“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”
“Squeezing blood out of a turnip”
I must admit, I was tempted to try to weave one of these well-worn sayings into this week’s message. I’m glad I didn’t.
Just so you know, the volunteer I wound up calling to the stage was my daughter. I’m sure all the parents were beyond thrilled that I gave their children Hershey’s chocolate while they were trying to make them sit still. How’s that for a Valentine’s Day surprise?
Unfortunately, there’s no audio from Sunday’s message. It’s a shame, too. I’m sure you would have been impressed at all of our children’s performance during the little math exercise at the beginning. Some were even jumping up and down with their answers! 🙂
The Journey: Giving What You Have
February 14, 2010
As you are probably aware, I was not a Math major in college. I get many of the basic concepts of mathematics. I can add and subtract with relative ease. And I can do multiplication and division pretty easily, too. But when it gets into things like trigonometry, algebra, analytical geometry, and calculus, you might as well be speaking to me in a foreign language. In fact, I’ve been able to learn pieces of several different foreign languages more easily than I’ve been able to grasp some mathematical concepts.
All that being said, I have a few relatively easy math-related questions for you – just to make sure everyone’s synapses are firing on all cylinders this morning. Let’s see if you can give me the answers to these questions…
- What’s 2+2? (4)
- What’s 7+8? (15)
- What’s 6×0? (0)
- What’s 4×4? (16)
- Here’s a tricky one – What’s 20-11? (9?
Pretty easy, right? Let’s look at some real world examples for just a second.
Ask for volunteer (Jr. High or Elementary).
I’m going to give you this chocolate bar. And I want you to share it with three of your friends. How many pieces do you need? (4 – have volunteer break it into 4 pieces and give to friends. Pass out other pieces of candy to other kids, if necessary)
Now, if I took this loaf of bread and wanted to make some sandwiches from this loaf, how many people would I be able to feed? (4? 5?)
So, how many loaves of bread would I need to feed everyone in this room? (9?)
What if there were more than 5,000 people that we had to feed? That’s a lot of bread, right?
But what if we only had a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish? Even someone as mathematically challenged as I am could figure out that this would lead to some pretty small fish fillet sandwiches, right?
I know most of you know this story already, but that’s exactly the situation that Jesus and his followers found themselves in while preaching through the countryside. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Luke chapter 9. If you don’t have your Bibles, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Luke 9 is found on page 900 in those Bibles. I’ll be reading from the translation found in the Red Bibles as well, just so we’re all on the same page.
As we come to today’s text in the Journey through the Gospel of Luke, you’ll see we have jumped ahead a little bit in the story. Last time, we looked at Luke’s account of the calling of Simon Peter. And in that story, we saw that when we respond to the invitation to follow Jesus, we are also called to fish for people, sharing the good news of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ with a world that is dying because of sin. And so Simon Peter left his fishing business and followed Jesus on his journey throughout the region. He and the other Disciples were eye-witnesses to the extraordinary power that Jesus displayed. They were there when Jesus was approached by friends of a Centurion, an influential commander in the Roman Army, asking him to heal his servant. They heard him tell the Centurion’s friends that the servant was already healed.
They were there the day they entered the village of Nain and a mourning widow passed by with her dead son. They saw Jesus walk up to the dead man’s coffin, touch it, and command the dead man to get up. And with their own two eyes, they saw a dead man walk right in front of them!
They had a front-row seat to the miracles Jesus performed. He healed the sick and cast out demons. The broken were made whole. The dead were brought back to life. Outcasts were accepted. They certainly knew there was something different about this Jesus of Nazareth. They had seen it first-hand. And along the way, they learned lessons from him about the kingdom of God.
Then the day came. The Twelve had experienced enough of Jesus first-hand that they knew his story, they knew the miracles he could perform, and they knew what the kingdom of God is supposed to be like. So Jesus sent them out into the region, giving them the authority to drive out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God – just as they had seen Jesus do. And so they went. They traveled from village to village and did exactly as Jesus had commissioned them to do: cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Imagine their excitement when they returned to Jesus and reported about all they had seen and done. When our kids come home from an exciting day of school, they’re practically falling all over themselves trying to tell me everything that happened. I believe there was a similar excitement amongst the Twelve when they gave their report to Jesus.
And that’s where we’re picking up the story in Luke 9:10
Read Luke 9:10-17
This is a remarkable story that is included in all four Gospel accounts. In fact, outside of the resurrection, this is the only miracle story that is described in all four Gospels. It’s quite apparent that this experience was burned into the collective memory of the Disciples. After all, there were a lot of people that were fed on this day. We refer to this as “The Feeding of the 5,000,” but it really isn’t. The Greek in verse 14 tells us specifically that the 5,000 is just the amount of men who were in the crowd. With women and children included in the count, the amount of people in this crowd could very well have been more than 10,000 people here.
As the end of the day drew near, the Twelve grew weary and they were probably hungry themselves. They had gone to Bethsaida to find rest, but were called into service as the crowds kept coming and Jesus kept healing. And so they came to the end of the day with the realization that they were stuck. They didn’t have anything to eat. And neither did anyone else. They’d been stuck before. They were out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a giant storm snuck up on them. They couldn’t get away and their boat began to sink. A great fear came over them. Surely this would have been a rather embarrassing moment for the Disciples who were fishermen. After all, they had lived their lives on that water. They should have known a storm was coming. They should have been prepared. But they weren’t. And they found themselves stuck. But Jesus, who had been asleep through the storm, stood up and calmed the sea by the mere power of his words. They had been stuck in the sea, but Jesus came to their rescue.
