-Kim Arthur, July 6, 2016-
“But what are they for so many?” asked the disciple Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. I get it. I’ve asked it. I’ve heard it from others in the church.
In John 6 (and Mark 6 which we were studying this past weekend in our worship gatherings), we see Jesus do something remarkable. Yes, he multiplied one person’s lunch to feed thousands of people. That is remarkable, but that’s not what I’m actually referring to. I’m talking about the humbling and awe-inspiring fact that Jesus chose to have ordinary people participate with him in this miracle.
As I sat listening to the sermon on Sunday night, I was humbled yet again by the thought that our omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-everything God has chosen to act in the world in one counter-intuitive way after another, including inviting -- no, expecting -- his followers to participate in his miraculous work in this world. He didn’t have to include the disciples with all of their questions (what good is this boy’s measly offering compared to the hunger surrounding them?); all of their limitations (they couldn’t see how Jesus was going to provide); and all of their fears (how could they afford to feed so many people?). Yet, their limitations didn’t limit Jesus.
He also didn’t have to include the one little boy who followed Jesus out to the mountainside probably expecting to not even be noticed. This was a boy who in many ways was probably considered insignificant in his day- he was young, likely poor (his biscuits were common among that socio-economic class), and he was just one person out of thousands who followed Jesus that day. Yet, Jesus knew that boy was there, what he could contribute and that he would offer it when asked. Jesus then took the child’s measly contribution of five little barley biscuits and two fish and used it to reveal even more of God’s kingdom on earth in one of the most famous miracles recorded in Scripture.
There are a lot of times that I hear some version of the disciple Andrew’s question in my ear. I wonder how much can I really do surrounded by constant and overwhelming need in the world that is. What good are my imperfect gifts and skills? Isn’t there someone else better equipped to share the message of the gospel with my neighbors?
I think back to how I was able to pour into others before I filled most of my day with trying to train up three children under five-years old. I can be tempted to think that I was more useful, more available, more able to participate in God’s work outside my home when I could drop everything at a moment’s notice to meet a student at Starbucks to discuss at length relationships and theology.
After our second was born, I was so tired and overwhelmed most of the time I could barely focus on anything other than surviving (including physically keeping my children alive). I had convinced myself that I just couldn’t participate in God’s work of sharing the message and showing the image of God because I could already only “do” the bare minimum to keep our household running. But that wasn’t really the case.
The truth Jesus was never limited by my "limitations." I could and was participating in God’s work. By humbling myself in trusting God’s Word, I was able to admit I needed help, and as a result, I was making an opportunity for others in our church to join in God’s work through providing meals and rest for our family. At some point in those seemingly never-ending wake up calls for the first nine months of my son’s life, I realized God was giving me the perfect opportunity to pray fervently for our church without distraction while everyone else was still sleeping. I even realized that I could still have students over to talk about life and God— though they would probably have to hold a baby, help me wash dishes or even patiently endure many interruptions from my super sweet, yet social, kids.
As a parent, I also participate in the kingdom-work of pointing my children to Jesus everyday through my attitude, words, and priorities. That is no small thing. Yet, I realized I can even include others in that work instead of always feeling those relationships and time need to be separated. I can follow Paul's instruction in Titus 2 to include others in my gospel work at home. I can still show gospel-fueled hospitality to the guest sitting next to me in the worship gathering, even if it is a more shortened greeting and question before I have to break away to keep my children from landing us in the ER by free falling off the stage. My participation may look different from previous seasons but its still the same gospel that fuels it.
God has always worked in miraculous ways and has graciously called for the participation of ordinary people in all stages of life with all types of personalities, gifting, skills, careers, and even “limitations.” He used a young, poor boy’s contribution on the side of the mountain one day many years ago. He showed his empty-handed disciples that He was not limited by their limitations. Today, he is graciously reminding us that he is still not limited by ours.
>> This week Missional Communities (MCs) that gather to study together will be considering how Mark 6:30-44 reminds us that Jesus is in no way limited by a disciple’s weakness or inability. He can use our inadequate contributions in miraculous ways. That begs the question then — how is Jesus inviting you to participate in the seemingly impossible or insurmountable? How are you trusting him? How are you resisting him? (To find an MC near you or on a night you are available, go to http://www.hallowschurch.org/missional-communities.)
>> For more thoughts on how we can participate in God’s work as framed by this past Sunday’s text of Mark 6:30-44, check out Pastor Andrew’s new blog posts at andrewarthur.info over the next few weeks. He’ll be dedicating the next few blogs to fleshing out what the rhythms of participation could look like in our lives.