“Profit and Loss”
Matthew 16: 21-28
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a]( or soul) will lose it, but whoever loses their life (soul) for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
All of life is a set of equations, and Jesus just set forth the singular most important one we should know and follow in order to legitimately call ourselves Christians.
Profit results from forfeiting and eschewing our temporal desires.
Loss, of epic proportion, occurs when we cling to the stuff, things, and impermanent goals that are common impulses in the human condition.
Believe it or not, there are many areas in life that prove this biblical mandate and revelations. Even the stock market and investing, the last place we would expect to reflect any Jesus principles. Here are some basic things I’ve absorbed from my Financial Advisor husband.
- 1) Invest in things that have proven themselves effective and worthwhile
- 2) Don’t pull out when it gets dicey but trust the process
- 3) It’s the long game we want to play because in the short game, people get panicky and greedy, and lose everything.
This last week, we see Jesus’ lesson, and the principles I just mentioned, reinforced countless time. Worth greater than gold has been shining through the investment of love and caring and faith made by people in the thick of it.
In the worst of it all, the loss of temporary things has not been the greatest concern by victims. Their values have been about the welfare of each other and the relationships that keep them strong. And so, they have and are living through the risk and discovering the gain of internal growth and faith.
As Max Lucado wrote in the last few days, “The water keeps rising. The news reports keep coming. And the devastation keeps growing - image after image from Rockport, Corpus Christi, Houston and now Louisiana.
Like many of you, as I have sat glued to the television screen, I’ve heard the phrase “once in a thousand year flood.” I received texts like: “We are safe, but our neighbors aren’t.” And who will ever forget the images of everyday citizens heeding the call to steer their shallow-bottomed boats through neighborhoods on rescue missions.
Stunning. If only it were a movie. But it isn’t. It is now our shared heartbreak and history.”
Many people forget or never realized that Lucado’s words could have applied 5 times over in the Houston, Beaumont, Corpus area and more in the years since 1990 and now.
For 15 years, Ray and I lived and worked in Houston. Our street (an area in which flood insurance wasn’t offered because it would “never flood”) became a river. One year, a friend of mine and I watched our children float around on rafts for a day!
Before my children were born, I had a brand new Camry that I loved. It rained so hard one evening that I took a different route to get home from First Methodist Church in Houston where I was a pastor. My hope at 8 pm was to avoid the flooding. Instead, in the black of night, I drove straight into 5 feet of water, and managed to get out before the car began its maiden voyage. I stayed the night in a stranger’s house. When tropical storm Allison came along, there was actually more loss of life because no one predicted the extent to which it would stall and rain over Houston. The rising water took people be surprise. Hundreds and thousands of cars were trapped and floating on 59, and bodies found afterward because there was nowhere for folks to go unless they had the strength to swim over to the concrete inclines and climb up the steep slope. It was terrible.
The thing about my car when it floated away was that, though surreal, it was more fascinating than upsetting. And during tropical storm Allison when the water was one foot from our doorstep and it was time to try to move meaningful things to our second floor, Ray was simply irritated that I was waking him up! He didn’t believe me that the weather report I had been watching all night said that the rain needed to continue only another 30 minutes for our neighborhood to be under water. My main memory is not being believed, not the threat of material loss! (sorry Ray ).
We all have unique memories and different reactions to tragedy. And the underlying angst most of us feel is our whether our internal fortitude can hold up to the long term stress and strain.
Right now, I worry about my family in Houston for that reason. Yes, my father’s first cousin and family have their forever homes flooded and will have to watch them brought to the ground to rebuild. (Gary and Mopsy Andrews, grandchildren, son and son-in-law) The thing that distresses them is not the loss of family heirlooms and beautiful custom home, but an underlying loss: Their grandchildren stay with them at their house, a lot. The children’s mother died 3 years ago and their grandparents are a key part of their development at this young age. Where will that happen? Can they stay together? What of the children going through yet another devastation that rocks their world?
