The people were hungry. They had traveled out into the wilderness to see this man named Jesus who could cure the sick and love the unlovable. Desperate and helpless, they came to him begging for healing, for compassion. And Jesus gave it to them with abundance. As the day wore on, the crowd became hungry. With empty stomachs the disciples approach the Lord and ask him to send the crowds away. “Let them go into the towns and buy their own food! We have nothing to give them.”
You see, the disciples were scared. The disciples were anxious. Fretting over the logistics they were overwhelmed by the number of mouths to feed. They thought they didn’t have enough. They thought that God couldn’t possibly provide. They thought that everybody would go hungry. But Jesus would not have any of that. His compassion for the crowds extended even to their bellies.
“You give them something to eat,” he says. Scared, and anxious, the disciples lift up to him just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish – barely enough for five, not to mention five thousand. But that was enough. In fact, that was plenty. In Christ’s compassion for the hungry, this snack was made into a great feast.
And in whatever way it happened, the crowd did feast. They ate their fill and were satisfied. With a leftover of great abundance, the crowds never had to leave Jesus’ side. They were fed, they were cured, they were loved despite the disciples’ initial fear and anxiety.
Last week, eight youth, two adults, and I drove all the way to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Still ravaged by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the eleven of us all came with a little bit of fear, and a little bit of anxiety.
On Sunday we arrived at the Lutheran Episcopal Service Ministries in Ocean Springs. And I have to tell you that Ocean Springs is home to a saint of God. Her name is Suzie. She began working at the local Lutheran church on August 28, 2005, one day before Hurricane Katrina struck southern Mississippi. Suzie has the sort of undaunted faith that oozes with the Holy Spirit. Upon our arrival Suzie gave us our project for the week. We were to hang sheetrock at a local home that had been flooded during the storm.
Suzie asked us if any of our adults had any experience with construction. I wanted to blurt out: “of course not!” Because there was me, a dorky priest. There was Karen Tanner, our church business manager. And then there was Jeff Tanner, a business professor at Baylor. “Oh God!” I thought to myself, “We shouldn’t have come. We shouldn’t have risked so much. We should’ve stayed at home. There is nothing we can do to help here.”
Scared and anxious, I wanted to tell Suzie that this wasn’t the job for us; that we needed a different job. We didn’t know how to do that. We didn’t have the tools. We didn’t have the skills. We didn’t, we didn’t, we didn’t. I was scared. I was anxious. I was overwhelmed by the task that was given to us.
The Lord provided us with five loaves and two fish. Unexpectedly, and with great confidence, Jeff Tanner says, “oh sure, I know how to do that.” That’s right, Dr. Jeff Tanner the marketing professor. Jeff knows the ins and outs of academia, but he also knows the ins and outs of carpentry and construction. I had been scared. I had been anxious. But Jesus had provided us with ample wisdom and skill.
And so we arrived at the home of Steve Thomas. Steve’s family home had been ravaged by Katrina’s fury. After the floodwaters had subsided, he was left with a shell of a house. With his wife, son, and elderly mother to care for, Steve was busy rebuilding his home. His budget is tight, his hope is dwindling. If he doesn’t finish his house by November, and if it’s not up to code, the city of Pascagoula will have no choice but to condemn the house.
Now with God providing Jeff and his skills, we offered what little we could to Steve and his family. We hung some sheetrock. We sanded down some rough edges. We swapped stories and jokes. We helped him rebuild his home. He helped us keep a smile on our faces. Now Steve’s house still has a long way to go before he’s ready to move into it. And what little help we provided was appreciated, but his budget is still tight, and his hope is still dwindling. At the end of the week our time of construction was over, and we all still felt a little helpless. So we felt that there was nothing left to do but pray. And pray we did.
All eleven of us, plus Steve, his son, his wife, and his mother went around that house and blessed it in the name of Christ. Each of us laid our hands on the walls, asking the Holy Spirit to give Steve and his family courage for the road they had ahead of them. We laid hands on the walls in each room, trusting that God will provide Steve with help in the future. We laid hands on each wall, asking God to bless that house with love and joy and peace.
Believe me, when we left, it was difficult to find a dry eye among us. Our group of missionaries from St. Alban’s had left Waco a little scared, and a little anxious. But then God had blessed us so miraculously, that there we were, standing on a stranger’s front porch, misty eyed because we had to go home.
Now my words from this pulpit may never compel you to greater faith in Christ. If that is the case, I ask you to let those tears speak for me. Those tears were tears of how God turns risks of faith into joy, how God can provide when we think we don’t have enough.
At the feeding of those five thousand hungry mouths, the disciples risked a lot. They risked looking stupid by trying to feed everybody with so little food. They risked being mocked by the crowds. And our youth from St. Alban’s also risked a lot. We risked looking silly and ineffectual in the midst of so much damage and destruction. We risked it by leaving our homes, by leaving our families, and by traveling a long way to a new place to do new things. But those tears, those tears that I still shed for Steve and his family, are proof that God takes whatever little we can risk, and blesses it beyond description.
This is how mission in the Kingdom of God works. We take whatever little we have, a knack for carpentry, a gift with languages, skill in medicine, a heart to serve, or maybe just five loaves and two fishes, and risk it all. We risk it with reckless abandon. We risk it by driving all the way to southern Mississippi. We risk it by hanging sheetrock in a stranger’s house. We risk it by going abroad and spreading the Kingdom of God to every corner of the earth.
You see, mission is not a week long summer youth trip. Mission for Jesus Christ is a lifelong pursuit. And it’s for everybody, no matter how little you have. You have to risk it. Because when you get to where you’re going, and it may only be to your own kitchen table, God will provide you with enough – enough skills, enough talent, enough money, enough energy – to carry out your God given task. And perhaps God will even bless you with something you didn’t know you had.
We sin when we do not risk. We sin when we play it safe. We sin when we do not pursue God’s mission. Take whatever you have, and risk it. Go ahead and gamble with God. The payout is beyond measure. Go. You give them something to eat.