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Jesus Multiplies
by Jim Chipps
Mark 6:30-44 Feeding of 5000 (Parallels Mt 14:13-32 RCL Prop 13A)

The disciples were dog tired. They had been sent off by Jesus--two by two--to learn how to do ministry. Preach, teach, heal, cast out demons. It was trial and error work. Mark’s gospel reports that they were pretty good at it, but I’m inclined to think he exaggerated. Any of you who have engaged in any kind of ministry know it doesn’t work out that way.

The people you think you are helping are ungrateful. The task you tried to do gets criticized by someone who wouldn’t think of doing it herself. The people you lined up to help never show up. The sick people you visited and prayed for died anyway. Or the ones you’d meant to visit died before you could get there. Real ministry is very humbling.

We still train ordained ministers the way Jesus did: throw them into the water and see if they can swim. When I was in seminary I worked 11 weeks as a chaplain in a mental hospital in Baltimore. I had three wards--150 people--of geriatric psychiatric patients, most of who had Alzheimers, schizophrenia and depression all in one; one ward of long-term--meaning lifetime--care patients, who would never function outside the mental hospital; and one intake ward.

I’ll never forget Alicia--a PCP addict who nearly destroyed the ward when she was brought in, and took a few swings at me: she was placed in a straightjacket, and stayed in it, strapped to a chair, when she suddenly went catatonic: she was oblivious to the world. I happened to walk into ward when she came out of it: her first words were, “I know who you are, you’re the devil.” I said, “Alicia, those are the best words I’ve heard in two weeks.”

And every day your peer group and mentor would pick you apart--what did you do, why did you do it, what went wrong, what could you have done better? All designed to make you realize you aren’t as good as you think you are. Real ministry is like that. And Jesus knew his disciples needed a break. I’m sure he needed one too. “Let’s go to a deserted place all by ourselves so we can rest.”

And that’s exactly when the crowds showed up. You know how it is. Haven’t had night out in weeks. You finally get away, the waiter arrives with your hors d’oeuvres , and the baby sitter calls the kid’s got a fever and is throwing up. You’ve planned a vacation for six months, you’ve got your bags packed, and your mother calls and says Dad is going to have quadruple bypass tomorrow.

You haven’t had a day off in 3 weeks, you finally have a Saturday free, and your sister calls--the father in law has died and she needs you to take the kids for the weekend. Always, just when we think we have given all we have to give, there is always more need.

Jesus knew that better than anyone else. Right now Tiger Woods is the most sought after person in the world---he gets mobbed on the golf course, and I read a reporter followed him into the john with mike trying to get a sound bite. Jesus’ crowds were the same. They pressed around. They wanted to hear from him. They needed direction: they were like sheep without a shepherd. And finally they need something to eat.

And Jesus had compassion for them. That’s an important thing to know. Jesus had compassion for people even when he was spent. Which means Jesus has compassion on us when we are spent. Compassion: “a feeling of deep empathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong to desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause.” To put it simply, Jesus feels and has experienced what we do, and wants to help us. That’s the meaning of compassion. He begins by teaching them.

Finally, the disciples have had enough. They said, “the hour is late, send them away to buy something for themselves to eat.” That’s probably one of the most honest prayers ever uttered. We see hungry, needy, sick , homeless people, war victims, far more than we can stand. Sometimes we get angry--why don’t they just take charge of their lives and be responsible! Sometimes we simply want to hide. And Jesus says just what the disciples don’t want to hear: “You give them something to eat.

The disciples complain--like we would probably complain--”What can we give--there are 5000 men plus wives and children here! Give us as break! All we have is five loaves of barley bread and a couple of dried fish.” “Bring them here to me.”

And then he does something that’s very instructive for us. He has the crowd break up into groups of 50 or 100. Now it’s no longer a crowd. It’s a community. What’s Grace Church? We have 130 or so active communicants. About 60 are here on Sunday. We have a Senior Center where everyone knows each other’s name. We recognize the stranger who walks in the midst. There is no anonymity of the crowd here: we know each other--or at least can know each other! You can know 50 or 100, you can keep track of them. Even the largest churches in the world can succeed only if they make themselves like Grace Church--places people can be known. Remember “Cheers”----a place to go where everybody knows your name. So Jesus is giving us a model of what a church is like. And then Jesus feed them. He takes whatever they have---5 loaves and 2 fishes--looks up to heaven, blesses them, breaks the bread and gives the pieces to the crowd. And all were filled.

Whatever else this story means, it is the precursor of Holy Eucharist--”Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Jesus solves the problem of human need by giving himself. That’s the model he passes to the disciples. When they are exhausted, stressed out, and have nothing more to give, he takes what they have--that is, he takes who they are---and multiplies it--so that there is enough. You see, anything we have is enough when it is offered to the Lord. However much it is broken, however much is too exhausted, however reluctant we are, Jesus multiplies it. And in the process we are multiplied, we’re turned into disciples, and then apostles, and , God willing, eventually into saints. Amen.