Let us pray: Heavenly Father, whether your way is easy or hard, your word comforting or disturbing, your will welcome or difficult to accept, teach us to listen and to follow faithfully, through Christ our Lord. Amen. In 1967, Laurence Peter published his book called The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. The "Peter principle," as it was called, become something of a standard explanation for problems in business management. It suggested that people tend to get promoted just past their level of competence-in other words, they keep rising in management until they get just a little beyond what they're really capable of doing. And then, of course, they fail. (I personally think it also applies in politics as well.)
We have to wonder if the Peter principle might apply to our own Simon Peter in today's gospel lesson! Just last week we heard Jesus praise him, and call him the rock on which he would build the church. Now in this passage, he messes up so badly that Jesus calls him a stumbling block, and worse!
But of course, Peter is so human, and so representative of all of us disciples! Let's look at this story this morning and see if we can derive our own set of "Peter principles"-- things we can learn by observing and taking to heart what Peter says and does. Peter Principle Number 1: "Don't let it go to your head!" Maybe that's what has happened to Peter. He's gone from a rock to a stumbling block in four verses because he's allowed Jesus' praise of him to go to his head. Jesus has told the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would suffer, be killed, and then be raised from the dead. Peter, the text says, "took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him." Sounds to me like Peter was full of his own importance. "I'm the Rock," he must have thought. "I'm Jesus' chief advisor, his secretary of state, maybe even the vice-messiah! Jesus needs me to tell him what to do!" But the first of our Peter Principles is "Don't let it go to your head." Christians do that! Christians have a way of thinking that they have it all figured out, and no one else does! I read one time about a church that lured inner city children with a promise of free pizza, but then wouldn't give them any pizza unless they submitted to baptism. You don't know whether to laugh or to cry at such misguided arrogance.
But we Christians often think we know the truth. It's a bit complicated, because on the one hand, we do. We have the truth of Christ; we confess, with Peter, that Christ is the Son of the Living God, and we believe that there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved. But we're so quick to take a leap from that point, to the idea that we know the truth about just everything.
Ole Rolvaag's great trilogy about Norwegian immigrants tells the fictional story of Per Hansa and his wife Beret, and the struggles and triumphs of their family. In one of the books, their son Peder faces the transition of the immigrant generation as they become American, and one issue on which there is conflict is language. Peder is thoroughly American, and English is his native tongue, though he speaks and understands Norwegian. His mother, Beret, so heroic in the first novel, has become rather cranky and irritable in the sequel; and when this issue comes up, she is certain that Norwegian people should speak to one another and especially to God in Norwegian. She is incensed when she learns that the pastor has given her son an English Bible. The very idea! How can a Norwegian boy read God's word in an alien tongue? How could a pastor encourage it?
She is so sure she is right! But of course, we can see how misguided this is. Yet don't we often do the same thing? We are so sure we know what God wants, that we'll fight anyone who has a different idea. Jesus' words to Peter are a sharp reply to us: "Get behind me"-- meaning, "Follow me, let me be the leader, let me call the shots. Don't jump to conclusions. Yes, I called you the Rock. Yes, I have taken you as my own. Yes, you are my beloved child. But that doesn't make you always right. Look to me for the truth, follow me. Your faith is strong, but don't let it go to your head."
Now we not only often think we know better than anyone else, we also often think we know better than God. So here's Peter Principle Number Two: "Our ways are not God's ways." Peter illustrates this very well when he says, in response to Jesus' words about suffering and death, "God would never let this happen to you!" The Greek here is difficult to translate, but its sense is that Peter is certain that God would never allow such a thing to happen. But of course, he's wrong. His ways are not God's ways.
So often we try to make God into our own image. We have our opinions, and they may be very good, moral, even godly opinions; but we stumble when we assume that God must think the same as we do. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln often dealt with people whose view of things was a lot more certain than his own. Once a woman told him she was sure the Union would prevail, because God was on their side. After all, this was a fight against the great moral evil of slavery. But Lincoln wasn't quite so sure. "Madame," he replied, "I'm not so concerned whether God is on our side, as whether we are on God's side." He had his finger on an important point. It is much too easy for us to think that we know just how God should do things. More often than not, we turn out to be misguided.
