As the Children’s Pastor, I get to go to Summer Camp at Bridgeport for 5 days during the summer with some of our children. And it’s pretty amazing – and that’s saying something, coming from a person who didn’t do camps as a child! At Bridgeport, children entering grades 4-6 get to “escape” for a week and hang out with their friends, as they play and sing and worship our God who loves them so incredibly much!
One of my favorite things about this past summer camp was when we gathered twice a day in what was called “Family Groups.” [picture of family group) During Family Group, we explored the Bible story and discussed how we could use that story to make a difference in our lives. On the first lesson of the first day, we studied the creation story from Genesis 1, and talked about how we are all made in the image-of-God. As such, we are called do as Jesus tells us – to love God with everything we are…and to love our neighbors as ourselves. During our discussion, we learned about a 6 year old girl from Chicago named Armani Crews. [picture of Armani]
Armani is a 6-year-old girl from Chicago, and she had this dream to feed the homeless people in her surrounding community. A quick Google of Chicago’s homeless shows that, according to 2016 statistics, there are just under 6,000 homeless people living within Chicago’s city limits. According to the article posted about Armani back in March of this year, Armani begged her parents for “a few months” for the chance to feed the homeless. Her parents didn’t think too much of it, but Armani kept persisting. Her mom, Artesha, tried to make a compromise – “OK,” she said, “We’ll make them sandwiches.” Armani was not okay with that. She wanted these people to have the same kind of food that she would have at her birthday party, which was coming up soon. Her dad, Antoine, finally said to her, “Ok Armani, we’ll do this…but if we do…you’re not getting a birthday party.” All of the money spent on the cake, decorations, invitations, games, and gifts – for you – will go toward feeding homeless people…”
Armani was faced with a decision: She could have a party for her birthday, have all her friends and family celebrate with her, and keep all her gifts, or she could help feed the homeless and miss out on a birthday party…
Well, we’ll come back to Armani’s story… We’re going to jump into today’s text…
In our Scripture today, we learn that Jesus and the disciples had a bit of a situation on their hands. There was a crowd of 5000 following Jesus, because they knew he was performing miracles or “signs” as the author of John calls them. Now, during Jesus’s time, the 5000 mentioned here were men – women and children had a much lower social status so they would not have been counted in this number. So we can assume there were way more than 5,000 people there. And, as it turns out, the Passover Feast was soon approaching, and Jesus knew that these people needed to be fed.
This story is particularly interesting because this is the only miracle story that is recorded in all 4 Gospels. But John’s version of this miracle is a little different. In the other Gospels, Jesus asks the Disciples for their food, which turns out to be 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. What makes John’s version particularly interesting is that the 5 loaves and 2 fish do not come from the Disciple’s, but from an unlikely source – a boy.
Throughout the Gospel of John, there’s this theme of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and the Disciples just don’t quite get it – they’re human, right? In our story Jesus asked only one of his Disciples, Philip, “Hey, were can we buy bread for these folks to eat?” In verse 6, we see that Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but he was seeing if Philip would guess the right answer. Well, Philip totally overlooked Jesus’ question and said: “Listen. We don’t have the money for that. That much food would cost ½ of a year’s salary…and even then each person would only get a little bit to eat.”
Instead of seeing and trusting in Jesus as the Son of God (even after seeing him perform other signs and miracles), Philip saw roadblocks, not possibilities.
Then Andrew speaks up! He says “Hey, there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” So he seems like he might be on the right track, but then he says, “but still…how is this going to feed 5000 people?” Just like Philip, Andrew, too, was a Disciple of the Son of God…and he, too, was pretty sure that it would be impossible to feed all those people with so few resources.
Well, it seems that the young boy didn’t see it that way. From the text itself, we don’t know much at all about this boy. We don’t know how young he was. We don’t know if it was even his idea to give his food to Jesus. But we can assume that since there is no record of some kind of exchange of money or items, the boy simply gave his food to Jesus.
And Jesus did the unimaginable with the boy’s gift of food. He gave thanks for the boy’s food and shared it with everyone. AND they all ate until they were full. Then Jesus sent the disciples out to pick up the “leftovers.” …not only was there enough food for everyone, but there were leftovers – 12 baskets of them!
