Just let me begin by saying, I am not a procrastinator but, I’m not above running from a problem on occasion. Throughout my school years, I would always beat all the deadlines set by my teachers by at least two weeks. I’ve carried that tendency to meet deadlines ahead of schedule into my ministry as well. I know there are preachers who work late into the wee hours of a Saturday night or get up first thing on Sunday mornings to prepare what they will say in the way of a sermon that day. I’m not one of those preachers. My sermon is often completed by Friday morning having had a good start on it by Wednesday morning.
We’re all different but, just as we have a human tendency to get angry on occasion, we also have a human propensity for avoiding the inevitable, for running away from problems and difficulties instead of moving through them. Working through pain, loss, sorrow and grief are inevitable. They are human realities so inevitably we have to work through them, but tackling them in a timely manner always depends on our very human personalities and tendencies, which drive our behaviors. If there’s an easier road, then why not travel on it?
The disciples were faced with a challenge but they just wanted to avoid it. Dealing with a whole lot of hungry people on an isolated hillside could mean eruptions of violence. Christ’s good day’s work could dissolve before an angry mob who could become frustrated by needs that weren’t being met. So the solution the Disciples came up with was to send the crowd home but that was not Christ’s solution. Instead, he encourages them not to run from the problem but to deal with it. Feed them.
The Disciples were understandably skeptical that the problem could be rectified. When they searched among the gathered throng, all they could uncover was five loaves of bread and two small fish. How could five loaves of bread and two fish possibly feed a crowd of thousands? James W. Moore in his book “Give up Something Bad for Lent” identifies just how Jesus chose to handle the problem. First, Christ addressed the situation rather than running from it. Secondly, he encouraged the Disciples to use whatever available resources they had. And finally, he invited the Disciples to view the circumstance not as a problem but as an opportunity, a challenge.
Too often, we ignore the resources we do have, those helps that faith and friendship and love provide us. Fear can diminish our desire to reach out for help. Fear can also paralyze our thinking. We don’t look within or beyond ourselves for the very solutions that would change a problem into an opportunity. Moore gives a wonderful illustration in his book. Taken from the movie “The Natural” starring Robert Redford, Moore illustrates how a solution maybe right in front of us but our own obstinacy may blind us to the possibilities. Briefly the story is about Roy Hobbs who is a Natural when it comes to playing baseball. On the way to try out for the Chicago Cubs, Hobbs who at the time is a young twenty something, meets with misfortune. He goes missing for 15 or 16 years only showing up to play baseball with the New York Knights at age 34, the age most baseball players would be retired out. In his hand, he has a $500.00 contract and in his heart, a desire to pursue the dream of playing in the big leagues.
Well, because of his age, the other players make fun of him; the coaches bench him and he’s left to watch the team lose game after game. Until one day…one day the coach decides to try him out during a practice and the Natural hits every ball into the bleachers. The coach finally catches on. The solution to the losing season is right in front of him and has been right along. He puts Hobbs in the game and then again and once again and the team wins the season pennant. The resources to make it all work were there all along sitting on a bench.
This, of course, was Christ’s point to his disciples and is the point for us as well. God provides the resources. We just need to see them, use them and trust them. A problem can become an opportunity if we don’t shy away from it. If we trust our God and ourselves, the challenges in life can be met. We don’t need to run from them; in the challenge there’s already a solution waiting to be discovered. And therein lays the joy of life – in the journey we find our joy, our zest for living, our purpose and God’s plan.
My dad was someone who could build a house from a set of plans and map out a route with a compass. He taught me to be his navigator whenever we went on our long trips as a family. My brother was too young to co-pilot and my mother couldn’t make heads or tails of a road map. But I was pretty good at it. I still am but with age and wisdom I’ve also learned a valuable lesson. Getting lost isn’t necessarily a crisis; it may be an opportunity to find a new way to get to the place I’m going. If we always do the same thing, the same way, if we always run away from new roads and the new thinking that may be available to us, we can’t possibly run into or discover new ideas. We can’t possibly learn to appreciate the potential for new wisdom. We miss the resources that may be available to us, that are right there in front of us.
Jesus turned a potential crisis into an opportunity. He took the meager resources available in bread and fish and multiplied them to feed a crowd and in the process, Christ taught those who witnessed then and we, who read this story today, of the unlimited bounty God seeks to share with us. What we might want to call a problem, God may use as an opening for undiscovered riches- another new way to learn yet again how much God loves us. Amen.
 James W. Moore, “Give Up Something Bad for Lent”, Abingdon Press, 50-52