Luther spoke eloquently about this very point. Again and again, he comments in his sermons that if he had been God, he would have done things differently. But always, he points out, God's ways turn out to be the best-even if they are inconceivable to us prideful human beings. Peter's problem here is that he has his own ideas, and even when Jesus directly contradicts him, Peter is sure it must be Jesus who has misunderstood things. So here in his stumbling, we see this second Peter principle: "Our ways are not God's ways." Closely related is Peter Principle Number Three: "Listen to the whole story!" Did you notice something here? In this passage Jesus says he is headed for Jerusalem, where he will suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Jesus has told that familiar passion story in outline, kind of like it does in the Creed: "crucified, died, buried, the third day he rose again from the dead." But what has Peter heard? He hasn't heard the whole thing, has he? He has stopped listening after “suffered and died.” He's missed the part about resurrection! The story Jesus is telling is a story of victory, but Peter has only listened to the part that sounds like defeat.
And how often we stop listening before we hear the good part. We miss the promise! The Christian life, the life of a disciple, is tough. There is suffering. There is cross-bearing. There is death. But there is resurrection--and if we don't keep listening all the way to the end of the story, then we miss the whole point.
Often in life we face discouragement. It is then that we need the third Peter principle: "Listen to the whole story." You cannot, if you follow Christ, escape the cross. But there is more to it. There is a cross, and there is a crown. If we listen long enough to hear about the crown, then the cross doesn't seem quite so daunting or so threatening.
Poor Simon Peter! He learned the hard way, and I suppose that's what we must do as well, most of us. But at least we can read his story and learn these Peter principles: Don't let it go to your head! Our ways are not God's ways! Listen to the whole story!
Let us pray: Almighty God, open our eyes again to your greatness and remind us that your ways are not our ways nor your thoughts our thoughts. So, may we glimpse once more your glory, and, though we do not always understand, may we walk in faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pentecost 12 Isaiah 51:1-6 Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 16:13-20
Let us pray: Lord, though we do not always recognize you, you reveal yourself to us in so many ways. Open our hearts and minds to know more about your action in our lives each day. Enable us to see you more clearly in order that we might follow your Son more nearly. Amen.
ho is Jesus? When I was about 6 or 7, I was quite certain about the answer to that question. Jesus is the man who could walk on water, heal sick people, bring people back to life, and feed a large crowd of people with the food in a boy’s lunch box. Without a doubt Jesus was someone very special. When asked, “Why is Jesus special” My answer was “Jesus loves me.” Later on, in my Lutheran confirmation classes we were required to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism. At confirmation classes my understanding broadened to include the idea that Jesus was not just a man but was also God, intricately interconnected with the Trinity. His birth, life, death, and resurrection were all part of God's plan to save all us from sin and death. I learned Bible passages that talked about Jesus being Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, most of which I didn’t understand but I believed anyway. On the day of our confirmation we had to stand in front of the congregation and be able to recite from memory random questions from the catechism which included “Who is Jesus.” The appropriate answer was Luther’s explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Which was: “ I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” I may not have understood all that lay behind that statement but in my own way this was what I believed about Jesus. Many of you may have had a similar experience. Things that we learned as teens may not have had an immediate impact on us or we may not have fully understood what we had been taught but we listened and learned it. We trusted our parents, pastors and teachers who taught us about Jesus, and they weren’t leading us on. We hopefully witnessed their faith and their sincerity, and this led us to believe that this must be important. And so, in our own way came to know and trust Jesus. I know that for others in my confirmation class all this was a lot of mumbo jumbo and they only attended classes because their parents sent them. At the time the words were meaningless and if they were asked “Who is Jesus?” they would have most likely responded, “Who cares?” It often happens that our answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” is dependent on what is happening in our lives at any given moment. When we are feeling depressed because of the way sin has affected and infected our lives, Jesus is our forgiver and savior. When we are feeling vulnerable and weak because of sickness, ongoing medical issues, and life-threatening surgery, Jesus is our comforter and strength to endure what is seemingly impossible to endure. When we are afraid or feeling alone, harassed, or depressed Jesus is love, God's care, God's hand around us holding us and supporting us. When death is approaching, we see Jesus as the one who extends his