Rev. Louis Timberlake
November 1, 2015
Today is the beginning of our Stewardship focus series, Five&Two. Over the next four weeks, we will be doing something different. We will be reading the same story each week. It is a story about what God can do, with us and through us, when we offer ourselves to God. This story, which is the Feeding of the Five Thousand, is unique because it is the only miracle of Jesus—apart from the Resurrection—that is present in each of the four gospels. All of the authors felt that it was essential to include this event, but they each offer their own perspective. So, we have four similar, yet slightly different, versions of this story. Over the next four weeks, we are going to read the four versions of this story and explore what they say to us about God and the Church.
1 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.
I grew up in the church. Some of you also may have grown up in the church; some of you may have connected with the church as a youth or an adult. But, I experienced, as a child, what it was like to be a part of the church and I have plenty of memories of those experiences. I remember loving craft time during Sunday School. I wasn’t very good at listening to the teacher, but I was a pro with crayons and a glue stick. I remember the flannelgraphs (felt boards). There was nothing like telling Bible stories using felt pieces on a green background. I also remember sitting in big church and being incredibly bored. Apparently, our preacher was one of the most renowned preachers in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. He actually just retired after serving that church for 24 years, which is a long tenure for a Methodist. But, as a kid, I never found the sermons that interesting. It’s a good lesson for preachers. If you ever start to feel a little too sure of yourself, ask a kid what he or she thought about your sermon.
I remember the offering time in church. My dad would give me a couple of quarters and instruct me to put it in the offering plate. I always wanted to put it in the little envelope first, because I thought it was a little unfair that only the adults got to use the envelopes. I’m sure the counters got a kick out of finding a couple of quarters in those envelopes with “Louis” scrawled across the front in crayon.
One of my earliest memories of the church was the importance of putting something, even if it was just two quarters, in the offering plate.
We’ve produced a video for each week of our Stewardship series. These are videos of the people of Christ Church—kids, youth, and adults—talking about their love of and hopes for the church. The worshippers at Awakening and Spark will watch them in the services, but I’d encourage you to look on the website or the church Facebook page each week for the video. Our communications department did a fantastic job. This week, we asked a handful of kids about giving. And their answers are just great. We asked them what they give to the church and they said things like “I give friendship,” “I give music,” “I give money, so that the church can help those that don’t have enough,” “I smile, “I act and dance,” “I pay attention.” We asked them why God wants us to give and they said things like, “to help others,” “to provide food for those that need it,” “that God doesn’t just want us to give money, but God wants us to give our hearts.” The video ended with a pretty powerful line. It was Andi Leigh Waldrop. She said, “Well, if you don’t give to the church, then there probably won’t be a very good church.” Which, to me, begs the question. Why does it matter that the church exists? What would be lost if we didn’t have a very good church?
Today, we read John’s version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. There’s something very interesting about John’s version. In all the other versions, the disciples have the five loaves and the two fish. They are the source of the small offering that is multiplied.
John is different. In John, the disciples have nothing, but there is this boy. You have to love Andrew’s pragmatism. He says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
There’s a boy here and he has something to offer, but the need is so great and his offering is so small. It’s barely a drop in a bucket.
Do you ever feel that way? I want to help, but what could I possibly do? I know there are needs in the world, but I’m just one person. Millions of people suffer and die from malnourishment; what help is a single sandwich?
I wonder what the boy’s family thought? I mean, surely he didn’t come alone. It says the crowd followed Jesus to the Sea of Galilee. Previously, he had been in Jerusalem, which is about 70 miles away. That’s a serious journey. The boy’s family had probably thought ahead and bought a little bit of food when they passed through a town along the way. And, now the boy was about to give it up, so that the disciples could eat. But, his family would go hungry. They were probably just ordinary people and food wasn’t abundant for ordinary people. And yet, the boy offered up the food.
Brothers and sisters, the church exists because ordinary people put their faith in an extraordinary God. The church exists because ordinary people give of their time, talent, and treasure—trusting that God can take that small offering and multiply it. The church exists so that God can work through people to transform lives and communities.
