August 2, 2007
"A Chance To Help"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Paul Harvey told about a 3-year-old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered she had certain instructions for the little boy: "Now you're not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, today, so don't even ask."
She put him in the cart and off they went up and down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. Seeing all those chocolate chip cookies was just too much and he said, "Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?"
Mom said, "I told you not even to ask. You're not going to get any, that's all."
They continued down the aisles, but in their search for certain items she had to back track and they ended up in the cookie aisle again. "Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?" She said, "I told you that you can't have any. Now sit down and be quiet."
Finally, they arrived at the checkout. The little boy sensed that the end was in sight, that this might be his last chance. He stood up on the seat and shouted in his loudest voice, "In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?"
Everybody in the checkout lines laughed and applauded. And that little boy got his chocolate chip cookies. And not just one package. The other shoppers were so moved by the little boy's outburst that he and his mother went home with 23 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. (1)
That little boy experienced much the same thing as the boy in the passage for the message this morning. They both experienced an unexpected miracle. Let's look at the passage and then you'll see what I mean. John 6:1-15 (NRSV)
 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?"
 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.
 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."
 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him,
 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"
 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.
 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."
 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.
 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."
 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Both boys experienced unexpected miracles. The boy with the cookies didn't expect to get any cookies and went home with 23 packages. The boy with the loaves and fishes offered the lunch he'd brought for the day and helped feed 5,000 people. And that was the real miracle, what Jesus did with that boy's unselfish act of sharing. Let's look at the story.
A. It's really quite simple, Jesus and the Disciples were headed from one place to another. They had just crossed the Sea of Galilee and gone through Tiberias. This is the height of Jesus popularity. People are coming out of the woodwork to see and hear him, hoping to see some sign, some miracle that will point to Him being the Messiah.
It was no different in Tiberias. The crowds were getting larger and larger. As Jesus and the Disciples headed up to the mountain across from Tiberias, the crowds followed. Jesus sat down and saw the crowds coming. Philip was from the area and would know where to buy food. And that's when Jesus put Philip to the test. "Philip, where are we going to buy enough bread to feed all these people?"
Philip was a little flummoxed. Not only was there no store or bakery which he knew of who would have enough bread, there weren't any others in sight. And cell phones and take out hadn't been invented yet. Philip looked at the size of the crowd and the adding machine in his headed went off and he said, "Lord, even if we could get enough bread, it would take more than six months wages to feed this whole crowd. And then they'd only get a little bit."
B. That's when Andrew stepped up and said, "Lord, there's a boy here with five small barley loaves and two fish. I know it's not much but . . ."
I think at that moment Jesus smiled. He looked from Andrew to Philip and then told them to make the people sit down. After giving thanks he began to distribute the food to the people. And when everyone had their fill, Jesus collected twelve baskets full of leftovers.
All throughout Jesus' ministry the significant miracles, sometimes even the significant teachings come as the result of an interruption on the journey. They come as a Chance Encounter. Today we begin a series that looks at some of those Chance Encounters. That's what this little boy had. A Chance Encounter in which he was given A Chance To Help.
A. Philip Saw The Obstacles. I don't know why. He'd been a Disciple for awhile. Maybe the business man in him was still just to strong for the man of faith who wanted to take over. Who knows? But all Philip Saw Were The Obstacles. There are a lot of people in the world like that.
I've searched and searched to see if I could confirm it but haven't found any photos or even real proof substantiating the report that on one corner in a certain community there is a Bar called the Last Chance Saloon. And directly across the street at the other corner is a storefront Church called Second Chances Church. I think that's pretty clever.
A lot of people think they've blown their one and only chance in life. They've blown their chance for success, for fulfillment, and worst of all, they think they've blown their chance for forgiveness. These people don't think they have any chances left, that God could never forgive them. Their actions are just too horrible for God to ever forgive. Those ideas have become Obstacles in their lives and faith.