hand to walk with us and welcome us into our heavenly home. His presence removes fear and we are willing to go with him. When we have a sick child, an aging parent, a dying friend we see Jesus as our guardian and helper in our time of need. There may be times when we ask ourselves “Who is Jesus?” and the darkness of our circumstances leads us to call out, “I don’t know. I wish I could see him more clearly! I want to know him but the darkness around me blocks him from my view.” At times like this we go back to verses from the Bible or sections of the Catechism we had learned and use those words to remind ourselves who Jesus is and what he means to us. It’s all about the relationship between Jesus and us. And that’s how we answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” The question is not answered with stringing off a whole lot of words that describe who Jesus is but is answered best about what Jesus means to us in the everyday circumstances of our lives. If we believe that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” then what difference does that make in how we live? Peter's life can be seen in the light of his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” From this point on, he is either falling short of his bold confession of faith or he is living out its implications. What awaits Peter is no straight, flat road, a smooth superhighway, but a journey into the unknown, with many twists and turns, a dead end here and there. One moment he lives up to his confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” as at Pentecost when he preaches about Jesus clearly and simply and another time he fails badly when he says about Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest, “I swear I don’t know the man!” The Christian life of each of us resembles that of Peter. There's a confession of faith, which we make, or our baptismal sponsors make on our behalf. We affirm our commitment to being disciples of Jesus at our confirmation and again confess our faith in the Triune God. But it seems that no matter how much sincerity and commitment we have at that moment, life becomes a series of either falling short of this confession of faith or living out its implications. There are times when we feel close to Jesus and we are ready to do anything to honor his name and to further the work he has given us to do and we gladly live up to the confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Like Peter at the Last Supper we boldly declare, “I will never let you down, Jesus. I would rather die than let my confession be mere words and empty promises”. But there are other times when we realize that the way we live our lives is in stark contrast to what we confess about Jesus. We confess that Jesus is our Savior and our Lord and that in him and with him we have received new lives, a new way of seeing people and the world around us, a new set of values and attitudes, a new way of dealing with people as the Holy Spirit works in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control, but none of this has any effect whatsoever on the choices we make and the way we interact with others. Putting our confession that Jesus is our Savior and Lord as central in our life is not easy. The confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” involves more than talking the talk, saying the words; it also involves walking the walk; matching what we say with what we do. It involves sacrifice, commitment, dedication, sticking to what we believe and making choices which are centered on our confession that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. That is the constant challenge for us as Christians and we may realize we get it wrong far too often. Jesus knows that we are not that different to Peter. We know what the right thing to do is, however our sinful human nature gets in the way. Thankfully, we have a loving and gracious God. He forgave Peter and he forgives us freely too. That encourages us and gives us the confidence to make our confession of “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” real in everything we say and do. Let us pray: Loving Father, through the grace of your Spirit, you enabled Peter to recognize the true identity of your Son. Grant us the grace to always profess our faith in your Son through all that we say and do and become rocks upon which your Church is built here on earth. This we ask through Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.
Isaiah 56:6-8 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15:21-28
Let us pray: Gracious God, grant us true insight, understanding and wisdom. Show us the path to life, and help us to walk it more faithfully, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
A man was getting ready for bed when his wife told him he’d left the light on in the garden shed. She could see it from the bedroom window. But he said that he hadn’t been in the shed that day. He looked out himself, and there were people in the shed, stealing things.
He called the police, but they told him that no one was in his area to catch the thieves. He said “OK,” hung up, counted to 30 and phoned the police again.
“Hello. I just rang you a few seconds ago because there were people in my shed. Well, you don’t have to worry about them now. I’ve just shot them all.” Within five minutes there were half a dozen police cars in the area, an armed response unit. They caught the burglars red-handed.
One of the policemen said to this man, “I thought you said you’d shot them!” He replied, “I thought you said there was no one available.