Maybe you’ve heard of the butterfly effect. It’s part of chaos theory within mathematics. The butterfly effect basically claims that a small event, something that seems inconsequential, can initiate a chain reaction that has a major impact. It got its name from Edward Lorenz, who theorized that something as small as the beating of the wings of a butterfly could, through a series of connected atmospheric events, affect the path of a hurricane. He originally used a seagull as his example, until some colleagues pointed out that “the butterfly effect” sounded more compelling than “the seagull effect.” The most popular illustration of this is likely familiar to you:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The church is a community of horseshoe nails. Our individual and collective contributions of time, talent, and treasure are magnified exponentially by the grace of God. We are ordinary people who are invited to place our faith in an extraordinary God. When we do, incredible things happen.
This is All Saints Sunday, the Sunday when we remember those saints that have left our presence to be with God. It is a Sunday when we celebrate their lives and honor their commitment to Christ and his church. They were ordinary people, but their impact was extraordinary, because of their faith in God. I think about the history of this church, when some ordinary people from West Market Street United Methodist decided to place their faith in God and start a new church in Sternberger Elementary. Fifty-nine years later, Christ Church impacts thousands upon thousands of lives in the surrounding community and around the world. People are fed, clothed, and sheltered. Victims of abuse and violence find safety. Recovering addicts find support and healing. Children and youth are educated and loved. Families are strengthened. Individuals are empowered. And people encounter God. All because the faith of a few ordinary people in an extraordinary God and fifty-nine years of people offering their time, talent, and treasure to God’s mission.
Sometimes, what we have to offer might seem like a drop in a bucket. Yet, what is a full bucket but thousands of drops?
There was a man walking down the street one day in a large city. He decided to take a different route home this particular day, in order to change the scenery. As he was walking, he noticed a new building going up. From what he could see so far, it looked like it was going to be a large building and fairly ornate, so he judged that it was important. Curious, he walked up to a nearby construction worker and asked about the building. He asked, “What are you doing?” The worker didn’t look up, but simply replied, “I’m laying bricks.” This, of course, didn’t answer the man’s question, so he walked over to a second worker and asked what he was doing. The worker replied, “I’m earning a paycheck.” This was even less helpful than the first answer. Most people would have walked away at that point, but the man was determined to know the nature of this building. And so, he approached a third worker and repeated his question, “What are you doing?” This worker looked up and smiled at the man. He stood up and pointed towards the sky, well above the unfinished structure, and said, “I’m building a cathedral.”
What is our vision of stewardship? When we offer our time, talent, and treasure to God, what is it that we are doing? Are we simply writing a check? Or are we expecting God to do something extraordinary with our offering? Are we expecting God to take our small contribution and multiply it exponentially?
And how do we continue to educate our children? How do we help them understand that they’re not just dropping two quarters in the offering plate, but are participating in something much bigger? They are helping to put shoes on people’s feet, to put a roof over their heads, to offer a second chance to someone in need. Every drop counts. Five thousand people would have gone hungry, if not for that boy with his five loaves and two fish. If he had not been willing to give on faith, to trust that God would do something extraordinary, then five thousand people would have gone hungry that night. When we give of our time, our talent, and our treasure, are we simply laying a brick or are we building a cathedral? The church exists because ordinary people put their faith in an extraordinary God. Where is God calling each of us, as disciples, and Christ Church, as a community of disciples, to make a new beginning? To take a step out in faith? To offer our five loaves and two fish, trusting that God will multiply it so that all are filled, with an abundance to spare?
* Tim Elmore, Habitudes: The Art of Changing Culture, Chapter 11
- What are your earliest memories of stewardship in the church? Who has modeled stewardship for you?
- What does it look like to educate our children on the importance of stewardship?
- How is it significant to you that the five loaves and two fish come from a boy in John?
- Have you ever felt like what you had to offer was just a drop in the bucket, compared to the need?
- Have you ever experienced God multiplying a contribution of time, talent, or treasure, so that the impact was greater than the initial offering?
- How do we cultivate an expectation that God will do something extraordinary with our ordinary gifts?
- What is the difference between laying a brick and building a cathedral? How does that relate to stewardship in the church?