LUKE 9:10-17

5 Jan 2014


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            Have you had your fill of top ten lists for 2013?  There was Time Magazine's Person of the Year List.  Four of the five were a controversial bunch.  Number five was Ted Cruz from Texas the upstart congressman who rallied fellow members to shut down the government on a quest to stop the President's signature healthcare policy.  Number four was Bashar Assad doctor turned despot who kept his vice like grip on power in Syria.  Number three was Edith Windsor the matriarch of the gay right movement, and number four was Edward Snowden, the thirty year old computer whiz who spilled the beans about government eavesdropping.  Time's Person of the Year last year, the one non-controversial person on the list, was Pope Francis, the people's pope, the first non-European pope in over 1200 years.

            There were also top ten movie lists, top ten break-up lists, top ten album lists, top ten baby lists.  I suppose we could do something similar in the bible.  Top ten books of the bible.  Top ten characters in the bible.  Top ten verses in the bible.  Top ten parables in the bible.  Top ten psalms in the bible.  Top ten miracles in the Old Testament.  Top then miracles in the New Testament.  Wait.  Maybe we already know the most popular miracle in the New Testament.  It's the one we are about to read.  It's the only miracle performed by Jesus that is recorded by all four gospel writers.  So turn with me to Luke 9, verse 10 and follow along as I read.


            On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

            The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place. But he said to them, You give them something to eat. They said, We have no more than five loaves and two fishunless we are to go and buy food for all these people. For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each. They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.


            It was a homecoming of sorts for the apostles.  They had just returned from their mission.  Jesus wanted to hear all about how the apostles fared on their first mission without him, so he took them to a deserted spot in Galilee.  When the people in the area found out that Jesus was back in the area, they interrupted their time together and settled in with him for the better part of the day.   He taught them more about the kingdom of God and healed those who had need of healing.   And as the sun was sinking slowly in the west, and the disciples possibly concerned that Jesus had lost track of time ... maybe you know someone who has a tendency to lose track of time ... suggested Jesus close up shop for the day, and send the folk back home, as there were no fast food places for miles.  Instead of agreeing to send the crowd home, however, Jesus tells the boys to feed the crowd. 

            And here's where the disciples made the first of their two mistakes.  We often make the same two, so let's not be too hard on the boys.  I did that yesterday morning, in fact.  We had flown out for a three day trip to Southern California to visit our kids on New Years Day, and when we arrived at the Ontario Airport the line for Southwest Airlines was out the door.  We had our boarding passes, but we needed to check our luggage, and we had arrived at the airport an hour an fifteen minutes early, and I looked at the line and I said, We are going to miss our flight.  Trudy, however, had spotted Sky Cap service when we arrived at the airport, and she said, let me go see if theres a Sky Cap service for Southwest, and sure enough there was and we checked our bags, went through security and arrived at the gate with time to spare.  So, lets not be too hard on the disciples because we do the same thing all the time.  We arrive at premature conclusions.

            The disciples pooled their backpacks and said, "We only have five loaves and two fish.  Unless you want us to dip into petty cash to pay for all these people, we don't have enough food to go around." 

            Their first mistake was they arrived at a premature conclusion.  We understand why.  The math did not make sense.  Five loaves times two fish does not equal in excess of 5,000 servings.  And actually it would have had to have been more than 5,000 servings, because that was only counting the men.  No women or children were included in the five thousand.  The numbers were likely closer to ten thousand. 

            Let's not dwell on the numbers however, for they are incidental to the primary revelation.  The disciples were in the company of one who had direct access to the incalculable abundance of God!  Luke had already tipped us off to that fact.  In the Advent story Gabriel tells Mary, "For nothing will be impossible for God."  And here Jesus teaches that fact to the disciples.  So the lesson is, When it comes to God, beware of drawing a premature conclusion.

            Let's move to their second mistake.  They underestimated their blessings.  When all available resources were collected and brought to Jesus, the supply did not meet the demand, at least not until the supply had been blessed.  The blessing did it!   Like the disciples, we do not always take the possibilities of the blessing into account.

            Perhaps you have heard the story of the football coach who had two quarterbacks.  The first team quarterback was gifted, aggressive, and a born leader.  The second string quarterback was, let us say, limited.  Oh, he was athletic enough but unfortunately, his ignorance was only surpassed by his stupidity.  The championship game was in progress, the score was tied, the home team had the ball, and the clock was ticking down.  An opposing player broke through the line of scrimmage and slammed the star quarterback to the ground with such force that the signal-caller had to leave the game.  Time was running out.  The coach had no choice but to put in the back-up.  The substitute trotted onto the field, huddled the team, and strode up to the line of scrimmage.  Surveying the opposing team, and much to everyone's surprise, he changed the play at the line.  The ball was snapped, the quarterback handed it off to the half-back who busted up the middle and sped all the way into the end zone with the winning touchdown!  An amazing play. 

