(Luke 9: 10-17)
When my grandson Peder was little his mother would bring him and his little sister over for the weekends and he would always ask me if I had a project for him. It was my job, as a grandfather, to come up with some sort of project that was challenging but not impossible with a little help from Gramps. We’d decide on a project and then go down into the garage to see what materials we had at our disposal. We’d try to make do with what we had and be creative but sometimes we’d have to make a run to the hardware store for some of those items we didn’t have to complete the project. Then it was time to get to work. Peder would launch off into the project and before long he’d get stumped. I would then step in with a suggestion or demonstrate a particular technique and let him continue until he would come to the next snag. Admittedly, it was often difficult for me to not go hands-on and take over the project. But I’d restrain myself and with gentle guidance and words of reassurance the project would get completed with much pride to be shown off to his loving mother and adoring grandmother who would marvel at the creation to no end which would lead to a desire to another, more challenging project. Peder is now at the age where he can go on Youtube and research do-it-yourself projects, but he still needs Gramps to drive him to the store.
In an overly-simplistic way, I think this is the way it is with God too. God has all sorts of little projects for us to do. Some are within our skill set while most are just outside our areas of expertise. Sometimes we have the resources we need, other times we have to get creative, and then there are those times when God steps in and either sends us someone to guide us or provides the materials we need to finish the job.
And, that’s the lesson I think Jesus is trying to teach us in today’s scripture reading. The feeding of the 5,000 was so impactful that it is told in all four of the Gospels. I read all four of them in researching this sermon and observed that each one offered a detail that was just a little different from the others. In the gospel of Luke, we learn that the disciples had just returned from a mission trip Jesus had sent them on to preach the gospel and heal people everywhere. When they returned to report back to Jesus, they went to a town called Bethsaida to discuss the effectiveness of the mission trip and what they learned. When the word got out that Jesus and the disciples were nearby people showed up to hear him teach and heal the sick and infirm. Jesus welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing.
Luke tells us that it was getting late in the afternoon and the twelve came to him and suggested that he send the crowd away so they could go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging as they were out in the middle of nowhere and they hadn’t planned on this. Jesus responded; You give them something to eat. They must have thought Jesus had lost his mind and pointed out that they only had five loaves of bread and two fish. Philip, in the Gospel of John, quickly calculated that it would take 8 months of wages to feed a crowd of 5,000 men plus all the women and children, and that would be for only one meal. Jesus saw this as a teachable moment and told the disciples to have the people sit in groups of fifty. Jesus then took the five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks and broke them. He then gave them to the disciples to set before the people. We are told that they all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up 12 basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
It was a seemingly insurmountable task well beyond their capabilities and resources, but Jesus wanted to show them what could be done with God’s help and a little faith. What he was initially given seemed insufficient, but in his hands, it became more than enough. Like the disciples we often feel that our contributions to Jesus are meager, but he can use and multiply whatever we give him, whether it is talent, time, or treasure. It is when we give them to Jesus that our resources are multiplied. A situation that seems impossible with human resources is simply an opportunity for God.
For decades now churches all over America have been diminishing and dying because their focus has shifted from outward to inward. They are not producing fruit and maybe this is God’s way of pruning the vine leaving only the branches that produce fruit connected to the vine. A book I’m reading points out that Sunday after Sunday we preach messages of the Gospel; to love one another, to grow in compassion. But we are never able to say how to do this. The church, the author says, does not address the how of faith, it only points to the ideal. This is where we come in. First, we have to make ourselves aware of the need, then we examine our resources and what we have at our disposal, and then go to God for what we need to make it happen.
Too often we limit what God does in us by assuming what is and what is not possible. If we offer nothing to God, he will have nothing to use. But we can take what little we have and turn it into something great. God gives in abundance. He takes whatever we can offer him in time, ability, or resources and multiplies its effectiveness beyond our wildest expectations. If you take the first step in making yourself available to God, he will show you how greatly you can be used to advance the work of his kingdom.
Like the eye opening experience the disciples had in feeding the large crowd, our mission engagement has opened our eyes too. Last Sunday the Mission Committee had a meeting after church that was very well attended. I didn’t attend but it looked like they were working on a focus and a plan that will better coordinate our efforts. This mission explosion is making us more aware as a church of the greater problems of our community around us. These problems can be many and intimidating, but we appear undeterred as we rise to meet the challenges. We understand the ideals of faith and are, on our own, figuring out the way in which we express our faith in the real world. For people who are desperately hungry, there is no better way for us to show God’s love to them than to help to provide for their physical needs. We only have to look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 when he said; For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. True faith transforms our conduct as well as our thoughts. If our lives remain unchanged, we don’t truly believe the truths we claim to believe. And continuing Jesus said; I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers of mine, you did for me. These deeds of loving service are not a substitute for, but rather a verification of, our faith in Christ.
As we work to bring wholeness to peoples lives, we must never ignore the fact that all of us have both physical and spiritual needs. It is impossible to minister effectively to the spiritual need without considering the physical need. As the Apostle James said in James 2: 14-17; What good is it my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
When facing a seemingly impossible task, do what you can and ask God to do the rest. He may see fit to make the impossible happen. Is there some impossible task that you believe God wants you to do? Something you think we, as a church, should be doing? Don’t let your estimate of what can’t be done keep you from taking on the task. God can do the miraculous; trust him to provide the resources, and working along side of you, He will make it happen.
Let us pray.
Loving and caring Father, make us servants, humble and meek as we work to lift up those who are weak. Move us to show our faith through our efforts to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting the forgotten as if we were doing it for your loving son. Open our eyes so that we may see the needs of those who live in the shadow of your church. Open our hearts so that we may extend the love of Christ to them as we endeavor to meet not only their physical needs but their spiritual needs too. Keep us mindful that through you, all things are possible. Make us servants, make us servants today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.