And then there were the wedding plans for my niece, Meredith, that were destroyed. She actually worked for a wedding event planner, and this wedding of hers was far more significant than I could have ever mustered as a bride. Her livelihood and training was about weddings, and as a child, she wore a wedding dress most of the time because her dream has always been to be a beautiful bride. Now, the church, reception site and caterer are scrapped and she has to adjust to a small family wedding out of state, rather than the grand event she was dreaming of. Is that insignificant to other losses, maybe to some. But for Meredith, it’s not the loss of things, it’s the loss of a life-long dream. She would gladly have given up any of her “things” in order to have the wedding with all of the people she wanted to surround her at that important moment in her life.
Ray stated two days ago, “I heard from Noah and he told me he’s worried that his story is going to be replaced in the Bible by Harvey.” We might need to stop decorating our nurseries with the cute little Ark and sweet animals now that we realize what the cruel devastation of a flood.
When we think about these most basic and important needs, we can resonate with the truth of What Christ says: “What does it profit to gain the whole world if we lose our lives?” Yes, there is loss so much greater than things. And it sometimes takes the ripping away of our things for us to realize this……
Jesus’ disciples couldn’t comprehend this point very well.
The logic of the kingdom does not have to do with plotting the way to success. Instead, disciples are called to an obediently humble giving of self for the neighbor in which hearing and doing are brought into conformity (see Sermon on the Mount; 7:12, 21) and the whole of the law is fulfilled.
Such conformity comes only by the transforming model and power of God's blessing and presence in this Messiah, who promises to be with this community to the end of the age. Just as this Messiah did not have to seek the cross; it was occasioned by those to whom his insistent mission of service gave offense, so we are called to the unselfconscious love and care for those in need. Crosses will be provided, as Martin Luther saw so clearly when he writes in his Freedom of the Christian that anyone who has a spouse or a family already has built-in crosses enough.
The other, even those at our shoulders, always calls us to that sacrificial living beyond ourselves which calls us to die and be raised again in lives that are lived for the sake of the neighbor. Jesus in Matthew's gospel, again in a unique parable, says much the same when in the so-called parable of the last judgment those who gather before the master are commended for their unconscious serving of the needs of others: "As you did it to one of the least of these...you did it to me." Such hidden service is rewarded with an invitation to "enter the kingdom" which has been prepared (25:31-46).
The Coming Kingdom
Here we get a glimpse of Matthew's distinctive view of the kingdom: 1) obedient love is encouraged in Jesus' final strong declaration and promise that entrance into the coming kingdom requires this. He tells his own disciples that some are standing here and "will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (16:28). That is true for us. In times like this, our greates achievement is obedient love in reference to others. We are ones who wait in the meantime for a coming which will happen at an unknown hour. But we wait in hope with the promise of our resurrected Lord that he will be with us as we follow in obedience and mission until the end of the age. 2) As we actively wait for the Kingdom to come in finality, we are called to follow on the way to the cross, to take up our cross. In this, we will discover that in giving away and losing our lives they will be dsave and a new and deeper mode of living will emerge. We will find the life we are truly meant to live.
Losing a superficial existence in exchange for a deeply driven and mission oriented life is a great bargain. The loss pales in comparison to the gain.
To "take up the cross" then is not an invitation, for disciples then or now, to start going around looking for crosses to bear.
So what do we do?
First and foremost, we pray. We pray for God to redirect the storm and alleviate the suffering. And when the next storm of life (metaphorically of literally) comes along, the praying continues.
Next, we help. At this initial stage, the biggest need besides prayer is for financial donations to organizations providing disaster relief.
We recommend donating directly to Samaritan’s Purse, The Salvation Army or The American Red Cross, online at:
Finally, and most importantly, we learn:
Lesson #1- Stuff doesn’t last. Relationships do.
As you’ve listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words? No one laments a lost plasma television or submerged SUV. No one runs through the streets yelling, “My cordless drill is missing” or “My golf clubs have washed away.” If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found.
Could Jesus be reminding us that people matter more than possessions? In a land where we have more malls than high schools, more debt than credit, more clothes to wear than we can wear, could Christ be saying:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15 NIV).
You see demolished $40,000 cars that will never be driven again, hidden in debris. And in the background of our minds we hear the quiet echoes of Jesus saying, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NIV).
Raging hurricanes and swollen bayous have a way of prying our fingers off the stuff we love. What was once most precious now means little; what we once ignored is now of eternal significance.
Think about what matters to you.
Lesson #2: We really are in this together.
