November 15, 2015
Rev. Louis Timberlake
Ever since I was a kid, Saturdays in the fall meant watching college football. SEC football, to be specific. I know that I’m in ACC country now, but SEC football is in my blood. I’m from Athens, both of my parents went to Georgia. So, it was a rare Saturday that we didn’t have the Georgia game on the TV—muted, of course, so that we could listen to Larry Munson call the game over the radio. I ended up going to Davidson, but you don’t go to Davidson because of the football tradition. So, I spent my Saturdays in my dorm room watching Georgia. Now, it hasn’t been a good year for the Dawgs. Any of you that pay attention to college football know that we’ve dropped a few games, that our quarterback play has been suspect at best, and that some are saying this could be Mark Richt’s last year in Athens. That’s the kind of talk that you hear when your expectations exceed your reality. We have passionate fans.
I know I don’t have to tell you what it means to be a passionate fan. This state is home to probably the most storied rivalry in college basketball. When I moved here, I learned pretty quickly that you can’t wear the color blue without making a statement. And I’m not forgetting you State fans. You know what I like about State fans? Most State fans actually went to State. I’ve learned that’s not always the case with the Tobacco Road crowd. This is of course from the Georgia fan that didn’t go to Georgia.
One of the under-emphasized, but important things we learn from this passage we read, is that Jesus had a lot of fans. In the gospels, we hear about all of the people that followed Jesus around. When he rolled into town, people would come from miles to see him, to hear him teach, to be healed by him. There’s this stretch of time, from the time Jesus began to gain a little fame to the time that he is arrested, that everyone wanted to see Jesus. The passage that we read today says that Jesus and the disciples were trying to escape, because they were so inundated with visitors that they didn’t even have time to eat. It kind of feels like when celebrities pull their hats down and wear sunglasses when they go out in public, just so they can grab lunch in peace. The problem is, the passage tells us, people saw Jesus and the disciples leaving and followed them. The disciples and Jesus are in a boat, just trying to get a little peace, but the crowds are running along the shoreline, know that, eventually, they’re going to come back to shore. Picture that for a moment. By the time the boat lands, there are 5,000 people waiting for Jesus and his disciples.
Think about it. Literally thousands of people following you wherever you went, waiting for you to say something profound or perform some miracle. It had to be exhausting. It also had to be pretty tough on the leaders of the cities and towns that Jesus visited. Have you ever been one of the last people to leave a stadium after a game? It’s trashed. If Jesus comes to your small town, the crowd comes with him. Think about the mess that you’d have to clean up afterwards. Jesus had a lot of people that followed him around, waiting for him to say or do something amazing. Something that they could tell stories about. Think about the stories that they told after this event, when Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed five thousand people. Not only did they see something cool, but they got a free meal. Top-notch entertainment and free food. Talk about a great church growth strategy.
You know, there’s something interesting about crowds. They don’t last. Once the event is over and the novelty has worn off, once Jesus goes from being local celebrity to wanted man, the crowds disappear. After he is crucified, the only people left are the eleven disciples (because Judas is out of the picture) and the few women that were a part of Jesus’ inner circle. Once the excitement fades, the crowd moves on.
Kyle Idleman makes a distinction in his book, Not a Fan, between fans and followers. He says a fan is “an enthusiastic admirer.” A follower is more. Followers make sacrifices. A fan is there as long as things are going well. A follower is there long after things go south. A fan is there as long as it is convenient. A follower is there long after things become inconvenient. And, he says in the book, Jesus wasn’t all that interested in gaining enthusiastic admirers. Jesus was interested in gaining followers.
If you think about it, it’s like sports. Ultimately, the success of a team isn’t really about the fans. Sure, the fans matter. The stadium wouldn’t exist, if not for the fans. But, the fans don’t run plays. The fans don’t put in the work in the weight room and on the practice field. And, long after the last fan has left the stadium, the fans aren’t doing everything they can to help their bodies recover and to prepare for the next opponent.
