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A Disciple’s Duty

The Rev. Joseph Winston

August 3, 2008

Sermon

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
It almost goes without saying that in the company of greats you ask them their
opinion on their area of expertise rather than telling them what to do.
Players of all types of sports understand this basic way of life. If Tiger Woods
were here with us today, would you ask him to teach you how he plays the game
of golf or would you perhaps tell him your favorite ways of practicing puts? Most
golf players in the world would love to have just a few pointers from this great
player. I would hazard to guess that your golfing buddies would laugh you out of
the nineteenth hole if you even attempted to instruct this living legend on the finer
points of the game.
Just about every individual that we know follows this same rule of listening
1
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3

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to the experts. Most of us have doctors. When we go to their offices with our
long list of aches and pains, we expect that our doctor will carefully hear what
we have to say and then identify our problem. This literally is the definition of
a diagnosis. Society plainly tells us what happens when we try to locate the root
cause of our ills without the involvement of the medical profession. We have a fool
for our physician. The exact same logic follows for the other professionals that
we use. We employ accountants to help us with our tax returns because they are
familiar with the latest tax codes. Our uninformed suggestions on how to file taxes
might land us in an audit or even worse. Why, we even recognize sub-specialties
among the experts. We take our animals to veterinarians rather than human doctors
because we know that vets have been trained in the diagnosis and the treatments
of animals. At the clinic, we might describe what we have been seeing but we
should let the doctor do their work and tell us what is wrong.
The disciples in today’s Gospel lesson do something completely different.
They tell Jesus exactly what He needs to do instead of asking Him for His ad-
vice. They come to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now
late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for
themselves (Matthew 14:15).”
It goes without saying that these twelve men had a very good reason for their
action of commanding Jesus to do their will. These people need to eat. It seems
that this reality weighed heavily on the disciples because they provide Jesus with
three other obvious facts. First of all, everyone can see that there are no stores
around here. We are on the beach and to get food the people will have to leave.

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Secondly, it is getting rather late. If the people do not start out for the villages right
now, they will go to bed hungry. Finally, Jesus we really do not want to spend our
financial resources right now. A meal for all these people will absolutely break the
bank. Let them fend for themselves.
Jesus then tells the disciples that there is no reason for the crowd to go (Matthew
14:16a). It appears as if Jesus missed every one of the arguments presented by the
disciples on why the people needed to leave. He now presents the disciples with
a new problem. You go feed the five thousand men along with all the women and
children (Matthew 14:16b, 14:21).
What are they to do?
The disciples continue their behavior of telling Jesus what to do and they play
their final card. They say, “We have nothing for these people (Matthew 14:17a).”
Apparently, someone’s conscience kicks in and he adds, “except for these five
loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:17b).”
It is probably a safe bet that most of us have never heard a sermon on the
actions of the disciples in the feeding of the five thousand. Our focus normally
is on the miracle that Jesus performs for the people. He feeds them and there is
enough food left over from the five loaves and two fish to fill twelve baskets. But
when we focus only on this one fact, we miss a very important point that we all
need to hear. Jesus expected and He even ordered the disciples to feed the crowd.
We could argue all day long that about how the disciples were to accomplish
this fact. Perhaps, Jesus meant for the twelve to make “Stone Soup” by collecting a
very large kettle, filling it with water, adding a stone to the water, and then placing

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the pot on a fire. The strategy then would be to convince everyone in the crowd to
toss in whatever they happened to bring and sooner or later there would be enough
ingredients in soup to go around for everyone. It might even be that the disciples
had enough cash from the sale of their fishing vessels along with collections they
had received to pay for a scrumptious feast. All that they had to do was to dig deep
into their common purse and purchase the needed supplies.
The basic problem with these types of solutions to the issue is that we rely
on our own abilities. To make something like “Stone Soup” we need to persuade
everyone to give up their food for the common good. When we purchase food,
we take what we have gathered and use that for our meal. Both of these ways of
thinking leave no room for a God who gives us our food in due season.
Is not this exactly what we do?
All too often, we forget to call on God and ask Him for His help. All that the
disciples needed to do in this situation was to ask Jesus for His advice. What do
we do Jesus?
Instead of asking the Lord of Creation what to do, the follower of Christ as-
sumed that this one specific situation was different from all the rest. So, the disci-
ples told God what exactly needed to be done. Send them away from us.
Then when commanded to feed the crowd the disciples came up with a lame
excuse. We do not have enough food for all the people.
Once again, the twelve are telling God what to do rather than asking Him to
help us out of the situation that we find ourselves in. It is as if they are saying, “Je-
sus, get a life. We have thoroughly checked out the situation and we have already