We saw, and are seeing, how humanity can come together and help each other. Lifeboats did not discriminate by color of skin. Rescuers did not ask if the needy were Republican or Democrat. Helicopter rescue wasn’t offered only to the rich or educated. People came together to help people.
We don’t have to have a Harvey to prompt us to help others, however. Someone in your office could use your assistance. They aren’t stranded on a rooftop, but they are likely struggling with a decision. Someone in your neighborhood could use a friend. They didn’t lose their house, but, perhaps they lost their way.
Let’s let Harvey remind us: we really are in this together.
Lesson #3: This world often doesn’t work the way we want it to, but God always comes through.
“The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22 NIV).
Listen to the lessons of Harvey. Let the storm remind you of the value of relationships, people and, most of all, the true gifts in this life. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina A minister near San Antonio gave a message on this verse: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8 NKJV).
Noah couldn’t find his neighborhood. He could not find his house. He could not find the comforts of home or the people down the street–there wasn’t much he could not find. But what he could find made all the difference. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Noah found grace in the eyes of God. If you have everything and no grace, you have nothing. If you have nothing but grace, you have everything.
With a special nod to reflections from Max Lucado , San Antonio pastor and best-selling author. His latest book is "Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm is a Chaotic World
August 13th, 2017
"How Beautiful Are the Feet!"
Romans 10: 12-15
12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]
Feet, Feet, Feet, and more Feet!:
There are some things which are not often associated with the word "beautiful:" A view inside our noses is not especially great, tonsils aren’t that pretty, bruises on our legs are problematic, ears that are sprouting hair need work, and feet that have callouses and disfigurements can be quite ugly, though often fascinating!
We women try to gussy up our feet in the summer by painting our toes. It distracts the eye from our banyans and varicose veins, we tell ourselves at least. You poor men have to just own your feet and claim that you are proud of them, the bigger and stranger, the better!
Feet are simply not something commonly regarded as particular points of beauty in modern society. Usually, they are thought of more like the comment of a fashion-conscious woman. When asked about purchasing shoes, she replied with her rule for shoes: "If the shoe fits, it's ugly."
I have a vivid knowledge of all the feet in my inner family. My dad’s feet look pretty good, even though he stands on his more than anyone during his 8-12 hour surgical cases save lives. (His feet are good news to any patient in need of him.) My mother’s feet have the right configuration. Her first toe is the longest, and the rest stair-step down in a perfect slant. My sister, Susan, has feet that look good, but suffer mightily from RA brought on by lupus, and the knot on top of her big toe joint is the most painful. Caroline’s feet are tiny and cute, but they are the most expensive feet in the family because no stylish shoes come that small! Ray’s feet look better than mine, they are so slender, and his are second most expensive because he has to special order shoes that are narrow enough. Andrew’s feet are very large and have one rebellious, middle-toe on one foot that is strangely very short. My feet are fine, but the little toes are tiny and tuck under like they don’t exist.
The feet I really want to mention are my grandmother’s. You’ve heard me reference my sweet maternal GM many times for other things. GM was small and determined, even when she had no resources and very little energy. As long as I could remember, her feet were a source of horror and fascination for me. Her big toes on both sides were drastically bent inward and over the other toes. The joint between her foot and the big toes was swollen into a ball shape and stuck up. When she walked barefoot, something she rarely did because it was painful for her, her big toes did not touch the floor due to the angle and trajectory. As a young child, I remember seeing them for the first time and asking, “Grandmother, what’s wrong with your feet!”She curtly informed me that my question was impolite, which it was. Later, I asked my mother “what’s wrong with Grandmother’s feet?” My mother explained something that as a child I couldn’t picture or fathom: In the forties and fifties, every tall pointy shoes were the expected choice for grown women in public. No one made sensible shoes, except house-shoes. And if a woman did have shoes that were orthopedically sound for the foot, she was elderly or had special physical needs.
Like June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver Grandmother had dutifully worn her high, pointy shoes whenever around others, which was a lot because she was an active pastor’s wife and mother and volunteer. Over time, she developed that painful “hammer-toe” on both sides. And in the last third of her life, they might have been, TO HER, the most embarrassing feature on her body.