It’s interesting to me that some of the greatest coaches out there make for some of the worst press conferences. A great coach knows that success on the field isn’t about winning over the fans, it’s about getting the team to buy into the vision and the process. If your team is committed to the vision and the process that leads to the fulfillment of that vision, then you will have success. You Alabama fans know all about “the process.” Nick Saban is famous for his process, for instilling in his players that success comes from approaching every play, every practice, every film session, every workout with a desire to perform that task with excellence. If you commit yourself to excellence in every task, then the realization of the vision will follow.
Jesus had a lot of fans. He had far less followers. The number of people that traveled to see him and gathered when he came to town? Thousands. The number that dropped everything else going on in their lives, that made sacrifices to follow him, that were committed to his vision and process? Around twenty. If you think about the impact of the Christian faith upon the world over the past two thousand years, it’s pretty incredible. That impact is not the result of the five thousand fans, but the twenty followers. Twenty people, committed to the vision and the process.
John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”
That’s the vision—that last line. To “set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.” That is the vision that Jesus talks about, over and over. The kingdom of God. You heard Mike say in the video that, as a church situated in Greensboro, our call is to shape this city after the kingdom of God. To shape our community so that it looks like the kingdom of God. Did you hear how he defined the kingdom of God? He said that the kingdom of God is where God’s will is done. For our city to resemble the kingdom of God, it must become a place where God’s will is done.
Think about the places in our community and in our world where God’s will is not being done. Where people live in poverty. Where children are deprived of a decent education and good medical care. Where people are judged by race or nationality. Where people are victimized and dehumanized by others. Where people are persecuted and killed because they don’t believe the same thing as someone else.
What does it look like for God’s will to be done? Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” God’s will is for justice, for mercy, for peace. God’s will is that we show charity towards others and humility towards God. That we will live in such a way that heaven isn’t just an aspiration for the future, but an alternate option to the current reality. That is the kingdom of God. God’s will being done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Where do you perceive the will of God not being done? Where is Christ calling his followers to commit themselves to the vision and the process? The vision is the kingdom and the process is discipleship—submitting ourselves to Christ, so that we become more like him.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s versions of this story, nothing is required of the crowd. The crowd benefits, the crowd eats for free, but nothing is required of them. Yet, everything is required of the disciples. He says, “what do you have?” and they respond, “Five loaves and two fish. It’s everything we have.” So, he says, “Give it to me. Every loaf and every fish.” They’ve already upset their lives, given up their livelihoods, all to follow him. They’ve already made sacrifices. And still he says, “give me everything.” He doesn’t ask the fans; he asks the followers. And, he doesn’t ask anything of them that he wouldn’t do himself.
The realization of the vision is not about the number of fans, but the commitment of the followers. It’s not about the five thousand; it’s about the twenty.
Next week, we will be making commitments. It’s stewardship season, so this certainly involves commitments of our treasure, but it’s more than that. It’s about how we commit our time and talents as well. Next week, we will have an opportunity to make our commitments to God alongside our brothers and sisters. If you need a commitment card, there are some extras clipped on the chairs. If, like me, you prefer to fill out an electronic commitment card, you can find one on our website on the Five&Two page. Over the next week, we are all invited to spend time in prayer and conversation. What is it that God asks of us? Where are we being called to commit our time, talent, and treasure? What are our five loaves and two fish?
Ultimately, we have to ask a hard question. Where do we find ourselves in this story? Are we here for the entertainment and the free bread? Or, are we here because we are committed to the vision and the process? Are we here because we want nothing more than to see God’s will done on earth, as it is in heaven? Are we here because we want to be disciples, to become more like Christ, so that our community might become more like the kingdom of God?
- What is the difference between being a fan and being a follower?
- What does it mean to be a disciple? What is the process of discipleship?
- What does it mean to shape our community after the kingdom of God?
- Where do you see God’s will not being done in the community?
- How could we engage those needs?