Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: Feed Mark 6:30-44

Faith is the art of seeing the possible.  One of the better reasons to read the book of faith is to see and hear an alternative account of the way the world is organized.  We read the Bible to learn what is really possible.  Believing Bible stories like five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand men, not to mention uncounted women and children is a stretch of faith.  This is what we’re asked to believe.  Not that Jesus could do something so extraordinary like feed so many people with such an ordinary act, that’s not a stretch.  The hard part is believing this sort of thing happens all the time.

A miracle is not a once in a lifetime unrepeatable event that happens when God suspends the normal course of things and makes the sun turn its head or the moon wink at the stars while God tinkers with the fates in our favor.  A miracle is a curtain pulled back on the window of reality that allows us to see in a slice of time what God has been up to all the time.  A miracle is not to be believed because we think God chose to get involved in ways God usually doesn’t get involved.  A miracle is a miracle because we notice God doing something more possible than we would have ever guessed.  We notice miracles when we are paying attention to our lives and to what is happening with our resources as we offer them to others each day.

We press the fast forward button on our beloved remote control when our hero’s energy waning.  We buzz through the action to see whether something is possible or not.  Miracle believing people hold down the fast forward button of faith; trusting God is always up to something.  God doesn’t make an exception to the practice of medicine when a lame man walks without orthopedic surgery, physical therapy, and months of taking baby steps on crutches.  We call that miracle because we saw the healing process in fast motion; we get a peek into heaven here on earth.

This feeding story lets us see what is possible when God is on the job.  This story takes place as the disciples need rest after returning from their first mission trip.  It went so well, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching good news to people who hadn’t thought of the world as good place for such a long time, that people wouldn’t leave them alone.  The disciples were spent from helping people rediscover hope and health.  So, they take a boat on the Sea of Galilee and cross to a deserted spot for some R&R.  Jesus was always taking break from messiah business.  We need to exercise care when we exert ourselves beyond our means, thinking we have more stamina than Jesus.

The hungry people follow Jesus on his disciples.  Springsteen sings, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”  The people following Jesus and his disciples have hungry souls.  We don’t come to church each week out of mindless habit.  This is an intentional practice; there is a growling hunger in our souls that needs filling.  In the same way, our stomachs long for food, our hungry hearts yearn for spiritual nourishment.

They didn’t know what they need, but they felt compelled to hunt down Jesus; running along the shore to see where the boat will land; forgetting all their other needs and obligations.  They are like us in those times when we feel something so strongly we will go to great lengths because of that concern.  Sometimes our longings can be unhealthy; looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces because we want to be loved so badly.  Jesus shows the church’s role is to believe the extraordinary can intersect with the ordinary human experience, so hungry hearts might be satisfied.  We are to offer our ordinary selves; feeding hungry bodies and souls; trusting God can do something extraordinary with our ordinary acts.

Jesus feeds them by teaching them that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Then when the sermon is over and their souls are refreshed, their stomachs growl.  They are in the desert, a long way from a McDonald’s, unless you are in the Israeli desert where they sell Texas 2 Burger, really!

The disciples tell Jesus the people are hungry.  Jesus shows God is in the everyday business of feeding a hungry world.  He is about use ordinary things to reveal God’s glory.  The disciples tell the people to sit.  Jesus takes what they give him, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to back to them.  Sound familiar?  This is new math: five loaves of bread plus two fish equals enough to feed more than five thousand, with a remainder of twelve baskets.  The remainder is for you and me.

This story is about the art of faith, calling out what is possible with God.  Jesus is still at work; satisfying our hungers when we bring to God our meager five loaves and two fish.  It is never enough by itself, but more than enough when offered to Jesus, who blesses our limited resources with his unlimited love.  God can shine in simpler ways than we imagine.  This story is repeated over and over again when we’re not up to the task, and our resources are all but gone, yet our little bit offered is more than enough.  

Single parents or neglected spouses come to mind.  They have limited time, money, patience, and help.  They worry about their children maybe more than two-parent families; dealing with spouses or former spouses who never help enough.  Each day they rise; offering what they have, five loaves and two fish, in the face of a hunger too great to satisfy.  Somehow, they feed their family and are fed themselves.

