Saturday, September 27, 2008

God At Work In You Philippians 2:1-13

I. Introduction
One of my favorite preachers in my childhood was Dr. Albert Edwards, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. The worship service from the previous week was televised early on Sunday mornings. I remember Dr. Edwards being a tall man with a big voice and a powerful Scottish brogue. It seemed that somehow he became not just the pastor of that church, but a pastor to the city. Several months ago my father sent me an article on Dr. Edwards that he thought I might appreciate. It told the story of one of the best remembered sermon from his long tenure at First Pres, it was a sermon that was never delivered.

Hear the story as it was told by the journalist A. C. Snow, a member of the congregation. He tells, “The incident occurred during the civil rights sit ins of the ‘60s, at the time when African-Americans were advocating equal access to community facilities, including the right to sit on the first floor rather than the balcony of Raleigh’s Ambassador Theatre…One Sabbath morn, Edwards requested that each member of us during the forthcoming week telephone Ambassador Theater manager, W. G. Enloe, a member of his church, and also the mayor of Raleigh. He explained he wasn’t telling us what to do or say but to express our feeling one way or the other on the theater’s segregation policy. Next Sunday, when he asked for a show of hands from those who had contacted the mayor, fewer than a dozen hands were raised. Edwards looked out from the pulpit at us for what seemed like a long five minutes. He then quietly closed his Bible and left the pulpit. We all went home with something to think about, something we had not given enough thought to in the past. The ‘silent sermon’ Edwards preached that Sunday has remained with me, pricking a guilty conscience, reminding me that in that historic time, I failed to take a stand for humanity, excusing myself under the guise of being on-the-scene ‘objective reporters.’”
[1]

As I put the article down, I could not help but how this sermon must have reverberated across the city. No one told Dr. Edwards where to sit in the theater, or where he could live, or where he could ride on the bus, but his heart was broken for those that faced these issues every day. In that moment when he stepped out of the pulpit, it was not about what Dr. Edwards said, but who he was. He did not claim a voice of authority born in his place of popularity or position in the life in the city, but rather acted out of a humility of faith born in what he that he was called to do as a follower of Christ.

There is a great hymn lodged in the heart of the New Testament known in as the “Kenosis Hymn” or “Christ Hymn” that speaks this kind of a heart of humility where God works in us and through us.
[2] There is a great deal of scholarly discussion on the original context of the hymn. “Catholic scholar Dennis Bratcher offers; “if we take seriously the fact that Paul is writing to a community of faith to deal with practical matters, then the original meaning of the hymn must be subordinate to its present context and function within the Epistle.”[3] In other words, what matters how Paul claimed this hymn to let the church in Philippi – and us – hear a song of unity, humility, and the promise that God will work in and through us because of the one named Jesus. Look with me at Philippians 2:1-13 and find your place in song.

II. Unity in Humility Vs. 1-4
The song begins; If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Paul starts with power. He wanted them to understand what he asks of them is founded on the strong foundation of their relationship with Christ. Hear again, If then there is any encouragement in Christ, (pause) any consolation from love, (pause) any sharing in the Spirit,(pause) any compassion and sympathy. Paul claims every image the song offers and that he can imagine so that the church will hear and respond. His call is to a unity born in humility that defines us by who we draw close in grace rather than who we send out in judgment; that marks us by who we serve rather than who serves us; the identifies us by how we act as one with common heart and spirit rather than in our protection of what we claim as our own. He invites us to find a unity in humility that is modeled in the very mission of Christ.

III. Modeled in Christ Vs. 5-11
The song’s crescendo summons us to see a humility modeled in Christ. Hear again verses 5 through 11. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul speaks to the humility of Christ, depicting the Jesus’ remarkable journey from the throne of heaven to the hillside outside of Jerusalem at Calvary. Paul reminds the church that the God on throne is hard for us to comprehend, so Jesus came and claimed the skin and bones that define us, walked among us, to help us see the face of God. Then the words that draw us to the ultimate picture of humility, Paul writes, 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Can you imagine that God loves us so much he would not only take on the flesh of humanity but to a rugged cross between two common criminals – the picture of death that we might have life.

