Excuses, Excuses. So, what’s your favorite excuse?
The dog ate my homework.
I swear, the check is in the mail.
The alarm didn’t go off, so I overslept.
I’m coming down with a migraine… stomachache…maybe it’s food poisoning… fill in the blank with the ailment of the day. So, what’s your go-to favorite excuse to get out of some obligation?
Let’s face it -- we all have an excuse in the back-pocket to get out of something we don’t want to do- an event we don’t want to attend- to skip out on work-or some other dreaded appointment-or to avoid someone we don’t want to see.
Excuses give us the easy way out. Excuses keep us safe and secure. Excuses keep us in our comfort zone. Excuses help us in a pinch - but in the long run - excuses keep us from succeeding or fulfilling a purpose God has for our lives. It has been said “we can make excuses or we can make a difference, but we cannot do both.” Many of the excuses we buy into about ourselves - about the church - about our faith keeps us from the vision – the dream – the miracle God wants for us. Excuses over the long run keep us stuck.
Our gospel lesson today tells us of one of Jesus’ most famous miracles – the feeding of the 5,000- also called the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s the only miracle recorded in all four gospels – so it’s an important one for us to take heed of. But it was a miracle that almost didn’t happen because of the excuse -making of the disciples. It’s a miracle that only took place because Jesus saw a need: and in the face of that need, didn’t make excuses and he refused to give into them.
Our reading opens with Jesus just learning that his cousin and dear friend, John the Baptizer had just been beheaded by King Herod. In the face of this devastating news, Jesus withdraws to a deserted place - perhaps to grieve the terrible tragedy of John’s death. Jesus loved John and had once declared more or less that no greater man had ever been born. John was also a fellow prophet and had been a teacher to some of Jesus’ disciples. No sooner had Jesus shoved off in his boat to get some down time, then the crowds get wind of Jesus’ whereabouts and they begin to appear on the shoreline – waiting for him.
It would have been more than easy, and understandable, for Jesus to make excuses. "Just keep rowing guys, I need to get away. My buddy John has just been killed. I need to take a break from work while I get all this sorted out in my head." He could have even looked over to the crowds and said, "I'm sorry friends, not today. My cousin and dearest friend has just been killed, and I need some alone time.”
But Jesus didn't make excuses. He saw the crowd and immediately “had compassion on them." Though he was in no doubt grieving, Jesus went upon the shore and healed the sick. It seems that Jesus worked all day, through the afternoon, and into the evening healing the people. And before you knew it, it was dinnertime. The disciples started to get restless. They foresaw a huge problem. They were surrounded by a mass of hungry people. So, the disciples try to head this off by going to Jesus. Hey Jesus, have you noticed it’s a deserted place? No grocery stores around. It’s getting late. Don’t you think you should dismiss these people so they can go get food for themselves? Frankly, we’re tired, Jesus, and we want to go home to bed. Let’s call it a day. It seems like a reasonable request, doesn’t it?
Then Jesus says something absolutely remarkable
. Jesus tells his disciples: They need not go away. You give them something to eat. Clearly an impossible task by human standards. But Jesus, they sputter. We only have five loaves and two fish. Not even enough for the disciples, let alone this enormous crowd. Jesus ignores their protests. Their excuses. Jesus commands them to bring the loaves and fishes to him. He orders the crowds to sit on the grass. Jesus looks to heaven, breaks, then blesses the bread, gives them to the disciples, who then passes the bread out to crowds. And there was enough. There was enough for every man, woman and child, and there were leftovers -12 baskets full. It was a miracle.
Because Jesus loved so much, he overcome his tiredness and his grief. Because Jesus loved so much, he forced his disciples out of their comfort zones -out of their fear - to stop making excuses - to trust God would provide. Jesus’ love – and the blessing of heaven - achieved this. Jesus loves our world so much - he loves us so much – that he doesn’t allow excuses to get in the way of the miracles he wants to give us.
Faith is hard. And faith gets scary. God demands the impossible of us. God wants us to stretch our hearts almost to their breaking points. God wants to expand our minds beyond the horizons we can see. God seeks the miraculous – acts of love and compassion on a scale we can’t comprehend – if only we stop making excuses.
Thirty-one years ago, Our Saviour Lutheran Church was on the cusp of dying. There were only about twelve people, and Pastor Bob was sent to close up shop. But God had something else in mind and a miracle happened. Instead of closing - a thriving church emerged – because somehow the church got over the excuses. Now that Pastor Bob is retiring, excuses are tempting us again.
- I’m too old. Or I’m too young.
- I'm too busy.
- I have never learned how.
- It's too hard.
- I’m too sad and afraid.
- What’s the use? We’re just going to fall apart without Pastor Bob
7. I'm not good with change.
8. I've never done it before.
9. There are too many obstacles.
10. There's not enough to go around.
The big question is: are we ready for another miracle? The thing is, however, miracles can’t thrive in an atmosphere of excuses and doubts. There is only one time in the gospels that it is recorded Jesus couldn’t perform a miracle. Do you remember? Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth. He was teaching and the crowds found excuses not to believe in him. They were even to offense at the local boy who seemed to be putting on airs. And the scriptures go on to say Jesus could do no miracles there, except heal a few people, because of their lack of faith. They had no trust in him. So, we need to be careful that our excuses -- Our lack of faith – our inability to trust -doesn’t stop the next great miracle God wants to reveal in our midst.
Yes, there is loss looming. Yes, there is a need to process grief. There is a need to step aside and take some quiet time. But the ministry goes on. The needs are great. The work is long and hard. Yes, the resources seem inadequate for the task at hand. And yes, we are tempted to make excuses like the disciples. Lord, it’s late. It’s a deserted place, Lord. Send the people away. Let them get help somewhere else.
Today Jesus says: You need not go away. They need not go away. Bring the dreams - the hopes - the visions for the next 100 years to me. Place it in my hands. I will bless them. Then you go start sharing. And there will be more than enough.
So, over the next few months, as we prepare to say goodbye to Pastor Bob and Cindy and enter an unknown time of transition - let us remember this story. How Jesus performed a miracle. Jesus’ miracle was not only feeding the 5,000 and then some. That was amazing enough. Let us remember Jesus’ other miracle in this story – how he challenged his disciples to trust him. And they did. And that’s the miracle Jesus wants to accomplish here at Our Saviour. The miracle that we too will trust. That Jesus will take our humble offerings, and in his hands will continue a ministry that will continue to touch the multitudes.
We can make excuses, or we can make a difference, but we can’t do both. Let’s continue to make a difference. Let’s be a part of the next miracle - and believe there will be enough for all -- all will be filled – and then some. Amen.