God’s Dare

February Bulletin Cover“God’s Dare”
Sunday, February 16th, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 6:34-44: When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he began to teach them many things.  Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day.  Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”  He replied, “You give them something to eat.”  But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay and give it to them to eat?”  He said to them, “How much bread do you have?  Take a look.”  After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”  He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass.  They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people.  He also divided the two fish among them all.  Everyone ate until they were full.  They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish.  About five thousand had eaten.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is so familiar to most of us because we have heard it so often.  
In fact, we may know it so well we don’t think there is anything new to be heard in the story.  That’s really what fascinates me about it…the fact that there always seems to be something new each time I hear it.  Today is no different…today I hear God daring us to do something really challenging.  I have heard a number of different opinions on the nature of this particular miracle story.  There are those who say that Jesus literally multiplied the loaves and the fish, producing enough food out of thin air to feed the crowd.  Others suggest that when one person gave all they had to help feed the crowd, others brought out what they had and also shared until finally there was enough for everyone.  There is even some disagreement on where the five loaves and two fish came from.  Mark tells us the disciples brought this food with them.  John’s gospel says there is a youth in the crowd who has five barley loaves and two fish with him.  However this miracle took place, the fact is that God did something amazing in the face of human doubt.

This series we’re doing is called “First – Putting God First in Living and Giving” . It’s about learning to live our lives with God in first place. To do this we must allow God to take charge of every single part of our life…We must make all our decisions while listening for God’s advice…We must make every choice by first viewing the options from God’s perspective.  In our Bible story this morning the disciples are faced with a dilemma…There are 5,000 men out there; which probably means there are close to 20,000 people when you count the women and children in the crowd.  It is late in the day and the nearest village is a long walk from here.  The people love listening to Jesus preach, but they’re getting hungry.  (Not unlike this group when we get a little too close to noon and the service isn’t over.)  To avoid any confrontation with this restless crowd, the disciples want to send them on their way.

That sounds like the easy way out to me…Jesus dares them to do the “right thing” instead of the “easy thing”…You give them something to eat,” he tells them.  They are not ready for this throw-down…What are we supposed to do?  Go to the store and buy enough food for this bunch?  That’s ridiculous!  We can’t afford that and, besides, where would we find that much food?  How would we get it here? Yada-yada-yada!  All the disciples could imagine was how they could not accomplish what Jesus has challenged them to do.  Not once did they consider that there might be a miracle coming.  They immediately approached the problem with an attitude of failure; their frame of reference was what is called “a theology of scarcity”.  They made this situation all about them and forgot to bring God into the equation.

I think that’s a big part of our problem in life too…We tend to think in  terms of “equations”…You remember those things from math class, right?  An equation is a mathematical expression of balance or equality between two sets of numbers or mathematical symbols…We might also use this to describe the balance between two sets of circumstances.  We like this kind of equilibrium in life; we like it when things are balanced and explainable.  Jesus dares the disciples to figure out how to balance his challenge to give these people something to eat with the reality of what they have to work with – all on their own.  They can’t do it!
And that really is the point, isn’t it?

In the end, Jesus takes what little the disciples have to offer and he multiplies it over and over again until everyone is fed and there are leftovers.  Jesus demonstrates that God operates out of abundance, not scarcity.  In John 10:10, Jesus says: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  God can take whatever we have to offer and multiply it into something we cannot even imagine.  Mike Slaughter writes: “Jesus doesn’t accept our excuses about what we don’t have or wish we had, any more than he accepted the disciples’ excuses.  He says to us: ‘How many loaves do you have?’  Don’t focus on what you want or on your limitations; look at what God has given you, and quit complaining about it.  Go and see what God has provided.” (“shiny gods”, page 91)

We have all been given “loaves and fish”…Each one of us has something to offer.  God has given you talent, skill, ability, resources…You are good at something…You have succeeded at something…Rich or poor, you have something to offer.  The most important thing for us to remember is:  We did not create the loaves or the fish that we’ve been given.  Everything we have – our talent, our ability, our creativity, our resources – EVERYTHING belongs to God in the first place…Jesus took the loaves and fish the disciples brought, he blessed them, and then he gave them back…Everyone had more than enough because God took what they offered and gave it back to them to share.  God takes everything we offer and then he gives it back to us so that we can release it to meet the needs of other people.  God cannot bless what we have until we are willing to let go of it so God can bless it.  As long as we hold tight to what we have God cannot use it and none of us can be blessed by it.  When we hold tightly to our possessions, we allow them to control us and restrict our freedom to accept God’s blessings.

“The Monkey Trap,” anything that you have to control, controls you; by Guy Finley

There are many variations to this story; this is one version.  In South America, Africa and Asia, the natives have devised a very effective method of trapping monkeys.  The plan is simple: the natives take a gourd and drill a hole just large enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through; they add some extra weight to the gourd with sand or pebbles, then put a nut or some fruit inside and place the gourd where a monkey will find it.  Here’s what happens: the monkey sticks his hand through the hole to get the food — but with the prize in its grasp, the monkey cannot get its hand back out.  The hole is too small for the monkey’s hand to pass through so long as it’s holding the treat, and the gourd is too heavy for the creature to carry.  Because the monkey will not let go of its prize, it becomes trapped.  The animal gives up its freedom to hold on to a small piece of food.  It seems obvious that all the monkey needs to do is let go of the bait and it can escape.  But because it views the treat as its possession and is not willing to let go, the monkey is trapped.  It loses its freedom.

You need to examine what you hold on to.  Take a close look at the attachments in your life.  Do you place more importance on things outside of yourself than on things inside you?  The more important something is in your life, the more you become attached to it.  If what you treasure is outside yourself — that is, other things or other people — then you risk being trapped by those bonds.  You have the ability to choose your treasures in life.  You need to examine your life to determine if you’re being trapped by the things you treasure.

The disciples were trapped because they could not see how God could take what they had and use it to feed all these people.  They could not see beyond their own limited resources and abilities.  We become trapped when we only see what we have for ourselves and we fail to imagine what God can do with the little we have.  As human beings it is hard to imagine that we might ever have “enough”…It seems like we are always just one more pay raise, one more purchase, one more toy away from having enough to satisfy us.  We can’t see how the little we have could possibly be enough for us AND enough to share with others…We live with a theology of scarcity.  Jesus tells us to give what we have and allow God to bless it and multiply it so there is enough for us and for others at the same time.  The problem is that we have to be willing to let go of what we have before God can work with it.  Had the disciples been unwilling to bring out those five loaves and two fish, Jesus could not have performed this incredible miracle and all those people would have been sent away hungry.  They would have been hungry physically certainly; they would also have remained spiritually hungry because they would have been robbed of the real living-out of the gospel message.  You see, when we withhold what we have we not only deprive someone in need of our help…We also deny them the blessing of experiencing the gospel first-hand.

I believe that God is daring us to have enough faith to look at what we have and willingly give it up so that God can bless it and multiply it.  God dares us, “You give them something to eat.”  I guess the question is: will you let go of the prize to gain your freedom, or hang on tight and remain a slave?  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.