Here we have an example of what is commonly called “profiling.” The police are often accused of it in arresting blacks, Mexicans, and other people today. In our story the police were guilty of profiling by considering the man’s neighborhood safe.
In today’s gospel it appears Jesus, was guilty of profiling. A woman who was a Gentile, not a Jew, begged him to heal her daughter. Jesus almost always responded to such requests with a miraculous healing. But here Jesus refuses, being very abrupt with the woman. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. So, Jesus seems to be very prejudiced against anyone who is not a Jew. He says his mission is only to Jews.
We might, then, accuse Jesus of profiling if we did not know that his words “I was sent” exonerate him. For who sent Jesus? The Father. In refusing to speak to the woman Jesus was only following his Father’s command to save the Chosen People, the Jews. Jesus apparently came to know his mission as we all come to know our goal in life, by degrees. As we know, Jesus himself extended his mission to all mankind. We see his outreach in examples, such as when Jesus healed the servant of the Roman centurion.
After a busy schedule of preaching and healing, Jesus goes to a place named as "a district of Tyre and Sidon." This was in Phoenicia, or a part of modern-day Lebanon. The important point is that it was outside of the territory of Israel. It was pagan land.
Then Matthew further defines the situation by explaining that he was accosted by a "Canaanite woman." Do you remember the Canaanites from the Old Testament? They were the folks who occupied the Promised Land before the Israelites arrived. They were the ones that God wanted exterminated from the land in order for the Israelites to possess it.
The Canaanites were the descendants of Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. Once, when Noah was drunk, he fell asleep on his bed naked. Ham went in and saw him naked. Scripture says that Ham and all his descendants were cursed and destined to be slaves because it was wrong for a son to see his father naked. The descendants of Ham are the current Palestinians who are still in conflict with the Jewish people in Israel.
Not only was this person a Canaanite, but she was also a woman. We can recall from the story of the woman at the well that Jewish tradition forbade women from having casual conversation with a strange man, particularly a religious man. But here is a brazen woman approaching Jesus and his disciples, which makes her a doubly questionable individual.
Jesus was brought up in a very exclusive community and religion where clear lines of division were set, and folks were either in or out. The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Essenes were very exclusive in nature. Only the chosen few could belong to them. I think this was what Jesus had been taught all his life. It was only natural for him to reflect the traditions and teachings of his upbringing.
We have many faulty traditions in our upbringing as well. For example, some of us were raised with negative views about people of another race. But knee-jerk reactions must give way to carefully considered responses and merciful actions for those of us who claim to know that Jesus is Lord. Jesus reflects his tradition quite accurately, but sometimes traditions are meant to be bent or even broken.
Prejudice. Bigotry. We know them well. Our own nation has legislated against such bigotry as slavery and has extended all rights of a citizen to our black brothers and sisters. But, as someone has said, “You can’t legislate morality.” Many people still harbor hatred and bigotry toward blacks, Mexicans, and other non-Caucasian people.
In our first reading we hear the prophet, Isaiah, proclaiming God’s mercy to all nations. There Isaiah has the Lord say: “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Father intends all to be called to his house of prayer. This shames us as we recall the days when churches either did not allow blacks to become members, or had blacks sit in the balcony instead of letting them sit anywhere they chose in the church.
Prejudice. We see it in the seemingly endless hatred of the Israelis for the Palestinians and vice versa. We see it in the centuries fighting and killing between the Irish Catholics and Protestants; we see it in the standoffs between the Indians and Palestinians. We see it in the resurgence of Neo-Nazi skinheads and other white supremacist groups.
Somebody said, the day you can no longer change is the day you stop being a human being. Well, Jesus is a human being, and this day he changes. His outlook, his worldview we might call it now, is lifted to something new. Let Jesus be our example: we must dare to let our outlooks be changed too. We must dare to truly engage with the world and let life’s encounters work with what we know of God and so shape our living and understanding. According to Matthew, that is a Jesus thing to do.
