Rev. Linda Rogge-Rubingh from New City Kids, Inc.
Scripture: Jn 6:1-13; Luke 9:10-17
The Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God!
Please pray with me: Lord, let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.
I thought we should spend the few moments we have together today thinking about what a child can offer.
Because what happened here is that Jesus asks his ministry team (his friends, his congregation members) to do something – there was a need in front of them, a “call” on their lives – and what did they do? They panicked! They panicked!!
They have absolutely no idea how to do the task before them, they’re completely depleted of resources and they’re flummoxed, and probably even a little angry at being given such an impossible task. And in the midst of all this adult angst – a child appears, a little boy, and what does he do? He simply offers Jesus what he has. And the offering becomes the occasion for a miracle. An occasion for demonstrating the fecundity, the unfathomable and immeasurable abundance of God.
20 years ago, my husband Trevor and I moved to Jersey City NJ to start what we thought at first was going to be a new church in a high-need urban neighborhood. We went with almost nothing, literally – no people, next to no money, no building, and certainly no clear idea of how to do what at the time we thought was the task before us. And after 2 miserably hard years of failure, God spoke very clearly “What do you have?” Well, we had a handful of 7th & 8th graders always hanging around.
But what could a handful of young adolescents (and two inexperienced, suburban-raised pastors) possibly offer in the face of our call to the poor in the city? The call to raise up a community of faithful believers in a place desolated for long generations. What could we possibly offer in the face of all these overwhelming needs of the city?
God had continually been laying upon us the needs of children and teens. There were, and are, thousands of children and teens in the city — Jersey City, Grand Rapids, almost every city in our nation – children and teens hungry – hungry just like the crowd around Jesus that day – desperately hungry for hope, for love, for purpose, for opportunity, hungry for God. In the face of an impossible task, what could we and a few middle schoolers possibly have to offer?
Well, what happened was that we offered what we had — which at the time felt like nothing — and God worked a miracle. We said to the kids “God wants us to start this After School Center, but we need YOU to do it, and they said “ok.” The same teens who the movies and the papers tell us will likely wind up in jail, on drugs or dead – these same teens, when given the chance of leadership, and at the same time told repeatedly “God loves you and has a plan for your life, plans not to harm you, but plans to give you a hope and a future,” they said “that’s cool; can I bring my friends?”
We said “You are an essential member in the body of Christ right now, and not when you’re older” and then gave them real jobs to do:
• We need you to be a tutor
• We need you to teach a rap class
• We need you to be the teacher for the drum class
These kids offered themselves, freely, and the Lord has taken what they offered, and made it the occasion for a miracle. New City Kids has two locations in Jersey City, NJ, one now in Grand Rapids, and one planning to open in Paterson, NJ next fall. So far we have over 150 children every day in the ASC’s, and we currently employ about 85 teenagers. At New City Kids, by the mercy of God, we have seen first-hand God turning what was once empty into something very full and alive, taking what was once very little, and making it more than enough.
When Jesus made this request of the disciples, to feed the whole crowd when there was absolutely no food anywhere – “find a way to feed these 5000 people” – the ministry leadership thought it was impossible. They were Exasperated! Deflated, Confounded.
“This is an impossible task Lord!!”
We, right here and now, are a gathering of Jesus’ friends, his disciples. You are his ministry team! What is the thing before you today that is impossible? To what have you said “this is an impossible task?” When have you, like the disciples, in exasperation said “But we don’t have enough money!”
Churches can sometimes feel some anxiety during an interim time as you think about your mission, your call, and planning for the future. Do you wonder if you have enough resources to prepare for the future of your church?
Is declining church membership in our denomination an impossible challenge?
What do you have before you personally, that seems impossible? A broken relationship that needs healing? An illness that seems overwhelming. An unexpected job loss or financial loss.
You may, like the disciples, be completely overwhelmed and deeply angry at both the impossibility of the tasks before you, and feeling utterly ill-equipped and under-resourced for the job.
But hear this: When the disciples presented Jesus with that little boy’s measley 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus didn’t say “okay everyone, let’s pack it in, we really can’t do this.”
No— because Jesus knew the One who made all the fish in the oceans. And Jesus knew the One who in the very beginning had made everything out of nothing at all. How hard would this be for Someone like that?
I want to encourage you today to Stop thinking about what you don’t have, stop thinking about everything that you are not; these things are of absolutely No Consequence to our God, who created us as his workmanship, in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do! (Eph. 2:10).
The smallness of that boy’s offering, the inadequacy of the offering, didn’t matter to Jesus. What mattered was that he offered it. Then Jesus used what was offered as the occasion for a miracle. It was the most natural thing in all the world to do this, because it’s what God has been doing from the Beginning: taking the nothing and making it everything. Taking the emptiness and filling it up. Taking the darkness and making it Light.
What matters to God is not what you offer, but that you offer whatever it is you have, -- as Mother Teresa says – that we give with total surrender.
Today, in the season of Lent, as we approach the Cross. As we approach the victory of an empty tomb — this season which can expose our emptiness, perhaps our confusion, our doubts, our inadequacies — all that we don’t have … Could we not remember something together? Could we not remember today, that the miracle that bought our redemption on the Cross, began with an act of surrender, with what a child offered.
I want to encourage us today to remember that When the Word became flesh and blood, and made his dwelling among us, When the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, it was the most amazing surrender, a beautiful offering of a child – and it was an occasion for THE miracle. THE miracle that leads to a Cross, in which his emptiness purchased our fullness. Jesus says “I have come that you might have joy, and that your joy maybe be full and complete.” What started as a beautiful offering of a child becomes an occasion for the demonstration of God’s fecundity, God’s abundant character toward us. God lacks nothing, and we, when we trust our lives to Christ, lack no good thing.
Would you, with me, today, identify the thing before you that you’ve been naming “impossible .” Maybe you’ve been too afraid to even admit it, or acknowledge its presence. And then let us – with anticipation – offer God what we have, remembering what our loving God does with what a child offers.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.