Sunday, August 3, 2014

Faith and Obedience

August 3, 2014 –– 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:13–21
Faith and Obedience

This is the only miracle story from Jesus' Galilean ministry that is included in all four Gospels. It must have been considered very important if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all included it. The common emphasis in the Church is Eucharistic, and that is of utmost importance, but let’s think of other implications.

The Gospel writers are called Evangelists, which tells us their purpose. They wanted to share the truth about Jesus. The writers wanted to tell enough about Jesus so people would see his uniqueness and believe. This particular miracle was important because so many people were witnesses. This wasn't something Jesus did in a corner. It wasn't limited to the disciples or one sick person or even a family. There were well over 5000 people who took part in a meal in which there were no preparations. In this feeding of several thousand, Jesus had five loaves of bread and two fish, yet everyone was satisfied and there were twelve baskets left over. It's no wonder this story is in the Gospels.

We grow up with the stories and take Jesus for granted. We can easily hear the stories without thinking about them. We accept the fact that the appearance of Jesus Christ in our world divided history, but we so easily miss the wonder. We hear all the canned answers without having first been gripped by the questions. Who is this who can feed over 5000 people with five loaves and two fish?

Those of us who know something of the wonder and power of a transformed life know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We know what it is to pass from death to life in our souls and to have the joy of a relationship with Jesus that comes out of the assurance of sins forgiven. And the reason Jesus has the power to forgive our sins and transform our lives is the same reason he was able to feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish: he is the Son of God.

But that's only the first level in what a miracle story from Jesus' life can mean. For Christians, the miracle stories of Jesus function on other levels. In these stories we can learn the character of Jesus and we can see issues of faith for those who would be his disciples. How does faith work in this world? What kind of response does Jesus expect of me? Those are things we can see in this feeding of the five thousand.

We should find it reasonable to expect that Jesus will ask things of us that might seem foolish to non-Christians. There's a little song from my past which describes this kind of response:

Faith, mighty Faith, the promise sees
 And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
 And cries, "It shall be done."

Because Jesus is God's Son, because he can do the seemingly impossible, and because we have experienced his power through salvation, we can believe God for hard things.

Can you imagine how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to have the people sit down and prepare to eat? Despite their own experience seeing Jesus do amazing things, it seems the disciples were not expecting a miracle here. The vast throng of people needed to eat, and they knew there was no food apart from the five loaves and two fish. They were probably wondering how they were going to get out of this one.

Biographies of great Christian people testify to seemingly impossible situations. We are always being challenged to believe that God can still do the seemingly impossible today. This goes deep into the attitude of our hearts. God wants people to obey his Son just like those disciples did––willing to appear foolish if that's what obedience and faith require.

There is always something new God wants to do to stretch our faith. He wants to stretch our personal faith. He wants to stretch our faith as a congregation. But he will not multiply our loaves and fish until we step out in faith and tell the multitude to sit down. We will not grow a parish modeling kingdom values if we wait until all the money can be counted ahead of time. We will not have the mark of the kingdom's power and blessing on us if we do not step out expecting God to do something big.

God has already blessed our congregation in many ways, but faithfulness does not have a plateau. We are projecting a capital project. We also have strategic planning to do with structure, programming and staff. Those things are under way now, but our pastor is out of commission for at least two months. We need to keep an attitude of momentum with a discernment of kingdom values.

It takes time and money beyond what natural thinking can conceive, but our task as disciples of Jesus is to believe that our Lord is able for any situation that is consistent with our calling as Christians and the Church. One way to read this miracle story, then, invites Christian disciples today to be like the disciples of long ago––to step out in obedience just because Jesus is who he is. By calling ourselves Christians we are saying that Jesus is everything these Gospel writers say he is. What remains is to step out on that faith and believe that Jesus will show the power of his kingdom through our faith and obedience... to believe that we can have a part in something not too unlike feeding 5000 people.

Are you expecting God to do great things in your life? Are you expecting him to do great things through this congregation? It means, first, actively believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It means being obedient to the one we call Lord. There are still hungry people waiting on Jesus' disciples, only this time it's a hunger of the soul, and this time the disciples are you and me.  But... it's the same Jesus, and he's with us today.

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