Think about Christ’s choices:
Ø to claim a cross as a marker of power,
Ø to claim a crown of thrones as the marker of majesty,
Ø to claim the price of death as the marker of the way of redemption,
Ø to claim the empty tomb as the marker of life and life eternal.

The picture of Jesus carries us from the babe in the manger to the agony of the cross, and now to the wonder of the resurrection. This stanza ends with one of the greatest confessions in all of history. Hear the power of verses 9 through 11 again. 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. As followers of this one named Jesus, we see his model of humility, and it beckons us to feet of God.

IV. God At Work In You Vs. 12-13
Paul launches from the text of the hymn and offers the picture and promise of God at work in us. Hear the words, 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

You can not separate verses 12 and 13 from the great hymn because Paul sees it as the natural response. If one has claimed a way of life centered in the unity and humility found at the feet of Christ, then the normal, natural response will be for God to be at work in your life. It is the working out – the living out – of the salvation story. I can only imagine the emotions Dr. Edwards must have been feeling as he walked away from the pulpit in silence. It is clear he understood that his stand would not be popular – but he did what he believed was right in the eyes of God. I imagine that he could relate to Paul’s words work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is sometimes scary to do what right. Sometimes other will question it or even criticize it. Sometimes it will call you to do the uncomfortable thing or go to uncomfortable places. But if God is at work through you, you step out in partnership with God. You step out as a living witness of God’s grace. It beckons you from positions of power and comfort and to act out in God’s power.

It is the living out of what the Sri Lankan theologian D. T. Niles famously proclaimed, that Christian evangelism is one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar where to get bread.
[4] It is found when we listen to a hurting friend and offer them a story of grace and comfort. It is found in a cross cultural conversation when you reach out to those different than you to make them a part of the family. It is found in a moment of compassion when you serve at Good Shepherd. It is found in the picture of a loving adult teaching and caring for a child in our children’s ministry. It was demonstrated when our youth served in Cohoma, Mississippi and when they led us in worship moments ago. It is found in those moments when who you are and what you do is for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of others, for the sake of Christ. It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure

V. God At Work Through You.

In an act of grand humility Christ came from heaven to earth to show us the way to God and the way of God. I have been asked by a number of people how they can know God’s will for their lives. They are looking for a burning bush or an echoing voice from heaven. What Paul tells us that we find God’s will when we come with humility and allow God to work in us and through us. This way is modeled in Jesus. It is to be lived out by the church. The desire of God is to be at work through you – and through us together as a family faith. Are we willing? Amen.


[1] Snow, A.C. “A Sermon to Remember,” The News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, Sunday, May 4, 2008.
[2] Bratcher Dennis, “The Poured-Out Life: The Kenosis Hymn in Context,” available online at http://www.cresourcei.org/kenosis.html on September 26, 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Yancey, Phillip, referenced in the article “Yancey offers comfort to ‘spiritual explorers” by Craig Bryd, available at http://www.abpnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2531&Itemid=117 on September 27, 2008.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Living Sacrifices Romans 12:1-8 NSRV