They didn’t want to be stuck again, however. Instead of a storm of wind, rain, and lightning, the Disciples were anticipating a storm of 10,000 hungry, tired, and cranky men, women, and children. And that was not a pleasant thought. They saw the hungry people and wanted to get rid of them. They knew the need was too overwhelming and they couldn’t possibly take care of it on their own.
We have the same tendency today, don’t we? We hear statistics all the time about people suffering around the world and it’s just so overwhelming at times. Of course, the crisis in Haiti is a good example. The need is so great and the situation is so desperate you wonder how things are ever going to recover in that small island nation. Or when we hear the UNICEF estimate that there are more than 210 million orphans around the world, it takes our breath away. Or when we hear the estimates that 35,000 children die every day from hunger and malnutrition, it’s overwhelming.  Even the statistics I quoted last time that the unchurched population in United States is the largest mission field in the English-speaking world and the fifth largest globally.” And that 73 percent of the population of Delaware County does not claim any connection with a church, we hear all these numbers and wonder how our efforts really make any difference. The needs are so great and we’re but a few people. How can we really make a difference? Can we really change the world?
And so the natural reaction might be same as that of the Disciples. The numbers are too big. It’s too overwhelming. We can’t possibly do anything to ease the suffering. So we ignore the problem or hope it goes away.
But not Jesus. Even though his followers tried to shoo the crowd away, Jesus welcomed them in. He showed compassion on them. And he challenged the Disciples to show them compassion, too.
“You give them something to eat,” he said.
They had just seen the mighty power of God work through them in the healing of people and casting out of demons throughout the villages. This answer shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Disciples. But it sure sounds like it was. After all, it would be a surprise to us, wouldn’t it? If Jesus told us to feed 10,000 people on a moment’s notice, I think we’d be a little nervous about that prospect – don’t you?
So they began to come up with a plan. They thought about buying food for everyone. But they really didn’t have the funds to do that. So they began searching for food. Maybe everyone happened to bring their picnic baskets and they could have a huge, impromptu, carry-in dinner. Of course, we know that didn’t happen. All they could come up with was five loaves of bread and two fish: Hardly a meal that would serve 5 people. And it definitely wouldn’t satisfy 5,000 hungry men and their families.
But you see what they did here, right? They brought Jesus what they had. In the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds, they brought everything they had to Jesus. Of course, five loaves of bread and a couple of fish aren’t very much. And they’re not going to go very far. But they still gave them to Jesus.
When we look at the insurmountable obstacles that are before us, it can be easy to just want to throw our hands up and quit. After all, when held up to the spiritual and physical needs in our community and around the world, what we have in our own lives could seem like merely five loaves and a couple of fish. They’re merely a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
And when we try to do things on our own or by our own power, they are merely a drop in the bucket, aren’t they? But a drop in the bucket can fill a whole ocean when we hand it over to God and allow Him to work through it.
I’m reminded of the story of the Star Thrower. I’m sure many of you have heard it before. It’s been floating around the Internet for years. The first time I heard it, though, was twenty years ago when I listened to a speech by President George H. W. Bush. Here’s the story:
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one!”
At first, our efforts might not seem like they’re making a big difference in the grand scheme of things, but we know it makes a difference in the person we’re touching with the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ. We know the soup cans that have been brought in for the Souper Bowl of Caring will fill the stomachs of some people in our community. At times, it might seem like all we can bring to the table is a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish. But the small amount we can give will make a difference in someone else’s life. And God will honor that.
Here’s the thing with the story of this miracle: It doesn’t stop with what we give. Give what you have and then God will honor it and multiply it in ways that you cannot even imagine. Because you cannot out-give God! The Disciples and the crowd were surely amazed as they continued to pass the fish and the bread around and everyone miraculously had enough. In fact, there was more than enough! Everyone was full and there were twelve huge baskets of leftovers! That’s much more than five loaves and two fish! But they would not have been fed if it weren’t for one person giving what he had, even though it wasn’t very much.
It’s tempting to sit on the sidelines and wait: wait until we have enough time; wait until we have enough money; wait until we have enough energy or passion. The Twelve did not have to wait until they had enough food to feed the large crowd. If they did, everyone would have gone away hungry and dissatisfied. Jesus used what they had available to them. And the same is true with us. Don’t misunderstand me. This doesn’t guarantee that you’ll wake up one morning and magically have a bank account full of cash or your struggles will just disappear into thin air. But it does show us that God will use whatever is given to Him – and He’ll use it in completely unexpected ways.
You want to make a difference in this world? Begin with what you have. God will honor it and use it. And you’ll begin to see it multiply in unexpected ways.
And that’s especially true when it comes to making the decision to follow Christ for the first time. God wants you just as you are. Of course, He’s not going to leave you just as you are. He’s going to wash you clean and begin to shape you into the person He has planned for you to be since the dawn of time. But you don’t have to get washed up to take a bath. And you don’t have to have everything figured out, all your ducks in a row, and all of the bad things taken out of your life before you can come to Him. Give Him what you have. Give Him your life – no matter how messed up you might think it is – and He will begin to work on you just as you are.
We may not think our efforts can add up to much in community and worldwide impact. And on our own, that’s probably right. But when you add God to the equation and you give Him what you have – regardless of size – its impact goes beyond any mathematical equation can calculate. But it starts with a willing heart giving up whatever is in your hands and allowing God to work. Don’t wait for what you don’t have. Give him what you already have today.
As Helen Keller once said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to something that I can do.”
Want to change the world? Give God what you have. He’ll use you today – just as you are. And as you continue to follow Him, keep giving Him what you have. You’ll be amazed at how He uses what you give. It might even be enough to feed 10,000 people, even though all you see is a couple loaves of bread and some fish.
 Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, Lost in America, 25; as quoted in The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations by Dan Kimball, p. 69, emphasis mine.