Rev. Louis Timberlake
November 8, 2015
I read a book about ten years back called Why Men Hate Going to Church. Now, I’m not suggesting that you go read it. There were some issues with this book. For one, it suggests that men are wired one way and women are wired another way. And, it suggests that most churches are wired in a way that is more in line with the feminine spirit than the masculine spirit. So, the conclusion is that men don’t like church because church is made for women. Now, hear me, there are all kinds of problems with that argument. We don’t have near enough time today to unpack all of the problems. But, we can learn a lot from those with whom we disagree. So, here’s what the book gets right. The author says that there’s a difference between a security orientation and a challenge orientation.
A security orientation is concerned with safety, comfort, and stability. When you are security-oriented, you’re less likely to take risks, to seek change, or to be okay with conflict. You want things to be stable and harmonious.
A challenge orientation is interested in taking risks, in seeking adventure, in welcoming conflict and change, because it believes that, if you’re not being challenged, then you’re growing stagnant. When you are challenge-oriented, you want things to be moving and exciting.
The author suggests that churches, many times, tend to be security-oriented, rather than challenge-oriented. He says that churches tend to want things to be predictable, comfortable, and stable. The problem is, there are a lot of challenge-oriented people out there. There are a lot of people that crave risk, adventure, and change.
But is it an either/or? Do we have to try to be one or the other? Jesus flipped tables in the temple. Jesus was arrested and executed because he made a habit of calling out powerful people. But Jesus also was gentle with the sick and the poor. Jesus also said things like, “Come, all of you who are weary and beaten down. Let me give you rest.” If we are to be like Jesus, then the church must be both a community of support and stability and a community that takes risks, that tackles the problems in the world.
The church is called to make an impact and that impact is part of what draws people to the church. They see the impact the church has in the community and in the lives of individuals and they want to know the source, the reason. What is it that makes those people live that way? I think that’s what the author of that book was trying to say. When the church loses that passion to make a difference, to change lives and communities for Christ, then it loses its relevance to many people. When we lose that drive, that sense of urgency and purpose, then we lose our identity. It’s one of the core desires of our hearts. To make a difference. To impact people. We watch that video about the impact of Christ Church and it’s exciting; it’s inspiring. We see a statistic and think, “I am a part of that!” Or, “I want to be a part of that!” We can see how God is at work in us and through us.
Today, we read Luke’s version of this story about the Five Thousand. The Luke version of this story is pretty interesting, partly because of where it comes in Luke’s gospel. The passage we read today starts with, “On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done.” A key thing we have to remember with the Bible: the details matter. So, we have to ask, where have they been and what have they done?
We get the answer at the beginning of the chapter. There’s a major shift. Up until now, in Luke, the disciples don’t do much. They just tag along. Jesus heals people, Jesus teaches, the disciples just stand in the background. But, in the beginning of Chapter Nine, Jesus all of a sudden decides that they are ready for primetime.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
So, the disciples are given this authority. They go out and heal people. They witness God at work, not just in Jesus, but through their own hands. It’s amazing! And then they come back and talk about everything that happened. They’re so excited! All of a sudden, they aren’t in the background, but they’re the ones preaching and healing. So, when they get to this place with the crowds, why is it that they look at Jesus and basically say, “What do we do?” He tells them to feed the people and they respond, “but we only have five loaves and two fish. How?”
Even after witnessing firsthand all that Jesus has done, the disciples ask, “How?” Even after being empowered to perform miracles of their own, the disciples ask, “How?” Even after seeing the impact that God has made in the past year in our lives and in the lives of others, through Christ Church, we ask, “How?” How do we address hunger in an area that was recently ranked the worst in food insecurity in the nation? How do we address housing in a county where nearly 4,000 people experience homelessness annually? How do we address care of our children in a county where almost one in three children live in poverty? How?
Compassion is a double-edge sword. On one hand, it is our compassion that compels us to make a difference. To give of ourselves, for the sake of others. To offer our time, talent, and treasure to God. And there’s tremendous joy that comes from it. The joy of seeing someone’s life transformed. The joy of being transformed. We find deep meaning in that service to God and to others. But, it is also our compassion that causes us to feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the need in our communities, by the injustice, the suffering, the wrongness of it all. We come and celebrate all that has happened. We tell stories of where we’ve been and what we’ve done. But, then we are faced with an even greater need and we ask, “How, God? How? Will there ever be an end to the poverty? The hunger? The injustice? The suffering?”
There’s a fine line we walk when we are faced with the need in our world. Do we do enough simply to check the box? To say, “Well, I’ve done something, so maybe I’m absolved of further responsibility?” Or, do we let ourselves become numb? Do we let the cries of pain and injustice simply fade into the background noise of our lives? Or, when faced with the magnitude of the need simply in our community, let alone the world, do we become so overwhelmed that we spiral into a sense of helplessness and despair? I’ve found myself in all three of those places at one point or another.
How do we respond faithfully? How do we make an impact? How do we care without being overwhelmed? How do we resist apathy? How do we move beyond band-aid solutions?
I wonder if the church becomes security-oriented at times because it just seems so much easier? When you consider the things that God calls us to challenge, the risks God calls us to take, then a security orientation is really, really attractive. It is easy to remain in the background, to follow Jesus and watch him do all of the work. But, at some point, he turns around and says, “Alright, your turn.” And we think, “But how?”
But, you see what happens, don’t you? The beauty of this passage is in verse 16. “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.” Did you catch that? Jesus isn’t the one that feeds the people. The disciples feed the people. It’s the beginning of Chapter Nine all over again. Jesus says, “I’m giving you everything you need. You don’t need anything else. Now, go preach the gospel and heal the people.”
“Don’t you see? You can do this. I’ll hand you the bread and the fish. Now, you go feed the people. Don’t worry about the how, just feed the people.”
Sometimes, we get so bogged down in what we think is realistic. Based on our annual budget, here are the number of people we can expect to feed. Based on our anticipated volunteer force, here are the number of houses we can feasibly build. The disciples are the same way. Jesus tells them to feed the people and they start calculating the resources necessary to meet that need. In the version from John, the calculations get so high that the disciples simply give up. “Six months wages wouldn’t even feed all of these people and we don’t even have that kind of money!”
But, for a disciple of Jesus, making an impact isn’t about being realistic, it’s about being faithful. Over almost six decades, Christ Church has had a tremendous impact in the community and the lives of individuals. That impact is not the result of the church being realistic. That impact is the result of the church being faithful. Over six decades, thousands of people may have asked “How?,” but that didn’t stop them from offering their five loaves and two fish—their time, talent, and treasure. And then, something incredible happens. Jesus blesses those offerings and we see them multiplied as they impact lives and communities.
The impact that God has made in and through Christ Church is something to be celebrated. It’s incredible. But, usually about the time we start talking about where we’ve been and what we’ve done, Jesus calls us to an even greater task. We come to share stories of the incredible things that have happened and Jesus says, “That’s great. You see those five thousand people over there? Feed them.” That’s where we’re going with this story over the next two weeks. As we celebrate the past and present impact of this church community, God is calling us to consider the future impact of Christ Church in lives and communities. May we be ready to listen.
● Share an experience of making an impact through the church in someone’s life or in the community
● How do we balance, in the church, a security orientation and a challenge orientation?
● What is the difference between being overly realistic and being faithful?
● Where do you believe God is calling you to make a greater impact?
● Where do you believe God is calling Christ Church to make a greater impact?