I’m curious about how the disciples felt – having seen another miracle performed right in front of their eyes and knowing that it was a young boy (not one of them) who gave his food to Jesus… I mean, the disciples were Jesus’ closest friends, but here was this boy (this extremely unlikely person in their society) giving over the very items that Jesus used to make this miracle happen – a miracle that ultimately helped those in attendance proclaim that Jesus was “indeed the prophet who is come into the world.” I don’t know about y’all but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, this young boy (1) saw who Jesus was and (2) found possibilities, instead of impossibilities…
Like the boy in our text today, that’s exactly what Armani saw – possibilities instead of impossibilities. When faced with the decision of choosing a party or feeding the homeless…she chose to feed the homeless. Her family spent $300 buying chicken, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, rolls, water, and yes…even a birthday cake! Not only did Armani’s family support her dream, but her church family also pitched in and donated items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and snacks for Armani’s cause. [picture of Armani surrounded by items for the homeless]
On the day of Armani’s “birthday party”, 125 homeless people of the East Garfield Park neighborhood in Chicago were fed. And you know what Armani said when she was asked how she felt about – she said “it’s nice to be nice.“ She didn’t talk about how the event was going to happen, or how much money (which could have been spent on gifts) all this would cost. She didn’t think about herself and missing out on the latest, greatest toys – she only saw a need – A need to feed the homeless. And the solution to meet that need was clear – to feed them.
Armani – a 6 year old – led a team of adults – not just her family members, in feeding those whom Jesus called “The Least of These.” Armani was literally living out what it means to love God and love your neighbor. [Title Slide] And you know what…she’s not the only one! Right here. Right here in our church we have children who have shown this kind of faithful leadership!
- Just a couple of months ago, McKenna Scoggins, [picture] a young girl who attends Mosaic, had an idea to use a lemonade stand to raise money for Hurricane Harvey Victims. She raised almost $700.
- Reid Brown, [picture] a young boy who attends the 11am service and sings in the choir, came to Children’s Worship a few times, where, at the end of our time together each week, we give blessings to children so they hear and know that they are blessings and that God truly loves them. Earlier this year, Reid’s mom took a video of him leaning over his baby sister, Rhyan’s, car seat giving her “blessings” saying “Rhyan, you’re a blessing and God loves you so much.”
- Just a few weeks ago during K4J, our children colored 50 Halloween Cards [picture of cards] for an Organization called Cards for Hospitalized Kids. 50 children in hospitals across America received a beautifully colored card with notes encouragement within them – one of them said “Never forget how amazing you are.”
- These are just a few stories of many, y’all… [title slide]
Armani, McKenna, Reid, our children at K4J – they, like the boy from our Scripture today, were unlikely sources of God’s blessings. But what makes them unlikely? Well, our adult brains do! Think about it, we have all these filters that children just don’t have. Granted, some of them are good filters. But when there’s a problem, children, for the most part, offer clear ways to solve that problem. And when Jesus tells us to live a certain way, children take that to heart and see no roadblocks – only possibilities.
And speaking of Jesus, Jesus and these children have a pretty deep connection. Wasn’t Jesus, too, an unlikely source of grace, love and insurmountable blessings? Jesus Christ – God incarnate – full God and fully human – was born in a barn, by a woman, in a pretty scandalous situation. How likely was it that a small defenseless baby would grow up to be the Man we know as Messiah, Rabbi, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Immanuel-God with us? This child, this wildly unlikely person who was/and continues to be both God and human, was the man, who died for love, who rose again on the 3rd day, and promises everlasting life for all those who claim His beautiful name and His story as their own. Possibilities, not impossibilities.
Y’all Jesus Christ Himself revealed God to us, and I believe our children have this magnificently innate way of continually showing us God’s heart. …….. Ask a child what God looks like or ask a child to tell you things they know about God. I think it’s possible that you’ll discover the unimaginable. Do you?
My hope and prayer is that we continue to soak up the surprise and wonder of of our children – unlikely sources – throughout our lives, so that we may all live into God’s love and compassion and reflect the Kingdom of God.