We all know that Jesus was the Son of God, which means that he was fully divine, but Jesus was also fully human. He laughed and cried; he was affected by the stress of his workload. He got tired. Our passage began with Matthew telling us that Jesus received news of the murder of his cousin, John the Baptist. Bad news affected Jesus; bad news affects us. Sure it sells newspapers, and it entices advertisers for the evening news cycles, but we are affected by bad news, and when we aren’t, we become less human and more robotic.
King Herod was a maniacal paranoid ruler. John the Baptist had spoken truth to power and said that Herod was wrong in how he was living. Jews in First Century Palestine did not enjoy the freedoms offered by the First Amendment found in the Constitution of the United States, so John the Baptist was thrown in jail for what he was saying. Herod’s dancing step-daughter tricked him into executing John the Baptist, and word of his murder reached Jesus’ ears. Jesus had been healing and teaching all over the countryside, and this news was just too much, so Jesus pulled away.
Matthew recorded that Jesus got in a boat and sailed to a more secluded place. Jesus needed time by himself; his tank was empty; the needs kept coming, and he knew that he had to take care of himself, for remember, Jesus was fully human. If the powerful killed the prophet John the Baptist, that same reality was coming sooner than later for Jesus also, so he tried to get away.
Heard the phrase, “You can run, but you cannot hide?” It applies to this scenario. Jesus was seeking to make a get-away, and someone said, “Hey look! There goes Jesus. He’s leaving our area.” So as Jesus sailed away from one area of the Sea of Galilee, the crowd followed the shoreline with the ship in sight; others joined the crowd from villages, because everybody knew that Jesus could help them with whatever they needed, and common people needed all kinds of help. When people were broken, he fixed them; when they needed encouragement, he encouraged them. When they felt lonely, he included them. And the crowd was interested in what Jesus could do for them. For many, they followed Jesus around the shoreline, because they wanted more from him, not because they were interested in how they could deepen their connection to God, who was the source of all the needs being filled.
And when the tired Jesus reached the shore, he saw a large assembled crowd, and Matthew recorded that Jesus had compassion for them. He was grieving the loss of his cousin; he was fatigued from the pace of ministry and the pressing concerns of daily routine, but still Jesus had compassion on the teeming masses, even though their motives were primarily selfish. And he still healed their sick.
Let’s face it: many times when we are tired, we prefer not to give anymore until we feel better or get rest. When we experience “compassion fatigue,” we’d rather allow someone else to do the giving or we prefer to be on the receiving end. But not Jesus. He kept healing until the sun was setting. Jesus had been working on supplying the needs of the great crowd; he’d been healing all afternoon, and the disciples came to him and said, “Uh, Jesus, it’s gonna be dark soon; we’re out here in the middle of nowhere, and we think you should say a benediction and dismiss the crowd, so they will be able to walk in daylight to the villages to buy themselves something to eat.”
The disciples were thoughtful and practical. The crowd had grown to 5,000 men, plus women and children. They knew that feeding this size crowd was quite a monumental feat.
Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “You give them something to eat.” Can you imagine the faces of the disciples when Jesus asked them to give food to the swelling crowd? According to online sources, the city of Madison has approximately 4,000 residents. What would you do if I told you that you and your Sunday School Class or you and your committee had to feed everyone in Madison? I imagine you’d think I had lost my mind.
Remember the setting: they were in the middle of nowhere, in a deserted place, away from villages, no fast-food, restaurants, or convenience stores in sight, and Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.”
And it’s not like the disciples had much to give. John wrote in his gospel account that Andrew found a boy with five barley loaves and two small fish. How could a couple of fish sandwiches feed the town of Madison, much less a crowd of up to 50% more?
At times, we may feel like we just don’t have much to give. Our Nominating Committee met this past week and currently is enlisting individuals to fill committee vacancies; this year’s task is much less because of the earlier restructuring. Varied gifts are needed in the ministry of any church, and that certainly is true of Madison Baptist. Some may sit and marvel at the gifts of music or teaching that others possess. Some may wonder what they can give as they see others share the gifts of leadership or speaking in public, but again, varied gifts are needed here at Madison Baptist. We definitely need people who can sing and who can teach. We definitely need people who can lead committees, but we have multiple other needs also, and Jesus continues to invite us to “give them something to eat.” Jesus wanted his disciples to imagine beyond the obvious, to look beyond what they could see, to consider beyond what was apparent. And Jesus continues to ask us to do the same.