Below is the draft text for tomorrow's message. Several who can not be with us in the morning asked me to post the desk as a whole rather than a shorter summary. Which would you prefere I post in the future?
I. Introduction
His name was Daniel and he might have been the least coordinated teenager I worked with in my season as a youth minister. Normally this would not have mattered, but this youth ministry had a long tradition of championship youth softball teams and Daniel wanted to play. He could not hit the ball and rarely caught anything, but he was there at every practice giving all he had. I appreciated his heart and his effort and decided that I would find some time every game where he could play for an inning. I would stash him in right field and hope no one would hit it his way. This worked well all year – then came the final game of the league championship – more specifically, the last inning of the championship game. The lead has swung back and forth between the two teams and I had not found any opportunity to put Daniel in. He sat there – at the end of the bench, smiling, hoping, and wondering if he would get to play. Every inning I would look down the bench at him and he looked back at me hopefully. Every inning I sent others out to play, thinking to myself, next inning. But here I was, in the final inning, and we led by a very skinny one run. The heart of their lineup was coming up. The championship hung in the balance, and before I realized it I heard those words coming out of my mouth, “Daniel, your turn, right field!” He leaped from the bench and sprinted awkwardly to his position. The inning began. The first batter struck out. I breathed a little easier. The second hit a blooper and got to first base just before the ball reached our first basemen’s glove. The third batter struck out. But the fourth batter was their biggest kid and on the first pitch blasted the ball high into the air toward right field. I could hardly look. The only question seemed to be whether the ball would hit Daniel in the head or simply fly over it. Daniel dropped back, stumbling a bit, and lifted his glove. I imagine people were yelling – but I could not hear them. I just watched Daniel. His glove wobbled a bit in nervousness. Then suddenly the ball hit his glove – POW – and I waited for it to pop out and roll to the ground. I watched and I waited….and it did not come out. I saw it there, snow coned on the top of the glove. Daniel ran in to me that ball still in that exact position, screaming, “I did it, I did it, I helped the team!” He finally belonged.

There is a passage in scripture who paints a powerful picture of what it means to be a part of the team. This morning we look at one of my favorite passages in scripture. I know that it is hard to elevate one passage over another, but for me, this passage paints a particularly powerful picture of what it means to belong to God and to each other. Romans 12:1-8.

II. Living Sacrifices Vs. 1-2
The first two verses proclaim; I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul begins his appeal by the mercies of God. Literally (in the Greek), ‘through the compassions [oiktirmon] of God,’ refers to all that Paul has already written. Our faith is not based on pride in what we can do, but entirely on God's mercy to forgive us.”[1] Building on the foundation of God’s compassion – God’s mercy he calls them to a life that belongs to God. He appeals to them to become living sacrifices. Over the past few months I have watched Discover and Science Channel programs on the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Egyptians. Each claimed a system of blood sacrifice design to placate their gods. The hearers of Romans would have been familiar with the Jewish temple sacrifice system or would have seen others in place across the known world of the time. Paul claims this image to paint picture a radical followship – where the price is our life – not a part of it – all of it. For the lamb – the price of the sacrifice was total. Paul wants the church in Rome – and us – to know that we are to act as living sacrifices – giving every moment, every thought, every action, everything to God.

Paul talks about this kind of life becoming our act of spiritual worship. Charles Talbert at Baylor speaks of this idea a “liturgy of life!” [2] It is a way of creating and living worship that moves us from song and sermon into the highway and byways – into our schools and workplaces – as the people of God. Paul understands what will happen if we do this. It will move us from being conformed to look and act like everyone around us – trying to meet our cultures standards and transformed into something that pleases God. I have always been amused by want to be different so they all end up dressing the same. It is easy to conform to the mainstream culture – or to an alternative culture you have claimed. Paul wants the Church in Rome – and us – to understand that if we are acting as living sacrifices then it will spill over into every aspect of our lives. The marker moves from conforming to our cultural norms to transforming to become the people of God. In the course of doing research for this message I ran across a piece written by Sharron Lucas. She is a Lutheran pastor serving North Dakota. I really like her take on what it means to be transformed. She writes; “Being transformed means we take time to listen, time to discern the will of God. Each Christian is invited to cultivate the discipleship journey only he or she can make. Instead of appearing like rows of canned ham on a shelf, all neat and tidy and blandly alike, disciples of Christ move in a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, textures, and shapes. United in service and mission and called to be good stewards of the many gifts of God, we go out into this broken world to be the hands and feet of Christ.”[3]

We are called to be living sacrifices. This way of life draws us toward knowing and following the will of God. But, Paul wants them to understand that this is not a solitary task. Following God is a task that takes a community.

