August 13th, 2006
A Little Is a Lot!
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN
Today, our message comes to us from our Gospel lesson, with special attention on verse 9:
“Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
Introduction: Our Gospel lesson this morning is an account of the only miracle that made it into all four of the gospels. In Matthew, you will find it in the 14th chapter. In Mark, it is located in the 6th Chapter, and in Luke it is in the 9th Chapter. It was a time marked by great success; Jesus had just completed several days of teaching and healing and many of his disciple had just returned from their “two by two” evangelism mission, which Jesus had sent them on to preach repentance. They were reporting to Jesus how God proved His faithfulness, by providing for all of their needs and even validating their message by healing the sick and casting out demons. It was a wonderful time! But it was also a time of emotional pain and disappointment; the kind that comes from devastating news. Just as they were finishing up their reports, they were told that not far from them, King Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, a man that all of them including Jesus had grown to love and admire. Now, as Jesus looked around at each face of his friends and students, he came to the conclusion that they all needed time alone; they needed to get away from the crowds, and find time to rest, reflect and learn.
So they left the crowds and headed to the opposite shore of Lake Galilee. Now alone and with their Lord, the apostles inclined on the grassy slope of a large hillside and they were ready for some quality personal time with Jesus.
Now Jesus must have been seated next to Philip, because at some point, He looked off into the distance and pointed out to Philip (and the rest of the group) a very large mass of people that were making their way towards their now, not so secret location, from the opposite shore of the lake; the crowd had found them again! As they observed this crowd moving towards them, Jesus said, almost thinking out loud, “Where are we going to buy food enough to feed all of these people?”
Where in deed! We know from the other gospel accounts that there were about 5,000 men in that group, and that’s not even including the women and children that must have been with them. The true size of the crowd must have been at least 11,000 people! That is enough to fill the San Diego Sorts Arena!! We also learn from the other accounts that this question came very early in the day, and it was immediately answered by Philip, who stated that even 200 denarii or 8 months wages would not be enough to buy even a taste of food for all of these people. This answer evidently did not get much of a reaction from Jesus; he seemed unmoved by it, in fact, Jesus spent the rest of the day once again teaching the massive crowd of people. But as evening drew near and the disciples own stomachs began to grumble and growl with hunger they reminded Jesus of the hour (the dinner hour), and they began to plead with Him to send the people away.
I imagine that the conversation must have went something like this: “Jesus, earlier you showed great concern for these poor people and you wondered out loud how we could possibly buy bread for so many; well we didn’t answer you because we thought, well, we thought you were just teasing us. But now, here it is almost 5:00 P.M., and these people are famished. In fact, we’re afraid for their well being. Now, we all agree that it’s the right time to send them away into the villages around here so that they can find dinner and a place to sleep.”
In my minds eye, I can see Jesus smiling and slowly looking around at the twelve stern and concerned faces. But then, in an almost apologetic tone, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter attempts to change the mood with, “Look Lord! I found a little boy with 5 loaves of bread and two fish!” But then, his tone changes to dejection after he sees the faces of his friends, who are obviously disapproving of his attempt to humor the master, so he quickly adds, “But how far will that go with all of these people.”
What a sad vignette. It is the picture of a congregation of Christians that is tired, hungry and frustrated by a lack of resources. But we can learn something from this story; something eternal and life changing; something that just might reinvigorate life in our own ministries here and within our communities.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus has just administered a “Pop Quiz” designed to help the apostles along with us learn two things:
1. What the true quality of our faith in God is. And…
2. The fact that God wants us to experience His faithfulness.
Once we have learned these two lessons, we will then also discover these two truths:
1. With God, a little is a lot.
2. To Jesus, there’s no such thing as leftovers!
I. Like the apostle’s, we all have to discover what the quality of our own faith is-And Jesus used just one question to help the apostles discover the quality of their faith. Questions are a wonderful way of teaching, especially open ended questions. Notice that Jesus did not ask, “Can we buy bread” but instead he asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This type of question can’t be responded to with a simple yes or no answer. It requires a good deal of thought and even discussion. But, when you use this style of teaching, it is necessary to know the correct answer to the question before you ask it!
ILLUS: A Father and his young son were out walking one day when the father asked the son if he could hear the electricity buzzing and humming through the electric lines. The son replied that he could, and then he asked his dad how electricity could go through the wires that were stretched between the poles. “I don’t know,” said his father. “I never knew a lot about electricity.” A few blocks farther on, the boy asked how the electricity is kept in the wires and why it didn’t spill out. “That too has puzzled me,” came the reply. The youngster continued to inquire about many things concerning power and energy, none of which the father could explain. Finally, as they were getting close to home, the boy said, “Dad, you really got me thinking about electricity when you asked me if I could hear it bussing in the line. I hope I wasn’t bothering you with all of my questions.” “That’s alright son,” replied his father. “How else are you ever going to learn?!”
Unlike the father in my story, Jesus knew the answer to His question. It was the same answer that Elijah gave when God asked him, “Son of man, will these bones live?” Elijah gave the correct answer; “You know, O Lord!” Through the Lord’s open ended question, the apostles were forced to confront their faith in Jesus real presence and power in their lives as Holy God, Immanuel, or God among them. That is why he asked that specific question.
