Matthew 14: 13-21
The Growing Church: Who and Where?
Last summer I my kids and my brother-in-law went to a Keys Game. Now I imagine that some of you have been to Harry Grove Stadium, which I refuse to call Nymeo not because I do not like sponsorship, I just don’t like the fact that they were so un-invested in a name that they just scrambled the word money. As we were sitting there watching A-advanced baseball I had time to look around the crowd and be a people watcher. Behind us were two people obviously on their first and last date. By the end I think the conversation was going something like: Him- I like air, her- I like suffocating. That is little exaggerated but pretty close to the sentiment of the conversation. Then I watched a man sitting behind home plate heckling every player, even the home team. I watched people who were trying to get into the better seats and being turned back and people turning other people in because: I paid to be in this section and they need to get out. Some little kid was running up and down the stairs screaming because his parents didn’t get him ice cream in a hat bowl. I promise that was not my kids because I have the hat bowls to prove it. I saw people arguing, drinking too much, trying to smoke, throwing trash everywhere and various other interesting occurrences that made me wonder how that many people can come together at all. I also saw good things. I saw families having fun, I saw hilarious super fans having a great time, even though we were losing, and I saw the occasional person not rolling their eyes when the person in front of them ordered at least four things at the concession stand. Of course the person who rolled their eyes ordered over that amount themselves. People can be a joy to us, a frustration to us, an interruption in our day, mean, nice, charismatic or dull. So who is God sending us for this growth?
In the scripture we have the feeding of the “about 5000 men besides woman and children.” Now a great miracle happened that was very important: Jesus fed that many people with very little. We need to remember that the United Methodist Women were not around yet to take care of the buffet. But I want to look at another miracle first. Five thousand “men besides woman and children” ate together in a field without a riot when they found out there wasn’t supposed to be a meal. Over 5000 people, all inclusive, came together and everyone was fed. There was a reason I picked Harry Grove Stadium as an example this morning. Conveniently its seating capacity is 5400 people. Harry Grove stadium probably could not have seated all of the people in that field that day but it was probably close. So who were these people in this field? When praying over this passage I imagined what it would be like if this event happened today in 2016.
Walking through the crowd, I first fun into the greeter. The greeter that not only welcomes you but wants to be your best friend because he has been at all these Jesus events and he can tell you what you need to do and see and he knows all of the secret places of prayer and the best place to sit and how to get there and do you want to come back to his tent and have fellowship with him and what is your interpretation of once saved, always saved, and when did you get saved, and if not do you want to get saved right here and now. By the time the greeter realized I walked away at “come back to his tent” the next person I see is the exact opposite. This person you could walk right into and they would not recognize your existence because you are “so below them.” They are “so more spiritual than anyone at this assembly.” Then I run into the youth leader that can’t find a few of his youth because they are not really into this because their parents made them come and they are probably behind a tent somewhere gossiping, smoking, or God forbid listening to secular music. Then I find those kids because they are loud and obnoxious and run me over trying to avoid the youth leader. THE next person I meet is the saddest person on earth. God purposely made the sky a little less blue today because they sin in their hearts all the time and God is a punishing God. Next before I can even think someone is shoving tracts in my face and indirectly tells me I am a bad person and should feel guilty because the child in the picture could die any day now without my $25 a month. Even though you tell them you already give to another child they tell you “then you know the importance of giving to this one.” Exhausted I sit down to hear the group in front of me fighting over which music is best and is Christian rap and rock really Christian or is it from the devil. Behind all of this are families having fun and groups of people honestly taking the messages to heart. But they don’t get in your face. They don’t approach you. They don’t witness their normal Christianity to you. They just go about their business and wait for you to ask. Then I look at my reflection in a free CD of a message from someone I never heard of and noticed myself. I see a ragged, tired, frustrated person who just spent an entire hour judging people instead of engaging them.
