Four Tensions About God – 2020
If you review the miracles that Jesus performs you’ll see that they fall into two categories. There are what we might call The Therapeutic Miracles. These are the healings and exorcisms that he performs. It’s therapy directed to individuals to make them whole.
Then there are the Non-Theraputic Miracles. These are miracles like Peter walking on water, Jesus calming the storm, Jesus turning water into wine. And if you look closely, you’ll see that these non-therapeutic miracles are staged to train his followers about what it means to be his disciples.
This mornings Gospel is about one of those non-therapeutic miracles – so it’s for training! And as you will see, Jesus uses the miracle to address certain tensions in his relationship with his 12. I’ve identified four of those tensions that we see not only in Jesus day, but even in his church today. Four tensions between us and God. See if you identify with any of them.
The first tension tugs at us when problems arise in our lives. It might be a relationship with someone that has taken a turn for the worse. It might a financial hit. Maybe it’s the chronic health problem that dogs you.
And I wonder how many of us have asked at those times: “Does God really care about what I’m going through right now?” Is God too preoccupied to be concerned about what I’m going through? Oh sure, we know Jesus died and because Jesus died and rose again, we will have eternal life. But that’s way down the road. What about right here and right now?
Is the God who created all of heaven and earth really concerned about my arthritis? Is he really concerned about loneliness? Does God care about the guilt that I struggle with? Is God really concerned about what concerns me, Or is he preoccupied with all the big stuff in the world
The Bible tells us that Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The reason he did that was because he was preoccupied with some news he had just received. Word got back to him that Herod had beheaded Jesus John the Baptist.
Now John the Baptist wasn’t just Jesus’ friend, he was his cousin. When Herod heard about the miracles Jesus was doing, he believed in his own paranoid way, that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected from the dead. So Herod could well be hunting down Jesus. Can you understand how Jesus might have wanted a little time a part from the crowds?
The bible doesn’t say why he wanted some alone time. Maybe he wanted to avoid Herod. Maybe he wanted to grieve the loss of John. Who could begrudge Jesus taking the night off?
So Jesus gets in a boat and heads off to a deserted place to collect his thoughts – to pray. But the crowds won’t let him. You see, as Jesus sails down the shoreline, the crowds follow along on land. So when Jesus lands that boat – there they are.
He could have told them, “I need just a little time please. Come back tomorrow.” Instead, the bible says that he had compassion for them. He suffered with them. With all that Jesus had on his mind, God was not too preoccupied to deal with the sufferings of the day.
Is God ever preoccupied? All the time. A God who counts the number of hairs on our head is a God who is preoccupied with his children.
A second tension then arises between Jesus and his disciples. It seems that maybe God expects too much from them. God is being unrealistic. You know, you hear the stories of the Christian martyrs – the heroes of the faith. What remarkable feats of faith they show us. We admire them and we just hope that – if we’re ever put to the test, we would stand strong for the Gospel.
But what about those everyday situations where God nudges us to step out to minister? We feel his nudge, but we dismiss it. “God, that is just not do-able, at least for me..” I’m too old to do ministry. I’m not knowledgeable enough to evangelize. I’m just not comfortable sharing my faith, much less praying with someone. You know the times when you feel God’s tug. You’re not the first to feel that way. You’re in good company with the disciples.
Jesus had been ministering to the crowd all day and evening had crept up on them. It’s dinner time and the nearest McDonald’s is 20 centuries away. You ever notice how sometimes very religious people, with their heads in the clouds, are close relatives of absent-minded professors? It seems they both need a little help in maneuvering through life.
It’s this sort of help that the disciples now offer Jesus. “Jesus, you need to send these folks away so they can buy some dinner for themselves.” To which Jesus replies: “You feed them something.”
Jesus asks too much. And they’re right. He is asking too much – if he’s asking them to do it all on their own. He is asking too much – if he expects them conjure up a mass feeding by their own efforts.
But that’s not what Jesus is asking. He tells them, “You give them something to eat.” You see, the disciples are not completely impoverished here. They indeed have something – two fish and five loaves. That’s the 7 realities that the disciples see. But what they’re failing to see is the 8th reality in their midst; it’s the Lord of Creation.
A lot of times, we think the Lord asks too much of us, because we aren’t hearing what he’s asking. “Give them something.” We all have something we can contribute. And the great reality that we often miss is that 8th reality – the reality of Jesus in our midst.
