surely, we should attend a church for more reasons than its proximity.


While it’s true that God can use anything to touch people’s heart, (I daresay even billboards that read “Got God?” or people on the street corner holding up signs that read: “Are you saved?” or “So you think it’s hot up here!”) still, it behooves us to realize that today, more than ever, we live in cynical times. Let’s face it…we have followed the yellow brick road. We’ve seen Oz behind the curtain with all his levers and folly. We can smell an agenda a mile away—and so can most everyone else—especially our young people.


As a result, it is crucial that our ways of mission and evangelism contain no hidden agenda. That’s what the world expects. What the world does NOT expect is authentic Christians who are not trying to get people on our side or even trying to grow our church. Our goal should simply be to tell others about the God who has come to mean so much to us and to show them that love in action. Our methods must match the message.


Presbyterian Minister, Michael Lindvall, tells the following story about a woman, a mainline Christian, who worked as a clerk in a bookstore:


When she arrived for work one morning, she encountered a man dressed as a Hasidic Jew. After turning on the lights she said, “Would you like any help?” “Yes,” he answered softly, “I would like to know about Jesus.” She directed him upstairs to the shop’s section of books about Jesus and turned to go downstairs, but he called her back. “No,” he said, “Don’t show me any more books, tell me what you believe.” “My Episcopal soul shivered,” the woman said later. But she gulped and told him everything she could think of.[iv]


Tell me what you believe. That is the crux of the matter. In a skeptical world where we’ve been conditioned to look for the hidden agenda via sales-pitches, politics, and religion, honestly telling our story may be what we most need to do. While I expect to find many other suggestions for successful missions and evangelism—suggestions I am certainly open to, I doubt I will come across anything as potentially life-changing as one person sitting down with another person to share what God has done in his or her life. Stories sell—especially the story of God’s mission for the world: that all may come to know the love and mercy and grace of a God who desires all God’s children to be restored, to be transformed, to be made whole.  Now that’s a story worth telling!

[i] Interpretation: Mark, Lamar Williamson, Jr., 113-122.

[ii] Feasting on the Word.

[iii] “A Better Way to Evangelize accessed July 3, 2012 at

[iv] Feasting on the Word, Michael L. Lindvall, 216.

*Cover Art “Two by Two” via Google Images


Just a Touch

Just a Touch

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; July 1, 2018

6th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 5:21-43


Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a woman—we shall call her Diana. Diana was young and quite lovely and she was, like any young woman, filled with hopes and dreams for her future.  But one day, quite unexpectedly, Diana became sick. One day led to another and to another until Diana was sick most of the time. Her illness was an abnormal bleeding condition—a type of illness that caused Diana physical, spiritual and emotional pain, for you see, in her day and time, such an illness made her unclean. Everything Diana touched became unclean, too. Her condition made it impossible for her to go to the synagogue to worship with others in her community. In actual fact, she had limited contact with most of the world. Diana felt such pain and isolation; she was lonely and fearful, and she was willing to do whatever she could to find healing.


Since Diana was a woman of wealth, she could afford the help of the best physicians of the day. They promised help—for which she paid—help she didn’t receive. Instead of getting better, Diana only grew worse. Now, after twelve years of vain searching, she had exhausted every resource and spent all she had. She was at the end of her rope and at the end of her hope. Then, she began to hear stories about a man named Jesus. He had done such amazing things that even Diana, in her small world, had heard about him. She heard he was a teacher who taught with authority, and in the synagogue in Capernaum he had cast an unclean spirit out of a man. He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and, later, a leper—with just a touch of his hand. She heard about him healing the paralytic and the man called Legion, who was filled with many demons. Just a few days ago, he had even calmed a terrible storm over on the Sea of Galilee. Oh yes, she had heard about Jesus.


Diana was open to experiment, open to the possibility that a divine power was at work in this unexpected and unlikely Jesus. After all, people called him a teacher, a prophet, some even wondered if he was the Promised One from the line of David. She began to wonder—could this man, this Jesus, heal her? In comparison to all he’d been doing, healing a poor woman of a bleeding condition would be small—even insignificant. It really would not take much—just to touch his garment might be enough. Then she would not have to face the crowd, face her shame; she wouldn’t even have to speak to Jesus openly.