This experience was my real experience from the Creation Christian Rock Festival back about 15 years ago. These days my wife calls me the king of the island of misfit toys. I tend to find the very people that used to drive me insane and challenge myself to look at them in a different way. Instead of the overzealous greeter I try to see the person no one ever listens to their real story. Instead of the stuck up, better than you person I try to see the hurt child inside that needs self esteem. Instead of the bratty kids running me over, I try to see the confused kids that are going to be forced away from Jesus by the face of intolerance and unanswered inconvenient questions. Instead of the arguing group, I try to see a group that is struggling to strive against temptations in their own lives to fall away. Instead of the people who never approach I see a group of people afraid to challenge and break their complacency out of fear of the unknown. I am not saying that everyone who acts this way has to have these issues but I am convinced we all have our issues. So as I re-look in the CD case I see a person who has experienced all of these things in his life and is still working for his own sanctification.
For me this passage is more than the multiplication of loaves and fishes. This passage is so much more than that to me. It is about engaging the five thousand. Jesus could have sent them home and went on his boat to another shore. These people could have gone without food for a day. These people could have made it home and gotten food. And I am sure all of these personalities were in the crowd. Five thousand different hurts, joys, annoyances, problems, conflicts, excitements were all together in one place. Sure these people could have went away without the loaves and fishes but every one of them couldn’t have walked away without Jesus. And Jesus feed each one.
Who is Jesus sending us? The five thousand. Where will they come from? Every time you see another human being they are the five thousand. Your co-workers, people you see on the street, in a restaurant, in classes, etc… wherever you go. Where will they go? Not to any particular church or group, not even necessarily here, but to Jesus.
I don’t do this perfectly, nor even very well sometimes but when we look at people from God’s perspective they are fed by Jesus through us. And that is the growth the world needs.
I asked Marty Coy to give his answer to: Who are we as a Church? His answer follows.
WHO ARE WE AS A CHURCH?
Martin C. Coy, B.S., M.A., N.C.C.-Retired
Retired UMC Certified Lay Speaker
Lay Testimony given at the 10:30 A.M. service
Buckeystown United Methodist Church
Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016
I remember, as a small child, being taught this finger play game:
“Here is the Church,
Here is the steeple,
Open the doors
And here are the people.”
My Aunt (who taught Sunday School at the Methodist church in which I was baptized in a small south central Ohio town) taught us this famous finger play game.
I had a lot of fun growing up as a Methodist. I loved going to MYF (Methodist
Youth Fellowship). I loved going to church with my family. I loved being with many of my relatives, classmates and friends in church.
When I was an elementary school kid, my teacher, who wanted all of us classmates to get to know each other better, asked each of us to say a few words about his or her religion. (You must remember, that was a time, long ago, when we could talk about such things in school.) Part of her lesson plan had to do with introducing us to the concept that while all of us were different, we were all who we were…and that was okay.
Anyway, little Maria got up and said, “I’m Catholic, and these beads are called a
Rosary. Each bead is a different prayer.”
Little Jacob stood up and said, “I’m Jewish, and this little hat is called a yarmulke. Jewish men and boys wear it at all worship services.”
I stood, held up a dish, and said, “I’m a Methodist, and this is a casserole.”
So, for me, church has not only been a holy place where you worship and learn but it has also been a fun place where I could share stories and laughter.
In the hymn (Hymn 558 in the UM Hymnal), “We are the church”, we are reminded that the church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.
And here at Buckeystown United Methodist Church, we as a people seek to
do our work with compassion, mercy and grace.
- We are followers of Jesus Christ.
- We are recipients of God’s amazing grace.
- We are each on a journey of growth in our spiritual lives.
- We use the Bible as our source book for life.
- We are serious and passionate about prayer and sharing the joy of our music;
- We are all about serving others and making a real difference in the world.
Following our BUMC’s mission statement, we are on a journey to become more Christ-
centered and to growing in discipleship to share the good news.
We come here to socialize as well as to provide acts of devotion and service.
Here we learn to know and love God more; and as we do, our thoughts and lives begin to more clearly reflect God’s character.
Here we live in relationship with others—be they members or nonmembers–to break bread together, pray for each other, disciple, and strengthen one another.
We leave each church service feeling good about our relationship with God and with each other.
I’ve heard it said, and as a longtime member of this Church, have experienced it here firsthand, that the holiest moment of our church service is the moment when we
–strengthened by preaching, sacrament,
and close relationship with each other–go out of the church door into the world to BE the church. We don’t just GO to church; we ARE the church.
So, as I see it, the church is not a place. It’s not this building, it’s not the location, and it’s not the denomination.
We–God’s people–are the church!
And, that is who we are as a church!
Thank you Marty!