Of course, Grandmother’s feet, as ugly as they my have been, couldn’t compare to the beauty of her life. Never-the-less, she would have been red with embarrassment if someone noticed her battered feet and declared, “How Beautiful are your feet!”
The Scripture Lesson:
Our lesson today ends with an image associating such an item with "beautiful," and then bringing up another topic which seems completely unrelated. This odd sentence is: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news."
Today, it is strange enough to call feet beautiful. They are hidden in shoes and are the workhorses for our mobility.
If we close our eyes and think of our feet, we picture them as the unattractive, every present necessities of our life. They are always there, boy are they needed!, and we hope they never break down.
With our modern aesthetic of covered feet, only children who like to be barefoot, or the impoverished, who must be able to make do without shoes, understand about feet properly. A story told by the nineteenth-century theologian Soren Kierkegaard speaks to the indispensability of feet. A poor man normally went barefooted, but once, when he had some money in his pocket, he went to the city and purchased a pair of shoes and stockings. After his purchase, he had some money left over, so he proceeded to get drunk. He was still in that condition when he tried to get home, but managed only to stagger out of town where he lay down in the middle of the road.
A wagon came along and the driver yelled at the peasant to move or he would drive over his legs. In his condition the peasant looked at the unfamiliar shoes and stockings and replied, "Drive on; they are not my legs."
So this image from our lesson sounds rather strange or, more frankly, weird. Is it possible that Paul is simply using an image which he understood, something he liked? Is this simply Paul's own, weird image? Actually, the image did not start with Paul.
The image comes from Isaiah 52:7. At that place the prophet says: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.' " A little more specific detail, but not really much help in understanding the image.
Isaiah is speaking, in general terms, of the restoration of Israel to what he and other members of Israel regarded as its rightful place, of the return of her people to their homes, where they will live in peace. More than that, he is speaking specifically of the return of those people who are still pure, clean, and ready to live as God's people and worship God as they should. Paul certainly knew of this background, especially considering the context in which he used this quote from Isaiah. He uses it as the answer to a series of rhetorical questions about the way in which people will hear about God and the good news of Christ. For Paul this reference to the words of Isaiah is both an answer and a call to those who hear his words.
Even though this helps us understand the way the statement is used, it still leaves us with that odd image of "beautiful feet." While feet are not usually seen as beautiful today, and in fact are often the subject of jokes, and derogatory comments and frequently regarded as a subject unfit for polite conversation, they filled a different place in the ancient world.
Hospitality in the time of Paul and Jesus involved a ritual we no longer employ. Guests at a dinner were greeted by having their feet washed. People were expected to wash themselves before they left their homes for the dinner, but walking from one home to another, especially when wearing sandals, resulted in feet that were, at the least, dusty. Both to keep the home and its furnishings clean, and to welcome the guests and restore them to a feeling of freshly scrubbed cleanliness, greetings involved the washing of the guests' feet.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus follows this ritual when he washes the disciples' feet as a part of their last meal together. When Peter objects that it is not seemly for Jesus to wash his feet, Jesus tells him if his feet are not washed, he has no part in the kingdom. And then, in a command which is still a bit bothersome to many people, Jesus commands the disciples to follow his example: "You also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14).
An image that reminds us of the value of humility, of the need to humble ourselves, and to remember that it is not our efforts which should lead us to pride, but the efforts of God working through us. Paul reminds us of all this in his series of questions leading up to this comment about feet.
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?" Paul begins with a basic question: How can people call on the name of the Lord, if they have not believed in Jesus before they call on him? It seems like a basic question, but Paul builds on it with a second question.
"And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?"
And how are we to expect that people could come to believe in someone they have never heard of? Obviously the situation is an absurdity, but Paul goes on to ask the next question.
"And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" In order to call on Jesus, people must believe in him. In order to believe, people must hear the good news. In order to hear the good news, someone must proclaim that good news. Everything is quite logical, and it all builds clearly to the conclusion in the form of the final question.
"And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?" How can anyone proclaim unless they are sent? To proclaim the Good News, to tell the story of Jesus and God's love for the world, people need to be selected, called out, commissioned, and sent. If that sounds like a description of what happens to missionaries, it quite likely is.
