The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2005
PUSHED BEYOND THE LIMITS
How many people have you stood in front of? Some of you don't like to speak in front of people in any situation! Others might like to speak to people. I was trying to figure out the largest group of people I have ever spoken to. 900 at the funeral of a prominent member of the church I pastored.
I once spoke before the convention of Texas District pastors. I suppose there were about 300~400 present. Quite an occasion for a furloughing missionary who never had more than 25 in the church of whom he was the pastor in Japan. Awesome for me. And I asked them the question: how many of them were missionaries? Only a few raised their hands. And I thought our Lord wanted all of us to be missionaries!
Here Jesus spoke to 5000 plus woman and children. Without a mike!
Feeding 5,000 plus people! How to get simple bread and a fish to that many! If only the disciples took bread and fish around, they wouldn't have gotten there before the sun went down! Who helped? Where did they get the 12 baskets for the leftovers?
Finally, how many people have you been in a crowd with? At a ball game? A concert? A rally? I attended a Billy Graham revival in Tokyo with thousands present, and a Billy Joel-Elton John concert in the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, TX with about 4, 000 present. That is lots and lots of people!
How could Jesus even expect the disciples to give them something to eat?? To feed 5,000 men and the wives, widows, and children who came with them? That was pushing them beyond the limits of what they thought they could do. That's for sure! And it did happen! It could only be called miraculous. It can only happen when there is compassion. It can only happen when it is the Lord's work! The limits we set can be pushed aside, broken, gone beyond when the Lord takes, gives thanks, and gives!
Jesus meets the crowd
Jesus wanted to be alone. He had just heard the news about his cousin, John the Baptizer. Herod the Tetrarch had had him beheaded after Salome had danced at his birthday party.
Jesus wanted to be alone to think through the situation, privately, in a lonely place. But the crowds follow him on foot from the surrounding towns. He didn't get to be alone, to think about what he had heard about his cousin, and what that meant for him and his mission. No, when the boat arrived and he landed, the crowd was there.
What was his first emotion? Disappointment over being mobbed by these people? Weariness that again, as many times before, he would have to deal with these people? No, when he saw this crowd of people, his heart went out to them. His guts wrenched at seeing so many people, eager for something that he could supply. All other thoughts, emotions evaporated as he saw these people, needing him. Why? Because their spiritual leaders were giving them bread wrappings, meaningless hoops to jump through to get them where? Spiritually satisfied? In no way!
As empty as when they started!
Whatever ailed them, he cured. Whatever troubled them, he gave solutions. It took a long time, the day was ending. The shadows were lengthening. Time to go home! Time to send this huge group on their way. Jesus couldn't do any more for them, could he?
The small villages could supply them with food? Food for 5,000? It would have taken their entire year's supply of food to feed even a couple thousand of these people! And they all had money to pay?
I'm not saying the disciples of our Lord didn't have compassion and some common sense, but their solution was as good as Adam and Eve's solution to their nakedness. Itchy fig leaves which would have lasted about 20 minutes before they wilted away and did nothing for them at all, but draw attention to what they didn't want called to their attention! An empty solution!
Jesus pushes beyond the limits
Jesus doesn't see a need for them to go away. And why? Because, catch this, the disciples can give them something to eat! From where? Their preparation for this excursion was to bring along 5 loaves of bread, and a little protein: 2 fish. I can guarantee these fish were no trophy fish. Enough to sustain the disciples and Jesus, but no more than that! They are to feed this mob?
The orders are clear: 'Bring them here!' He directs the people to sit down on the grass. He looks to heaven, gives thanks, broke the loaves, gives them to the disciples who give them to the people. All ate. All were satisfied. Broken pieces?12 baskets. The number fed' Around 5,000 plus women and children.
Lessons to be learned
Why do you think God in his infinite wisdom wants us to hear this story? What are we to gain from this story? That Jesus can do miracles. Yes, of course, but then you would expect a person who could heal people could also do this kind of miracle. After all, we who believe Jesus is God have no trouble with this incident at all.
But did you catch what Jesus said to his disciples? ?You give them something to eat?? You, you and I, we are to give people food? And what food here represents?
I recently heard of a church to which the proposal was made about starting a mission church some miles from this church. The leaders of the church nixed the idea because they would lose members and the revenue these members would no longer give.
You give them something to eat? was lost on that group. Has 'you give them something to eat? ever been seen as impossible by us?
And how have we been challenged and what has been our response? Have we had compassion as our Lord has had compassion? Is compassion our motivation in all things that we do as God's people? And when we are challenged beyond what we believe in our limits, do we fold our tents and go home? Or do we take our 'little' to the Lord for his blessing, and then give compassionately to others?
What do expect from the Lord
Who is the Lord, this Jesus anyway? He is the one who fed the children of Israel with manna, the miraculous desert food on their long pilgrimage to the promised land. Faithfully it came daily except on the Sabbath. He is the one who resisted the temptation to think of himself only in the desert temptation and believed man lives truly only with God's presence in his life.
This Jesus is the one who was willing to fulfill the mission of his heavenly Father to become the Bread of life for the world. He came to give his life as bread to feed those who could never make it home without his intercession with the Father of his own life, death and resurrection.
This Jesus is the one who gives us weekly the Bread that sustains us through all that comes to us. Because he feeds us with himself, we are more than victors in every situation in life. Because he is quite literally the Bread which gives and sustains us, we are convinced that what life throws at us, or when death looms up in our lives, when forces of evil or forces of good seem to overwhelm us, nothing we face now, nothing that is coming in the future'known or unknown, not the pits of life nor the highs of life, nothing can separate us from the love this Jesus has for us and we have for him.
We are more than attached at the hip. We are united as branches to the vine. In Jesus, we live, we move and have our existence.
So what can we expect from the Lord? We can expect that we can feed the multitudes and whatever that means in the situations we face as the body of Christ.
We may have little but it can become much when we hand it to our Savior for blessing. We may find the odds overwhelming, but there are no odds with God! Only his blessing to that which he wants us to do.
With our little monies, we would be able to have the name of Jesus spoken throughout the world, as it comes together with the widow's mite of others. We can move mountains if we believe Jesus wants us to do it and commit it to him for blessing.
Pushed beyond the limits
God through the situations in which we find ourselves pushes us beyond what we think is possible. He is asking us to believe that 'with God all things are possible.' With that first great missionary of the church, St. Paul, we must say, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.'
We have Christ in us. We will receive him again in the blessed Sacrament.
I hope we still have the vision. I pray that you have the compassion of Christ for others, in their physical, mental, and spirituals needs, that we never, never send them empty away!
When the impossible of our vision for people is pushed beyond our limits, praise the Lord. He will take our little, look to heaven, give thanks and then give it to us, his disciples, to give to those whom he loves, those on whom he looks, and by his redeeming grace we look at, with compassion! Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor