(First preached by Chris Sanders at Ridgewood Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky, October 10, 2021)
On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.
The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men.
And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Luke 9:10-17 (Revised Standard Version)
Good morning. Today’s word from Scripture is many things, has many messages, among those, a word about confidence. Confidence. I believe in confidence, in being confident. I’m good with self-confidence. It comes with time, so it’s a sign of growth and maturity. But there’s an industry around self-confidence, too.
We hear it in phrases like, put your best foot forward, be the best version of yourself, stand straight and hold your head up. There’s even an antiperspirant slogan, never let them see you sweat. Self-confidence is for sale.
I’ve been asked to say a word about, not self-confidence, but God-confidence.
Turn those two words- God will- over in your mind with me. Turn them over and around. Go first to their various variants. For one, there’s God willing, and we’ll return to that. And there’s
God’s will. The will of God.
Knowing the will of God is claiming to know the mind of God. Claiming to know the mind of God is both alluring and dangerous. There’s an industry built around that confidence, too. That’s the stuff TV preachers use to hawk and sell stuff, like anointed prayer cloths. They claim to know the will of God in the moment, now, in history, in politics, in your personal life, and will pass that vital knowledge on to you, just to you, for a price. A price in money, in leadership, and in loyalty, to them.
We know better, yet we feel the tug, we still want to know the will of God. We’re willing and susceptible to people who would lead us by saying that they know, and they’re quick and oh so eager to tell us.
We’re susceptible when we’re vulnerable, when we really want to know, someone speaks up and refers to God’s will in time of personal loss and chaos. Especially at funerals. Someone says, “I guess it was God’s will.” It’s said with the best of intentions, with support and concern and compassion. It’s offered to make sense and find eternal order in loss and chaos. But it’s terrible cold comfort in time of grief to hear that God has a plan that includes and directs very personal tragedy and trauma.
A variant of “I guess it was God’s will” is well, “Everything happens for a reason.” Again, with the best of intentions. Trouble is, in time of grief, the choice of words matters. The words say that God wanted it, so God planned it.
But no, God is not the why. In times of tragedy and pain, the why is the drunk driver who crossed the median. The why you don’t make enough money is someone else’s greed and the lack of a living wage. The why they’re on the ventilator is, they didn’t get vaccinated.
The one reason, the one why, that isn’t a reason is God. God didn’t want it, and God didn’t will putting us through pain and loss.
I said we’d return to God willing. God willing, that’s more like it. It’s deferential to the One whose ways are high and above. It doesn’t claim to know the mind of God. It dares to claim the love of God.
In old-fashioned terms, we said Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, we’ll be there.
It’s our expression of intention to be led, to be inside God’s leadership, under God’s direction.
What does this mean with today’s story of Jesus’ miracle?
Let’s recap the story. Last week, we were led us through the first part of the story under the heading, “God Can.” People have followed Jesus out into the country in droves to hear him. They are hungry to hear him, and now, they’re just hungry. Lots and lots of them, really hungry, not just spiritually hungry, they need to eat.
One disciple despairs at how much money it would take to buy all the food it would take. That’s a non-starter. Then another turns up… a kid’s lunch? 5 loaves and 2 fish. Hmm, something to work with. And Jesus gives the order, and organizes. All the people sat down in the country, comfortable in the grass, sorted out, orderly, Jesus takes that little bit of food in hand, there’s a prayer, and all those people get fed. As much as they wanted.
How? If we’re gonna be candid about of where our mind strays around this story, and take the story seriously, and take it to heart seriously, we want to know. How did Jesus do it? Where’s the verse that explains how he did it? Where’s the verse between the verses that lays it out?
How did little bits of bread and fish, a child’s handful of food, how did that feed a hungry crowd, a crowd estimated big enough to fill a basketball arena? That was a lot of food. We want to know! How did Jesus do it?
Notice that the Bible doesn’t lay out how thousands were fed, not to our modern minds’ satisfaction.
The Bible doesn’t describe the miracle in mechanical or scientific terms. There isn’t a missing verse in the text. Or a verse left out that should be between the verses we have. In that missing verse, we’re imagining food divided and re-divided, or appearing out of thin air, with a flourish of a magician’s wand, hocus pocus. We imagine food flowing from Jesus’ hands.
But it’s our imagination that’s on the wrong track. If we go that route, down that rabbit hole, determined to get an explanation, we miss the point and the power. We’re left baffled, skeptical, unbelieving.
There’s the will of God, and there’s God willing. In this story, it’s God will.
God. Will. Provide.
The story doesn’t answer our how question. How will God provide all the food a crowd needs? God, explain it. Lay it out. Write it down. PowerPoint it. Give us the organizational recipe. But that doesn’t happen.
Because how isn’t the question. If we were watching from afar, if we were to ask that question then, of all those witnesses, of all those sated, satisfied, previously hungry people, if that question was asked then, they’d be baffled, not by the miracle, but by the question.
They’d say, I don’t understand the question. They’d scratch their heads and try to understand what you’re asking.
If pressed to answer, they’d say back, how? What do you mean, how? They’d say, it happened by the power of God. It was a mighty act of God. People were hungry, and there was food, and it came from Jesus. They didn’t explain it, they experienced it. Experienced it as amazing, incredible, impressive, and gracious.
They wouldn’t explain, they’d exclaim.
They’d exclaim, that was incredible! Only by the power of God.
Some things defy explanation, even today. Example. I’m from a family of doctors. My dad was a doctor, my mom’s a doctor, my daughter’s a doctor. I’ve been around doctors, nurses, therapists and hospitals enough to hear some stories. The stories that get told and retold are of patients who are unpredictable and inexplicable.
Those who don’t respond to treatment according to protocols. And then they get better, anyway. Not always, not regularly, but it happens. Sometimes, sadly, it’s the other way around, too. But when people inexplicably get better, the doctors just say, “I dunno. You tell me.” They don’t explain, because it’s unexplainable. They just look you in the eye and say, I dunno, enjoy it and be grateful.
Ridgewood, enjoy it and be grateful. Ridgewood, God will.
Have you heard the saying, about God making a way out of no way? Making a way out of no way. It’s the amazed response to the incredible. Because otherwise, if God didn’t make a way, no way is awful.
No way is a dead end path, no way is a brick wall at the end of an alley, no way is a dead end job, no way is a devastating diagnosis, no way is an impossible relationship, no way is a gray future full of drudgery.
Then God makes a way out of no way. Sick people take a turn for the better. People survive, thrive, and flourish. Jobs appear. Broken families reconcile. Government works, works for people. The future reappears on the horizon, like a sunrise, pulling us forward, making the way, showing the way.
And we don’t ask for an explanation. We don’t dissect it, we don’t replay it over and over, like watching football game replays with insights and commentary, we don’t sort it out, figure it out.
We just bask in it. We just know it and love it when we’re in it. Grateful for it, feeling the presence of God.
The last thing about God will is, it’s ahead of us.
Yesterday, I went to the annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Kentucky Conference, in Owensboro. It was good to see old friends in my old hometown. We had two special guests, with the same last names, both named Jones. They aren’t kin, not exactly.
Robby Jones is a white boy from Mississippi, a Baptist kid like many of us, now a famous author, nationally known for his very personal book White Too Long, a man who like me, grew up not aware of all the world around him. Robby Jones will tell you he didn’t know then, and he still has a lot to learn yet.
Our preacher, also named Jones, Kasey Jones, a woman from the big city, happens to be Black, a top leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a woman whose color of her skin, not the content of her character, has thrown up roadblocks in her life, she brought the Word.
We heard them both, confessing the past, and claiming the future.
In that same name, both Joneses, two very different people, in the same family of God, on the same day in the same place, in that amazing moment, there’s hope that God will, God will, into the next thing, a better world.
God will, it’s forward thinking, it’s what’s to come, it’s next, it’s the future, it’s expectant, it’s hopeful. It’s not right now, it’s coming, it’s about to happen, because it’s happened before and it will happen again. It’s confident, not self-assured, but God-assured, confidence from before, confidence from what’s now, confidence it will be again.
Ridgewood, we build, re-build and build again in God-confidence. In this time of response, we claim God-confidence, blessed assurance. Should you want to say before the people gathered you believe God has and God will, in your life, and our life together, this is that time. Will you come?