But things don't stop with missionaries, with people sent to far-away lands to proclaim the good news. Those who lead in our congregations are also called and sent to proclaim. As are we all, each week, called together here for worship and sent forth from our worship, back into the world, called and sent to tell others about the good news of Jesus and God's love, called and sent to proclaim him where we already are.
So, in the final analysis, it is really our feet Paul is talking about. Our feet are beautiful because we bring good news. Our feet are beautiful when we announce peace, as Isaiah puts it. And our feet are beautiful, as Paul reminds us, when we proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Beautiful feet is still a strange image, but when we think about it, how beautiful are the feet, and everything else, about the people who announce peace. In our modern world there are not all that many people who actually get to announce peace. There are some who try hard, announcing peace in louder and louder tones, even as those around them blow themselves up, shoot others, and generally behave in very unpeaceful ways.
In our modern world, some people who announce peace and actually seem to accomplish it are given awards such as the Nobel Peace Prize. More often, however, the people who spend much of their time working toward peace are faced with violent reactions from those around them. Rather than getting praise from most people, they are accused of things such as being unpatriotic, seditious, cowardly, and worse.
It has often been said that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who proclaimed passive resistance and non-violence, was regularly surrounded by very violent behavior. In fact, the same thing can also be said about the example who inspired Dr. King's plan of action, Mahatma Gandhi. There are some peacemakers who seem to have very unpeaceful activities swirl around them.
Peace is not the same as pacifying. We confuse the two. Pacifying people around us means to placate and compromise. Peace, most often, can only be accomplished by insisting one new and better priorities, which is what Jesus did: "the Prince of Peace."
And yet, peace came for Christ at a high cost in a very disturbing way. It culminated on the cross and through the resurrection. The same is true for us. Working toward creating a world of peace, a world that values the things of peace, means up-ending almost everything we cling to, even each other sometimes. Jesus warned his disciples of this:
…35For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36A man’s enemies will bethe members of his own household.’ 37Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me;… "(Matthew 10)
Often, it is only in retrospect that peacemakers are recognized for their labors. And there have been times when even after the peace is accomplished, those who were most important in bringing it about are still not recognized. Of course, recognition is not what peacemakers are really seeking. The obvious reward they seek is peace.
And peace, true peace, is certainly something to be sought. Not merely the absence of war, but a positive force, an opportunity for growth together, a situation where people are able to work together so all can accomplish a better life is certainly something everyone would recognize as a thing to be sought, at least in an ideal sense.
But Isaiah doesn't stop with peace, as desirable as it is. Isaiah goes on to say beautiful feet also belong to those who bring good news, the part of the verse that Paul seizes upon. Isaiah continues with other thoughts, but Paul is content to quote the part about those who bring good news.
We often think that the only people who can bring the Good News are those who are ordained, who preach on Sunday mornings, those specially called to be pastors. There is a story that reminds us of the true situation.
A minister found himself in the line waiting for Saint Peter's attention at the Pearly Gates. He was behind a guy dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket, and wearing sunglasses. Finally Saint Peter addressed the man in the outlandish costume, "Who are you, so I might know what to do with you?"
"I'm Joe Green, a New York taxi driver."
After a moment consulting his list, Saint Peter broke into a big smile and gave the taxi driver a silken robe and a golden staff along with a hearty welcome.
The minister announced, "I'm Harold Snow, head pastor at St. Mary's for the last 43 years."
Saint Peter consulted his list, provided a thin cotton robe, a wooden staff, and jerked his thumb, indicating the minister should enter. Not too clear about this treatment, the minister asked the reason.
"We work by results here," Saint Peter replied. "When you preached, people slept; when he drove, people prayed."
The people specially called to bring the good news are not only those who preach on Sunday, but also those who are witnesses on every day of the week. The matter of beautiful feet is not limited to those who get up on Sunday morning and preach; it includes all who show how the good news works itself out in their lives. In truth, beautiful feet are even more common among the people of the congregation than among the people in the pulpit.
We often forget what “Good News”really is. Good news for us is a positive outcome to a problem or worry we face. Lately, in our family, good news relates to tremendous relief about health, success in our children’s endeavors at college, safety, and good friends and family relationships. These things do indeed constitute good news. But frankly, none of that could take place, and the best, good news would still be true and worthy of proclamation.