III. Serving Each Other Vs. 3
Verse 3 invites us to be a part of the team, a part of the family with humility. Paul says; 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. To be honest, this verse is inextricably linked to verses 4 through 8, but it raises an issue that derails many. The reality is that when we look around it seems that some are natural All Stars….and others of us are more like the Daniel in my earlier story, committed to showing up and giving our best, what ever that looks like. Paul makes it pretty clear that as a part of the community of faith, there is no room for arrogance that we have come to expect from All Star athletes, but instead we are to come to the table together with humility. We are to check our egos at the door, setting aside what might separate us, and come together as the people of God.

IV. Serving As One Vs.4-8
John Wesley proclaims; “Gifts are various: grace is one.”[4] This is exactly what Paul wants the church in Rome to hear. He writes, 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. The idea of spiritual gifts has sometimes brought controversy to the broader Church. It seems that some want to try to make one gift more important than another – some roles more valuable than others. This is not consistent with scripture. It is about giving gifts that strengthen the work and the witness of the body as a whole. It is about living and serving out of the places of passion that God has placed in our hearts.

Paul wants us to understand that everyone has a place and that we need each other. It is interesting to see how different translations handle this. The NSRV…we are members one of another…. the NIV…each member belongs to all the others….the New Living Translation….we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. We belong to each other…BELONG….we often talk about a feeling of belonging…of connection with other people. But, the thrust of this passage is much stronger. It is possessive; it implies a sense of ownership. Look to your left and to your right…you belong to them…and they belong to you. You are responsible for being the body of Christ to them…and they to you. This belonging can have profound implications for how we are church. It means that our investment in one another is more than the casual connections that our culture embraces…and means that we are NECESSARY for one another’s spiritual life…we are ESSENTIAL for one another…and that together we act as the Body of Christ.

V. Conclusion
I will never forget that spring afternoon when Daniel caught a game winning ball. You know, I do not remember the score or the trophy presentation. After I saw the joy in Daniel’s eyes when he realized that he was truly a part of them nothing else seemed to matter. His work had paid off. His faithfulness to showing up had paid off. I invite you to choose to show up, as living sacrifices, giving your whole selves to God. I invite you to choose a liturgy of life where your songs of praise move from this room into the heart of the world. I invite you to choose to be a member of the family with a spirit of humility, truly valuing every member of the family of faith. I invite you to living out of your passions, your dreams, your visions from God. I invite you to live your lives of faith in a way that you belong to each other. I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect…. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

[1] From The Life Application Commentary Series Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 by the Livingstone Corporation. Produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
[2] Talbert, Charles, Romans, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commenary, edt. R. Scott Nash. (Smyth and Helwys Publishers: Macon. GA, 2001), p.284.
[3] Lucas, Sharron. “Conform or Transform”available online at http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/Resources/Sharron/2008/sharron_08.08.18.htm on September 13, 2008.
[4] Wesley, John. “Wesley’s Notes on the Bible” available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/notes.i.vii.xiii.html%20on%20September%2010, 2008.
Grace and Peace, Tom

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dellanna O'Brien

On Wednesday morning I attended the memorial service for Dellanna O’Brien. Those familiar with the Baptist mission world would know her for her roles as missionary to Indonesia, a vital resource in the strengthening of missionary children’s education, her season as Executive Director/Treasurer of the WMU, and a valued voice in the Baptist World Alliance. It was impressive to see faces representing each of these roles as a part of her memorial service. I am thankful for who Dellanna was as a leader in Baptist missions. Her service to God touched the lives of many. But, I must confess that the reason I made the trip from Oklahoma City to Frisco, Texas had much less to do with her role as a leader than the role she played as my friend. I imagine that probably many gathered at Preston Trails Church could say the same. You see, when you were engaged in a conversation with Dellanna she managed to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world she could be speaking with at that moment. It made you glad for every moment you claimed with her. I am sure that many others gathered on Wednesday morning would join my declaration that she gave me the gift of her encouragement. It emboldened me in my service to God and others. The relationship I shared with Dellanna and Bill allowed me to witness her strength even when her body was weakened; her zest for living even after her steps had been slowed; and the power of her faith even when things were difficult. Baptist have lost a leader in missions. I have lost a valued friend. But the story for the day is not what is lost but is joy. I join the celebration of a life well lived and the sure knowledge that she enjoys the joy of the presence of God and has heard the voice of God pronounce; “well done my good and faithful servant.”