Following Jesus means we must constantly struggle to test what we have been taught, and what we always have believed. What Jesus offers us is not always a clear set of instructions about where to go and what to do. The Christian life is not static, but dynamic. We should always be challenging the traditions which we harbor. We must examine our most cherished beliefs. And when the Spirit leads, we must be willing to change. Along with the Canaanite woman let us continue to pray “Lord have mercy on us.”
Let us pray: Lord of all, teach us to recognize that everyone has a purpose and a contribution to make to your kingdom and so help us to see beyond the barriers that keep us apart, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pentecost 10 Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
Let us pray: O God – Light of the hearts that know you, life of the souls that love you, and strength of the thoughts that seek you — May we all hear the words of reassurance that Jesus is in the boat with us. And like the wind and the sea, may we grow calm and yield to His power. Amen.
A sinking feeling. That’s what Elijah and Peter had in common, a sinking feeling. Elijah had run away from trouble and hidden in a cave. He just KNEW his whole world was crashing down around him and so he ran away from everything, hoping to save his life – if it was worth saving! But, God thought Elijah’s life was worth more than he’d ever know. God came to Elijah – not in the wind, earthquake or fire – but in a quiet, unassuming whispered voice lifting Elijah out of his depression and fear, rescuing him from his resignation from life. God raised Elijah from certain self-imposed lifelessness and brought him back to serve God’s own purposes. Sometimes we might say to someone “You go on ahead: I'll catch up with you later.” But in this case, it was different. These may have been the words of Jesus and he was sending his disciples off across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. “You go on ahead: I'll catch up with you later.” They did what he said, but there must have been questions running through their minds: Exactly how and when was Jesus going to catch up with them later? After all it was getting late, and there was the small matter of getting a crowd of five thousand people to disperse. It was a strange experience for those disciples that night: crowded together in a small boat, in the dark with a bad wind that defied all their straining efforts. It was a kind of time of pointless human effort, of chaos, when that combination of water and wind was at its most frightening. According to Matthew’s version of this miracle account, Peter and his fellow fishermen were out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during that dark and stormy night. As morning dawned, Jesus came to them across the water and they were afraid he was a ghost. Even though Jesus reassured them and told them not to fear, they wondered if they could trust him. Peter spoke for them all: “Lord, if it IS you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter, like many of us, wasn’t sure he could count on Jesus when everything around him seemed to be telling him he shouldn’t. He’d been battered by the wind and the waves all night long. And now, when he was tired of fighting the elements, exhausted by life in general, a vision of hope appears to him and he’s not really sure if it’s real. But Jesus invites him to walk into the future, to walk toward Jesus’ loving embrace. While Peter kept his eyes trained on Jesus’ face, he was able to overcome impossible odds. “But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, …” Jesus raised Peter from certain self-imposed lifelessness and brought him back to serve God’s purposes. Elijah and Peter had that sinking feeling in common. And, also in common, they had a Creator and Redeemer who loved them and had a purpose for their lives. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Unfortunately, these comforting words (let alone the ability to defy gravity) do not quite satisfy Peter, who seeks further proof of Jesus’ identity. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus agrees, “C’mon.” And so, Peter does. But after just a few steps, the wind startles him and he begins to sink, crying, “Lord, save me!” Of course, Jesus does save him, but he also asks him this sobering question: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Make no mistake, these questions are just as much for us as they were for those early disciples. So, why do we doubt? Jesus calmed a storm with his voice, fed five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread, and walked on water. In light of all this, why would we ever lack faith? Well, one answer is fear. Like the disciples, sometimes storms pop up in our lives and scare us half to death. That’s what storms do. It’s only natural for a dog to hide under the bed when he hears thunder; for a child to cling to her mother when she sees lightning; for the driver to pull over when he can no longer see the road. But it’s not just wind and rainstorms that scare us; so, do the figurative storms of our lives. Things like global pandemics, contentious elections, scary diagnoses, economic downturns, rioting and looting. In the midst of difficult setbacks like these, it’s not uncommon to get a sinking feeling, or anyone to doubt their faith in God. That’s exactly what happened to Peter in today’s