“You give them something to eat!”
June 23, 2002
Can you believe it? This day is finally here, the day I have been waiting for for a long time. And the last three months of waiting to come here to Finley have been a long three months, as I’m sure the PNC can attest to. But now the waiting is over for all of us, I have officially started as your pastor, and I look forward to our ministry together here at Finley.
But, I want you to know that being here is a big cultural change for my family and I. I lived in the Atlanta area for nearly 13 years with it’s 3 million plus population. While we were living at the seminary, we lived 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, less than a mile from CSX Transportation and the constant comings and goings of trains. Our apartment was underneath the approach and departure paths for Atlanta Hartsfield Airport with airplanes either landing or taking off every 45-60 seconds. And the traffic…do I need to say any more?
So, coming to Stuarts Draft, VA is quite a change for us to say the least. I remember the first time we drove into the “Draft.” As we turned off of I-64 onto Hwy 340, Jill and I fell silent as we looked out over the cornfields, farms, and pastures. And I said, “Oh my, look at all the cows…well we wanted rural, didn’t we?” The whole time Kara sat in the back saying over and over again, “baby cow,” “baby cow.”
If that wasn’t enough, we turned left off Hwy 340 onto 608 (Draft Ave.) to find the church for the first time. We turned into the church driveway and drove around the back of the church, I looked into the field and there was this huge, great big, long horn steer looking at us. I about flipped out. I can’t believe there are cows, donkeys, and longhorn cattle right by the church…right there! And the first couple of nights I couldn’t get to sleep because it was too quiet. I love small towns!
But I have something to confess to you, I just about let this new place, this small town, with it’s beautiful mountains and clean air, it’s farms, cows and longhorn cattle, it’s clear, starry night sky, and my new call here at Finley to get the best of me. On the day we left Atlanta to move up here to the “Draft” we drove into the mountains along I-81, and as I looked out over the valley, I almost became complacent and self-satisfied. After all, isn’t this what I have been studying for for the last three years. Isn’t this what I have waited and worked for since God called me to the ministry about six years ago.
Now I’m moving to my own home in a small town, and I’m the new pastor of a great church with wonderful and special people. I have left the city life behind. All those problems of the world are not mine to deal with anymore, no more rampant crime, poverty, or hunger. No more traffic and noise. No more problems, trials, or tribulations. No more fast-pace life. Those are other peoples’ problems now. Let someone else deal with them. It is time for me to sit back and just relax.
Then suddenly it hit me. Like a thump on my head, a scream in my ear, a punch in my arm, I remembered the remarkable words of Jesus in our text today. Words, which are most often overshadowed and ignored because of the miraculous event of the story, but words, which can neither be passed over nor dismissed.
As Jesus and the disciples went into the deserted place, a rural area, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, crowds of people followed them. The disciples came to Jesus and wanted him to send the people away so that they could find shelter and food. The disciples were not unrealistic. They knew that the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish were not enough to feed all the thousands of people. It’s almost absurd to even say that, of course it is not enough. The disciples may have been slow in understanding some things, but they were not stupid.
They probably said to themselves, “There is nothing we can do. It is beyond our ability and resources. What difference can we make anyway?” Their only option was to get Jesus to take care of the people, to make them his problem and not theirs. So the disciples go to Jesus and command him to send the people away so that they might buy food and find lodging for the night. After all, Jesus was their leader, as long as he was around then they did not have to worry about overwhelming problems such as these.
Upon hearing the disciples’ command him to send the people away, Jesus replies with his amazing and shocking command of his own, and I want you to listen closely, Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
“You…you give them something to eat.”
These words wouldn’t be so amazing if it wasn’t for the fact that there were so many people there that needed to be fed. Counting men, women, and children, there may have been 10,000, 15,000, or even 20,000 people.
You can imagine the disciples’ bewilderment. “What? You want us to feed them? Excuse me, Jesus, in case you have forgotten, we only have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and by our calculation that is not enough, or do you expect us to go and buy food for all these people?” You can almost hear the sarcasm in their voices. Feeding the people is exactly what they thought they could not do, but Jesus’ words reminded the disciples as they do us that we can do more than we think.
My friends, Jesus had called the disciples to an enormous task as he does us. He calls us to do God’s work in the world, to seek justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation. God’s work is such an enormous task that at times it can become overwhelming, but it is not, but it is not impossible.