Consider Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. He made his discovery in a dust-filled, poorly-equipped laboratory. There were few conveniences, and a culture he was about to examine happened to be the precise spot where a mold spore, carried by a breeze, had previously landed.
Several years later, when he was a world-famous scientist, he was taken on a tour of a modern lab, a facility which glistened in its air-conditioned, dust-free, super-sterile purity.
"What a pity you didn't have a place like this to work in," commented Fleming's guide. "Just think of the wonders you could have discovered in surroundings like this."
Fleming responded, "Not penicillin."
We act like that sometimes. We think the only way to be witnesses to the good news is to find ourselves golden in life in every way.
In reality, life will always have significant hardship and less than ideal surroundings. In the grit and grime of it, we make our way and even discover that which gives life. Mature faith looks up from the struggle and distills the human experience to the victories and daily privileges we have through the grace of God. And then we raise our gaze even higher and let ourselves be awash with gratitude, gratitude for our belief that allows us to belong to the author of life, and for the inherent promise of eternal life, beginning with spiritual abundance here and now.
In the ancient Hebraic world, the heart was the focal point for logical conclusions and the bowels were the location for emotion and intuition. The feet were too filthy to touch or even let the bottom be shown in polite company. But they were also used as a metaphor for the solid base for stable living and the necessary body part for moving and acting in the world. Are we living on our solid rock? Are we moving forward in stability to share Christ? - not in some spectacular fashion, but in the normal actions which make up our daily lives.
We witness in that way, in the places where we are as difficult and ugly as it can be at times. We witness with our actions, with our lives, and with our beautiful feet, worn disfigured, battered, calloused, dirty, but completely necessary feet. Amen.
-Special Mention to Pastor Jeff Wedge for a few great examples -
August 6th, 2017
Multiplying and Dividing
Dr. Allison Thompson
Matthew 14: 13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Today’s lesson is on one of Jesus’ best known miracles, the feeding of the 5,000. Of course, as someone has noted, if Jesus were alive today, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with half the miracles he performed. It’s not just that we live in such a skeptical, rationalist age. Performing such a feet requires beginning with a massive amount of obvious resources. It requires understanding exactly how much food is needed, and then dividing the number of people to feed. Then we know if we can accommodate the needs of the hungry.
I read the other day about a pastor who once worked for a catering company. He reported this company once served 3,000 people at an 11:00 p.m. meal. The meal included shrimp, sliced turkey, filet, rich meat spaghetti, salad, bread, and brownies. It was a monumental task. It took a full week to prepare 1,000 pounds of shrimp, 70 turkeys, 35 electric roasters of spaghetti, 700 pounds of fillet, dozens of 3 by 5 feet sheets of brownies, and many large baby-bathtubs of salad! (2)
Can you imagine such an operation serving a meal to three thousand people? Makes me tired thinking about it. Now imagine feeding five thousand people . . . no, triple that. The scripture says there were five thousand MEN, plus women and children. I believe that five thousand hungry men would be enough to feed, but women and children, too? Quite an undertaking, and it had to be done right away. They didn’t have a week to prepare. A crowd had followed Jesus out into the wilderness, and evening was approaching. Concerned, the disciples came to the Master and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
Well, you can imagine the disciples’ surprise when Jesus said that. He wants them to feed maybe fifteen thousand people on the spot?
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down. It is obvious that Jesus is in charge of the situation. “Have the people sit down,” he said.
Jesus then took what was given him. But instead of using division, it was multiplication that took place! He didn’t even bother with counting the number of people and trying to figure out if any of the crowd could manage to get a morsal. He
didn’t try to divide the loaves and fishes into tiny amounts. He said a prayer, and God multiplied the results.
We are people who live with an attitude of poverty, and feeling of ‘paucity ‘ in our lives. We think that we are like Old Mother Hubbard who had nothing in her cubbard! And so we give what we have to a limited few.
WE give our love to those who we deem worthy.
We give our time only when we have the energy and an empty schedule and are in the right frame of mind.
We give our devotion to God only when we can figure out what to wear, decide if the sermon will be worth it, and don’t have anything else on Sunday we want to do.
We give of our resources when everything we need and WANT is managed first.
We live as depression people: keep it close to you, don’t waste time resources or energy, realize you may never have enough. This is, unfortunately, a life of division. Whatever we do, it will end up costing us and leaving us with less.
