Sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, A.R., on July 26 2009.
Psalm 145:10-18; John 6:1-15
Imagine what it might have been like had our church been involved in planning that day’s activities… that day, as John’s gospel describes it, when “Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberius.” You might say, “We couldn’t have been in charge. The gospel tells us there was a large crowd, and we haven’t had one of those round here in a long time.” And you would be right, so humor me, okay?
They were on the cusp of Passover. Then and now, eating a meal is central to the celebration of Passover, and that seems to be what was on Jesus’ mind. “When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’” Do I need to remind you that when it comes to eating, our church is pretty good at that sort of thing? So let’s interject ourselves into the story. Might as well have a little fun with it.
Suppose Philip was chair of our church’s Finance Committee. Philip is not the group’s treasurer. Everybody knows that Judas holds that position. However, Jesus, for whatever reason, didn’t ask Judas; he asked Philip. And besides, Philip’s a savvy sort of guy. He keeps up with current affairs and is involved in things financial. He is aware that just two days ago the minimum wage went from $6.55 to $7.25. So he does some quick figuring in his mind. “Let’s see… based on a forty hour work-week, the gross pay for a common laborer now would be $290.00 per week. Why, it would take six-month’s wages to feed this crowd. That’s $7,482! And even that wouldn’t be enough. Each person would only get a small bite at best. According to Judas’ last financial report, we don’t have nearly enough money to support such a thing.”
Usually, Philip is a wait-and-see but positive type of person. Yet, even he is overwhelmed by the odds.
So Jesus turns to Andrew, better known to us as the brother of Simon Peter. In fact, John, in his gospel, reminds of this… more than once, actually. Andrew never seems to be just Andrew. He is always Andrew the brother of Simon Peter. I wonder if he ever resented being known as Simon’s sibling? Probably not, if for no other reason than he seems to want to introduce people to Jesus more than dwell on the fact that his brother gets more publicity than he does. And in this story, in typical fashion, Andrew isn’t thinking along financial lines. He’s a relational kind of guy, always meeting people, and in his own quiet way befriending them and telling them about his Master, Jesus.
“There is a boy here,” he tells Jesus. “He has five barley loaves and two fish.” Good for you, Andrew, good for you. Somewhere along the way he has met a young fellow and made him a friend, to the point that he even knows what the boy has brought along for lunch. Just like Andrew, isn’t it? Always making friends. But then he too looks at the crowds of people. You don’t have to be a CPA to see that the odds are against them. “But what are they (speaking of the bread and the fish) among so many people?”
What if Andrew chaired the church’s outreach or benevolence committee? “We’ve had to pump so much of our resources into our facilities we’ve earmarked only a tiny portion of our budget for such ministries,” he reminds Jesus. “We want to do more when it comes to reaching people, but already we’ve exceeded our allocation. We would have to take a vote of the church to see if they would be willing to transfer some funds from our directed accounts into benevolence, and we don’t have a business meeting coming up for quite some time. What are we going to do?”
Check out the activity of the Hospitality Committee. They’re getting ready for the upcoming religious festival. Things are going to get hectic enough when Passover does come, so they’re already busy fixing the centerpieces for the tables. They can’t worry about tonight’s supper. They’re thinking ahead to Passover. Don’t bother trying to get a solution out of them.
The Maintenance Committee is worried about what all these people are going to do to the church’s lawn. Look, some of them are already trampling through the bushes, tearing up the landscaping! It’ll take a month-load of work days to get that mess cleaned up.
Jesus finds himself running around with, and depending upon, a bunch of people who do the best they can to operate within the limited resources with which they’ve been entrusted, and when confronted by such a large and complex need they simply don’t know what to do. They’ve analyzed the situation through and through, considered the financial cost and the challenge before them, and they freeze. They don’t know what to do. They just freeze.
It’s called the “paralysis of analysis.”
I first heard that term on the golf course. There are a number of things that can happen on a golf course – none of them good, let me tell you – when there is paralysis of analysis.
Poor Tom Watson. Did you see any of the British Open last week? Watson was about to set a world record for being, by a long shot, the oldest Open champion in the history of the game. All he had to do was par the 18th at Turnberry, on the western shore of Ayrshire in Scotland, one of the most rugged and beautiful pieces of landscape God ever created. Watson hit a perfect tee shot into the middle of the fairway (with a club, by the way, that our own Jerry Garrison put together for him). All Watson had to do, as we all know now, was hit a 9-iron into the green, two putt, and history would be made. But he chose an 8-iron which, under any other conditions, would have no doubt been just the right club. He obviously didn’t account for the adrenaline factor, however, and hit it absolutely flush. The ball ran through the green and nestled into a bit of rough a few yards off the back. Choosing to putt instead of chip, he hit the ball too hard and it came to rest eight feet below the hole. Still, the only thing left for him to do was hit the putt and the championship was his.
