Luke 9:10-17

Jim Mckelvey was a glass artisan who sold glass artwork for a living. One day Jim lost a $2,000 sale because his customer didn’t have cash and he didn’t have a way to accept a credit card payment, which was the only form of payment his customer had.   What Jim had was an obstacle. Or was it an opportunity?

Jim told his friend Jack Dorsey about his problem. Jack thought about how both of them had iPhones, basically high tech computers next to their ears. He began to think about how that piece of technology could be used to take credit card transactions doing anything from a garage sale to running your own hot dog stand. Now, Jim’s obstacle began to look like an opportunity. The two of them began to work toward a solution.   Ibid

What emerged was Jack’s second billion-dollar company. That’s right, his second. You might have used it when you’ve made a purchase. It’s called Square. He’s now the CEO. Oh, in case you are wondering about his first billion-dollar company, it’s Twitter, where he is currently the chairman.   Ibid

Do you typically see your problems as obstacles or opportunities?

I suppose that’s why some people are billionaires and others of us are just complainers. I suppose that’s what separates the optimists from the pessimists, the half-empty glass people from the half-full types.

Which are you? Well, I know you are not billionaires, at least no one is tithing off that amount, but what’s your attitude? When confronted with a problem do you think, “Great, look at this opportunity!”? O.K., not many people will be enthusiastic about a problem, but do you at least think about the possibilities it presents as opposed to just the obstacles.

If not, how do you develop a mindset like that?

After the disciples returned from a time of ministry among the people in the region of Herod, they reported to Jesus and discovered that he had prepared some time for them away from the crowds.

Jesus had chosen a retreat for them in Bethsaida, the place where Peter, Andrew and Phillip had answered Jesus’ call to ministry. The village was near the place where the Jordan River empties into the Sea of Galilee. It was not a very populated area. It was mostly uncultivated ground where animals were taken to graze, so it was a perfect location for Jesus to take his disciples, who were tired from their journey and ministry, for a little bit of rest, reflection, and relaxation.

A couple of Sundays ago I said that Jesus was the first Beatle. He was the first Elvis. Because of his miracles his popularity was “rock starrish.” Crowds were getting larger everywhere he went.

Somehow, word traveled through the villages and the populated areas around Capernaum that Jesus and his disciples had been spotted. There were no tweets, instant messages, and texts, phone calls, or Face Booking, but by the time Jesus and his disciples had made it to their destination, so had thousands of other people.

So much for rest, reflection, and relaxation. This was an obstacle to their intended plans, or was it an opportunity?

Jesus saw it as an opportunity and welcomed them. He could have sent them away. He could have said, “Sorry, folks. We’ve come here to get away from all of you; now if you’ll excuse us. Give us some time.”

Instead, he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.

Jesus’ structured day suddenly became unstructured. Now let me ask you: How often does this happen to you? How often do you have your day planned, mapped out, structured, and then stuff happens? If you are like most people, it happens often.

Your day is blown apart by others who were not considerate of your time, by something dumb you did, by things that could not be foreseen, by an accident or the weather and your structured day suddenly becomes chaotic.

I understand the need for structure. Some of us have more of a need for it than others. When the day becomes unglued, is it an obstacle or is it an opportunity? What makes the difference?

Where can interruptions in your structured day become moments for the Holy Spirit to work in unexpected ways? Where might God show you how He can work through the unexpected to bring about the unlikely? How can you see opportunity arise where others can see nothing but problems?

Jesus made plans that day for him and his disciples to pull away from the crowds where the animals typically had the meadows to themselves. His plans changed. Ministry happened anyway. Church took place where church didn’t normally occur. How did that happen?

Have you ever had church where there was no church, where there was no preacher, except the one who preached the message did so by the example she gave, as she served others and gave testimony to God’s goodness and kindness?

Have you ever been to church where there was no church, where there was no choir except the songs sung by the birds in the trees as they welcomed you to God’s outdoor cathedral as the sun rose on another glorious morning?

Have you ever been to church where there was no church, where there was no offering taken except the one being taken by a stranger who was trying to pull together enough funds to pay someone’s hospital bill or to send a Veteran to Washington or to make a child with cancer have her wish come true?

A lot of good things in this world happen because we stumble upon them. Yet two people can stumble upon the same thing and one person can call it an obstacle and miss God completely, while the other calls it an opportunity and ends up having church. What makes the difference?

Not long ago my friends Walt and Peggy had a huge infestation of honeybees invade their backyard. Was it an obstacle or an opportunity? If you are a beekeeper this is an opportunity.

Even though Walt and Peggy are not beekeepers they knew one. Within a couple of hours a beekeeper was carrying away about 4000 bees along with a queen, which he was excited to have in order to build a new honeycomb.

