By: Lauren Wright Pittman
February 8, 2015
What crowds do you find yourself in?
According to the ever-reliable resource, wikipedia, crowds are “a small and definable group of people … I think the keyword of this explanation is the word definable… This begs the question,
What is it that’s definable about crowds of people in general?
A crowd may be defined through a common purpose or common set of emotions.
This is interesting isn’t it? Often times we find ourselves in crowds, but very rarely if at all do we actually acknowledge or even notice that the people around us are like us in some way.
It’s not like we’re going around asking,
“Now what’s your purpose? … Also… what are you feeling like right now… cause I can’t be in a crowd with you if you have different purpose or set of emotions than me….”
…. No this doesn’t happen….
We naturally form crowds and we are bound together and even defined by our common purpose or set of emotions.
So what about the crowds in today’s text?
It’s important here to notice that there are multiple crowds at the beginning of this text. This means that prior to hearing (and we’ll get to that in a second), there were different crowds with different common purposes and sets of emotions….
These crowds may have been divided according to town or family clan….. or maybe each crowd had a common occupation or gender….
But in the text we aren’t told what these specific defining characteristics of the crowds are… because these characteristics aren’t important.
What is important is that the crowds hear “it”.
Verse 13: “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”
What did they hear you ask? They heard that Jesus had withdrawn to a deserted place by himself…. Hmmm…. But listen to this! It’s such a subtle change, but it’s so important:
the crowdS followed him on foot from the towns. And when Jesus went ashore, he saw A great crowd.
Did you notice it? The different, multiple crowds are no longer referred to in the plural, they converge and become a new single great crowd. As they arrive after a journey to the deserted place to meet Jesus, the crowds are unified.
So I think it’s appropriate to ask of this morning’s text…
What does this “new crowd” have in common?
What is this “new crowd’s” common purpose and set of emotions?
This crowd’s purpose is to be with Jesus. This crowd’s emotions are more than likely that of desire and desperation, as we are told that Jesus heals their sick. This crowd REALLY NEEDED to see Jesus… This crowd shared a common hope, enough to trek out to a deserted place to meet him.
Ok, let’s back up now to the beginning of our text… You may have been wondering, as I did,
Where is Jesus going?
Why does Jesus go away to be by himself?
Verse 13: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted (desolate, lonely place) by himself.”
What did he hear?
He heard of the beheading of his dear friend John the Baptist.
The child who leapt in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice.
The man who prepared the way for Jesus, proclaiming his coming to all who would listen.
The man who dipped Jesus in the Jordan River and baptized him…
The man about whom Jesus said, “among those born of women, no one is greater than John.”
The man who knew and understood Jesus on a level that no one else did on Earth… was beheaded.
Jesus went away to be by himself because he needed space to grieve.
He heard of this injustice and it moved him.
And after he rowed his boat across the body of water he walked ashore, and a great crowd met him there.
Can you imagine?
You’ve taken a boat out across a body of water to this deserted place where you know you can be alone to grieve and process your friend’s death, and as you come ashore…
By gosh there’s A GREAT CROWD waiting for you.
They’ve heard of your movement via boat and on foot, they’ve beaten you to there.
How would you respond? I’ll tell you how I’d respond…
“Come on People! I just need a minute. My friend just died, Please leave me alone!!”
Jesus, we are told, is viscerally moved… in his gut…. by this “new, great crowd” and he has compassion on them and heals their sick.
There is something about this crowd that moves Jesus beyond his grief into action.
His response to is to give…. and he gave and gave to the crowds late into the day…
As darkness overtook the light of day, the disciples grew hungry and noticed the pressing need for the crowd to be fed.
verse 15: “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
The disciples present Jesus with the perfect cop out. They know that John the Baptist has died, they themselves buried him.
“Just send them back, Jesus… and you can have your alone time….”
Once again, remarkably, Jesus continues to give.
verse 16: “They need not go away; you disciples give them something to eat.”
Jesus knew that the great crowd was exactly where it needed to be.
After a bit of disbelief, the Disciples give Jesus everything they have, merely five loaves and the two fish…
and Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses, and breaks this offering……..
Jesus takes everything the disciples have to offer, with no judgment of the offering’s size, he breaks it and provides sustenance for this great new crowd.
Jesus takes our small offerings and our brokenness and turns them into fullness.
When I think about this act of reversing brokenness… and the miraculous work that God does with our offerings, I think of a man named JP.
As many of you know, in late December I went to India with two professors and a group of seminary students from Columbia.
While there, I met a man named JP who is a Lutheran pastor and director of a place called Quo Vadis. When we arrived at Quo Vadis he greeted us with the most all-encompassing hospitality we’d ever experienced.