Jesus is still at work; feeding our hungers.  You and I are the arms and legs that do the work; making the ordinary extraordinary.  This happens, though the needs are greater than the resources, for none of us are up to the task.  There will always be limited time, money, patience, and help.  It is easy to bog down; worrying about the size and scope of the needs, what we will do next, or how things will be affected.  All we can do is offer what we have, our five loaves and two fish, in the face of great hunger; pushing the fast forward button of hope that lives can be restored, stomachs fed, and souls satisfied by God who can provide more than enough.

Jerry came to see me on Monday morning.  I was busy and asked him to come back at 4:00 p.m.  He did and he told me his story.  Jerry had a good life, his words, a wife three children and good job.  At age 68, they are all gone.  It may seem really sad, but Jerry told me not to be sad.

Jerry been in the hospital, as his health is failing, really he is dying of heart failure.  However, this time when he got out of another long hospital stay, his normal plan of renting a motel and until he could find an apartment would not work because his bank account was empty.  Jerry would learn that because of his long stay in a convalescence center, his Social Security checks were stopped.  He soon was able to clear up the misunderstanding, but he would not receive a check for two more weeks and he had only one night left at the motel.  Jerry told me did not come here for money.  In fact he was in Irving by mistake of getting on the wrong bus.  He had got on the  bus to walk neighborhood streets to see if he could do an odd job to make some money.  This is why he came to see me.

While Jerry was in my office, he asked if I wanted to hear his poems.  I said sure and he started to quote long sections of religious poetry he had written.  After about the fourth poem, he told me his laptop had been stolen (he added it was a no good laptop too).  He said the words were flooding his head and he needed to write them down.  So, for now he was writing these words with pen and paper.

Though Jerry was not asking for help. I knew I could at least try to help him find a place to go the next night.  I told him to come to the church in morning, I would do my best to figure where he could sleep the next night.  I learned, as Jerry had told me, that  many of homeless shelters have quarters upstairs and Jerry is so sick he cannot even walk a flight of stairs.  I reached out to my friend Captain Andy Miller at Salvation Army and he pointed me where we could go.

The next morning came and I never heard from Jerry.  In fact, I did not hear from him all week.  Finally on Saturday he called to tell me, he was in the hospital again.  I asked him what I could do to help.  He told me again the words will not stop, Jerry is a savant.   The medical staff have not let him sit up to write since he is such a high risk to stroke.  He repeated, if only I could have a laptop.  I said, Jerry we will get you a laptop.  This morning I need an ordinary laptop, not a fancy one with all that internet stuff, Jerry words.  But something he can write on.  I don’t know why but I think that ordinary gesture has extraordinary potential, that only God knows.

The film Saving Grace is about a reluctant pope who feels the need to get out of the prison of  the Vatican and in touch with the people.  A deaf-mute girl travels to see him in order to beg for a priest for her village.  He sneaks out to the mountain town in Italy, which he finds overrun by despair for a local thug has held the town hostage.  They feel God-forsaken.

He is the pope, but only the little girl knows; to the others, he is a stranger.  He sees a water tower in disrepair, which once carried water from an aqueduct to irrigate fields, grow green grass, and provide life to the community.  He sets out to rebuild it by himself.  At one point, he sits in a deserted place praying, “God, I feel so weak.  I need your help.”  He soon is overrun with help.  Finally, the trough to transport the water was rebuilt.
A local shepherd, who turns out to be an ex-priest, asks the pope how he will get the water wheel working. “I don’t know but you must have faith, you do what you can and God will provide”, says the pope.  God provides.  This time through the ex-priest himself who fixes he water wheel.  The community comes to life again and the priest is restored.  The pope turns to the little girl and says, “You know this is all because of you and our God!”  A wonderful story of limited resources offered to God amid massive need and an extraordinary thing happens through ordinary means.

The miracle story of what God did through Jesus in a deserted place with tired disciples, little food and enormous hunger is our story.  It’s a story of what is possible because we have a God with whom nothing is impossible.  It is repeated over and over again, if only we have the eyes of faith to see, and a willingness to offer our ordinary selves, trusting God can do something extraordinary here among us.  Soon Lord, we pray!  Amen!

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