All the Lord ever asks is to just take one step in faith. Everyone has something they can contribute. Bring it to Jesus. And then let Jesus apply Holy Leverage. He’ll do the heavy lifting.
Sharon was a voice teacher. She stopped into to a couple’s home to give the wife some voice instruction. Shortly after Sharon arrived, the husband launched into an unprovoked tirade against his wife. And the wife responded in her own defense.
Now this was no ordinary marital argument. You see, the husband had suffered a traumatic brain injury. The damage to his brain left him prone to sudden outbursts over minor frustrations. Hours later he often had no memory of the outbursts. Sharon had walked into to one of those outbursts.
Now we’ve all been around married couples who might bicker with each other. It’s horribly awkward. You feel like an intruder and you just want crawl off in a hole somewhere and leave them to their squabbling. And Sharon felt the same way, but she also knew the underlying cause of the husband’s outburst. But what was she to do? She was a voice coach, not a licensed therapist.
But she was also a disciple of Jesus, and the Lord had brought smack dab in the middle of this difficult situation. She could have excused herself and promised to come back another later. After all, marriage counseling was not her expertise. She could have found a way to duck out, but compassion wouldn’t allow her to do that. So, she did what Jesus did.
She told everyone to sit down. And then she told them to take a deep breath. And then, like Jesus did with the disciples before him, she prayed.
Sharon might not have been a licensed therapist, but she did have some experience from her own family in dealing with dementia and Alzheimers. She also had some life experience in interpersonal communication. It was her two small fish and five loaves.
Sharon restored calm to the home. She eased the husband’s frustration so that he was able to regain control. Out of her own life experience she offered the wife tips on communicating with her challenged husband. The Lord took what she had to offer and he increased it for his good purpose.
A third tension we see concerns the disciple’s perception of God’s – how shall I put this? God’s pragmatism. Sometimes it seems that God is not pragmatic. Sometimes it seems that doing things God’s way is just not practical.
I remember one summer driving with some friends from through Oregon heading back to California. Right in the middle of nowhere, the car breaks down and we come coasting to a stop. We got out of the car, opened the hood and looked around. No town anywhere in sight, no cell phones back then and no gas station.
I knew exactly what to do. The practical thing to do would be to hitchhike to the next town and call a tow truck. I was already to stick out my thumb when my friend, Donna, said: “We need to just stop and pray.”
OK, I thought. Donna can pray and then I’ll hitchhike. Well, no sooner did we all say “Amen” then a car coming from the opposite direction hangs a U-turn and pulls up to our car. A young man steps out and asks if we could use some help. Donna promptly explains the situation to him and that he is the Lord’s answer to our prayers.
So with a piece of rope tied between the bumpers of the two cars, the man tows us up ahead a couple of towns to a service station. When we got to the service station, I asked why we hadn’t stopped at the first town. “Oh,” says our friend, “I didn’t dare stop there.” “That town has the highest per capita murder rate in the state.” And that was the town I was going to hitchhike to.
Prayer turned out to be more practical than hitchhiking.
When Jesus took those two fish and the five loaves to feed 5000, he didn’t seem very practical. But look what Jesus did. He took bread, he blessed it, he broke the bread and then he gave it to the disciples to distribute.
Does that look familiar? Jesus involved his disciples in a little object lesson. He pre-enacted what he will do at the Last Supper. And that pattern that will become very familiar to His church as they begin to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on a regular basis.
The God who created the heavens and earth is infinitely practical. Make no mistake: God calls his church to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked, to heal the sick. But he calls them to do that as a praying community in intimate communion with Himself.
The disciples learned that: God’s church cannot feed the hungry without sharing in the Eucharist. Nor can they share the Eucharist without feeding the hungry. It’s both/and – prayer and pragmatism work hand in hand. That’s God’s practical economy.
The final tension is one that remains unresolved. This bible story could have ended with: “They all ate and were filled.” But there is one little part that is left hanging and it’s easy to overlook. It’s the leftovers. The Holy Spirit thought it important to record that the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone had stuffed themselves.
The story begins with scarcity and ends with abundance. We’re left wondering what happened to those leftovers. It’s a question we will have to live with. But it leaves us with a different understanding of God’s economy. God can do a little with a lot.
God’s miracles have never stopped. But notice that no miracle would have happened that day if the disciples didn’t trust and obey. In God’s economy, a handful of disciples is just the right number of people to feed 5000 men and their wives and their children. God can do a lot with a little. That’s hopeful news for a small church.