gospel, and it’s exactly what the disciples did previously in chapter eight. All Jesus does is ask why. Like any good teacher, he already knows the answer to the question, but he wants us to know it, too. Simply put, it’s because we are human. Fear is, quite literally, instinctual. Humans are wired with a fight-or-flight response. We have this reflex for a reason. When our lives are in jeopardy or—more commonly for us today—when our way of life is threatened, we are naturally inclined to react in fleeting ways. When that happens, we tend to leave calm, rational thought behind. For that reason, we often need some assistance getting back to a more faithful frame of mind. Jesus’ question prompts us to realize that faith is always within our reach. In other words, even in the stormiest times of life, when we most doubt our ability to make it through, we can remain faithful to God. Staying faithful to God doesn’t simply mean going through the motions. It doesn’t mean saying the creed while thinking about a shopping list, or repeating Bible verses from memory. It means for us, just like Peter, refocusing on our commitment to faith. Over the years, regarding our Gospel today, much has been said about Peter’s impetuousness... about the disciples’ unwillingness to take a risk and about stepping out in faith... But I have to confess to you, that I can never get past the single amazing fact that Jesus, in whom God was so very present, came to them in the middle of the storm, and reached out and gave them comfort. --- Let us remember, it was Jesus who sent his friends out onto the sea where storms are always a possibility. He didn’t prevent the storm from raging... but he could do something much better than that... He could get into the boat and ride it out with them. Let us remember to keep an eye on that barometer, because storms continue to come... but so will the God of Jesus. You see God doesn’t come and go like storms... God only comes... God will always be with us, no matter how scary or dangerous or risky things might get. --- And most importantly, God will find a way to be with us in those sinking feeling times. Let us pray: Help us, O Lord, when the storms of life overwhelm us, to entrust ourselves to your mercy, that you might draw us out of the waters that engulf us, and place us in the safe harbor of your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty God, may your Word speak to us, your promises reassure us, and your Spirit work some miracle in us that we might accomplish your purposes in and through our lives. Grant that we may understand that you are always sufficient to meet our needs, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of my favorite all time movies is “Simon Birch” which came out in 1998 and takes place in 1964, in a small town in New Hampshire that could have had Grandma Moses as its city planner. From the day he was born Simon Birch was different. He was no bigger than a baby bird, and the doctors predicted he’d never last the week. But he did. Weeks turned into months and months into years, until Simon grew into a boy. Simon at the age of 12, is so small that he still plays the Baby Jesus in the church Christmas pageant. His friend Joe has a small sidecar on the side of his bicycle that carries Simon around on their adventures, because his legs are too short to ride a bike. Now, it’s apparent that Simon is the smartest boy in Sunday School and possibly the smartest person in town. He’s very short and very cute, and very wise and accepting of the fact of his dwarfism. When his friend Joe tells him a girl finds him cute, he sniffs, “She means cute like a baby turtle is cute. Girls don’t kiss baby turtles.” “How do you know,” asks Joe. “I just know. If you were me, you’d know too.”
Simon uses his size as a license to say exactly what he thinks on all occasions, loudly and clearly, as when Fr. Russell is asking God’s help for a fund-raiser, and Simon jumps up on his pew to announce, “I doubt if God is interested in our church activities. If God has made the bake sale a priority, we’re all in a lot of trouble.” At that point I found myself wanting to cheer, “YESSSS!”
The most amazing faith and love is demonstrated by Simon Birch in a belief that God has a special mission for him. Simon has an unwavering belief that God had a special plan for him—that he had made him small for a reason. One day he approaches his priest on this very question, “Do you believe God has a plan for our lives?” Simon asks. Unfortunately, the priest responds with an ambiguous “I don’t really know.” It is not the answer Simon hoped for. But even in the face of the older man’s doubt, you could see the gleam of faith in Simon’s eyes. For HE believed, and that is what mattered. He believed that even though he was small and insignificant in the eyes of those around him, that God had a special plan and a purpose for his life.
In our Gospel the disciples interrupted Jesus, as they often did. Jesus was teaching and they came to him and said something like this, “It’s growing late. Look at how many people are here. There’s no food. We need to send them off to the villages to buy food. If we don’t send them quickly, it will be to dark. In your wonderful teaching way, you’re obviously not paying attention to what’s going on.” Sometimes, I think many of us pray with the same sort of outlook. Sometimes we pray with the assumption that Jesus doesn’t know what’s going on.