I read a story in “Reader’s Digest” about a Firefighter named John Mason. One morning, while sitting on his porch watching the sunrise, he opened up the morning newspaper and noticed a story on the war-torn former Yugoslavia. At the center of the article was a picture of a bombed out building somewhere in Kosovo where the fighting had been the heaviest.
Before becoming a firefighter, John Mason had worked for many years as a carpenter, so he knew just how much time and effort it would take to rebuild, not only the building in the picture, but all the buildings and homes throughout the ravaged countryside.
As John sat there reading the story and thinking about all the work that needed to be done, he said to himself, “Who on earth is going to do it?” Then he heard a voice say, “I am.” He almost laughed out loud. He said to himself, “I am just one man, what difference could I make in the face of all that devastation?”
John knew that this job needed more than just a couple of people with a hammer and nails, it would require cement mixers, shovels, sledgehammers, lumber, roof beams, and tiles, and he would need money, lots of money. “What difference could one person possibly make?”
Then John heard the familiar words of his mother: “Sometimes one person taking just one small action can make all the difference.” With these words, John Mason packed a crate with tools and a backpack with clothes, and boarded an airplane for Kosovo. Sometimes one person taking just one small action can make all the difference. Such wise and simple words, but words easier said that done.
When John Mason arrived in Kosovo, he, too, was swallowed up by the river of humanity headed toward Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. Thousands of refugees – hungry and exhausted and carrying what few possessions they had left. John began to think to himself, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Like the disciples, John was not unrealistic. The single crate of tools he brought would never be enough to do the job. John needed truck loads of materials and many workers. He began thinking to himself, “I must have been nuts thinking there was anything I could do over here.” John was faced with an overwhelming responsibility. He knew that his resources were far from adequate, and he had forgotten why he went to Kosovo in the first place.
But unlike the disciples, John faced the responsibility head on. When he looked into the faces of the people of Kosovo, he was reminded of why he went there in the first place – to help the poor, hungry, and homeless. John began to lobby the U.S. government for financial aid. John’s prayers were soon answered. He received a letter of approval for the U.S. grants. The very next morning, a truck loaded with lumber, tiles, concrete, and tools of all sorts pulled into the village. Young and old rushed out of the ruined shells of their houses, shouting and cheering. Dozens of tractors and horse-drawn carts soon arrived to take materials to the other two villages. One by one houses and whole villages were rebuilt.
You see, the disciples had become so complacent and self-satisfied in being Jesus’ disciples that they ended up turning away from their responsibilities and from their calling as disciples. They ended up looking entirely to the resources outside the situation. They wanted someone else to come and take the problem from them.
In the end, they saw only what was impossible rather than believing what is possible. But Jesus’ words reminds the disciples as they do us, that the enormous and many times overwhelming task of doing God’s work in the world can be met from within, from within us, not by outside help alone, but within our own resources, our own gifts, abilities, and talents, and our faith, faith in the fact that when we let God work through us, we can accomplish more than we could have ever hoped for or dreamed.
Jesus is telling us, “Never mind what is impossible, mind what is possible.”
Whatever is available in the way of human resources, whatever is possible in the way of efficient organization, whatever is possible in the power and abundance of God’s goodness, amazing results will be produced, for as our text says, all of the thousands of people “ate and were satisfied”.
As I drove on into Stuarts Draft, I had a renewed sense of my calling and purpose. Jesus’ words remind me that God may have called others to the pastorate, but he also called me. He may have called others to ministry in Christ’s church, but he also called us. God reminded me that it doesn’t matter if it’s Atlanta, GA or Stuarts Draft, VA, there is work to be done.
“You, Jesus says, you give them something to eat.”
And so, as we start this new life together here at Finley, I am excited about the future. But, this is not my ministry alone, this is our ministry together. My friends, there is work to be done. God has called each one of us to an enormous task. But, one person cannot do it alone, not I, nor you, only together can we make a difference, not only in the lives of the all of us here today, but in the lives of those in our community and in the world.
So I invite each one of you, children, youth, and adults alike, to prayerfully consider your own call to ministry, to prayerfully consider where God is calling you to serve Him in this church and in the world. Just think of what difference you can make, just think of all the possibilities that our future holds together.
I end today with the words of Firefighter John Mason. “What I accomplished over there was just a drop in the bucket really. But as my mother used to tell us, its important to do even one small thing. And maybe that is all God really asks of any of us.” Amen.