But perhaps we ought to sit down and see how God never divides but only multiplies:
Dr. John Claypool tells about a missionary to China in the late nineteenth century during a time when a terrible famine swept over that country. This missionary had connections back in the states, so he arranged to have a whole boat load of foodstuff shipped over and sent to the mainland of China.
The people waited for many, many weeks for this shipment of food. When word came that the ship had landed and the food was being unloaded, there was great excitement all around the mission compound. Word was sent out that the next Tuesday at eight o’clock people could come and food would be distributed.
Before dawn that day, thousands of hungry Chinese gathered in hope. When the distribution began, there was such a frenzy on the part of all of these people to get some food that a riot broke out. Several people wound up being injured, a few people were actually killed. The police finally had to come in and bring order again through force. The missionary was absolutely broken-hearted. What he had intended to be part of the answer had turned into another problem.
That night he was so distraught he could not sleep. As was his custom, he found himself going to the Bible for consolation. Late that night, he opened to this passage where Jesus encountered a multitude of hungry people. Then a detail of the story leaped out at the missionary that he had never noticed before. Jesus had the people sit down. It suddenly dawned on the missionary that that is a wonderful form of crowd control. If people are seated, they cannot riot. He couldn’t wait until the next morning to announce that once again they would try to distribute food, only this time everyone was made to sit down. The second distribution went as well as the first had gone badly. The missionary wrote back home that he had a renewed appreciation for the common sense of Jesus. (3)
Jesus had the people sit down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over.
This is an amazing story, one we would do well to study more carefully.
Certainly the people at the scene were sitting down, not only to keep order, but to learn. They SAW that the small amount Jesus started with became a monumental portion that fed all! They were thinking they’d have to watch Jesus miraculously DIVIDE the loaves and fish into microscopic pieces. But the opposite happened. It all multiplied.
How does multiplication happen?
We can become multipliers when we live with a sense of plenty rather than paucity. First, It begins with erasing one’s own desires and thinking about the needs around us. Matthew begins this story by saying, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick . . .” Now, Jesus was hoping for a rest, but instead he turned the corner and faced even more demand. He already started his compassionate multiplying by meeting the needs of the sick and the worried.
He put aside plan A, to deal with grief and catch his breath: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns . . .” Did you catch that? “When Jesus heard what had happened and withdrew to a solitary place . . .”
What was it that happened? If we go back a few verses we discover that Christ’s beloved cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by King Herod. How do you think Jesus felt when he got this news? How would you feel? A family member that you were very close to has been the victim of an atrocious crime. No wonder Matthew said that Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. Don’t you think that maybe Jesus wanted to be alone to grieve the death of his cousin? But then Matthew adds, “Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns . . .”
Jesus can’t even have a few moments to grieve. Instead of storing up his energy, he gave away even more. WE see that happens a lot in the stories of Jesus. We know he’s exhausted and over-crowded, and yet he continues to have the resources to changes lives.
Remembering this about Christ makes a demand on each of us: do we copy what we see, and read and comprehend about his will? If we do, then concern for “storing up anything” for ourselves is incompatible with doing His will. No excuse or desire or attitude nullifies this truth.
Someone tells of being in the bathroom at a popular coffee chain. Someone wrote on the bathroom wall, “What Would Jesus Do?”One person answered the question by writing, “Wash His hands.” Then a third person wrote, “And your feet.”
What a wonderful perspective on the nature of Jesus. He would wash our feet. Jesus cares about people. He had compassion for the multitude. Do we also stoop low so that others will rise. Or do we worry that we can’t get up?
Secondly, we are multipliers for the Kingdom of God when we pay more attention to what God can do than what we CAN’TDO.
Many people have tried to give a rational explanation for the miracle of the fishes and loaves. Early in the twentieth century, it became fashionable to find natural explanations for miracles. Albert Schweitzer wrote that each of the 5,000 people was so completely impressed in the presence of Jesus that they felt satisfied even though they were not actually filled. Another theory was that the crowd brought food with them. When a small boy offered to share his lunch, this shamed others into offering theirs as well and the first church covered-dish supper was born. [Now you know why there was so much food left over.]