Soon Diana learned Jesus was nearby, so she went in search of him. He was not difficult to find—a swarm of people was gathered around him. She glanced at the crowd and quickly realized it might be more difficult to get close to Jesus than she had expected. But she must—she simply must reach Jesus—whatever it took!  What choice did she have? For twelve long years she had suffered.  If Jesus could not help her, no one could. Then her life would be over—because she would surely die.


Entering the crowd of people, she began to turn first one way and then another, easing between those who had come to see Jesus, trying not to touch people, trying to go unnoticed. Quietly and quickly she crept up behind him and she reached out her hand, leaning forward to gently touch the hem of his garment. And then it happened! She felt a force sweep through her. Immediately, she knew in her heart and soul, she was healed. She turned to rush away, hoping no one would notice. She felt joy and fear all at once. She had experienced a miracle and no on knew!  Her courage had paid off—now she would have a chance of happiness, a chance to be a part of her faith community again, a chance of a life.


Suddenly the crowd stopped moving. Diana looked to see what was happening behind her and then she heard the voice of Jesus as he turned in her direction and asked the unimaginable, “Who touched me?”  There were so many people around, it could have been anyone—but she knew, she knew he was talking about her. While she had felt healing enter her body, Jesus had felt power leaving his. Why, oh, why did he have to point her out? How she wished to be invisible. She thought about running, but her legs refused to carry her away. She knew she had touched the holy, and, finally, with gratitude, awe, and all the courage she could muster, she retraced her steps back to Jesus. Approaching him, she fell at his feet and confessed everything. She did not know what to expect. Would Jesus be angry with her and chastise her?  Would her humiliation grow beyond what she had already endured?  She waited with her head bowed before him. To her utter amazement, she heard the gentle voice of Jesus speak to her and call her “Daughter.”


Daughter!  What manner of love was this that Diana, who was forced to come alone because she had no kinsman to speak for her, was now shown such compassion and concern?  “Daughter,” Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well, go in peace, you are healed.” Diana was struck by the kindness in the voice and eyes of Jesus. She had never known such compassion. How surprised she was that Jesus took the time to encourage her and applaud her faith in front of all these people who would have ostracized her only moments ago. Jesus elevated Diana to a position of respect that had long been missing in her life. Jesus knew what she needed, and Jesus met her needs.


Diana came to Jesus to be healed physically, but she received so much more. She was a woman, an unclean woman, a desperate woman who dared to approach Jesus hoping for a quiet, secret miracle. But Jesus wanted things out in the open. Jesus wanted to show Diana that SHALOM –peace and wholeness could be hers—not just a physical healing. In that moment Diana experienced the grace of God as she realized that Jesus was not merely out spreading kindness and good will.  Jesus was so much more. Jesus was God incarnate; come to reconcile and to heal ALL that was broken in the world.


The woman in our story today came to Jesus for a reason.  Why do you come to Jesus?  Why do you come here to worship?  Do you expect great things? Has God touched your life and you long to demonstrate your gratitude?  Do you long to gather with other believers to offer each other encouragement and love?  Do you long to worship this Holy God who can change a life with just a touch?  And are you eager to spread the news?


The woman in our story today came to Jesus for a reason.  She needed healing.  Why do you come to Jesus?  Is there brokenness in your life that needs healing?  Have you been wounded?  Are you filled with worry or despair?  None of us walk this earth without facing some pain and disappointment. It’s been said that everyone sits near their own pool of tears. It is our human condition to face hurt and challenges in this life, but we are not alone. Each of us has been called in a personal way through God’s grace. We have been called “Daughter.” We have been called “Son.”  We do not approach the throne of grace alone because Jesus is our kinsman. And Jesus invites us to share in the remembrance of him this day as we take Holy Communion together. We come as broken people in need of the love and care of a Holy God. We come to the Table as family. We come to remember.


The woman in our story today came to Jesus for a reason.  She came after having spent all that she had seeking a healing she could not find.  But finally, healing found her through the compassion and power of Jesus Christ. Just a touch is all it took. Just a touch of the power of Jesus can change a life, can heal a broken heart, can change attitudes, desires, direction… Yes, just a touch will do!


*Cover Art “I Will Be Made Well” © Jan Richardson Images; Used by subscription.