            Moments later, in the ecstatic dressing room, the coach grabbed his second-team quarterback by the shoulder pads and said, "Son, that was great!  How did you know to call that play?"  The boy said, "Uh, well coach, it weren't easy.  I got up to the line and looked across at two of the biggest players I've ever seen and I seen their numbers.  One of 'em was wearing a six and the other one was wearing a seven, so I just added them numbers together and got fourteen and called number fourteen."  The coach hesitated a moment and said, "But son, six and seven make 13."  The boy, quite unmoved by the correction, said, "You know what coach? If I was as smart as you, we would have lost the game."  Things do not always add up the way they are supposed to, do they?

            See in our mind's eye a young lad, armed only with a slingshot and five smooth river stones going out to do battle with Goliath, the Philistine giant, didn't stand a chance.  King Saul had tried to dissuade David by saying, "You are not able to go against the Philistine to fight with him. You are but a youth and he is a man of war from his youth (1 Samuel 17:33)."  It just didn't add up . But then the dust had settled over the scene,  "So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him; there was no sword in the hand of David (1 Samuel17:50)."

            Saul had underestimated the blessing of God.  A dynamic was at work that he had not taken into account.

            Do you know the name, Charles A. Tindley?  Charles was the son of a slave and became an orphan while still a young boy.  He was passed around from farm to farm, working for one landowner, then another.  Some were kind but most with harsh.  Charles, like other farm laborers, was not allowed to own a book or learn how to read and write.  One day on his way to the field, he noticed a small piece of newspaper lying by the side of the road.  Inconspicuously, he picked it up and stuffed it inside his shirt.  In time, he would collect many such bits and pieces.  At night, when all the others were asleep, he would burn a pinecone and, hovering over it to hide the light, struggle to understand the words.  In this manner, Charles eventually taught himself to read.  

            At some point in his youth, he came into possession of a Bible, which his inquisitive mind eagerly consumed.  The day would come when he determined to go to church regardless of the consequences.  A work shirt was washed in a ditch and draped over a limb to dry.  One Sunday morning, he put on the shirt, dusted off his pants, washed his feet in a puddle of water, and made for the church.  When he arrived, he slipped in the door, took a deep breath, and gripped his Bible with both hands.  The minister asked all the little children to come forward to the front pew and read from their Bibles.  Charles went forward.  Several people hissed and one person actually reached out in an attempt to grab him.  He would not be denied.  The children inched along laboriously with their Bible readings until they had all read their favorite passages.  It was Charles' time. Without stammering or hesitation, he read verse after verse and would have completed an entire chapter had he not been interrupted by the minister "in the interest of time."

            Charles A. Tindley was admitted to the Methodist ministry in 1885.  He served the same church for several years where he had previously worked as a janitor.  He was an illustrious member of the Philadelphia Conference.  He wrote numerous hymns and doubtless had his early life in mind when he wrote, "Stand By Me."  Only he knows how many times he must have recited to himself the lines, "When my faith is tossed about like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest winds and waters, stand by me."

            It would have been easy to look at the young orphan boy and underestimate the potential.  But God appraised the available resources, blessed them, and shaped them into a doctor of divinity, a hymn writer, a loving pastor, and a powerful preacher who led many to Christ.

            The disciples saw only five hard loaves and two fish, long out of the water.  Saul had seen only a shepherd boy with a hand-full of stones and a home-made slingshot.  And many looked at a little barefoot orphan boy and saw only a field hand.  None of the estimations were accurate because everything had not been taken into account.  God's blessing of the resources, using what was available - such as it was - made the difference.  It always does.

            As we prepare to come to the Lords Table, one last thing and we are done.  I want to call your attention to one little detail in the story that you might not have thought much about before.  Verse 14: Jesus says, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each."  Hmm.  No one ate alone.

            No tables for one.  The Lord's Table is for a great gathering of friends  ... old friends we have known for years, new friends who may have just come in "from the cold" whom we barely know at all, but friends we can get to know better.  And our meal is hosted by one whom the scripture describes as a "friend who sticks closer than a brother."  When we sit and eat together, something wondrous can happen.  All we need is for God to bless us.  And when it comes ... enjoy!