These explanations miss the point, however. The important point of this story is that Christ is able to supply our needs, no matter how he does it. Our needs may be physical or emotional or spiritual, but Christ is sufficient.
This may be the point at which a lot of us are missing the joy of our faith. We believe that God cares about us and our need, but we don’t really believe that God is able to help us. AND WE CERTAINLY DON’T THINK GOD WILL USE US TO HELP OTHERS. And thus we lead joyless, powerless lives. That sounds very much like the life of faith. You must go on trusting the One who has brought you this far. Christ is not only compassionate, but he is capable.
If we don’t live into that knowledge, we are telling God that we don’t believe what he has shown us and taught us in the Bible. Are you willing to have that conversation with God?
But there is one more thing that needs to be said: Christ uses what we give him to work with.
You may have noticed that in Matthew’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand, he does not mention the young boy who had with him the five loaves and two fish. We have to go to John’s Gospel for that small detail.
But what if that young boy had not been willing to share his five loaves and two fish? Would God have fed the 5000? It does seem to be a clear principle of faith that God requires our participation in this world. It might be fish and bread it might be time, it might be sewing, it might be listening to others, it might be helping with a mission. What we have, we are to give.
There was an article in People years ago about a nine-year-old girl named Kassandra. Young Kassandra read a story one time about some foster children who were forced to drag their belongings in a garbage bag from home to home every time they moved. “These kids, they have nothing,” she thought to herself, and she got upset and decided to do something about it.
And so Kassandra organized a barbecue and, with a group of friends, decorated 100 pillowcases with fabric markers so that these foster children would have something pretty to carry their belongings in. She and her friends also included in each pillowcase an address book so that the children could keep in touch with family and friends. The pillowcases also held a journal, pens and a stuffed animal. Over a three-year-period Kassandra donated more than 1,000 of her Good Night, Sleep Tight pillowcases to foster kids throughout her state. One of those children is Amy, 12. “I use the journal every night and I love the stuffed horse he is so cuddly,” says Amy. (5) Like the boy with the fishes and loaves, Kassandra is using what she has to bring happiness to children who have so little.
What Do I have?
Being a multiplier begins very simply with a question. Whenever we have a need, or someone else has a need, the first question we need to ask is, “What do I have?” Are there some fishes and loaves that God could use in a miraculous way? Before you answer, think about what you have for a moment. It might be some material possession. It might be some talent. But is there something that you have however small that God might use to meet someone else’s need?
A while back I took some flowers to a nursing home. When I walked in, one person after another asked me if the flowers were for them. I didn’t have the heart to say ‘no”. So I found myself pulling one flower after another to give to the lonely souls needing a symbol of love. I worried because it seemed to me that the arrangement was getting mighty small. I didn’t know if I’d make it to the intended person looking nice enough to present. Though I didn’t say no to any asking resident, I eventually made it to the patient I was visiting. With a little embarrassment I set the vase down and continued with the pastoral visit. When I made to leave, she said, “Oh thank you for these beautiful flowers!” I took a quick glance at the vase I had been trying to ignore. And to my surprise, the flowers were actually quite beautiful. There had been no division and no lack from giving the flowers away.
To my even greater surpise, I experienced multiplication when I made my way out of the nursing home. I suppose 15 residents thanked me and even hugged me as I left. Frankly, I felt embarrassed. I had been resentful and reluctant to give away the flowers from the arrangement, and then embarrassed about what I brought to the person I visited. But God had made it exactly enough for everyone, and then gave me, HE GAVE ME, an extra amount of love in spite of my doubt.
Are there some fishes and loaves or pillowcases or flowers in your life that you can use to bring joy into someone else’s life?
Christ has compassion for our needs. He is able to use us in a wonderful way, if we are willing to take the little we have and let Him use it as He will.
1. Simon Coupland, Spicing Up Your Speaking, #75 p187f. Cited by Dave Faulkner, http://davefaulkner.typepad.com/dave_faulkner_life_spirit/2006/08/sermon_john_651.html.
4. God’s Little Devotional Book (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, Inc., 1973), p. 201.
5. “Precious Cargo” People, May 8, 2006, p. 196
6. Cited by Fr. Jerry Fuller, o.m.i., http://www.spirit-net.ca/sermons/a-or18-fuller.php.