Now it is easy for us modern day Christians to be judgmental of the apostles. After all, we have the luxury of looking backwards into time. It’s easy for us to wonder why they so quickly forgot the Canaan wedding miracle where Jesus turned water into wine. We could remind them of Jairus’ daughter and even the widow of Nain’s son who was raised from the dead. Certainly we would have faired better than they, with our advantageous perspective of time, or would we?
I would like to ask you a question, and I want you to think for a moment before answering it--What is our biggest problem, our own test facing the church today? (Pause) Many might quickly answer that it is a lack of resources that is holding us back. But I submit to you, that the biggest problem facing the church today is not a lack of resources, but rather it’s the same problem that the apostles had, a lack of faith; what did Andrew say, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” What is the first question someone will ask when a necessary expense request is brought into almost any church council, “Where’s the money coming from?” But that’s the wrong question. The only question we should ask is: Is this God’s will for our church? And if it is His will, shouldn’t we trust Him to provide what is needed? Like the apostles, our faith many times, even with the advantage of the perspective of time very small. But what is it that Christ said? “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20-21)
What we must remember is that just as Jesus tested the faith of the apostles, He also tests our faith as well, by putting us in difficult situations with no easy answers. Why? So that we can learn what the quality of our own faith is. After asking and waiting so long, do you still trust Him to find you a job? Do you trust Him to help repair a broken relationship? Do you trust him to overcome your illness? Do you trust Him to replace your depression with passion and joy? Do you believe that He will bless and strengthen our church? It’s during times like these, when prayers seem to go unanswered, that we may become frustrated, just as the apostles were. However, frustration is never what God wants us to feel! The faithful disciple will trust that God has answered their prayer, but it can only be experienced in His time. Philip and the others fell short because they allowed their faith to be weakened by their own limited resources instead of seeking God’s limitless resources.
TRANSITION: Both the apostles and even us today, seem to want God to work according to our own unmet expectations. But in the midst of our worry and concern we sometimes hear the same words Jesus spoke to address His disciples concerns, “Have the people sit down.” I wonder what the disciples were thinking after he said that! “What is he doing? Why is He having all these people sit down as if their going to dine on this little bit of food? Is he going to make them watch us eat our dinner? Aw, we knew we should have sent them away!!” The truth is, sometimes we need to just sit down, relax, pray and wait on the Lord. Sometimes we must just learn to be willing to set aside our worries and concerns and simply wait for the Lord. And so they waited, they listened, they watched and then they learned and remembered that…
II. God wants to bless us by experiencing His faithfulness! (Luke 18:27) "The things that are impossible with people are in fact possible with God." And now the God-man Jesus Christ demonstrated that truth by taking a young boy's simple lunch and miraculously making it fill the bellies of over 11,000 people! Only one person could do that ... the sinless Son of God; the one who also followed His humiliating suffering and death with His exalting miraculous resurrection from the dead to gain forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for all of us; even for you! They who witnessed and personally benefited from Immanuel's feeding miracle, and we along with them who have witnessed and benefited from His miraculous resurrection, joyfully realize and gratefully admit that all things do in deed work together for the good of God’s children and His church because we are called according to His purpose! (Romans 8:28) And what is that purpose? Well, the other three Gospels augment verse 11 by stating that Jesus had the apostles acting as waiters, by bringing food out to the people in baskets, all 11,000 of them. They were tired and they were hungry, but here they were in total amazement and invigorated with a new vitality as they partook in a miracle and served Jesus by serving the people who didn’t know Jesus! Do you understand, God’s will, His central concern is always that Christ’s disciples should seek out and save the lost!
CONCLUSION: As I stated earlier, this message now leaves us with two eternal truths and they are: First, with Jesus, a little is a lot. The disciples’ reluctance to wait on Jesus to attend to the crowds was not really based on their concern for the people, but rather on their own tired bodies and empty stomachs. While they knew the people must be fed, they could not see how what little they had could be used for that. So they quit; they gave up and asked the Lord to bless their failure. But Jesus wanted to do so much more with them, and He wants to do so much more with us! If we will only trust in His promise to provide for our every need, then we will discover as the apostles did that day Jesus will provide all that we need as we follow Him. And finally, I promised you a second truth, and it is this, there are no leftovers with Jesus! Have you ever wondered why Jesus had the disciples gather up all of the remaining loaves and fish with 12 baskets? May I suggest that it’s because those little baskets were intended by Jesus to be their lunch boxes, which Jesus Himself ensured were filled so that they could in-turn, each eat and be filled. Jesus was faithful to provide for them, but He did it after they served their community; but what about Jesus? Wasn’t He hungry as well? Well sure He was, but may I also suggest that Jesus expected the Twelve to share their abundance with him? He still pours his abundance out to us today, and He expects us to remember him in our giving to the needy, to the support of the church and with our service to our community. May God help us to remember these lessons and believe in His miraculous real presence that is with us today! In Jesus name….AMEN!