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After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Growing up I spent almost every Saturday with my dad’s parents. His father started a local, family run photography studio that my dad and aunt took over after my grandfather retired. So while both my parents worked on Saturdays, my sister and I got to spend time with my grandparents. My grandmother was a funny and spontaneous lady. In her sparkly gold or silver tennis shoes, she would always make people around her laugh until their sides hurt. She had several phrases that she would repeat over and over again, that my family still says today. One phrase she would use often was “I did the best I could with what I had to work with.” She would say this phrase when she was referring to a task but most often it came about in reference to raising my dad. My dad is an equally funny and spontaneous individual. Whenever he would do something a little strange, something she herself probably would have done, she would look at my mom, my sister, and me and just say, “I did the best I could with what I had to work with.”
I wonder if Jesus ever thought this phrase when it came to his disciples. They were a ragamuffin group of people who still found moments to doubt Jesus and his actions no matter how many times they had been amaze by him. In our story today, Philip and Andrew’s doubt is in the impossible is what’s highlighted. They have been following Jesus for a while and see him do some pretty unbelievable things. So far in the book of John, the disciples have seen Jesus turn water into wine at a wedding in Cana, heal the son of a royal official in Capernaum, and healed a paralytic in Jerusalem. There is no shortage of miracles being performed. Not only that but Jesus is giving them several examples of living differently to from the rest of the world. Jesus accepted water from a Samaritan women and spent time with her, not a standard practice at this time. He has disrupted a marketplace within a place of worship. Jesus’ vary being is causing crowds of people to follow after him and sit at his feet. Yet, for some reason when Jesus asks his disciples how they are going to feed the crowds they respond with doubt that it could even be done.
While it’s easy to judge these two men for their actions, if I’m honest, I’ve responded to needs around me in the same away as Philip and Andrew. No matter how many times God has shown up in my life, doing seemingly impossible things, I still find time to doubt that God will do it again. I start listing off all the reasons that I am not qualified: I’m not smart enough, I don’t have enough resources, how is my help going to be received, what if whatever I give is just not enough, what if I say something foolish. My attention is immediately focused on what I can do on my own and I seem to forget that God is not throwing me into a situation to abandon me but walk with me, filing in the gaps of where I fall short.
During my Clinical Pastoral Education course as a chaplain intern at Northside, I learned a lot about doubt and trust. I felt like I was following God on the right path as I walked the long, winding journey of seminary and ordination but this was one part of the journey I was not sure I would be able survive. While I had a wonderful supervisor and a supportive group of peers, I really struggled with feeling that I was not equipped enough to be with people in the midst of major crisis and deep grief. One of the things that I struggled most with were being on-call, when I was the only chaplain in the hospital. No matter the call I received I had to respond. One night had been particularly busy and I was feeling emotionally drained and spiritually dry. At 10pm, I had yet to have time to check in with the at-risk Labor and Delivery unit. I thought about not going that night. I could just go back to the room to rest and if someone needed anything they would call, but before I knew it I was headed in the direction of that unit.
I was hoping to check-in at the nurses station and then leave, but there was another plan in place. As I approached the desk, one of the nurses said, “chaplain, I’m so glad you are here we had a mom just come in after a routine doctor’s appointment today and found out that her baby might not survive birth. Will you please visit with her?” I knew I had to go in, but I felt so unequipped for the task. I have not been a parent, lost a child, or experienced any crisis as heartbreaking as this, but I was there and called to action. She led me into the room where I met the mom, dad, and their nurse. The mom cried as she told me the plans for her baby and expressed her fear. I learned the story of her faith journey and how the couple met. I hardly say a word, I listened and I cried with them, closing our time in prayer. I left feeling moved by the couple’s love for one another, their baby, and God, yet I felt I was just not enough. Second guessing all the things I should have said and done. Feeling anyone else could have done more.
A few days later, one of my colleagues shared with me that he had met that same patient as she delivered her baby, who did survive. She expressed her appreciation that I showed up. Apparently just before I arrived she had been so angry with God for not being there with her. She didn’t talk about how moving my prayer was or profound words of wisdom that I gave, she was reminded on that late night, that God was still showing up for her even in her fear and doubt. This story was one of the many that turned that particular unit in the hospital from the one I most feared to the one I found to be the holiest of places. It showed me that there will be struggles in this life and moments of deep pain and sadness. There will be times when we are faced with unbelievable circumstance, but even in those moments we are simply asked to do the best we can with what we have. Some days we might feel like we have nothing to give, and for that day, you are doing the best you can with what you have to work with. Then we get up the next day and take another step as we do each day we are given.
It is not all up to us to fix, but we can’t just sit back and let God take care of it all either. The feeding of the thousands is the only story that appears in all 4 Gospels. In all 4 accounts, Jesus works with another person or persons to meet the need at hand. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account, the bread and fish were simply found among the crowd, no specifics on who they belonged to. After Jesus took the food and blessed the it, he hands it to his disciples to help feed the hungry. In these accounts, Jesus collaborates with the disciples to share the feast. However, in John’s account he works with a little boy alone to meet the need. His lunch was simple and just enough for him to eat, yet he gave all he had to Jesus without any idea of what was going to happen to the food or if he was going to taste a bite. He trusted that he had all the Jesus needed. I think that is what we often forget. When we are faced with crisis and need, we are not on our own. We don’t have to show up with all the answers and all the resources, pre-planned. Because the real test of our faith is are we willing to give up what we have, whatever it may be? Do we trust that God can use us, our gifts, and multiply them?
I wonder what was going through the mind of the little boy that day? This was probably a standard lunch for him, something he didn’t think was particularly unique or special. As Andrew is surveying the crowd for food, I wonder if the little boy tried at first to hide his food and keep it for himself or if he thought the adults in the crowd would be the ones to provide what Jesus needed that he wouldn’t have to give up his lunch. But you know I’m not sure it was either of those things. What I know about children is that they are natural-born givers. When they see a need they will meet it with whatever they have. Have you ever had a child offer to help you with something that didn’t quite work for the task at hand? I’ve had children see that I was stressed or worried about something and provide a stuffed animal. The stuffed animal itself isn’t going to make the anxiety go away but the willingness to give up something that is special to them to try and help me, is where the miracle happens. I imagine the little boy in the story offered up his food with pride that he had something that Jesus could use. I don’t think he thought it wasn’t enough so he shouldn’t even try. He was willing and ready to respond to the needs of the community.
I spent several years in high school and college going on one week mission trips to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. We saw so much need there that each year someone would ask the question, “what are we even doing here? We aren’t making any difference.” It felt like the needs were beyond anything we could ever meet. One of my youth advisors would always respond, “We’re a drop in the bucket.” Sure, on our own and in one visit it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when others are a part of the change over time the bucket fills up. We might not always know if and when the other drops of water will be put into the bucket or even what all the drops will amount to. But if we believe that God can do things beyond our imagining, trust that what God has to give isn’t measured by food for the crowds, number of homes built, or endless amounts of money, God meets people’s deepest spiritual needs.
I think that is what Jesus was trying to teach the people on the mountain that day. Jesus lived and ways that were always opposite to the rest of the world. He knew what people really needed beyond the physical. He demonstrated a new way of living that could only be a reality when people would chose to drop the earthly ways and follow. Kingdom building here on earth happens when we trust that God can and will do things that seem unfathomable to us. When we see needs that don’t appear to have solutions, believe that there is a way and show up to do the best you can with what you have to work with.
Decatur Presbyterian Church
July 29, 2019
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030