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told you that there is no food. You really need to do exactly what we have already
told you or the people will not eat.”
We know what should happen next. At the very least, the expert should de-
mand that we stop giving them advice and tell us that we need to listen what they
have to say. That is what would happen with any sports great that we would try to
instruct. A similar thing would occur if we tried to outguess our doctor, accoun-
tant, or veterinarian. They would ask us to either follow their advice or leave.
Now imagine if we acted this way to the Lord God our creator. God does not
need our help in making decisions. God does not need us to tell Him what to
do. God does not need us to explain the reasons why we want Him to behave in
a certain way. This attitude on our part is both rude and arrogant. In the King’s
court, this conduct is totally inexcusable. Death is given to those subjects that act
this way.
What comes next in the feeding of the five thousand is the real miracle of
the story. Jesus does not kill the twelve disciples for their behavior. Instead of
destroying them for their insolent attitude towards God, Jesus once again shows
them how they are to act. After telling the crowd to get ready to eat, Jesus blesses
the work that God has already done (Matthew 14:19a-19b). Then He gives the
disciples something to do: feed the hungry and clean up the leftovers (Matthew
14:19c, 14:20).
Grace is just like Christ’s actions with the twelve disciples. Grace accepts us
as we are and works with us even though we continue to make mistakes.2 We fall
2
For a classic sermon on this topic see Tillich’s, You are Accepted.

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down and God picks us up.
This radical idea of grace is what unconditionally separates Christianity from
the rest of the universe.
It often seems as if the all of the world is built on the concept of karma that
teaches us you get out of life what you put in.3 Do something good and you will
receive some benefit in the future. Do anything wrong and you will be punished
later. Law has an identical theme. You hurt someone; you get hurt in return. Maybe
you know that better as, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus
21:24).” Even physics tells us the same thing. For every action, there is an opposite
and equal reaction.
Grace is totally different. For in God’s eternal grace, you do not reap what you
sow. You are given something that you do not deserve in a million years. You find
good in your life even when you meant to do evil. You heal even when you hurt
others. You see the world all around you even when you blind those around you.
You receive gifts that are wildly out of proportion to what you have done.
This whole idea of grace is completely counter to everything we know. It does
not follow the rules that we set up. Grace does not behave like the rest of the
world. But this is how God works here among us.
We are given something that does not belong to us.
It is very Good News because we all know what we have done and what we
deserve. What we get instead of punishment and death is forgiveness and life.
3
These ideas on karma and grace are based on Bono’s song “Grace” found on the album All
That You Can’t Leave Behind and in the chapter “Add Eternity to That” from the book Bono in
Conversation with Michka Assayas With A Foreword by Bono.

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Common sense tells us that we should listen to the voice of experts rather than
telling them what to do. We attempt to do this in other parts of our lives. We listen
to the sport’s pro so that we can learn to play the game better. We do what the
doctor tells us because that is the best plan of action. We take the advice of the
accountant when we pay our taxes. We follow the vet’s treatment plan for our
animals.
We have been blessed by God who gave us a call committee that was patiently
listening for the voice of God to answer our prayers for a permanent pastor. Every
week for months, they met and reviewed the paperwork on the different candi-
dates. They carefully looked at the options presented to us. They took the time
to understand our needs. They presented our case to the bishop and his assistant.
They prayed to God for guidance. God took notice of their work. God saw how
they paid attention to the Spirit’s movement among the committee, the candidate,
and the church. God observed all this and more and sent us a new pastor.
Remember this lesson. Let God be God. Call on Him at all times. Let Him do
His work so that you can do yours, which is feeding the people.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”4

References

Assayas, Michka, Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas With A Foreword


4
Philippians 4:7.

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by Bono, (Penguin Books Ltd., 2005).

Tillich, Paul, Chap. Chapter 19: You are Accepted In ‘The Shaking of the Foun-
dations’, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948).

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