Someone with a fear of bees and no appreciation for what they do for our environment would have seen them as obstacles and would have tried to kill them.

Picture the scene from the biblical passage. It’s getting late. Jesus has spent the day teaching. There are a lot of people. Luke says 5000 men. Count women and children and the number at least doubles.

The disciples see the size of the crowd as an obstacle. Think about it. There are no bathrooms. There’s no water, not even a port-a-potty. It’s remote. People are hungry. Hungry people get agitated. They might be happy now, but tomorrow, tempers might rise. This is a problem.

“Let’s get them home, Jesus. Besides, that rest, relaxation, and reflection stuff we came here for would be nice.”

Jesus laughs. Well, it doesn’t say that he laughs, but I imagine that he laughs when he says, “You give them something to eat.” He at least has a smile on his face.

You can’t tell twelve men to find food for over 10,000 people in a remote place without a Sam’s Club being nearby without having a smile on your face.

They only have five loaves of bread and two fish. Surely, even Jesus can see this is a problem.

What’s Jesus doing? He’s telling the disciples to put the people in groups of about 50.   Can’t you hear them mumbling under their breath as they walk away from their huddle? Jesus, the quarterback, has just called the play and they are saying, “Are you kidding me? This will never work.”

How often have we done the same thing? Someone says, “We have an opportunity here.” We say, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Moses sent twelve spies over into the Promised Land but only two of them came back and said, “We have an opportunity here.” The rest of them said, “Man, do we have problems.”

All we see is obstacles, but the truth of the matter is that with our attitude WE often end up being the obstacle.

We actually don’t know what the disciples thought; we only know what they did. What they did was obey Jesus.

If we would listen to the Spirit I have no doubt that we would see more opportunities than obstacles because we would be willing to change, to chance, and to be challenged.

There’s another word for listening to Jesus, for listening to the Spirit. It’s called prayer.

Now we see that this is what made the difference with Jesus – the difference in seeing something as an obstacle or an opportunity.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people.”

Notice the verbs: He took. He gave thanks. He broke. He gave.

Jesus plays the pivotal role in whether we are able to turn obstacles into opportunities.  Jesus wants to form a partnership with us so that when opportunities present themselves, we realize that God wants to work with us and through us to do his work.

So, here in the feeding of the 5000, all the elements of the Lord’s Supper are present. Every time we break bread together, we do these things. We take the bread. We pray. We break the bread. We give it to one another.

The bread is a reminder of the body of Jesus that was broken for us. It is a reminder of the rugged cross, a device of execution, which was an obstacle to the disciples. It was death. What greater obstacle could there be?

But Jesus saw the cross as an opportunity to set the world free from our sins because resurrection was on the other side.

We don’t know the exact words that Jesus prayed that day, but what we do know is that he would have prayed a Jewish prayer. Of course, that’s the only kind of prayer Jesus could pray, since he was Jewish. What we know about Jewish prayers is that when they prayed at meals they did not pray to bless the food; they prayed to bless God.

A Jewish prayer at a meal might sound something like this: “Blessed are you, Lord God, Creator of the universe. You provide for all your children. Feed your creatures and fill our hearts with good things. Amen.” (Fred Craddock’s “The Prayer Life of Jesus According to Luke”)

The Greek word for bless is the word “eulogy.” “Eu,” means good and “logy” means word, so in the prayer Jesus eulogized God or he said a good word about God with the bread in his hands.

He acknowledges God, from whom all blessings flow, breaks the bread, and then shares it with others.

Jesus showed the people that God is the one who blesses situations that look to be obstacles and creates opportunities out of them, which are life giving, sustaining, and nourishing.

All of the people were fed from just a few loaves of bread and a few fish.

By using his disciples to distribute the food and then collect what remained, Jesus wants us to know that his disciples are the church. You are the church. It is our job to be the church and then take the church where the church does not exist. One of the primary ways we do that is through prayer.

Prayer is the difference. When we are threatened with the sting of bees, remember that the beekeeper can help us find the honey.   Jesus shows us that the sweetness is in communion with God through prayer.

I don’t mean just through the ritual of prayer. I also mean that as we move through the day that we remain in an attitude of prayer. For if we don’t first realize that opportunities exist when problems arise but only see obstacles, we are not in sync with the Holy Spirit.

When we are looking for opportunities for God to be involved and to use us, moving at the direction of the Holy Spirit, taking what is available and acknowledging that it has come from God from whom all blessings flow, God then creates more than we could have dreamed or imagined.

The result is that church happens and it can happen anywhere, even out in a field where the sheep graze, because the Holy Spirit is not bound by the brokenness and the obstacles of this world, but desires to work through people who see these as opportunities for God’s love and goodness to grow.