Dear Disciple of Christ,
Quiz question. What miracle performed by Jesus is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)? Any idea?
Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” John 6:3-10
I chose the John presentation of the miracle because he alone mentions where those five loaves and two fish came from. The other three gospels mention they had them but it is John who shares that it is a little kid, a “lad”, who is so foolish to offer his loaves and fish to Jesus. It’s self-evident but mentioned by Andrew just how foolish it is to mention it. After all there are 5,000 men (and their wives and children). Only a child would bring that forward. But, Jesus will tell His disciples unless we become like the little children we will have no part in the kingdom of God. That doesn’t mean we are to become foolish. It is we are to become faithful, trusting that with God, all things are possible.
So there I was in Brooklyn, months after arriving, and I was trying to remember all I had been taught in seminary about church and pastor’s relationships with members. The suggested “rule of thumb” was that we pastors were to kind of “lay low” and not rock any boats for about a year. In that first year in a church we were to develop personal relationships with the members, that they might trust us and then, when the year was up, we could slowly begin to suggest some changes we felt might be helpful in the church.
Those of you who know me personally can imagine how well that worked for me. It might be my personality (one of my regular sayings is, “If not now – when? If not us – who?”). Or it may also be that I feel that “waiting period” is a really bad practice. In some ways it is dishonest. We are to sit there at a council meeting and, though we sense there is something missing or amiss or that could be and should be changed, we just sit there and smile. I don’t like that when members do that to me (smile when they feel something is wrong in what I’ve said or done and I didn’t like me doing it to them).
But I tried. I honestly tried. I really tried hard. And so, for the first council meeting (at that church and in my fledgling ministry), I just sat there smiling (OK, maybe not smiling but I didn’t say anything). But midway through the second meeting I couldn’t take any more. “Is there some money the church has that I’m unaware of? I asked. (You remember that our annual budget based on income was $11,000). “What do you mean,” the president responded? “We don’t have any memorial funds or any savings. We don’t really have anything!”
My response could have been taken the wrong way, but I was in Brooklyn in New York City and I have a personality that hopes people will discover what I’ve discovered if they think about it. “Well then, if we have no money, why do we spend so much time in council meeting talking about it?” In reality we had – talked about money, determining what bills we could pay or would pay and what we’d do about this or that need. “How about if we talk about what we do have?” I could tell by their confused looks they really felt this young “whipper snapper” of a pastor just didn’t have a clue about the realities of life (and limited funds).
So like the little lad, I brought forward my loaves and fish. Kind of. Actually, I brought forward eleven dollars. “Well, I have eleven dollars and with eleven dollars I can buy a thousand business cards. And on the business cards we could have printed “T L C”. Everyone knows what that stands for.” True, but for our members it was more thanTender Loving Care.” Our people also knew it was the abbreviation for our church, Trinity Lutheran Church. So on the card it would “say” that in big letters and under that, it would say, “Have a need? Call this number between 9am and noon for help.”
They were confused but, if I could read their faces, somewhat intrigued. “What did this young pastor have in mind? What is he talking about?” I went on to describe the second phone in my office (which they knew was left by the FBI who used the pastor’s office to run a wiretap on the 3 story walk-up building next door to the church. We never got a bill for that phone service (their gift to us – indicating they could not pay us – separation of church and state, you know). I had done my planning. “The number on the card would be to that phone, and we could “man” that phone those hours, take calls, and use the white, yellow and blue pages of the phone books to find help for people. We could find a real person in some agency to help that person in need. It would not cost the church anything (I donated the $11) and since it would only take one person to “man” the phone, that person could be me until some others volunteered to do the answering so it could begin right away.
But I felt it needed to be the community’s ministry and I knew, since they were not involved much beyond worship volunteering, it could take a while. But I could also involve the members and invite them to be part of the ministry by distributing the cards, in their doctors’ offices, to the person on the street who asked them for help, to people they saw in need, even to put them in the subway next to the card from “Sister Rose” who would read tea leaves. Without twisting anyone’s arms, I was inviting them to use what they did have (the faith and will and willingness to distribute little business cards).
Over the next few months, the program developed. We got some volunteers, even people who visited the church and we got calls by people in need. We found helpers in agencies and they were listed on 3 x 5 cards and placed in a recipe box so the next time we got a call about a need we had helped, we had our lead ready to go. Ok, I admit, it wasn’t a miracle like the feeding of the 5,000 but, for me and that little group of disciples in the big city of Brooklyn, it was a start. God was beginning to do His work in a group of disciples who began to see a mission and do ministry and that glorified God. If without a vision people perish, with a vision, they rejoice and grow. And they did! Thanks be to God!
Peace in His service,