With appreciation. Tom O

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bread, Fish and an Act of God

Below is the full text of the message for tomorrow morning. I post it because I am hopeful that it spark a conversation in our congregation and among friends on what this passage has to say about how we respond to those who are hungry and hurting in our midst and across the globe.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Grace and Peace, Tom O

“Bread, Fish and an Act of God”

Matthew 14:13-21 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. NRSV

I. Introduction
This morning’s worship service invites us into the midst of two meals that serve as testimonies to the heart of Christ. The first meal is bread and wine and is offered as an act of symbolic theology. It is an act of remembrance – a meal that becomes a symbol of the great grace gift found in the body and the blood of Jesus. The second meal is bound in scripture. It is a story that many have heard from childhood. I has been told and retold so many times that I hesitate bring into a Sunday morning worship experience. It is the story of the feeding of five thousand. But this story deserves our attention because there are some vital issues that we miss when this great story is left in the way it is shared with children. So, I invite you to wander with me into scripture as we take a grown up look at a story of bread, fish, and an act of God.

II. A Heart of Compassion Vs.13-16
The story begins with Jesus alone. He had just heard that his cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod at the whim of his daughter. John’s followers had buried him and raced to tell Jesus. The news was hard and hard to hear. Jesus took a small boat and tried to find a deserted place where he could be by himself. The people in that region also heard the news. The report that John had died sparked something within them. Verse 13 tells us; But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. Jesus had every reason to push further away, to claim time for himself. But instead he went ashore he had compassion on them and cured the sick among them. Compassion - I think my understanding of this word changed during language school in Thailand. The Thailand language claims two distinct terms to deal with this idea. One is hen-jai – or my heart sees and understands. I think this is the kind of feeling we most often claim as a culture – we see, we try to understand – but it is best if we can find a way to keep those in pain or desperation at arms length. If they get too close – they might rub off on us. But there is a second word the Thai language claims – I think it better captures the kind of emotion – the kind of heart – we see in Jesus. That term is naam-jai – or heart cries with you and for you. In a moment when Jesus had every right to focus on himself, he saw the pain in the crowd and dove in. He immersed himself into their sweat and agony.

Soon the day began to give way to evening. The disciples began to worry. There were people as far as you could see and they knew they would be getting hungry. They came up with a plan and took it to Jesus. The plan, let’s stop helping them and send them into the villages in the area so they could buy food. Jesus had another plan. It was remarkable – unbelievable – an act of grand scale. Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."

It is this kind of heart that we hear in “for God so love the world he gave his only Son” that calls us to the table of bread and wine. It is the kind of heart that will demand an act of God.

III. A Heart of Doubt Vs. 17
I can only imagine the look on the disciples faces. Did Jesus not realize how MANY people were around them? Did Jesus not realize how few resources they had at hand? Did Jesus not realize how isolated they were from a ready resources for food. No matter how they looked at it the math simply did not work. Jesus’ words must have rung in their ears; "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They understood Jesus’ heart for the people, but they did not think he understood what he was asking of them. I understand their reaction. I can hear them say that it is easier said then done. How do you feed so many hungry people? One of the places where remnants of a sense of helplessness are burned in my mind and still tug at my heart is the images of hungry children I have seen across the globe. In cities as diverse as Bangkok and Moscow, New York and Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and Oklahoma City, the complexion of the children were different, but the look of desperation was the same. How do you feed so many hungry people? This morning we have commissioned one who seeks to be the hands of Christ among the hurting children in Peru. Will we stand with him?