He told us the story of Que Vadis’ beginnings which involved a very emotional and dramatic story of his wife’s battle with liver disease.
She was very sick and he took her to the town’s best hospital.
The doctors told JP that his wife was dying and he needed to be prepared to say goodbye.
He was completely blindsided and spent his days in the hospital’s chapel begging God for his wife’s life.
Prayer after prayer JP felt God was not listening to him… so he decided to make an offering to God.
You see, JP was doing really well as a Lutheran pastor and had the potential for moving up in rank in the near future.
JP took his plans of continuing on his career path and offered them to God. He told God that he would serve in any capacity that God requested.
This was all JP had to give. In this moment of complete brokenness, JP offered his career… his five loaves and two fish.
After weeks more of prayer and radical dreams, the doctors ran a test to see what liver function JP’s wife had left. JP found the doctors standing, perplexed… crowded around the piece of paper, the results.
His wife no longer had any measurable liver disease.
She had been miraculously freed from illness.
Obviously The story doesn’t end here… because we still don’t know how Quo Vadis started…
JP soon received a seemingly absurd calling from God. God told JP that he needed to quit his job as a Lutheran Pastor of a congregation and start an interfaith dialogue center.
JP had no interfaith training, his crowd was his congregation….
But JP did what God called him to do and he opened Quo Vadis Interfaith dialogue Center, a ministry of Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry. Quo Vadis opens its doors to people from all over the world, from all faith traditions and backgrounds… to use the library and Internet café, to share meals, listen to various speakers, and ponder the question that is the center’s name, Quo Vadis?
“Where are you going?”
God expanded JP’s crowd to include not only Christians, but Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics… the list goes on.
You see, the particularities of the crowds in our text aren’t important. What’s important was that they heard of Jesus’ movement and they followed him.
Where are you going?
In this season of complete brokenness over his wife’s illness, JP still gave. He offered everything he had, and in the process, God broke it and offered it to this new crowd.
Quo Vadis has been thriving for 10 years to JP’s disbelief. God has taken the brokenness that JP had to offer and has literally fed thousands upon thousands of people intellectually, spiritually, and physically
who simply ask the question:
Where are you going?
What crowds do you find yourself in?
I find that I run in my seminary crowd. We all spend so much time reading and studying, and we all find biblical and theological jokes amusing….
What did the Calvinist say when he fell down the stairs?
Ughh! Sure glad I got that over with.
so like I said… its often times just easier to stay in your crowd.
Just like any other school, different crowds have formed at Columbia… many of the Korean students hang out together, many of the black students hang out together, many of the white students, international students, Presbyterian students, non-Presbyterian students, older students, and younger students…
In class we intermingle, but for the most part when we’re on our own, we go back to our perspective crowds.
I find, though, when I step out of my crowd into new ones, amazing things happen. I learn more about myself, I learn more about who God is, and through collaboration greater things come about…
Last week, Columbia Theological Seminary’s President Steve Hayner passed away.
In these difficult times the boundaries between our little crowds diffuse and we become one GREAT CROWD, meeting Jesus in the midst of grief. Last week our campus had an impromptu service in honor of Steve. Time and space was left open for anyone to share a scripture, a memory, or a song.. and for nearly an hour students from different countries, backgrounds and traditions shared from their hearts the outpourings of love and grief for our President. Our common purpose brought us together and our differences enriched expressions of lament, praise, grief, and joy.
These are the times we all are fed to fullness. These are the times when astonishing things happen, like feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
We learn from one another in our difference, and we become stronger.
We forget the boundaries that divide and we are unified.
There is something about these new crowds that viscerally moves Jesus.
What would happen if we came together on a regular basis not only in the deserted places, but in the name of a common purpose… following in Christ’s footsteps?
Whether it be to feed the homeless, clean up some trash, stand up for the marginalized and oppressed communities, to comfort the lonely…
The amazing thing about following Jesus’ footsteps, is that we will actually find him there.
Can you see yourself in a new crowd?
Maybe you’re not sure where to find this new crowd…
But I think it’s safe to say, if we ask ourselves the question:
“Where is Jesus going?”
The answer to that question is exactly where we need to be.
This movement requires us to step out of our comfort zones it requires us to move against the grain and break through the bounds of our naturally formed crowds.
It’s not easy work, but Jesus is moving… and we need not leave Jesus alone to grieve the injustice in the world.
In this new crowd there will be brokenness and there will be difference but we can be assured that there will also be healing and fullness.
verse 20: “And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.
Everyone had enough, and enough is abundance. AMEN.