Monday, March 27, 2017

Jesus and the 5,000

Introduction
            March Madness falls right in the middle of the Christian season of Lent this year.  Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  It is a time when Christians prepare for Easter by focusing on spiritual growth through prayer, study, and focus.  Will take the challenge to make a 3-pointer for March Madness/Lent by focusing on prayer, study, and service?  Jesus was committed to all three.  Today, let's look at one story about how he served. 

Slides – Matthew 14:13-21

13 As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.


15 That evening the disciples came to him 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 food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

We Want to Withdraw

            Serving is not just something we do on Sunday or every now and then.  We are called to live a life of service.  Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, and our example.  He lived his life as a living sacrifice—serving people everywhere he went. 
            You might think, “Well sure, he was Jesus.  It was easy for him.”  Jesus was God, but he was also human.  He got tired.  He got frustrated.  He dealt with feelings of depression and sadness and loneliness just like everyone does.  I think this story is a perfect example and it’s the reason I decided to read the story from the Gospel of Matthew today instead of Luke.  Matthew really emphasizes something important that’s going on in Jesus’ life.  You see, we usually focus on the miracle of how Jesus fed 5,000 people and skip right over something very personal going on in Jesus’ life.
The story begins in verse 13, where it says, “As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.”  What was the news Jesus heard?  He’d just heard the news of his cousin John’s gruesome death by beheading. 
There are a lot of cousins at the church I serve.  I’ve been here 7 years and it took me a long time to figure out who all is related to who.  So many cousins and aunts and uncles…  There’s a lot more distant relations I probably still haven’t figured out, but I know there are some cousins in my church that are very close—maybe more like sisters and brothers than cousins.  Perhaps you have a cousin you've been close to.  Well, how would you feel if you got the news Jesus did about your cousin?  You would be devastated.
When Jesus heard his cousin was dead, it says he got in a boat and went away “to a remote area to be alone.”  I don’t know what Jesus was doing out there in the middle of a deserted lake and the scriptures don’t say, but I think I can imagine because I’ve done it before.  You get out there on the lake and it’s peaceful and still.  You pray.  You listen.  You reflect.
Maybe Jesus was out there on the lake in the quiet remembering what life was like for him and his cousin before the Spirit of God had led them both into the perilous lime light of public ministry—a time before crowds pressed them for leadership and healing and deliverance, a time before politics mattered so much and speaking the truth could get you beheaded or crucified. 
Don’t we all get tired of “adulting” sometimes?  Isn’t it nice when we can just run away to a quiet place. Who couldn’t use a little more quiet time to refresh the soul and reconnect with God?  That’s what Jesus was doing. 

We’re Moved to Compassion

No matter how you get away or how far you go, when you come back, you find that life has not taken a break with you.  There are still bills to be paid and checkbooks to balance and houses to clean and weddings to plan and people who need help.  But with your mind clear and your own spirit at peace you can rise above the fray and view the pressing needs of the world from outside of yourself. 
And thus it was for Jesus as he returned to the shore.  He saw a great crowd, full of needs.  And out of compassion for them, he cured their sick.  Can’t you see him there: passing among the great crowd, no longer burdened by his own troubles?  How does he pass so quickly from group to group, here bringing sight to the blind, there bringing hearing to the deaf?  Matthew makes no mention of any teaching taking place.  Didn’t Jesus at least once stand in righteous indignation and say to a drunken father, “If you wouldn’t drink so much you’re son wouldn’t be struggling with this demon and he wouldn’t go into fits of rage in the first place…” No, it simply says in verse 14, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Ah, yes, I can see his kind hands stretching out to heal.  And the day wears on and soon the sun begins to set and you can hear babies beginning to cry—first over here, next over there.  It is that distinctive, imploring cry of a child that says to those who are accustomed to hearing it, “Mommy, Daddy, I’m hungry…” 
Can you put yourselves in the disciple’s shoes for a minute?  Walking with Jesus as he ministers, assisting him as he directs you, patiently working your way through the seemingly endless crowds of needy people, seeing the hungry expressions growing on each needy face as your own stomach begins to grind and complain.  You know that there is food waiting for you, but what about this crowd?  Are you going eat right there in front of them while they have nothing? 

We Face Impossible Challenges

            So the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to go buy their own food.  And then Jesus gives the disciples this impossible challenge, “you feed them.”  Did he really mean the disciples were supposed to feed this massive crowd?  They didn't plan for that.  It wasn't on their agenda.  They hadn't secured the supplies.  They couldn't afford that kind of outreach.
Have things changed that much in 2,000 years?  Have we not ever felt ashamed to see a hungry person holding a sign saying “Need food”?  And a voice inside us says, “you feed them.”  They weren't part of our agenda that day.  We didn't plan for a way to help them.  We don't know how to help them or have the resources to really do it. 
Or maybe we see that angry teenage girl at school; you know the one—dressed all in black with pale white skin, black lips, black nails, weird hair, and a chain strung from her ear to her nose and tangled all around her heart.  Or what about the family that lives across the street; what’s their names again?  Or maybe it’s our brother or sister, our husband or wife, our son or daughter, or our cousin.  Or maybe it's the people we work with that need leadership and guidance so they can truly serve the way God wants them to in the workplace.  Or maybe it’s the shut-in that's growing old and feeble and can’t leave the house anymore.  Or maybe it’s the congregation or Sunday school class that looks to us each Sabbath to fill them with words from the mouth of God.  And a still, small voice says inside us, “you feed them.”
The cardboard signs all read something different, “Need food,” “Need love,”  “Need hope,” but they all say, “I need help.”  And when we turn to Jesus and ask him to do something, he says, “you feed them.” 
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to run off and hide, because I have so little to give.  Who am I?  What have I to give?  How am I to feed this hungry crowd when I barley have enough to feed my own soul?  But there is no running away.  The crowds follow you wherever you go and they are there waiting for you when at last you come ashore.  And the voice still whispers, “you feed them.” 

God Provides
            The disciples said to Jesus, “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.  18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers.”
            Can you see them all sitting together, eating, drinking, laughing, and sharing?  What started as a meager 5 loaves ended in 12 baskets full of leftovers and a crowd full of satisfied people.  Even the disciples were filled.  How extraordinary that by giving away the little you do have—not to the crowd, but to God—you could be filled and have an abundance left over.
            I don’t know how God does it, but He has this amazing way of taking the meager things we have to offer and multiplying them into an abundance of good.  It still amazes me, every time I preach, that God would use my humble ability.  I can’t remember a time when I stood in the pulpit and was satisfied with the message I had prepared.  I always feel like there is room for improvement.  Maybe the ending seems too loose or the illustrations seem too vague or the message is not insightful or instructive or nourishing enough.  Yet God takes this humble gift I bring and multiplies it and the Word of God touches people. 
            Thank God we are not operating on our own power.  We are drawing on the miraculous power of Christ who takes the ordinary things we offer and turns them into the extraordinary things people need.   

Conclusion
         So then, we must serve.  We must follow Jesus’ command:  “You feed them.”  Even when we are tired, God gives us new strength.  Even when we have very little to give, Jesus takes what we have and multiplies it.  So we can listen.  We can obey.  We can serve.  We can feed the hungry, heal the sick, give to the needy, and bind up the broken-hearted.  With God’s help, we can give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  And in the process, we find that we ourselves are the ones who receive the biggest blessings, and the blessings overflow.  

God grant us the extraordinary peace, assurance, compassion, and abundance that comes when we rest in Your amazing grace and draw on the miraculous power You offer as we face life’s impossible challenges.  Amen.