by Rev. Doug Gray
As many of you know, I’m something of a movie buff. One of my favorite movies is called Silverado. It’s a classic Western, with beautiful photography, a great cast, great stunts and a great story.
[Show Clip 37:00–40:26 At one point in the movie, the four heroes ride up to a wagon train. They find the guards dead and the strongbox stolen by crooks—all the money the people in the wagon train need to start their new life in Silverado is gone. Three of the heroes and one of the wagon train’s men decide to go off after the thieves, while the other hero gets the wagon train going. The group going after the strongbox arrives at the thieves’ hideout undetected and crawls up to the edge of an overlooking cliff to discover the thieves are part of a much larger gang of 20 or more, really mean guys in a virtually impregnable box canyon. One of the heroes turns to another and says, “Hangin’ around with you is no picnic.” Looking down at the impossible situation, the other asks, “Anyone got any ideas?”]
I think sometimes we feel a little bit like these heroes: we look out over the world that seems a much larger, meaner gang than we thought it was going to be, and it seems like the world has everything going for it. And we look to Jesus, knowing we are going to go out into that world, and we may sometimes feel like saying, “Hangin’ around with You is no picnic.”
In our passage for today, we see the disciples facing a tough situation—Jesus’ healing and preaching routine has been going a bit too well. Something like 20,000 people have gathered to be with Jesus, to get healing for themselves, for someone they loved, or just to see God do something really cool through Jesus. All these people, and someone’s got to feed them. Jesus’ disciples are panicking—how are we going to feed them? (All I can say is, it’s clear that none of the disciples were one of the legendary women from this church! I think the story would have gone really differently if one of them had been there.) The disciples’ best plan is for the people to head out and look for a place to buy some food. Jesus has another idea.
So what do we learn about Jesus from this story? I think we learn three things:
1. Jesus had great compassion for hurting people. His compassion was part of
what drew people to Him. People instinctively knew they could come to Jesus
with whatever was worst or most painful and find someone who cared.
2. Jesus was all about meeting those needs. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Have a
nice day.” Jesus heals the people who are sick. The word Matthew uses for sick
here is usually translated as sick, but it could also mean weak or powerless. So
we have a sense of Jesus healing not just those who are physically sick, but those
who are sick at heart, or trapped in a life with no way out. When the people are
hungry, Jesus meets that need too.
3. Jesus looks for the creative solution. He is not limited by the conventional
wisdom. He takes what he has—five loaves and two fish—and does more than
anyone could have guessed.
4. With Jesus, there was always enough and more to spare. Whether we are
talking about five loaves and two fish becoming enough to feed half of Fenway,
or we are talking about the compassion that he shows to the needy, or about
the grace we experience because of Jesus’ sacrifice—there always seems to
be enough, with plenty left over to share.
When we think about what Jesus was like, of course, we are also talking about what Jesus is like too. Are we hurting, scared, desperate, frustrated? We can lay all the deepest, hardest pieces of our lives before Jesus in prayer, and know we are still loved, that Jesus isn’t just going to say “Have a nice day!” but help us, heal us. The Jesus we read about, is the same Jesus we can meet.
What can we learn from Jesus? Sometimes we may feel like our heroes in Silverado, scouting things out, and finding we are hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. We can see the needs of those in our community—after school activities, loving daycare, a safe place for good people to do good, a rallying point for the neighborhood, a channel for families to experience grace and gather hope, hungry people needing work and education, and the list goes on and on. Jesus turns to us and says, “You, you do something about it.” Now Jesus does this with a wink and a bit of a smile. Like with his twelve disciples, Jesus knows we can’t do it on our own. Just as the disciples found what they could and offered it to Jesus, so we too have to find what we can, do what we can, and Jesus will take it, bless it, break it and give it to those in need. Suddenly, we will find that our little, by God’s grace, has been multiplied and is enough and to spare. Our fellowship has seen this happen over and over again in its history. We will see it happen again. The vision we are casting together is of a congregation of families, where great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children can all worship the Living God and find their lives richer and renewed. It’s why we have a wide variety of music styles and feels. Together we try to speak the language and have meaningful worship for people who knew the struggles and sacrifices of the Depression and World War II, and for the people who have never known life without a computer. Together, we look for ways to share the love and grace we have experienced from Jesus Christ with those around us. It’s a challenge we continue to work at. I have loved seeing the commitment so many of us have shown, the encouragement so many have offered to help all these generations learn to love and appreciate each other, and together we come to God with our worship, our praise and our heart for hurting people. Jesus’ Way thrives when creative, compassionate people offer what they have to God to meet the needs of God’s children.
In the movie, Silverado, the heroes do come up with a creative solution—they release the gang’s horses, and steal the strongbox back from the bad guys, returning triumphant to the wagon train. Though our way is not filled with that kind of danger, we still face some risks. Unlike the heroes in the movie, we have a person we trust who is our master and our friend. So let us stay compassionate, look for the needs around us and the creative solution that will share the grace and love we have received. With a wink and a smile, Jesus will take what we offer and as we dedicate it to His purposes, we will find we have become much more than we ever imagined. Today Jesus looks to us, as He has looked at others before us, and says, “You give them what they need.”