So, with a heart of doubt they brought the picture of their reality to Jesus. They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." John’s account tells us that the loaves and the fishes we the lunch of a lad among the crowd. I believe they wanted Jesus to see how ridiculous – how comical – how impossible – his request was. They had claimed a theology of scarcity – of limitations – based only on what they could see, what they had in their hands, what they could do on their own. It seems that for a moment they had forgotten who they were with. What they were about to learn is that Jesus did not expect them to have all the answers, what he wanted from them was faithful obedience.

IV. A Demand for Obedience Vs. 18
Jesus did not get into a long conversation with them. In a single sentence he commanded; "Bring them here to me." The disciples’ worldview was limited to what they could accomplish on their own. They were wrong! Their task was not to argue or try to figure it out themselves. Their task was to be obedient. He wanted them to understand that it was not enough to just know about those that were hungry or hurting – they need to get their hands dirty and their hearts broken.

V. An Act of God Vs.19-21
The stage was set for the unthinkable…the disciples and the crowd was about to witness an act of God. Hear again verses 19-21. 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.

It is interesting how many of the scholars want to spend energy trying to decide the head count. Is it the five thousand? Is it the three thousand mentioned elsewhere in scripture? How many women were there? How many children? To be honest this is the least significant part of the story. The disciples witnessed something remarkable. They could tell you that the crowd was so large that they could not imagine feeding them. They could tell you that there were men, women, and children almost as far as they could see. No one from Disney was there to organize people into ever moving lines – no one was there with a clicker counting people as they took their meal. What they could tell you with absolute certainty was that they witnessed an act of God where five loaves and two fish were multiplied over and over again until everyone had enough to eat and there were some serious leftovers. Jesus demonstrated a theology of abundance where it is not about the math, but about an understanding that the compassion and power of God can change everything.

Have you ever experienced a moment where the math did not work but God moved anyway? How bold was it for Dr. Holcomb to challenge this church to build an education building in the midst of the Great Depression? How much bolder was it when you realize the intended purpose for the new building was to enhance the comfort of the church, but to reach out to young people whose lives and problems broke his heart?[1] The math didn’t work – until it did, with dollars to spare. In our season as missionaries in Thailand we dreamed of launching a training center, but the math did not work, until it did by an act of God. Are we ready to trust God enough that we will be obedient and faithful even when we are not sure how it will all work out? Are we willing to try grand things for God that requires an act of God? Are we willing to get our hands dirty and our hearts broken like our youth did in Cohoma, Mississippi? Are we willing to rub shoulders and share our lives with those in pain and agony?

VI. Conclusion
We tell our children the story of how God used a lad’s lunch to feed a huge crowd. If we leave it there then it is a nice story – even a fun story. But when we realize that Jesus used that moment to teach his disciple (and us) a compassion that calls us into close quarters with those who suffer – the story becomes a grown up challenge. When we realize that Jesus uses this moment to teach his disciples (and us) obedience – even when the math does not work – the story becomes a grown up challenge.

This morning’s worship service invites us into the midst of two meals that serve as testimonies to the heart of Christ. Bread and wine beckons us to remember the great grace gift of the body and blood of Jesus. Bread, fish, and an act of God beckon us to rediscover a heart of compassion and recommit to a life of obedience to the voice of God that carries us into a world of hunger and pain. The first meal reminds us of the broken Christ, broken that we might have life. The second meal beckons us to claim a broken heart for those who hunger – in body and in spirit.

May we be ready to get our hands dirty.

May we bring them to Jesus, who is the Bread of Life. Amen.


[1] Blackburn, Bob and Turner, Alvin O., First Family: A Centennial History of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, (SafeSport Publishing: OKC, OK, 1990), pp.64-65.