February 10, 2019: Something from Nothing by Rev. Beth Hayward (Luke 9: 10-17)

In my family we’ve decided that whenever we are driving into new terrain, on roads unknown, in foreign countries, I will be the driver. We didn’t come to this decision through a duly called family meeting or based on a thorough evaluation of who is the better driver or for that matter the better navigator. No we have come to this decision so that we might avoid the unnecessary strain put on our marriage when my husband drives and I relentlessly tell him which way to go and, how do I put this nicely… and I flip out with every wrong turn or even a perception of a wrong turn that he makes.

And so it was a humbling experience for me a couple of summers ago when we arrived in Edinburgh, after a full day of driving across the highlands of Scotland. I was ready to call it quits and head into our comfortable Air-bnb for a late afternoon happy hour cocktail. I would have liked for Steven to return the car but of course he’d had no practice to that point and so in that moment when I suddenly wanted to relinquish control, I still had it. I headed out with our youngest to return the car to the appointed car hire depot about one kilometer away. The drive took us 45 minutes. No matter how hard I tried, the entrance to the car hire parking lot, hidden as it was beneath the train station, eluded me.

The saving grace, if you will, was the GPS we had named Charlotte. She had been with us for the entire 10 days previous and she hadn’t let us down. I’m not used to driving with a computer generated navigating voice, we don’t have that in our 12 year old car and so I was acutely aware of her presence with us during those 45 minutes. What I noticed was that Charlotte never once lost her cool! She never once said ‘No stupid you just missed the right turn!’ With every wrong turn I made Charlotte recalibrated and told me what the best choice was now, not what the best choice would have been one second before.

I want to propose today that God is our GPS. God is the calm, recalibrating, persuasive voice always offering the best option for this moment, not the one that has passed.  God is not coercive. God is persuasive. God is not the quintessential back seat driver, but the recalibrating voice, inviting us with each wrong turn to make the best decision for this moment. In each and every moment of our living God offers fresh possibilities, divine promptings, always drawing us toward the greatest healing, beauty, and wholeness available in each situation. And I’m not making this up, I mean this is not simply my best guess at the nature of God. “The Bible is full of examples of God using not coercive, but persuasive power to enlist our participation in creating a worthy… future.”

Whether it’s the very first verses in Genesis where it says that when God started creating there was chaos, there was already chaos, it was already a wrong turn moment and from that God persuasively called forth creation that was good. Later it was the persuasive divinely inspired ideals of the Hebrew people that brought down Pharaoh and led them out of slavery. I could go on but jump ahead with me now to this little miracle story and see too that there is a moment here where the gentle persuasive voice of the divine is whispered and we hear it in Jesus’ voice. You could almost miss it. In fact the disciples do almost miss it. Just like we almost miss the persuasive voice of the divine because we are so expecting the best way forward to hit us like a ton of bricks, because we are just so conditioned to expect divine power to be as forceful as human power.

Picture the scene, the disciples have just returned from their time around the countryside when Jesus sent them two by two to heal and cure and teach. Now they are back in his midst, all of them looking for a bit of time away, a retreat to renew and recharge. But instead a huge crowd follows them. Word is spreading about their power. And we’re talking a huge crowd, some 5000 people, not counting women and children – let’s just say it was likely more like 10,000 people. Jesus sees the crowd and knows his retreat will have to wait so he spends the day and he welcomes them, and speaks to them about the kingdom of God, and heals those who need to be cured.

And you might think this is the moment of hospitality in this scripture, when Jesus says, sit down and let me tell you about a kingdom where the last are first and the hungry are fed. Sit down and I’ll heal what’s broken, all of this when all he wanted was to just take a break. But there’s more, the bigger extension of hospitality comes later. At the end of what by all accounts has been a very good day. At that moment, as the sun starts to sink in the sky and the toddlers teeter on the verge of tantrum, as belies start to grumble and bladders beg to be emptied. In that moment the disciples come up to Jesus and say, maybe we should call it a day, we’ve filled these folks up with hope and vision and healing, let’s send them on their way to find some food and places to sleep the night.

But remember God always offers the best possible option in each and every moment and so Jesus taps deep into his divine, into his God given persuasive power and he says “you feed them.” He didn’t do it to show off, he didn’t do it because the disciples option wasn’t good enough, but simply because he had a possibility that was more closely attuned to the longing of the divine heart.

I wonder if they thought he’d completely lost his mind? That the sun had finally got to him. I wonder if they thought perhaps all that healing had left him with a low blood sugar and a cloudy head. Maybe they knew Jesus well enough by now to know that he tended to lose track of practical things when we was healing and curing. It doesn’t tell us if they whisper amongst themselves or if one of them finally looks at the others and says I think he’s serious.

When they realize he’s serious one of them pipes up “but we have nothing.”  Except there is a but. We have nothing BUT two fish and a few loaves. We have nothing but. Why does our something so often look to us like nothing? He didn’t say feed the whole crowd, he didn’t say you can make miracles happen, he just said give them something to eat.

It’s just that that holy voice doesn’t come like the voice from a thunderous cloud, persuasiveness never arrives like that. Instead the voice of God bubbles up from the deeps, from within, from those close at hand. And we are inclined to listen to the loudest cries, we are conditioned to listen for big and bold, not the whispers of our hearts.

What if we did that? What if we heard that voice more often? What if we offered our something even when we’ve convinced ourselves that it is in fact nothing? He doesn’t say let me show you how to feed all these people, he doesn’t shame them by saying what a dumb idea, he just offers the best possible opening. It’s not that Jesus miraculously turns our nothing into something, our something is already something.

We don’t know what happens when the disciples reluctantly pull the nothing from their lunch boxes and start to pass the baskets of bread and fish through the crowds. I would like to know if the bread grew each time someone handed it to the next, or if the crowd looked at the meager offering and people looked toward one another and realized they too had nothing, which was actually something to share. Did people add their broken bits to the baskets? Did people start sharing what they had to the point that those at the back of the crowd may have missed all trace of the miracle in their midst?

Remember the times in your life when you have been the recipient of persuasive hospitality. It’s not the teacher who shames you in front of the class that enables you to bring out your something, it’s not the parent who says not good enough, no we are persuaded to become our best selves to make the best decisions in the whispers of love and encouragement, and sometimes it takes a while for us to hear. Because there are voices in our world and in our heads that compete with the voice of Jesus and those voices are loud and they say you’ve got nothing, don’t bother, look for the quickest and easiest path, don’t take the time to wonder or discern, don’t listen to the whispers of your heart we’ve got this!

Every time we gaze into a miracle story it’s helpful to remember that God is a GPS, God is persuasive, not coercive. Think about it, whereas my back seat driver technique tries to influence outcomes through sheer volume, God’s technique is persuasive, never judgmental, with each wrong turn God recalibrates and offers the next best solution given the circumstances in this moment. God is always filled with possibilities always opening more, always luring us forward. Miracles are an expression not an exception of the non-coercive, immensely influential love of God.

There is so very much that weighs heavy on our hearts these days. It can feel like the problems of the world are so much bigger than what you have to give. I wonder what might happen this week if each and every one of us committed to noticing, to listening for that persuasive holy voice that bubbles up from within, that echoes from the voices of prophets in our very midst? I wonder if you’d have any miracles stories to tell?