Never before, and probably never again, will a man of his age have such a chance to go down in history. It would have turned the sporting world on its ear.
Put yourself in his cleats. Almost 60 years old, trying to do what up to this point only young men have done. In fact, his playing partner for the day, Mathew Goggin of Australia, is young enough to be his son. You could just see it. Watson stood over the putt, with all the eyes of the golfing world watching – and not just watching, but rooting desperately for him – and he hit a weak, little putt that never had a chance to get to the hole. That forced a playoff with Stewart Cink and in no time flat Watson was toast. He was completely spent. There was nothing left for him to give, physically or emotionally. In a four-hole playoff Cink won easily and took home the Claret Jug.
Watson experienced the “paralysis of analysis.”
And so did the disciples of Jesus. And too often, so do we.
There is a key statement in this story, at least the way John tells it in his gospel. This account, of course, is found in all the gospels, but only John says, after Jesus asked Philip where they would buy bread to feed the people, “Jesus (he) said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.”
There’s a sense in which, I suppose, we can have too much knowledge; certainly too much information. We can look at the obstacles with which we are confronted and after our analysis is complete determine that we do not have enough resources available to us to do anything about it. If there is to be a solution to our situation, we can’t see it. The walls are too high and the valleys too deep.
Look at the letters to the newspaper and you will see that more people would rather point fingers and cast blame than knuckle down and work toward a reasonable response or solution. Just like some people might look at our church financial statements and see what we aren’t doing rather than what we already have available and entrusted to us. There may very well be some folk in this church who look at our situation and think it would take nothing short of a miracle for us to overcome the obstacles.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t encounter very many people who expect miracles. But if we’re talking about miracles, consider this…
Taking five pieces of bread and two fish and feeding thousands is miracle enough, I suppose. But is that a greater miracle than the fact that so many people went to so much trouble to follow this carpenter from Nazareth? It was a day for miracles, to be sure. Immediately following this story is the one about Jesus walking on the sea. But the feeding of the multitudes wasn’t the first miracle; it was the second. The first miracle was that so many people showed up at all.
Let’s take it a step further. Every spring we gather in our finest on the one day we actually do fill this place. We call it Easter, and on that day we celebrate the miracle that a human body, which once had been dead, is now alive again. And it is indeed a miraculous thing. But is that any more a miracle than the fact that a group of Galilean peasants, committed to the man who is now resurrected, were able to “find hope on the far side of despair, faith that could live with doubt, and the courage to live beyond the sting of death”1 and then literally turn the world upside down with their desire to share such good news?
The world is filled with miracles, but perhaps the greatest miracle of all is encompassed in the simple yet powerful word called grace.
When we analyze a situation to the point that we then declare it unmanageable, especially when that situation is already in the hands of God, we have taken the reality of grace and robbed it of its power and potential.
Let me tell you, when it comes to meeting the needs of the world – not only that which exists outside these four walls but are also embodied in the presence of each of us who darken the doors of this place – we never have enough… not enough resources (both financial and human), not enough faith, not enough anything. But if we are in this business of being church because we always have a surplus of everything we need, we’re in the wrong business. God has always, always, taken that which is little and made of it that which is much.
But only God can work such miracles. The only thing we are left with to do is put ourselves in God’s hands and then say to the One in whom we place our trust, “Here we are, Lord, use us.”
My friends, we are not called to follow Jesus because he wants us to analyze our situation and be paralyzed by it. He bids us follow him and then do what he calls us to do. We might look back some day and say we could have done it better, but simply doing it is the key. God can take a flawed church such as ours and make it a place and a people where his kingdom abides and grows and prospers. But not if we are paralyzed to the point of being unable or unwilling to act.
Look at how the followers of Jesus boldly took to the streets, and let that be a lesson to us. Jesus knew what he was going to do before he fed the multitudes. That’s what John says. But Jesus was interested in knowing how his disciples would respond. Why? Because he was about to leave this whole enterprise in their hands, and he wanted to see what kind of stuff they were made of.
Somehow, I have a feeling that Jesus knows what he’s going to do with the Pulaski Heights Baptist Church. Here we are with the multitudes at our feet, and all we have available to us are a few measly pieces of bread and a couple of fish. Is it enough? Of course not. We never have enough and never will. But Jesus is willing to take it and do with it what only he can, and he’s going to do it with our help or with our hindrance.
I think we need to start asking which it will be. Are you ready for a miracle? Well, are you?
Lord, we ask for a miracle, but recognize that – right here and now and in your presence – there is already miracle enough. Give us the eyes of faith with which to see it, and then may we go and do your will. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.