This miracle is the only one listed in all four gospels; its ramifications continued to encourage the early church during its infancy. Having faith that Jesus could use meager resources sustained the early disciples during some tough times. God continued to use what little those early Christians had because those early Christians were eager to share what they had.
An age-old adage also applies in church-life, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?” Emily Harbin served our church faithfully for more than two years; she came at a critical time. She worked long hours so that our youth and children could learn more about God, but there were times when she needed more help, and now we need more help. Emily is now gone; in my sermon the Sunday after Vacation Bible School back on June 11, I mentioned that we needed people to step up and work with our children and youth. After meeting with the Emily and the Children’s Ministry Team, I said that I would go to Sunday School Classes and request assistance if someone from that Team joined me. On three Sundays, I have interrupted Sunday School Classes with a plea for assistance. All of our Children’s and Youth Wednesday night Discipleship Classes now have leaders from August-April. Caryn Pagett has volunteered to enlist individuals to provide weekly Children’s Sermons. Jerry McCullough will be offering weekly devotions for the Youth Prayer Breakfast, and Denise Crowley is serving as the Volunteer Coordinator for the breakfast; she needs more volunteers to pickup Chick-fil-A breakfast on Monday and serve the youth and clean up on Tuesday mornings. Our Youth and Family Ministry Team needs individuals who are willing to help plan and chaperone events for our youth. We still need someone to teach our youth in Sunday School. We need names of potential substitute teachers for Sunday School and Wednesday night discipleship.
But how can our church’s ministry to youth and children function without Emily Harbin doing so much work? Solving the problem can begin with us. Jesus used meager resources: only five loaves of bread and two fish. Everyone can do something, but like the one who gave the fish and bread, you have to surrender your resources of time or money or _______. A boy was willing to share what he had, and maybe some ask, “What can be done with so few people? If only we had more people, more money, more resources…” God wants us to surrender our lives so that God can use us. The miracle could be found in the act of surrendering.
Some think, “What I have to offer is inadequate. I’m not as smart as someone else; I’m not as good with kids as someone else; I don’t have the experiences as another person.” Everyone can do something. During our Hymn of Commitment today, everyone will be asked to complete the insert in the bulletin indicating what you will do in response to Jesus saying, “You give them something to eat.”
Still some think we can’t do it; we can’t keep providing opportunities for children and youth or fill all the holes that need to be filled. Some may even say that if it were to happen, that it would be … a miracle. About this passage, preacher Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in a sermon, “Stop waiting on a miracle, and participate in one instead.” (BBT. The Seeds of Heaven. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. p. 53) We all have a chance to participate in a miracle, and how cool is that?
When reading Matthew’s words, we cannot escape the wording of the miracle: that Jesus took the bread, he blessed it; he broke it, and he gave it. The same process happened in the Upper Room on the night before Jesus died. I will use the same process in a few minutes when we observe communion and when Hollis receives her first communion. One of the reasons that this miracle is repeated in all four gospels is its similarity to communion, which was observed by the early church every time they worshiped. Jesus did the miraculous in the middle of nowhere by feeding more than 5,000 when there were seemingly very meager resources. The miraculous is all around us.
On Sunday night July 9, Emily Boyer texted me that Hollis was dying to talk to me, that she was ready to declare her faith and “ask Jesus into her heart.” The next day, I met Emily, Hollis, and Addison for lunch at the Drug Store and brought Hollis back to the church to chat. I was so impressed with how sweet, smart, and polite she was as she answered every question that I asked. The way had been paved by her family and other teachers and leaders here at church. I then asked if she would like to ask Jesus to come into her heart. I prayed first and then Hollis prayed, “God, I’d like for you to forgive me of my sins, and I want Jesus to come into my heart. Thank you for people like Mr. Charles who want to talk to kids like me about Jesus. Amen.”
And that my friends is the very reason our church needs to continue to provide quality ministry to children and youth. Solving the problem can begin with us. Stop waiting on a miracle; let’s participate in one instead.