To their surprise Jesus turned their concern back to them. “You give them something to eat.” Now, they probably had mixed motives for bringing this problem to Jesus. On the one hand they may have been genuinely concerned for the people. The people were hungry. It was late in the day. That was a genuine problem. But I think they were motivated as well by the desire to get their retreat back on course. Something like: “We’ve spent a whole day being compassionate to these people. Let’s be done with them and go back to our time of fellowship and be gathered together in intimacy with you, Lord. Let’s get back to what you promised us in the beginning. Let’s just do our own thing and forget about all of these people.” Did you ever feel that way?
Jesus taught them and us two lessons by calling on them to feed the people. The first is this: Jesus says, “You feed them,” to people like us as well. Our tendency is to look at only what is humanly possible: the money, the conditions, whether we have the right computers, the right building. Whether we’re set up to do it, whether we can really make it happen, and so on—and we conclude that it’s impossible. We just don’t have what it requires. How easy it is to say, “Send them away, Lord.”
The tendency further, is to leave people to their own devices. After all, it was they who had chosen to stay there late, listening to Jesus’ teaching, so now they needed to go solve their own problems. They were going to get hungry, so they needed to go do something about it.
The second lesson here is that Jesus didn’t do the miracle without their cooperation. He could have. Previously, he had done miracles without their assistance. He had cast out demons, healed the sick, given a lame man strength to walk, brought back a little child from the dead. But now he was training those who would serve him, and he called on them to offer what they had. And what little they had became that which he used to bless the crowd, and as we can learn from him, he can use what we have to bless the world. Now, that sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? That we can bless all the world?
Five thousand people probably looked overwhelming to the disciples too, don’t you think? “Go and make disciples of all the world” sounds impossible. But instead of seeing that as the assignment, maybe we can see “Share Christ with the folks in front of you” as an assignment that possible. It’s still risky and difficult. It still requires the power of God, but it’s not impossible.
How many loaves do you have to offer? What do you have to offer? What house do you live in? What bank account do you own? What place do you work? What friendships do you have? What has God given you that he can multiply or expand in his service? What loaves do you have that he could turn around and use, through you, to bless and challenge and change and give life where there is no life? When we become his representative in the world, he intends to use us just as we are. There’s no difficulty in qualifying for this responsibility. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need the approval of some organization. You don’t need a title. You don’t need to be tall, or short, or thin and beautiful or even clever. To become a disciple is to become willing to offer him what you have for him to use in His plan.
Just as small Simon Birch found out and realized God’s plan for his life (I’ll not give away the end if you haven’t seen it) God will take the small loaves we have and make more of it.
There is a wonderful joy in Christian service to others. Being a disciple is the most wonderful thing in the world. Our God has, in a peculiar way, limited himself to using people like us. We are the Body of Christ, God’s incarnation, now. He needs our willingness to offer the loaves we have. He needs us to take up the gifts we’ve been given, offer them in the realization that no matter how small or insignificant we may think our loaves are, they will be used mightily.
A story is told about Mother Theresa who, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, was questioned by a puzzled young reporter. He said to her, “You only reach such a few people here and there. Don’t you feel badly about the fact that there are so many who you cannot help?” She looked up at him with a smile on her craggy face that is recognized around the world and said, “I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.”
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, what do we have? Go and see….Hmmm…Five loaves and a couple of measly fish.
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, where are you? ---In the midst of a lot of needy people, sheep without a shepherd.
“I do what I can…” Members of this small part of Christ’s Body, what can we do? They brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus. “Taking them, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; And ALL ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”
“I do what I can, where I am, with what I have.” ~What we can do—comes from God. ~Where we are—comes from God. ~What we have—comes from God. And it is enough.
Let us pray: Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we pray that your truth might guide us in our every action and thought. Let us be vigilant to the daily appearances of your miraculous touch. Help us to understand that only you can multiply the small loaves that we bring. As people seeking to grow in faith, we offer this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.