B. Andrew Saw The Possibilities. That's the way he was wired. He was always looking at the possibilities. He's sort of like the old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One of the students asked him why he did this. His answer was: "You never know what one of these boys may some day become." And he was right, because one of his students was Martin Luther. (2)
Andrew did not really know what he was doing when he brought the boy to Jesus But he saw the possibilities.
C. The Little Boy Saw An Opportunity. He didn't have much to offer but he brought and gave everything he had. He saw an opportunity and A Chance To Help. He offered himself and his gift and we know the rest of the story.
This boy reminded me of something I learned in Israel. James Kinnear sent me a reminder of it. In Israel there are two major bodies of water. In the north is the beautiful Sea of Galilee fed by the Jordan River as it flows from Mount Hermon southward. This body of water symbolizes the richness of the land. The area supports a very productive fishing industry. All around are fields that produce abundantly from the life giving waters of the Jordan and the Sea. There is even a tourist trade that has built up around it, like any other body of water.
As the Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee, it flows through productive farm land. But within sixty short miles it feeds another body of water known as the Dead Sea. It's called the Dead Sea for a reason. There is no greenery, no fish, no growth, nothing lives in this area. Salt and minerals encrust everything that touches this water.
What happened to the water in those few short miles? Actually nothing happened to the water. It is the fact that the Dead Sea has no outlet. The water from the Jordan is dumped into a salt and mineral basin. Whatever flows in stays there. Whatever it receives, it keeps for itself.
There's a lesson there. You see, we receive so many blessings from God's gracious hand. But sometimes we're like Philip and all we see are the Obstacles of Life. Sometimes we're like Andrew and the boy, we see the possibilities and turn them into opportunities to Help.
And that's the way we were created. That's how we're supposed to respond, like the little boy. If we receive love, we have to give love. If we receive financial blessings, we have to share our bounty with those less fortunate. If we are blessed, we have to share those blessings in return. When we do, we're like the Jordan flowing into and through the Sea of Galilee.
When we don't, then we're like the Dead Sea and the gift dies and something inside us dies with it.
William Barclay in his Daily Study Bible writes:
"Jesus needs what we can bring him. It may not be much but he needs it. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. If we would lay ourselves on the altar of his service, there is no saying what he could do with us and through us. We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have not more to bring, and rightly so; but that is no reason for failing to bring what we have. Little is always much in the hands of Christ." (3)
Dorothy Pryse was listening to a Christian radio station as she drove to the grocery store one morning. The person talking about kindness said, "I wonder how many of you are listening to me on your car radio and thinking of how you can be kind while driving?"
Dorothy began thinking about what he was saying. A few blocks away, she saw a woman waiting in her car to come out of her driveway. Traffic was heavy; Dorothy knew this woman would have a hard time getting out. She slowed down to let her out. The woman smiled and waved at her.
When she got to the grocery store she saw a parking space. As she started pulling in, another car on the opposite side also started pulling in. Dorothy backed out and found another parking spot.
As they both got out of their cars, the driver of the other car said, "I can't believe what you just did. Anyone else would have made ME back out." Dorothy explained what she had heard on the radio about showing love. The two women began talking. Dorothy discovered the woman had just moved into the area, didn't know anyone and was looking for a church. So Dorothy invited her to come to her church. And a strong friendship blossomed from a chance meeting and a small act of kindness. (3)
A chance encounter changed that woman's life and a friendship grew. A chance encounter changed not only that boy's life but gave us one of the best loved miracles of Jesus' ministry. All because they put their small gifts into the hands of Christ.
Our challenge is to bring OUR Loaves and Fishes no matter how meager or small and put them into the hands of Jesus. Our challenge is to look for our own Chance To Help.
1. Brett Blair, eSermons.com. Story from Paul Harvey Commentary and News.
2. Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
3. Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
4. Dorothy Pryse. The Upper Room. September-October 1992, p. 23.
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