Following his Lead

Part 2 of last week, really.

TECshield

John 6:24-35

1.

Last week we explored together the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus saw a large crowd and realized they were hungry; and he quickly formulated a vision to feed them.

But remember Philip? He heard Jesus and was immediately overwhelmed by the vastness of his vision. “How we gonna do that, Jesus?” he asked. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough food to feed everyone even a little!”

Jesus’ vision was big. The funding seemed impossible. Philip was paralyzed.

But then there was Andrew. A little hope, it seemed, shone through his cloud of doubt. “Here’s a boy,” he told Jesus, “with five barley loaves and two small fish. Oh,” (and the silver lining fades) “but what are these among so many?”

Maybe in Andrew, maybe in the boy, maybe in both, there was a little bit of faith. And Jesus took that little bit and, through love, turned it into so much that twelve basketfuls were left over!

A miracle!

Now, a question I did not ask last week is this: Do you think the crowd knew a miracle was happening in their midst?

The five thousand people were sitting there, probably engaged in conversations and small talk, just as you and I would have been today, when all at once baskets of bread and fish came to them; and they did just what you and I would have done: they took some food for themselves and passed it along to the next group of people.

Of course they didn’t recognize a miracle was happening in their midst! I would wager money on it! It was just routine, normal behavior: grab a basket; take some food; pass it along to the next person; thank you very much.

Well, so why ask this question? Because of what happens next, in today’s Gospel.

2.

Today we find people from this same crowd—people who do not know that a miracle just happened in their midst—seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Some seek him for utility.

These folks are hungry. Jesus fed them quite satisfactorily yesterday; and so, they reason, maybe he will feed us again today. They’re asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” Not the right question!

Others seek him for expediency.

Jesus was the organizer of the event, after all; and he showed no small amount of competence. He gathered and fed us all; and he had some really good things to say. So, “I know!” some of them declare; “let’s make him our king!”

Overnight, Jesus has become not only their religious but also their political champion. They seek Jesus because he is a potential mover and shaker in society, because he will promote their political agenda (or so they imagine).

But again, to seek Jesus for expediency is self-focused rather than God-focused; asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for Jesus?”

Others still seek him for the miraculous.

“What sign are you going to give us then,” some of them ask, “so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?”

Really! “What sign are you going to give us?” Didn’t Jesus just feed about 5,000 people yesterday; and today you want a sign? A miracle took place right in front of your noses. How did you miss it?

The irony thickens even more when they say that Moses gave them a sign: manna from heaven. They know about manna, that famous narrative from their nation’s history; yet they fail to see the true bread of heaven right in their midst!

Anyway, do you see where this is going? Those who seek Jesus for the wonderful, the spectacular, the miraculous are more than likely going to miss it when it happens—and it does happen, right in their midst.

And others still seek him as a kind of intellectual pursuit.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea,” the text reads, “they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’”

They got to know Jesus some yesterday—they sat at his very feet in Bible study—and figured they could know him fully. Trouble is, how can we finite humans ever comprehend the infinite?

Anyway, whether for utility, expediency, the miraculous, or intellectual satisfaction, the crowds in today’s Gospel seek Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, once they re-prioritize their focus, they find him easily.

Right in their midst, the miracle occurred; right in their midst, he is the true bread from heaven.

3.

Last week, also, as a kind of modern-day parallel to the feeding of the five thousand, I posited to you an idea I’ve been chewing on for some time: creating an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County.

Full disclosure here: positing this idea wasn’t just an exercise in conjecture; I wasn’t merely throwing out some impression off the top of my head to consider hypothetically. Rather, I’ve been thinking through this outreach vision for a while now.

For a few years now, I’ve been working with Vida Joven.

Over the past year, I’ve been on the phone and in email conversations with people from the NAES, San Pasqual Academy, and Imago Dei Middle School.

In the spring I presented this idea to our diocese’s Executive Council.

In June, while in Sewanee, I brainstormed with a headmaster there about whether he might be able to bring a similar program to his school.

Just since last week, several of you have approached me about the next step. You’ve said things like, “This idea sounds awesome, Father Tim; how can we do more?”

And in two weeks I will host an initial gathering, to form the New Life Academy Exploratory Committee—a team that will be formally recognized by the NAES.

This vision is getting real!

But, to be honest, like Philip, the whole thing feels overwhelming to me; even paralyzing. It feels risky and vulnerable even to speak about it to you all today.

I mean, what if it fails?

So first, before telling you how I envision going forward with this idea, I want to admonish us all—myself included—really to hear this week’s Gospel.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to apply Jesus’ mission in this way, the creation of an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County?

If so, then let us not do it for the wrong reasons.

Let us not do it for utility—seeking things that feed our egos but do not fulfill our souls.

Let us not do it for expediency—hoping to promote a political agenda.

Let us not anticipate the spectacular or miraculous—missing Christ in the world all around us because we are looking for him only in the grandiose.

And let us not engage in Christ’s mission only as some kind of intellectual exercise—failing to see God’s image in those we serve because we are preoccupied with doing it right.

If any one of these is our chief motivation for realizing this vision, then we are headed for failure right from the starting gate.

Advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us is not about any of these things. It’s not about us! Rather, it’s about Jesus—seeking, finding, and leading others to him; and when we re-prioritize our focus we realize that he’s already here, right in our midst, waiting to be seen.

4.

So then, my sermon’s over, really; but for those who are interested, here are the important logistical details: “how I envision going forward with this idea.”

I mentioned an initial gathering. It will take place here at St. Thomas on Saturday, August 18, from 10am to noon. The plan is to meet in the St. Benedict Conference Room; but if the crowd is too large we can move into Julian Hall—or even the nave (although, so you know, I am not planning to feed you).

The agenda is simple: introductions, introductory comments, a video, and maybe a Powerpoint presentation; followed by group discussion and strategy. My hope is to put together an exploratory committee to carry this vision forward.

Please call the office and let me know if you plan to attend.

Jesus is in our midst. Let’s follow his lead and see what happens.

Advertisements

One Response to “Following his Lead”

  1. villette1 Says:

    Like the woman at the well…. led by faith not bysight. Do God’s wholework through!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: